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God Save The London Marathon

The London Marathon is the biggest mass marathon in the UK with its fame spreading across the globe thanks to memorable performances, world records, and charity fundraising.
London Marathon

Chris Brasher competed in two Olympic Games and won a gold medal in the 3,000m steeplechase but even after his retirement he was able to be amazed by the sport: “To believe this story you must believe that the human race be one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible." These were the words he used to describe his experience at the New York Marathon in 1979 on The Observer. That experience planted an idea in his mind that came to life 2 years later when, together with John Disley, another Olympics medalist, he organized the first edition of the London Marathon.

To believe this story you must believe that the human race be one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible. Chris Brasher on The Observer about the New York Marathon
London Marathon 1981
The first finishers in 1981. Source: Runner's World

Despite some changes due to safety concerns and construction works, the course did not change much from the first edition in 1981. It starts from Greenwich with the first section developing south to the Thames till Tower Bridge, one of the most iconic cheering zones. Then, the runners go through Wapping, Poplar, Isle of Dogs, and Canary Wharf before returning to Central London running next to the river. The course ends on a high note passing over the city's symbols like Big Ben and the London Eye, before ending in front of Buckingham Palace.

London Marathon 1981 Course
The 1981 Course. Source: The Guardian

The event has been a success since its early days. In 1981, more than 20,000 runners applied to the race which was capped for safety reasons. In the end, 7,741 runners completed the race in its first edition, won hand-in-hand by American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen in 2:11:48. Looking at these numbers you can see how the event grew in his 42 years of life. In 2019, 414,168 runners applied to the race, and only 56,398 were accepted, a mere 13.6%. The acceptance rate dropped year after year since 1981 fostering the myth of running the London Marathon. Runners from London and around the world place their entries every year and are constantly rejected - myself included - as the interest in the event grows bigger and bigger. During the years competing running events in the UK flourished by marketing themselves to rejected London Marathon runners which testifies to the greatness of the race.

London Marathon Embankement
Runners at Embankment

One option to get your ticket for the starting line is running for a charity organization. Charity is a big part of what the London Marathon is and represents millions of people. During its history, the event raised more than £1 billion for 36 different official charity partners. This number is impressive and the contribution for each edition keeps growing: in 2019 reached £66.4 million alone.

Memorable performances and seven world records broken, six by women, have been set throughout the years to build the success of the London Marathon. Norwegians Grete Waitz-Andersen and Ingrid Kristiansen, who won four times, dominated the 80s winning all the women's races between 1983 and 1988 and setting two world records. Dionicio Ceron of Mexico is considered the finest runner of the event winning 3 times in a row between 1994 and 1996 and emulating what Katrin Dörre-Heinig of Germany did among women between 1992 and 1994.

London Marathon 1993
Finishers in 1993. Source: Runner's World

In the last 20 years, Khalid Khannouchi broke the men’s world record in 2002 (2:05:38) while the British Paula Radcliffe in 2003 and Mary Keitany of Kenya in 2017 set women’s world records in 2:17:01. Eliud Kipchoge won the London Marathon 4 times and set the course record at 2:02:37 in 2019. Kipchoge and Keitany represent the peaks of the Kenyan and Ethiopian dominance in the past 20 years: all winners across men and women came from the two African countries.

Eliud Kipchoge London Marathon
Eliud Kipchoge crossing the finish line. Source: Olympics
I think [my father] would be incredibly proud of where Dave [Bedford, former race director] and the team have taken the event in the last 20 years – in terms of the charitable fundraising, the elite field and the first world record set on the course just six weeks after he died. Hugh Brasher, London Marathon Events director, and Chris’ son.

These words sum up perfectly what the event has become and its place in the running world. The London Marathon is an institution of the sport pushing the boundaries of elite performance and embracing the community of one of the greatest cities in the world.


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