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London Marathon

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London Marathon
London Marathon.svg
Virgin London Marathon Logo
Date April
Location London, United Kingdom
Event type Road
Distance Marathon
Established 1981
Course records Men's: 2:04:40 (2011)
Emmanuel Mutai
Women's: 2:15:25 (2003)
Paula Radcliffe
Official site

The London Marathon (branded Virgin London Marathon for sponsorship reasons) is a long-distance running event, the world's largest marathon as of 2012 with 36,748 finishing the race, held in London, United Kingdom. The event was first run on 29 March 1981 and has been held in the spring of every year since. Since 2010, the race has been sponsored by Virgin Money, as the Virgin London Marathon. The 32nd London Marathon took place on 22 April 2012, and the 33rd is planned for 21 April 2013.


The race was founded by the former Olympic champion and journalist Chris Brasher and Welsh athlete John Disley. It is organised by Hugh Brasher (son of Chris) as Race Director and Nick Bitel as Chief Executive. Set over a largely flat course around the River Thames, the race begins at three separate points around Blackheath and finishes in The Mall alongside St. James's Park. Since the first marathon, the course has undergone very few route changes. In 1982, the finishing post was moved from Constitution Hill to Westminster Bridge due to construction works. It remained there for twelve years before moving to its present location at The Mall.

In addition to being one of the top five international marathons run over the distance of 42.195 kilometres, the IAAF standard for the marathon established in 1921 and originally used for the 1908 London Olympics, the London Marathon is also a large, celebratory sporting festival, second only to the Great North Run in South Shields, in terms of the number of participants. The event has raised over £450 million for charity since 1981, and holds the Guinness world record as the largest annual fund raising event in the world, with the 2009 participants raising over £47.2 million for charity. In 2007, 78% of all runners raised money. In 2011 the official charity of the London Marathon was Oxfam.


2006 winner Felix Limo (left) and 2005, 2007 & 2008 winner Martin Lel (right).

The London Marathon was not the first long-distance running event held in the city, which has a long history of marathon events. The Polytechnic Marathon (also known as the Poly) was first held in 1909.

The current London Marathon was founded in 1981 by former Olympic champion and journalist Chris Brasher and Welsh athlete John Disley. Shortly after completing the New York Marathon in November 1979 Brasher wrote an article for The Observer newspaper which began:

To believe this story you must believe that the human race be one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible. Last Sunday, in one of the most trouble-stricken cities in the world, 11,532 men and women from 40 countries in the world, assisted by over a million black, white and yellow people, laughed, cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen.

Inspired by the people of New York coming together for this occasion, he asked "whether London could stage such a festival?" The following year Brasher and Disley made trips to America to study the organisation and finance of big city marathons (such as those in New York and Boston). Brasher signed a contract with Gillette for £50,000, established charitable status and outlined six main aims in the hope to mirror the scenes he witnessed in New York and establish the United Kingdom on the map as a country capable of arranging major events. The London Marathon was born.

The first London Marathon was held on 29 March 1981, more than 20,000 applied to run. 6,747 were accepted and 6,255 crossed the finish line on Constitution Hill. The Marathon's popularity has steadily grown since then. As at 2009, 746,635 people have completed the race since its inception. In 2010, 36,549 people crossed the line, the biggest field since the race began. The first wheelchair marathon race was held in 1983 and the event was credited with reducing the stigma surrounding disabled athletes. In 2013 the IPC Athletics Marathon World Cup will be held within the London Marathon featuring athletes of both genders in the T42–T46 and T11–T13 categories.

For many years the London and Polytechnic Marathons competed with each other until, in 1996, the latter folded in due to the popularity of the former. Eleven participants have died since the event began, the most recent being in 2012 when a 30-year-old woman, Claire Squires, collapsed whilst running along Birdcage Walk, near St. James's Park. She had opened a JustGiving page to raise money for the Samaritans; as news of her death circulated, the number of donations increased from £500 to more than £1 million.


The race is currently organised by former 10,000 m world record holder David Bedford as Race Director and Nick Bitel as Chief Executive. Bedford and Bitel have overseen a period of great change for the race, including amendments to the course in 2005 which saw the famous cobbled section by the Tower of London replaced with a flat stretch along the Highway.

Dr Dan Tunstall-Pedoe, was the medical director of the London Marathon for 25 years between the first one in 1981 until 2005. In 2003, Dr Tunstall-Pedoe was shadowed by Professor Sanjay Sharma from St George's University of London who took over the role in its entirety in 2006. Medical cover is provided by 150 highly experienced doctors in internal medicine, intensive care, sports medicine, orthopaedics and anaesthetics. The doctors are assisted by more than 1,500 volunteers of St. John Ambulance, who organise over 50 first aid posts along the route, and three field hospitals at the finish. St John Ambulance also provide a large number of Healthcare Professionals for the event, including a vast number of Nurses and Paramedics. They also provide a large number of Ambulances and Ambulance Crews for use at the event and also across London to support the NHS Ambulance Service.

The BBC covers the event, devoting rolling coverage for most of the morning. The theme music associated with this coverage, and with the event itself, is called Main Titles to The Trap, composed by Ron Goodwin for the film The Trap.

London Marathon at Shooter's Hill, April 13, 2008

There are three separate groups of starters: Elite Women, Wheelchair (Men and Women), and Elite Men followed by Mass Race.

The course

The top three men, Samuel Wanjiru, Tsegay Kebede, and Jaouad Gharib, near the end of the 2009 marathon.

Set over a largely flat course around the River Thames, and spanning 42.195 kilometres (26 miles and 385 yards), the London Marathon is generally regarded as a very competitive and unpredictable event, and conducive to fast times.

The route has markers at one mile and at five kilometre intervals. Although the race publicity (athlete advice, timing charts and so on) is mile-oriented, the individual timing splits that are available to competitors after the event are kilometre-oriented.

The course begins at three separate points: the 'red start' in southern Greenwich Park on Charlton Way, the 'green start' in St John's Park, and the 'blue start' on Shooter's Hill Road. From these points around Blackheath at 35 m (115 ft) above sea level, south of the River Thames, the route heads east through Charlton. The three courses converge after 4.5 km (2.8 miles) in Woolwich, close to the Royal Artillery Barracks.

As the runners reach the 10-km mark (6.2-mile), they pass by the Old Royal Naval College and head towards Cutty Sark drydocked in Greenwich. Heading next into Surrey Quays in the Docklands, and out towards Bermondsey, competitors race along Jamaica Road before reaching the half-way point as they cross the Tower Bridge. Running east again along The Highway through Wapping, competitors head up towards Limehouse and into Mudchute in the Isle of Dogs via Westferry Road, before heading into Canary Wharf.

As the route leads away from Canary Wharf into Poplar, competitors run west down Poplar High Street back towards Limehouse and on through Commercial Road. They then move back onto The Highway, onto Lower and Upper Thames Streets.. Heading into the final leg of the race, competitors pass The Tower of London on Tower Hill. In the penultimate mile along The Embankment, the London Eye comes into view, before the athletes turn right into Birdcage Walk to complete the final 352 m (385 yards), catching the sights of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, and finishing in The Mall alongside St. James's Palace. This final section of the route will form part of the 2012 Olympic Marathon Course.

Since the first marathon, the course has undergone very few route changes. In the first race, the course took a diversion around Southwark Park before re-joining Jamaica Road on the way to Tower Bridge and was routed through St Katherine Docks past the Tower Hotel, en route to the Tower of London and the famous cobblestoned stretch of road that in later years was carpeted, to help runners prevent injury on the uneven surface. In 1982, the finishing post was moved from Constitution Hill to Westminster Bridge due to construction works. It remained there for twelve years before moving to its present location at The Mall. In 2005, the route around the Isle of Dogs between 22 and 34 kilometres (14 and 21 mi) was switched from a clockwise to an anti-clockwise direction, and at 35 km (22 miles) the route was diverted to avoid St Katherine Docks and the cobblestoned area near the Tower of London. In 2008, a suspected gas leak at a pub in Wapping diverted the course, but in 2009 the race followed the same path as in 2007.


Paula Radcliffe taking part in the 2005 race

London is one of the top six world marathons that form the World Marathon Majors competition with a $1 million prize purse. The inaugural marathon had 7,741 entrants, 6,255 of whom completed the race. The first Men's Elite Race was tied between American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen, who crossed the finish line holding hands in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 48 seconds. The first Women's Elite Race was won by Briton Joyce Smith in 2:29:57. In 1983, the first wheelchair races took place. Organized by the British Sports Association for the Disabled (BASD), 19 people competed and 17 finished. Gordon Perry of the United Kingdom won the Men's Wheelchair Race, coming in at 3:20:07, and Denise Smith, also of the UK, won the Women's Wheelchair Race in 4:29:03.

World records for marathon running have been set four times. Khalid Khannouchi, representing the United States, set the men's world record in 2:05:38 in 2002. The following year, British runner Paula Radcliffe set the women's world record in 2:15:25 (later briefly downgraded to "world best" by the IAAF as it was achieved in a mixed race, but restored to the title of "world Record" shortly thereafter). Radcliffe's time also stands as the current course record in the Women's Elite Race: this followed women's records set in 1983 and 1985 by Grete Waitz and Ingrid Kristiansen respectively, both of Norway. The current men's course record is 2:04:40, set by Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai in the 2011 edition. Kurt Fearnley of Australia set the Men's Wheelchair Race course record at 1:28:57 in 2009, and the Women's equivalent was set by American athlete Amanda McGrory in 2011, with 1:46:30.

Amateur runners

The race attracts amateur runners who make up the bulk of the thirty thousand or more participants; commonly running in fancy dress for charity causes. In 2002, Lloyd Scott completed the marathon wearing a deep sea diving suit that weighed a total of 110 lb (50 kg), with each shoe weighing 24 lb (11 kg); he also set a record for the slowest London Marathon time. On 19 April 2003, former boxer Michael Watson, who had been told he would never be able to walk again after a fight with Chris Eubank, made headlines by finishing the marathon in six days. In 2006, Sir Steve Redgrave (winner of five consecutive Olympic gold medals) set a new Guinness World Record for money raised through a marathon by collecting £1.8 million in sponsorship. This broke the record set the previous year by the founder of the Oasis Trust, Steve Chalke MBE, who had collected over £1.25 million. Steve Chalke recovered the record in 2007, raising £1.86 million. In 2011 Chalke broke the record for a third time, raising a staggering £2.32 million. The sum of £500 that Claire Squires collected before the race swelled to £920,000 after she died having collapsed during the 2012 race.

A small number of runners, known as the "Ever Presents", have completed each of the London Marathons since 1981. After 2012 their number has shrunk to 16. At the running of the 2012 event the oldest runners amongst them were Kenneth Jones and Jeffrey Gordon, both 78 years old, whilst the youngest runner is 53-year-old ultra-runner and father of 3 Chris Finill. They are all male.

Mini Marathon

The Virgin Mini Marathon is the sister of The London Marathon. The course is the last three miles of the London Marathon and is aimed at ages 11–17 from all 33 London Boroughs along with 13 teams from ten English regions and three Home Countries: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is also a Mini Wheelchair race on the day.

Sponsorship and marketing

On 16 May 2008, London Marathon Limited signed a new five year £17m sponsorship deal with Virgin and Virgin Money. The original sponsors were Gillette who sponsored the event from 1981 to 1983. The other sponsors have been Mars (1984–1988), ADT (1989–1992), NutraSweet (1993–1995), and Flora (1996–2009). A number of other companies and organisations also use the event for brand identification and marketing, including Adidas, Lucozade Sport, and Fuller's Brewery.

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