It’s nearly the time of year when a multitude of enthusiastic athletes hit the streets to take part in the annual London Marathon. The marathon is now such a highlight of the sporting year that a lot of people would actually be surprised to find out that the first ever London Marathon was organised in 1981.
The idea for the event came from two ex-athletes, Chris Brasher and John Disley. Chris Brasher is famous for the part he played as pace-maker in the first four minute mile, and for gaining a gold medal in the Olympic steeplechase in 1956. Pictures show him participating whilst wearing a pair of glasses – perhaps if he was alive and participating today he would opt for much safer contact lenses or Laser eye surgery!
In any case, the two friends had heard people singing the praises of the New York Marathon, and wanted to find out what was so special about it, so they decided to enter themselves for the race the following year. The event had such a huge impact on them and when they returned to the UK, they decided to investigate whether it would be possible to host a similar event in London.
Through media contacts a discussion was organised with representatives from all of the interested parties who needed to approve the idea if it was to happen. It is clear that, once a suitable route had been suggested, agreement was reached quite quickly and the very first London Marathon happened in March 1981. For that first event, approximately 20,000 people applied to participate, and just over 7,700 were accepted of which 6,255 actually completed the race.
One of the restrictions when the plans for the marathon were agreed was that no public money should be expected to pay for the cost of organising the event, so sponsorship was needed to make sure that all bills could be paid. The committee was very lucky with the timing, as Gillette had recently ceased their cricket sponsorship and were looking for a new sporting sponsorship deal. That first race was sponsored to the tune of £75,000. Since 1981, sponsors have changed a number of times with the current sponsors Virgin taking over from Flora in 2010 having signed up to a five year sponsorship contract.
The marathon route hasn’t altered much over the last thirty years. The only major change from the early days is that the race now ends in The Mall instead of on Westminster Bridge. There have been a couple of small changes, but other than that it has stayed much the same over the years since the very first race. But at the same time, technology has come on in leaps and bounds since then. Precision timing making use of a beam similar to that emitted by a Laser eye gives exact race figures for the elite runners as they pass through the finishing line and break the beam. Wall to wall television coverage from every possible angle means that nobody who is interested needs to miss anything, though after a few hours of seeing thousands of runners storming or staggering past, you may reach the point when you feel that you are in need of corrective glasses or Laser eye surgery to get your eyes focusing properly again!
Anyone who has watched the race will know only too well that many of the runners are taking part in the race to make money for their favourite charity. Three quarters of those who participate do so to for charitable causes and it is said that in excess of five hundred million pounds has been raised for charity over the last thirty years. Some charities are members of a scheme via which they are guaranteed an agreed number of places in the race, and they can then award them to their supporters in exchange for an agreed amount of sponsorship income.
The race is also great publicity for London itself as so many viewers all around the planet watch on television as the runners go past great London landmarks like the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Parliament Square and Buckingham Palace. It sometimes seems unfortunate that the event can’t be planned to coincide with some other big London occasion – possibly combine it with a massive firework display and beams of light darting across the sky from Laser eye equipment. Who knows if something of that sort will occur sometime next year during the Olympic Games though?
As much as anything though, the event is about the participants. Naturally, there are the elite athletes who treat the marathon as a legitimate world class race, but the huge majority are just everyday people who decide to see if they can run just over twenty-six miles in order to help others. Anyone who has enjoyed the event will recall only too well the hundreds of costumes, the selection of charities splashed across clothing and the joyous camaraderie enjoyed by all of the athletes and by the crowds along the route. Here’s to another exciting event this year!
Tags: Health and Fitness