For 40 years, Hugh Brasher has lived and breathed the London Marathon.
First it was as the 15-year-old son of race co-founder Chris back in 1981 when the younger Brasher would sell train tickets to would-be runners getting to the race start.
As the race celebrates four decades, it is now as its event director, and Brasher still talks as enthusiastically about the race as ever.
But even as an impressionable teenager told to help out on race day by his dad, did he not ever take umbrage?
“Honestly, it never impinged in a negative way at all,” said Brasher. “I think as a 15-year-old… I worked on the event and sold train tickets. But I just don’t think my father, who died in 2003, would have realised that the event could mean as much as it does now. I don’t think he thought that a billion pounds would have been raised for good causes.”
It was at the Dysart Arms where Brasher and co-founder John Disley first came up with the idea of a 26.2mile race for both the elite and masses across the streets of London.
Recalling those early days, Brasher said: “At that stage, the London Marathon office was in Richmond Park. In between that and home was the pub where the London Marathon was founded. He would spend quite a lot of time in the Dysart Arms in between times as well!”
Race no.1 proved a resounding success, helped in part by an iconic finish in which Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen crossed the line hand in hand to share victory in the men’s race.
The race has moved with the times, including the complexities of Covid. While the other major city marathons were cancelled last year, London went ahead, albeit behind closed doors in an elite-only race with laps of St James’ Park last October. Meanwhile, members of the public in the UK and abroad were encouraged to run it on their own terms.
This year, the masses are back – 40,000 set to be on the streets in staggered starts in a further response to Covid - with some of the best runners in the world, including women’s world record holder Brigid Kosgei further up the road.
In light of the Covid times and the lost revenue to charitable causes because of the pandemic and the cessation of other mass participation events, Brasher describes this year’s race as “the most meaningful London Marathon in the history of the event”.
With 80,000 people running – a further 40,000 will be taking part in the race elsewhere in the UK and globally – it will be the biggest marathon in history. Those in London will run in 40 separate waves over a 90-minute period in a challenging logistical operation, and all will have to provide a negative lateral flow test in order to run.
Just days out from the event’s running, Brasher said: “This will be one of the greatest days of the year for charity fundraising in times that have been incredibly difficult. It will mean more than any other marathon in the history of our event since 1981.”
There will be the usual quirks on the road as ever. In total, 48 world records are being attempted by 65 runners with a team from the Guinness World Records on hand to adjudicate costumes, times and confirm any potential records. That includes a quest to break the mark for the most runners to complete a remote marathon in 24 hours, that of the 37,966 finishers last year.
Some of the star turns are missing from the elite race, mainly because of the Tokyo Olympics and London’s shifted date to October. The greatest male marathon runner of all time, Eliud Kipchoge, is absent but the man who dethroned him last year in Shura Kitata is back, so too the aforementioned Kosgei.
In the men’s race, there are seven men who have run under two hours and four minutes and nine women to have dipped under 2:20. Many of those elite runners have been brought in from Ethiopia and Kenya by charter plane and are tested every single day while in the UK, also carrying a tracker to limit any possible Covid contaminations. Of the elite runners, 96.5 percent have been double vaccinated.
As for this year’s date – six months later in the year than normal in October, again in response to Covid - this will not be the last, with London not returning as a spring marathon until 2023.
The hope is that among those returning next year will be both Kipchoge and Mo Farah, currently injured nursing a stress fracture.
“We would love Mo to be back,” said Brasher. “He’s one of the world’s greatest endurance athletes. We look forward to him having a speedy recovery. I expect him to be back and break the European record.”
This could potentially be the last London Marathon on the BBC, which has broadcast it every year of its duration. This is the last year of the current deal and Brasher admits that the event has at least held talks with other broadcasters.
But whatever happens, it will remain on free-to-view television. “Terrestrial is really important,” he added. “That journey of 26.2miles, what’s been proven is that it inspires people because it’s difficult it is very accessible to everybody. And the more people that can see that the better. That’s why it’s so important this event is seen on terrestrial TV.”