London Marathon organisers are 'not giving up hope' of holding the race in October

Jane McGuire
Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images

From Runner's World

  • Virgin Money London Marathon Event Director Hugh Brasher shares a message with runners following much speculation over the October race following the cancellation of the Great North Run.
  • Earlier this week, Brendan Foster, the founder of the Great North Run said it would be 'extremely difficult' to hold the London Marathon this year amid social distancing concerns.

As the UK eases out of Covid-19 lockdown, many runners are wondering if a socially distanced autumn marathon is a realistic possibility. The London Marathon has been postponed until October 4, but the 40th edition of the most popular marathon in the world is still surrounded by uncertainty.

Today, Virgin Money London Marathon Event Director Hugh Brasher has shared a message with runners, following a week of speculation following the cancellation of the Great North Run.

'I am sure earlier this week you will have seen the news that the Great North Run was sadly, but understandably, cancelled. There has been much speculation that this means the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon will also be cancelled. However, it doesn’t,' Brasher writes.

'All road races have unique challenges. These might be transporting people to the start; transporting them from the finish; the density of runners on the course; the density and movement of spectators; providing runners with appropriate medical care and facilities such as loos and drinks; dealing with the logistics of road closures and reopenings – the challenges are always different for every race.

'The team at London Marathon Events has been looking at the logistics of the Virgin Money London Marathon and coming up with innovative ways to socially distance the event.'

In answer to questions from runners on whether or not they should start training for the race, Brasher said, 'As I write, there are currently just over 15 weeks before the planned date of our 40th Race on Sunday 4 October. Therefore, on the usual timescale for our event, we are currently at the equivalent of the first week of January.

'While some may think what we are trying to do on Sunday 4 October is impossible, we will not give up hope.'

On Wednesday, May 20, London Marathon event director Hugh Brasher wrote an open letter to runners, saying 'As you know, the rescheduled date for the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon is Sunday 4 October. At this point, we cannot be certain if the event can go ahead or, if it can, in what form it can take place.

‘We know that you would like certainty. We understand and acknowledge that you want to know if you should start serious training or restart your fundraising campaign. However, much as we would like to, we cannot offer you certainty.'

Brasher has confirmed he will announce more information on 28 July.

Could the London Marathon go ahead with an elite-only field or be postponed further?

In a virtual press conference held two days before the original London Marathon date in April, Brasher said there were a number of possible scenarios being looked at for the postponed race. ‘We are looking at so many different scenarios and those scenarios have probably quadrupled in the last 48 hours,’ he said. Brasher said he had been in contact with the race directors of the other Abbotts World Marathon Majors, all of whom are sharing ideas around possible race-day options. Brasher added, ‘I chucked one in that pretty well blew some people's minds. We have a meeting next week where we’re swapping learnings from each other and, in reality, nothing is off the table’.

Brasher went on to point out that all organisers have a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the runners, the elite, the volunteers, the medics and the spectators. ‘We have to look at this holistically for society. It’s far bigger than just saying, "What is right for the Virgin Money London Marathon?" This is about what is right for society and that is a really important part of the decision-making process.’

Will social-distancing measures be put in place at the October London Marathon, even if the UK government has relaxed restrictions?

In response to questions about social-distancing measures at the October event, Brasher said: ‘There are so many scenarios that we will play around as scientific advice comes forward. At the moment, broadly speaking, there’s about 10 different scenarios. I’m sure that will multiply and some of them will drop off as time goes by and as circumstances change, but social distancing is absolutely part of it.’

What a socially distanced marathon would look like remains to be seen, but with no word from the government on when lockdown restrictions may ease, many runners will have questions about their safety during the mass participation event.

Will the elite field be the same if the race goes ahead in October?

At the moment, neither Bekele or Kipchoge, nor any of the other elite runners expected at the London Marathon on 26 April, have confirmed whether or not they will run in the rescheduled race. Kipchoge said later in the press conference that he hoped to run a marathon this year, but at the moment, it is too soon to predict what will happen. When talking about the elite field, Brasher said: ‘It was, I believe, in marathon history, the first time ever that the current world record holders in every single able-bodied male and female and wheelchair races have ever been on the start line. It would have been the most fantastic race, we want that to happen again on October 4, but those decisions will be taken later’.

Spencer Barden, Head of Elite Athletes at London Marathon went on to point out that the field for the April race isn't usually confirmed until December, after the New York City Marathon. He added that all of the elite runners from the April race have the opportunity to compete in the October race and that they were having 'weekly and sometimes daily discussions with some of the elite athlete managers'.

'What I can say is all those discussions have been very positive indeed' Barden said.

Brasher also went on to say they were currently in discussions with World Athletics to see if the London Marathon would count as a qualifying race for the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games. Earlier this month, World Athletics announced the qualification period for the Olympic Games was suspended until the start of December. Brasher ended his Q&A saying: ‘As the rules stand, you couldn’t run the qualifying [time at the London Marathon in October], so that brings in other issues, and is again in the myriad of things we are looking at and talking to World Athletics and others about’.

What does the postponement of the London Marathon mean for the charity sector?

Talking about the London Marathon's 2.6 Challenge, Brasher highlighted the impact the postponement of the London Marathon was having on the UK's charity sector. 'We believe we would have had a record number of finishers and we believe we would have broken last year’s record of £66.4 million having being raised for good causes', Brasher said. He encouraged runners to get involved with the challenge, and help support causes close to their hearts at this difficult time.

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