From A to Z in 26.2 Miles

Think you know the London Marathon? Find out even more insider info about the race that has become a national treasure on our behind-the-scenes tour of the event…

A is for Abbott World Marathon Majors

The Virgin Money London Marathon is one of the six most prestigious global marathons that make up the World Marathon Majors. The majors were born in 2006 when the directors of the world’s five leading races – in Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York – announced that they would launch a competition to find the top male and female marathon runners at the end of a two-year cycle.

A sixth city marathon was added in 2013 when the Tokyo Marathon joined the series, and in October 2014 the series became the Abbott World Marathon Majors (AbbottWMM) when the global health care company was named as title sponsor.

Collectively, the AbbottWMM annually attract more than 6.5 million on-course spectators, more than 300 million television viewers and more than 200,000 participants. The races also raise nearly $150 million for charity and have an economic impact on their cities amounting to almost $1.5 billion.

Earlier this year, AbbottWMM launched its #ReachForTheStars campaign, inviting runners to claim their results from all six races in one place at in the all new Six Star System.

AbbottWMM also launched the Wanda Age Group World Rankings last month. To find out more, and claim your AbbottWMM stars now, visit

B is for the Blue Line

The London Marathon’s famous three-stripe blue line helps runners to take the shortest route on a course that has a number of tight corners. Around 300 litres of paint are used to paint the broken blue line, which is put down by professional road marking company Wilson & Scott (Highways) Ltd on the Friday night before the race and washed off before the roads reopen to traffic on Race Day.

C is for Charity

Since the London Marathon was founded in 1981, more than £950 million has been raised for charity by the million-plus runners who have completed the race.

Three-quarters of runners in the Virgin Money London Marathon fundraise for charity as part of their marathon challenge.

In 2018, £63.7 million was raised for charity, making the race the biggest one-day fundraising event in the world – the London Marathon first set this record in 2007 and has broken it every year since.

D is for Dementia Revolution

Dementia Revolution is the Charity of the Year for the 2019 race. The campaign, which is a joint initiative between Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK, will power groundbreaking dementia research, overthrow old attitudes and lead the charge towards a cure. 

The Dementia Revolution is a unique opportunity to power the most ambitious dementia research endeavour the UK has ever seen – the UK Dementia Research Institute. Find out more about supporting the campaign at

E is for Ever Presents

Eleven of the many hundreds of thousands of people who have run the London Marathon over the years have finished every single race from the first in 1981 to the 38th on 22 April 2018. They are known as the ‘Ever Presents’, and were first acknowledged after the 15th edition of the London Marathon in 1995, when they numbered 42. The group were awarded with a special commemorative medal, a sweatshirt and guaranteed acceptance in future London Marathons. They cover a whole spectrum of running backgrounds, come from all walks of life, different locations and assorted occupations, although many are now retired.

F is for fancy-dress

The London Marathon wouldn’t be the fun, festival of colour that it is without the weird, wacky and wonderful fancy-dress costumes donned by so many of the runners – some of whom just love the challenge of running 26.2 miles in a rhino costume, while others dress up to attempt a Guinness World Record. 

But it wasn’t always this way...

In the early eighties, if you’d run the London Marathon in fancy-dress you would have really stood out. Swiss restauranteur Roger Bourban discovered this when he ran the race in 1981 and 1982 dressed as a waiter. The current Virgin Money London Marathon Event Director Hugh Brasher, who was 16 years old in 1981, still remembers Bourban’s unusual outfit as running was “a lot more serious back then”.

As the number of runners taking on the race each year has grown, so too has the popularity of taking on the challenge in fancy-dress as a way to stand out from the crowd.  

Joe Spraggins, a seasoned London Marathon runner, discovered the power of running in fancy-dress at the 2017 race, when he dressed as a swimmer to set a new Guinness World Record of 2:42:24 for the fastest runner to complete the race in costume. He said in a BBC interview afterwards that the race was “100 times better” because of his costume. 

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to recreate that… it was my greatest race ever,” he continued. “Every time I thought I was getting tired, another 50 people would shout for me to keep going.”

If you’re tempted to give fancy-dress a go, there's no doubt that it could profoundly enhance your marathon experience.

G is for Guinness World Records

Many of the runners who don a fancy-dress costume to run the 26.2 miles of the London marathon do so as part of a Guinness World Records attempt. Every year adjudicators from the global authority on record-breaking achievement are stationed at the Finish Line on The Mall to provide runners with record verification on Race Day.

At the 2018 race 90 Guinness World Records attempts were made, with 34 successfully broken. The race itself also set a Guinness World Record for being the hottest London Marathon on record. The heat didn’t deter Rob Pope, who set the record for the fastest marathon in film costume dressed as Forrest Gump when he crossed the Finish Line in a remarkable 2:36:28.

H is for Halfway

The Halfway point in any race is a great talisman for those taking part as they put the first half of the race behind them and push for the Finish Line. The halfway point on the London Marathon course is on The Highway, just after Tower Bridge as runners turn east to head away from The City and towards the Isle of Dogs. The halfway point also offers an opportunity for slower runners to see the elite athletes heading for home as they pass the 22.5-mile mark. The crowds are amazing at this point in the race, as they cheer from their vantage point on the raised pavement to the north of The Highway.

I is for Inspiration

Every year, the inspirational scenes at the London Marathon encourage people of all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities, to enter the ballot for the following year’s race. Around 50 per cent of them have never run a marathon before, but they see people just like them giving it a go and think, why not me? 

Ahead of the 2018 race, 386,050 people applied to take part in the race, establishing London as the most popular marathon on the planet. This massive figure was thanks, in part, to the Heads Together campaign, the official charity in 2017 that was set up by their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

The 2018 race proved to be no less inspiring, encouraging a new world record total of 414,168 people to enter the ballot for the 2019 event next April. 

If you’re inspired to run, check out the charity ads throughout this magazine, find a cause you care passionately about and approach the charity. Your efforts could just help to inspire would-be runners to commit to the 26.2-mile challenge in years to come.

J is for Jelly

On Race Day every year, 250 tubs of petroleum jelly are dispensed to runners to prevent chafing – that’s 100lbs, or a little over the weight of three-time London Marathon champion Mary Keitany. Around 200 bottles of baby oil for massaging tired limbs, 2,000 plasters and 730 ice packs for sprains and strains are also used. St John Ambulance volunteers administer much of this first aid, supported by more than 200 healthcare professionals.

K is for Kenyans

Runners from Kenya have taken more wins at the London Marathon since the first race in 1981 than any other nationality. Male and female Kenyan runners have 25 wins between them, more than double that of the next best nation of Great Britain, which has 12 wins in total – six apiece for the men and women. It’s more than a decade since a British runner won the race – Paula Radcliffe in 2005 – but Sir Mo Farah finished third in 2018, giving British fans hope that they could see a Brit on the top step of the podium in the next few years.

L is for London Classics

The London Classics was set up in 2017 to bring together three of the country’s greatest and most iconic mass-participation events: the London Marathon, the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 and the  two-mile event at Swim Serpentine. These three unforgettable endurance challenges are organised by London Marathon Events Limited and were brought together to offer people the chance to complete the ultimate sporting challenge. 

Everyone who completes this iconic trio of events receives a specially designed London Classics medal engraved with the words: Et ego Londinium vici (I too have conquered London) and is listed in the London Classics Hall of Fame.

There is no time limit on when the three events can be completed; they can be completed in any year and in any order. Anyone who has completed the London Marathon since the race began in 1981, 
cycled the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 since its inception in 2013 and completed the two-mile event at Swim Serpentine is eligible to enter.

If you’re planning to run the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon, why not do the treble and sign up for the other London Classics events too? The ballot is now open for the 2019 Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 at and entries for next year’s Swim Serpentine two-mile swim will open in the New Year at

Find out more at

M is for Mini London Marathon

Just a few hours before the London Marathon takes place, the Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon is run over the last three miles of the Marathon course, starting at Old Billingsgate and finishing at the world-famous Finish Line on The Mall. 

The series of races for girls and boys aged between 11 and 17 first took place in 1986. A new format was introduced in 2009 and in 2011 the series of races were adopted as the British Athletics Road Running Championships for young athletes. 

More than 2,000 boys and girls from London and the British regions race in the three age groups – under 13, under 15 and under 17 – and over the years the race has unearthed many of the future stars of British Athletics, including Mo Farah, who won the Mini Marathon for Hounslow three years in a row between 1998 and 2000. Para athletes David Weir, Shelly Woods and Hannah Cockroft also won the Mini London Marathon before going on to enjoy success at senior level.

N is for Narrow Street

As its name suggests, Narrow Street is the narrowest part of the London Marathon course. Located between miles 14 and 15 in Limehouse, it runs parallel to the River Thames and features a rare example of an early Georgian terrace. Narrow Street has been part of the London Marathon course since the very first race, when John Disley, co-founder of the race, set about the daunting task of creating a course, using the Thames as a ‘handrail’.

From those beginnings, the course that Disley designed has evolved over the years and become a part of the fabric of the nation’s sporting identity. It is a testament to his vision that although London has been transformed in the last 37 years, the course of the London Marathon has predominantly stayed true to his original concept.

O is for Official Charity

The first Official Charity of the London Marathon was Sports Aid Foundation in 1984, which was granted some places from the race organisers to help it raise funds. 

Since then the race has featured an Official Charity every year. The highest total raised by an Official Charity in that time is £3.6 million, which was raised by Cancer Research UK in 2015. See page 37 for more on the 2019 Official Charity, Dementia Revolution. 

P is for Pillars

When the late Chris Brasher and John Disley (below) founded the London Marathon in 1981, they established six aims for the organisation. Now, London Marathon Events Ltd has eight pillars which underpin all the company's work:

  • To improve the overall standard and status of British distance running
  • To show mankind, that on occasions, the ‘family of man’ can be united
  • To raise money for the provision of recreational facilities in London and the areas we organise events
  • To help London and Surrey tourism
  • To prove when it comes to organising major events, ‘Britain is best’
  • To have fun and provide some happiness and sense of achievement in a troubled world
  • To inspire more people to take up sport
  • To maximise revenue for charities

Q is for The Queen

Her Majesty The Queen was the official starter for the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon. On a bright, sunny morning back in April, Her Majesty stepped onto a special podium in front of the Round Tower at Windsor Castle to start the race at 10:00. BBC Sport relayed the live coverage to big screens at Blackheath to set runners on their way to the finish on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace.

R is for Radcliffe

Paula Radcliffe is Great Britain’s most successful marathon runner. She won the London Marathon three times in the noughties (in 2002, 2003 and 2005) and when she wasn’t winning in London, you could find her tearing up the tarmac in the Big Apple at the New York City Marathon, which she won in 2004, 2007 and 2008. 

The fact that Radcliffe still holds the women’s world record of 2:15:25, which she set at the London Marathon in 2003, is testament to just how far she pushed the boundaries in an amazing career that spanned road, track and cross country. She returned to the London Marathon in 2015, a decade after setting her world record, to run it for fun as the final race of her career.

S is for Spirit of London awards

Launched in 2018, the Spirit of London awards recognise runners who personify what makes the London Marathon unique. The first winners were David Wyeth and Matt Rees (below), who inspired the theme when Matt Rees stopped on The Mall, just a few hundred metres from the Finish Line, to help David Wyeth at the 2017 race. The TV footage went viral and the moment when Matt stopped to help David was recognised at the National Television Awards.

Spirit of London award winners receive a special commemorative coin that features Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen, the joint winners of the first London Marathon, who crossed the Finish Line hand-in-hand. 

Event Director Hugh Brasher summed up the thinking behind the awards, saying: “Every year since 1981 we have marvelled at the incredible stories of our runners and the way they have triumphed over adversity, raised extraordinary sums for charity and personified what makes the London Marathon unique. 

"Behind every runner is a story and a support network, while thousands of people also work hard every year to deliver the event. We have volunteers who have been with us since 1981 doing everything from sorting registration packs to staffing Drinks Stations. 

"These people live the Spirit of London and the new award offers the opportunity to celebrate that.”

T is for The Trust

The London Marathon Charitable Trust was set up in 1981, the same year as the first London Marathon, by the race’s founders Chris Brasher and John Disley. Their aim was to raise money for sport and recreational facilities and to this day all of the surplus from the London Marathon, after costs, is gifted to The London Marathon Charitable Trust, which then awards grants to recreational projects in London and other areas where London Marathon Events Limited events are staged. Turn to page 38 to find out more about The Trust's recent grants.

U is for Urinals 

More than 400 urinals for the male runners in the race are placed in the Start Areas on Greenwich and Blackheath on Race Day. The urinals complement the 1,263 portable toilets that are located at the Start, Finish and along the race route on the day.

V is for Volunteers

More than 8,000 volunteers and marshals work on the London Marathon every year. The volunteers carry out a variety of roles, from handing out water and sorting baggage to registering runners and supervising the start pens. 

Jasmine Flatters, who has been the Drinks Station manager at mile 23 for more than 30 years loves the inclusive atmosphere on Race Day and encourages the 100 volunteers who she supervises to have just as much fun as the runners. 

“I just love making people happy and hearing the different stories from the people I come across,” she says. “It’s important to me to give something back; I was a runner for a long time and it’s great to have people appreciate what you do.” Flatters was awarded an MBE in 2015 for her services to running and triathlon. 

W is for the Weirwolf

David Weir is the most successful ever racer at the London Marathon. 

He has won a record eight wheelchair titles to go with his seven Mini London Marathon victories. The south Londoner took his first senior win at the London Marathon in 2002 at the age of 21, when he was the youngest competitor in his category.

Before the race, Weir’s personal best fell outside the top 12 competitors, so he was not considered a serious challenger, but he won in a time of 1:39:44, knocking seven seconds off his personal best and kicking off a winning streak that continues to the present day. 

He also started to train with his coach Jenny Archer in 2002. The pair are still together and in 2013 they launched the Weir Archer Academy, which aims to increase participation in disability sport and nurture the next generation of Paralympians.

X is for Xiaolin

Zhu Xiaolin is a Chinese Marathon runner who has raced in London several times – at both the London Marathon in 2011 and at the London Olympic Games in 2012, where she placed sixth. She produced her best result on home soil though, when she finished fourth in the marathon at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, missing out on the bronze medal by just nine seconds.

Y is for YouTube

The London Marathon’s YouTube channel offers a great resource if you’re interested in checking out the highlights from previous races: As well as race footage, you’ll find training tips from our official coach Martin Yelling, interviews with elite athletes like Sir Mo Farah, Eliud Kipchoge and Mary Keitany, and inspiring films that feature the ‘ordinary’ runners who go to such amazing lengths to make it to the Finish Line of the London Marathon every year. 

Z is for Zero

At zero degrees, six miles into the race, runners cross the Greenwich Prime Meridian, which means that the London Marathon is the only race in the world to be held partly in the eastern and partly in the western hemispheres. The meridian is positioned at zero degrees, zero minutes and zero seconds and was selected as the prime meridian in 1884 at a conference in Washington DC when 41 delegates from 25 countries agreed on the meridian due to its popularity. 

More than a century later, the 40,000-plus runners who cross zero degrees at the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon will have more important things to think about than crossing into the western hemisphere as they focus on the 22 miles that lie between them and the Finish Line on The Mall.