The London Marathon

One of the world’s most famous athletic competitions, the London Marathon began as an emotional letter written by Olympic champion and journalist Chris Brasher to UK newspaper The Observer. Brasher had just finished running the 1979 edition of the New York Marathon – one of a group of prestigious races now known as the five annual World Marathon Majors, including the Boston, Berlin and Chicago Marathons. The New York Marathon left Brasher very favourably impressed with the joy and camaraderie surrounding the event, and inspired him to conclude his letter by asking, “…whether London could stage such a festival?”

The London Marathon was born within months as a result, with Brasher himself studying the organisation and financing of the New York and Boston races and applying it the London project. He quickly managed to obtain £50000 in financing and established the event as a charity. On March 29, 1981, the first London Marathon was run, with more than 20000 applicants. Since this very successful debut, the event has steadily increased in size and importance. It now attracts crowds of around one million around along the route, with many more following the event on television. The high prize money offered, up to $55000 to first place winners, attracts world-class athletes.

  • Course length and start/finish points

The course of the Flora London Marathon – the official name of the event – has been described as fast and flat. The 42.195 km (26 miles and 385 yards) course begins in Blackheath and currently ends at the Mall, right in front of Buckingham Palace. More precisely, a ‘blue’ start at Blackheath is reserved for elite, ballot and wheelchair athletes; a ‘red’ start at Greenwich Park for overseas runners and a ‘green’ start at the edge of Blackheath for age and media runners. Until 2005, a notoriously difficult cobblestone section by the Tower of London was replaced by a smooth stretch along the Highway. It is believed that this and other improvements to the course resulted in a measurable improvement in elite runner’s times.

  • How do I enter?

In the UK, the simplest way is to pick up the free magazine Marathon News – available at most high street sports stores – and fill in the entry form found within. The ballot closes towards the end of October every year, and you must be 18 years of age or older to enter. Once the ballot closes there is a waiting period until you are informed whether you have been assigned a place in the Marathon. Be warned, though, competition is fierce, as there are only about 35,000 places! Fortunately, there are other ways around this:

“Good for age” entry
If you have run a full marathon in 2h45min – 3h (men) or 3h15 – 3h45 (women) anywhere in the world, you are eligible for automatic entry. Send proof of your time, along with a request for a ‘good for age’ entry form, to: "Good for Age", The Flora London Marathon, PO Box 3460, London SE1 OYA.

Athletic club entry
UK athletic clubs are issued guaranteed places in the marathon according to their size. Distribution of these entries varies from club to club; some of them will reserve them for their best runners while others will raffle them amongst all their members. See ‘Running clubs in the UK’ section below to join one near you.

Running for a charity
There are about 10000 guaranteed places shared between many different charities. You can get one of these entries as long as you promise the charity you will raise a minimum sum of money through sponsorship or other fundraising methods. These amounts vary between £800 and over £2000 depending on the charity. It is a worthy cause, but competition is fierce for these places because it’s the only way most people will have a chance to enter the competition. Be prepared to prove to the charity organisers that you can actually raise the money they need from you. Fancy dress is always a good idea! Contact your favourite charity for more details.

Keep trying! If all else fails, you will get automatic entry on your sixth attempt if you have entered and been rejected five times since and including 2001, but you’ll have to inform marathon organisers. Best of luck!

From Overseas

International applicants should contact Sports Tours International (see below for website) or telephone 0161 70308161.