35 things you didn’t know about the London Marathon
1. In the beginning
The idea for the London Marathon was dreamed up in a pub in 1978. Chris Brasher and John Disley were in The Dysart Arms, next to Richmond Park, when they heard of the great atmosphere of the New York City Marathon from some of their Ranelagh Harriers running club-mates. The pair decided to check it out for themselves in 1979. On 29 March 1981, they staged the very first London Marathon.
2. The first finish line
Constitution Hill, the road that runs from the Wellington Arch by Hyde Park corner to the front of Buckingham Palace, was the location of the first ever London Marathon Finish Line. The word ‘Hill’ is a little misleading – it’s actually a gentle slope. From 1982 until 1993, the course finished on Westminster Bridge. In 1994 bridge repair works meant the Finish Line moved to The Mall, where it has remained ever since.
3. Wonder woman
Less than five per cent of finishers in the first London Marathon were women, with Joyce Smith taking the victory in 2:29:57, nine minutes clear of second-placed Gillian Drake. In 2014 nearly 37 per cent of finishers were women, with Edna Kiplagat winning in a time of 2:20:21, just three seconds clear of second-placed Florence Kiplagat.
4. Job for the boy
Current race director Hugh Brasher helped out during the very first London Marathon – selling train tickets. The then 16-year-old was employed by his father Chris, one of the event’s co-founders, to sell tickets at the Strand Palace Hotel. The tickets took runners from Charing Cross to the start area in Blackheath for a fee of 50p. These days travel within London on Race Day is free for all runners on production of their race number.
5. Healthy growth
There have been a total of 924,420 finishers in the first 34 editions of the London Marathon. The 500,000 barrier was reached in 2002 and the one million barrier is most likely to be broken at the 2017 race.
6. Thanks to our sponsors
Gillette was the first headline sponsor of the London Marathon, and there have been five others since. The razor brand backed the first three editions before chocolate brand Mars took over in 1984. ADT was next in 1989 before NutraSweet took over in 1993. The longest-running sponsor was Flora, who backed the event for 14 years from 1996. Virgin Money took over in 2010, although the race was initially known as the Virgin London Marathon before adopting its current moniker of the Virgin Money London Marathon in 2014.
7. The race expands
Wheelchair races first took place at the London Marathon in 1983, the third edition. Gordon Perry won the men’s race in 3:20:07 while his fellow Briton Denise Smith won the women’s event in 4:29:03. Standards have improved vastly in the intervening decades, with Australia’s Kurt Fearnley setting a phenomenal men’s record of 1:28:56 in 2009 and USA’s Tatyana McFadden winning the 2014 women’s race in a record 1:45:12.
8. Good measure
Hugh Jones, the 1982 London Marathon winner, is now the course measurer. Jones first measured a course in 1976 for a Universities’ Duathlon championship in Calderstones Park, Liverpool, and he has assisted with the ‘blue line’ painting operation at the London Marathon since 1985. Since 1994 he has measured the London and Berlin courses annually as well as Olympic and World Championship courses. A special bicycle is used to measure the course, which Jones says is much more reliable than any GPS-based tools.
9. A betting man
On a Saturday night in 1981, future London Marathon race director and former 10,000m world record holder Dave Bedford was in the Mad Hatter, the nightclub he then owned in Luton. Several beers down, he accepted a bet of £250 that he could not complete the following morning’s inaugural London Marathon. Four piña coladas, a phone call to race co-founder Chris Brasher, a king prawn curry and another pint later, Bedford finally got to bed at 04:45. Just 75 minutes later he awoke and headed to the start. Despite being spotted on BBC TV looking less than his usual vigorous self, Bedford completed the race before falling asleep in a pub. He eventually headed home and spent two days in bed to recover. Legend. Bedford was unable to collect his winnings as the man who made the bet was never seen in the Mad Hatter again.
10. The biggest field
In 2012 an incredible 36,705 people completed the race – the highest figure to date. The very first edition in 1981 saw 6,255 cross the finish line. 1999 was the first year that the 30,000 people barrier was broken and it has remained above that figure ever since.
11. Winning ways
Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen is the only runner to have tasted victory four times, triumphing in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988 and setting a world record of 2:21:06 with her second victory. However, British Paralympic legends Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and David Weir have both eclipsed that feat with six wins apiece in their respective wheelchair races. Grey-Thompson won her first London Marathon in 1992 and her last in 2002. Her final victory proved to be a changing of the guard as that marked Weir’s first triumph, and he most recently won in 2012. A second-placed finish in 2014 means Weir is still in contention to set a new record of seven wins in the near future.
12. Official Charity
The first ever official charity of the London Marathon was the Sports Aid Foundation (now SportsAid) in 1984. The charity was established to help young British athletes meet the cost of their careers. Before Lottery funding was introduced in 1997, SportsAid was the major source of financial support for amateur British athletes – the charity helped the careers of Steve Redgrave, Daley Thompson, Jonathan Edwards and Linford Christie among others. The 2015 official charity of the year is Cancer Research UK.
13. Big in Japan
When the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc in Japan, the London Marathon stepped in to help. As the Nagoya International Women’s Marathon, which doubled as the final selection race for the Japanese women’s team ahead of the World Championships, had to be cancelled, then-race director Dave Bedford offered a helping hand. Nine of Japan’s finest female athletes were added to the London field, which would now act as their World Championships trial. Azusa Nojiri and Yukiko Akaba both performed well enough in London to earn their place on the world stage in Daegu.
14. Hot stuff
The highest recorded temperature in London at noon on marathon day was 21.7C on 22 April 2007. Thirteen years previously, on 17 April 1994, runners had to battle the cold as a record low of 7.6C was recorded at midday.
15. Officially amazing
Football freestyler John Farnworth completed the marathon in 2011 while kicking a ball up between his right and left foot with every step. He finished the course in 12:15 and did not drop the ball once. Since then pressure to re-open London roads means there is a time limit of eight hours for runners to complete the race.
16. Age no barrier
The oldest women’s winner of the London Marathon was Joyce Smith, who was 44 when she won for the second year running in 1982, recording a time of 2:29:43 to beat the course record she set a year earlier. The oldest men’s winner was Scot Allister Hutton, who triumphed in 1990 aged 35 and 278 days, recording a time of 2:10:10. Eight years later Spain’s Abel Antón triumphed in 2:07:57, also aged 35 – but Hutton was 94 days older on Race Day.
17. Record breakers
At the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon 30 people successfully made it into the Guinness World Records book. The record breakers include Spenser Lane for the fastest marathon dressed as a nut, Emma Denton for the fastest female dressed as an organ and Oliver Johnson for the fastest marathon dressed as a crustacean. Guinness World Records has officially partnered the London Marathon since 2007 and 2011 was the most successful year yet – with 35 records set.
18. Slow and steady
Lloyd Scott completed the slowest ever London Marathon. His effort in 2002, wearing a 110lb deep-sea diving suit, saw him take five days and eight hours to complete the course, which is believed to be a world record for the slowest marathon time. Scott, a former leukaemia sufferer, is a serial charity fundraiser and has also completed the course dressed as a snail, St George and Indiana Jones.
19. Charity giving
The record for most money raised for charity at the London Marathon – indeed at any marathon – is held by Reverend Steve Chalke MBE. The Londoner, now 59, raised a jaw-dropping £2,330,159.38 when he completed the 2011 race. The leader of the Oasis Charitable Trust, a worldwide family of charities, Chalke first set the record of £1.25m in 2005, before Sir Steve Redgrave eclipsed him the following year. Chalke claimed the title again in 2007, raising £1.85m before setting the current record (see page 193 to find out more).
20. Good job
The most popular occupation for participants who entered the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon was teaching/working in education. 1,408 people came from that profession, with accountants (1,357) and administrators (1,108) close behind. Back in 2003, when records for this began, students were the most common participants – with 2,092 entering, as opposed to just 742 in 2014.
21. Stellar field
Deriba Merga finished in a time of 2:06:38 in 2008. That time would have been quick enough to win the race in every 20th century edition, plus 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007. However, with Martin Lel setting a new course record of 2:05:15, the quality of the field meant Merga only finished sixth.
22. Crash course
There was drama in 2013 as Olympic champion and key contender in the women’s field Tiki Gelana cut across the road to reach a drinks station, unaware that the men’s wheelchair field was approaching on her inside. Canadian wheelchair racer Josh Cassidy was unfortunate enough to crash into Gelana. Neither of them was seriously injured but the incident was enough to derail both their chances of winning their respective races.
23. The ash cloud
In 2010, the eruptions of volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland meant air space over northern Europe was closed for six days due to the resulting ash clouds, causing carnage among those arriving for the London Marathon. Reigning men’s wheelchair champion Kurt Fearnley, who was travelling from Australia, initially had to drop out before finally securing a place on a plane that arrived only two days before the race. Eventually £150,000 was taken from the event’s contingency fund and help was enlisted from the British government to charter private planes to get the elite runners into London from all over the world. Great Britain’s Mara Yamauchi took six days to reach London having travelled from New Mexico, via Colorado, New Jersey, Lisbon, Madrid and Paris using many different modes of transport.
24. Leading from the front
Members of Parliament have regularly taken part in the London Marathon, with 56 different past or present MPs having appeared in the first 34 editions of the race. The only year that no MPs took part was 2010, due to the forthcoming general election, which happened less than two weeks after Race Day. The fastest ever MP remains Matthew Parris, the Conservative MP for Derbyshire West who completed the course in an impressive 2:32:57 in 1985. Only one other MP, Doug Henderson, a Labour representative for Newcastle upon Tyne North, has dipped under three hours – finishing in 2:52:24 in 1989.
25. Youngest winners
The youngest male London champion was Kenyan Sammy Wanjiru, who conquered the capital at the tender age of 22 in 2009 with a time of 2:05:10. Tragically, he died only two years later after falling from a balcony. The youngest female champion was Poland’s Małgorzata Sobaska, who triumphed aged 25 in 1995 finishing in 2:27:43.
26. Oldest finisher
The oldest person ever to complete the London Marathon is believed to be Fauja Singh, from Essex, who impressively made it around the course in 6:07 aged 93 in 2004. Singh carried on running until the age of 101, before bowing out with a time of 1:32:28 at the Hong Kong 10km event in 2013. His run at the 2011 Toronto Marathon made him the oldest ever full-marathon runner at 100. Jenny Wood-Allen is believed to be the oldest woman to finish the London Marathon, aged 90 in 2002. She took 11 hours and 34 minutes, despite injuring her head in a fall during training.
27. Kenyan dominance
While Kenya is unsurprisingly the most successful nation in both the men’s and women’s races, it is interesting to note that there was only one Kenyan victor in the men’s race before 2004. There was also only one Kenyan women’s victory between 2001 and 2010. But with nine out of the last 11 men’s races resulting in Kenyan victory and the last four women’s races all won by runners from the East African nation, Kenya now has 18 wins to its name. The United Kingdom, the next most prolific nation, has 13 wins – the last of which was Paula Radcliffe’s 2005 triumph. 16 nations have tasted triumph on the London roads, a number that increases to 23 if you include the wheelchair events. South America is the only continent yet to produce a winner in London.
28. Wedding bells
The first couple to get married during the London Marathon were Mick Gambrill and Barbara Cole in 1999. The Croydon pair had even got engaged during the Disney Marathon two years previously. They stopped at Charlton House near Greenwich to be married by a registrar.
29. An exclusive club
Fourteen men have completed every single London Marathon to date. Chris Finill has recorded the fastest PB of the ever-presents – an impressive 2:28:27 in 1985. Finill is also the world record holder for most consecutive sub-three hour runs at the same World Marathon Major. He set a mind-blowing tally of 33 [in London] in 2013, before his run came to an end with a still-impressive 3:10:14 last year at the age of 55. You can find out more about this special group of men on www.everpresent.org.uk.
30. The fastest celeb
The fastest ever celebrity runner was Nell McAndrew, the glamour model who clocked a time of 2:54:39 in 2012 at the age of 38. She only took up marathon running in her 30s and set a time of 3:22 in her first marathon, which she continued to lower ahead of her 2012 achievement.
31. A different course
In 2008 the elite women ended up running a slightly different course to the elite men. This was due to a suspected gas leak at the Old Rose Pub on The Highway in Wapping. The leading nine women had to be directed to the far side of the carriageway for a few hundred metres. Engineers investigated but found no leak, despite a strong smell of gas being reported to the London Fire Brigade. Irina Mikitenko ended up winning in 2:24:14.
32. City Pride
Runners passing the now-closed City Pride pub at Mile 18 can see runners on the other side of the building who are actually three miles behind them on the course. A new skyscraper – set to be the second tallest residential tower in the country – is to be built on the site, and will also be called ‘City Pride’.
33. The Mini London Marathon
Mo Farah won the Mini London Marathon three years in a row between 1998 and 2000. The event for runners aged between 11 and 17 is held on the morning of the London Marathon and takes place over the last three miles of the marathon course. Other famous winners include 2013 world triathlon champion Non Stanford and wheelchair stars David Weir, Hannah Cockroft and
34. We said goodbye to cobbles
A fall on the cobbled roads by the Tower of London in 2004 resulted in the course being changed permanently the following year. Evans Rutto, who went on to win the 2004 race in a time of 2:06:18, slipped on the wet cobbles, which used to be carpeted, and took closest challenger Sammy Korir with him. Several other runners also slipped so this tricky part of the route was removed for the 2005 edition and replaced by a fast stretch of road along the Highway and Tower Hill. The fact that Paula Radcliffe set the world record on the old route makes her achievement even more impressive.
35. A team effort
Since the London Marathon began in 1981, its runners have raised £716 million for charity – making it officially the largest single annual fundraising event in the world. For eight years in a row it has broken the Guinness World Record for fundraising at a one-day event, with £53.2 million raised in 2014. In addition, £56.4 million has been allocated to recreational projects by The London Marathon Charitable Trust, using any surplus generated by The London Marathon Ltd. In 2014 The Trust handed out £4.8 million in grants to projects in areas where the company stages events.