Ambitious plans for this year’s London Marathon have been announced, which aims to be the biggest ever.
Event organisers hope to allow 100,000 people to take part in the mass run in October, after all UK adults have been offered a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination.
A hybrid event
A record 50,000 people will run the marathon in central London on 3 October, with another 50,000 running the 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 run could go ahead in October after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said last week that all adults in the UK would be offered their first vaccination dose by September.
More than four million people have already been given their first dose, with care home residents and staff, people aged 80 and over, and frontline health and care staff being the top priority.
Letters have now been sent out to people aged 70 and over, and the clinically extremely vulnerable, in England, as the NHS begins its rollout to the next two priority groups.
Mr Brasher, whose father, Chris Brasher, co-founded the London Marathon in 1981, said the government’s pledge of administering the first dose to all adults by September has given him belief the event will be able to go ahead later this year.
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 3 October 2021.”
Last year’s Virgin Money London Marathon was postponed from April to October due to the ongoing pandemic and later changed to a virtual event which saw most participants complete the distance from home.
A total of 37,966 finished the event in 2020, giving it an official Guinness World Records title for the “most users to run a remote marathon in 24 hours”.
Plans to have 100,000 participants this year 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 said that by launching the virtual event, it created “a new path” for the London Marathon and he was “delighted” to announce a hybrid event for this year which is expected to continue in the future.
He also added that 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”.
“It is an incredible achievement to do 26.2 miles,” he said. “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.”
Safety plans ongoing
Asked how organisers would make elite and mass race participants feel confident about taking part, Mr Brasher said plans to socially distance runners were made last year before the event was made virtual only, except for elite athletes.
Plans for this year’s event are still ongoing and will adapt, based on scientific advice, to make the race as safe as possible for all involved.
He explained: “I think the elite is probably quite easy, they are running so quickly there aren’t many people around them.”
“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.”
Everyone who entered the ballot for the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon will find out on 8 February if they have been successful.
Those who were unsuccessful will have from 9 to 16 February to enter the virtual event.
General entries will open on 16 February and will be issued on a first come, first served basis.