Lord Mayor of London Nick Anstee opened the Virgin London Marathon Expo at 11am this morning with a message to the thousands of runners who will head to the Excel Centre over the next four days to pick up their numbers for Sunday's race: "Get here early to avoid the weekend rush."

"As every year, the sooner people do come down here the easier it will be for them," said Anstee. "A lot of people come down to London late on Friday and Saturday so anyone living in the south east should come on Wednesday and Thursday if they can. They will be helping themselves as well as helping the process here.

"There seem to be seismic shifts going on everywhere," he added as thousands poured into the Expo. "But whatever is happening elsewhere the seismic shifts towards running are always evident here. It's tremendous to see the enthusiasm - maybe they've already got the message: get here early."

Anstee, who cut the Virgin London Marathon ribbon with GMTV presenter Jenni Falconer, also picked up his own number and Ipico Sport Timing Tag for Sunday's race. A London Marathon board director, Anstee will be running his 16th London Marathon this year raising money for Pitch Perfect and the Lord Mayor's Appeal.

"I consider it a great privilege to be here to open the Virgin London Marathon Expo," he said. "I have been here 15 times before as a normal punter so it's a real honour to be here this year as a marathon director, as a runner and as the Lord Mayor to open this great event.

"For runners this is the beginning of all the excitement that leads to Sunday's race. It's only when you get your running bag and number that you get the real buzz and the nerves start to kick in."

Anstee will have another great privilege on Sunday when he sets off from the start line surrounded by a team of pilots from the Red Arrows who will jog the first few miles in formation around him.

"I had the great fortune of flying with the Red Arrows last year and had to find a way of repaying the complement," he explained. "It's great that they've been able to take the opportunity to join me on the start line."

Anstee, who has a personal best of 3 hours 45 minutes, is hoping to reach the finish line in around four hours this year. "It is one of the most wonderful experiences to set off as a runner and have all those people cheering you on even if they don't know you," he said. "I've often said if you could bottle the enthusiasm that Londoners show on that day, and carry it forward for every other day in the year, London would be an even happier place than it already is."

Talking of nerves, Falconer admitted she was already feeling apprehensive about the race. The TV presenter is running her second London Marathon for the 2010 official charity CLIC Sargent and Virgin Unite and targeting an impressive 3 hours 30 finish.

"It was so exciting to be asked to open the Expo because I've been living and breathing the marathon since the start of the year," said Falconer. "Last year I did it for the first time and got round in 3:53, but I've really got into it this year.

"The last couple of weeks I have been getting really nervous and started wondering whether I'm prepared enough. Lots of people have offered to give me money or double their money if I get round in 3:30, so the pressure's on.

"I've done the training and I was confident, but now I'm scared. I know CLIC Sargent and Virgin Unite want to raise £1.5 million so I'm going to do everything in my power to get round in that time."

Among the first ‘punters' through the doors, along with the thousands who had queued patiently outside, were two sporting internationals - the former track star Ewan Thomas and former Welsh international footballer Gary Speed.

Speed, who is running for the first time, also admitted to pre-race nerves. "Recently I've been more apprehensive than excited. But now I'm here I'm looking forward to it. There's a real camaraderie and excitement here so I am starting to feel the buzz.

"I haven't done enough training but hopefully I can get round OK," added Speed, who is raising money for the Bobby Robson Foundation, the charity set up by his former manager at Newcastle United. "I was aiming to do 3:30 but I had a little injury so now anything under four hours I will be delighted with."

Click here for runners' final instructions, and here for details of all this year's celebrity runners.