The 28th London Marathon took place last week-end, with over 34,000 successfully completing the course, and over a million spectators make it one of the largest global sporting events in the world.
It began in the late 70s, when the former Olympic champion Chris Brasher mused, having run the 1979 New York marathon, whether such an event would be possible in London. Two years later in 1981, the first marathon took place, with over 6,000 finishing the route. Over the years the race has grown in both participation and profile, and is regularly oversubscribed with applications to the ballot (over 80,000 now apply every year).
The route from Greenwich has had a number of minor course variations through the years, and until 1993 the Finish Line was on Westminster Bridge: repair work in 1994 meant a move to the Mall and its iconic position in front of Buckingham Palace, where it has remained ever since. One thing is clear - it causes traffic chaos everywhere, as all road crossings of the 26 mile route are, of course, closed. Spectators are advised to travel by public transport, and on certain stretches of the underground it can feel like a Monday morning rush hour!
As well as a sporting event, it has also become a sort of 26-mile long street party, with spectators taking advantage of both refreshment and entertainment along the route: some just have cup of tea, others a beer and full Sunday Pub Lunch, as some 60 bands have been booked by the 80 or so pubs that line the route. (Peculiarly British this - there's even an official beer sponsor!)
The party mood is enhanced by the ever increasing number of runners who decide to run wearing fancy dress: lots of animals, cartoon characters, the odd Star Wars Stormtrooper, some in real Army Combat kit, and this year a group of real Masai warriors, who ran equipped with their spears (with special dispensation).
Moonrising has given huge amounts of detail on what it's like to participate in the race itself, and having never achieved more than a half-marathon, I can't comment on what it must feel like, but I am hugely impressed by those who train so hard throughout the winter to run.
Of the course the weather is one of those things that just cannot be relied on, especially as April can bring warm and humid summer weather temperatures, or as in this year a frost the night before, thunderstorms, showersyou name it.
Since 2006, London has become one of the World Marathon Majors, a series established by the collaboration of the marathons in London, Chicago, Boston, New York and Berlin, offering a major prize but also raising money of charity.
The charity theme has indeed become a major feature of the London event, with many charities allocated places in the marathon from the organisers. Over £360m has been raised over the years, with over £46.5m raised in 2008. Sponsorship has equally become important, with Flora (margarine) now becoming a familiar name associated with the event.
For anyone interested in the Marathon, either competing, sponsoring, or just going along to watch - there is loads of really good information and advice on their web-site. (The street address above is the location of the organising offices).
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