Ambitious plans to allow 100,000 people to take part in this year’s London Marathon have been announced.
A record 50,000 people will run in central London on October 3, with another 50,000 running 26.2 miles at a location of their choice for the virtual event.
Hugh Brasher, the marathon’s event director, said he was confident the mass run could go ahead in October after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday that all adults would be offered a first vaccination dose by September.
Mr Brasher told the PA news agency: “It is a terrible time at the moment.
“It is difficult in a way for a lot of people to imagine from where we are now about what October might look like but the Government has said that everyone in this country should be vaccinated by September.”
Mr Brasher, whose father, Chris Brasher, co-founded the London Marathon in 1981, said the vaccination programme, which has already seen 4.6 million people get their first dose, and the Government pledge means London Marathon Events “believe in October we can deliver something that once again will show humanity and mankind at its best which was one of the original goals that my father and John Disley put into the event”.
“And that’s what the London Marathon has done over the last 40 years and that’s absolutely what we hope to deliver on October 3 2021.”
Mr Brasher said “human beings want to be together, we want to celebrate, it’s part of what most human beings want to do, whether it’s at festivals, whether it’s at a pub, whether it’s at a sports event, that camaraderie, that feeling of being at one, even with our differences, is something that I believe we all miss.
“And so coming up, believing that this can happen, looking at what the science is saying, that is how we can be so hopeful and optimistic about delivering this on October 3 2021.”
Asked how organisers would make elite and mass race participants feel confident about taking part, Mr Brasher said: “I think the elite is probably quite easy, they are running so quickly there aren’t many people around them.”
He said plans to socially distance runners had been made in 2020 before the event was made virtual only, except for elite athletes, and technology had moved forward since then.
“There’s still lots of unknowns. We do know that.
“And we will change our plans, develop the plans, to be able to deliver what we are announcing today.
“And we will work with governments, we will work with the scientists, we will work with people in tech to do this and do it in a safe manner.”
Last year’s Virgin Money London Marathon was postponed from April to October due to the coronavirus pandemic and then changed to a virtual event where most participants completed the distance from home.
A total of 37,966 finished the virtual event in 2020, giving it an official Guinness World Records title for the “most users to run a remote marathon in 24 hours”.
Having 100,000 participants would make the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon the biggest marathon ever staged anywhere in the world, although the New York marathon holds the record for the most finishers from the same start line with 53,640 in 2019.
Mr Brasher told PA that launching the virtual event had showed “a new path” for the London Marathon and he was “delighted” to announce a hybrid event for 2021 which was expected to continue in future years.
“The London Marathon happened on the streets around the world and that was incredible and we’re amplifying that in 2021,” he said.
“It’s an incredible way of helping people, to motivate them, to raise more money for charity.
“And there aren’t many positive things coming out of the last 10 months.”
Runners raised £66 million in 2019 for charity and Mr Brasher added: “So we don’t think we are going to double that by doubling the number of people but it still will increase that and it will allow us to be much more diverse, it will be more inclusive and we think it is a real taste of the future and a future that definitely we would not have imagined 12 months ago but it is one future that we delighted to be embracing and imagining now.”
Macmillan Cancer Support is the event’s charity of the year and Claire Rowney, executive director of fundraising, marketing and innovation, said it is “thrilled that more people than ever before will have the opportunity to take part”.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our income, at a time when people living with cancer need our support more than ever to help navigate through this anxious period.
“The vital funds raised through runners and supporters of this year’s event will help us continue to do whatever it takes to be there for everyone living with cancer.”
Mr Brasher said having 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds to complete the distance in the virtual event “changed the pressure” and allowed more people to be “part of something that has become a British institution”.
Asked if allowing people to get the same medal and T-shirt for doing the distance in a 24-hour period might devalue the showcase event, he said: “It is an incredible achievement to do 26.2 miles.
“I am so excited about the fact that it becomes even more inclusive, that it can inspire more people to a better physical and mental health and now, more than ever, we need that.
“This is what we are announcing for 2021.
“We are saying this is the future also of the marathon.”
Mr Brasher added: “It just really helped people in a pretty dark time in October and we absolutely believe it will do that again this year.”
Everyone who entered the ballot for the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon will find out on Monday February 8 if they have been successful.
Unsuccessful applicants will have from Tuesday February 9 to Tuesday February 16 to enter the virtual event.
General entries will open on Tuesday February 16, on a first come, first served basis.