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2020 London Marathon goes virtual only – except for elite runners

Melanie May | 7 August 2020 | News

This year’s Virgin Money London Marathon has been confirmed for 4 October but will be a virtual event, with elite races only for men, women and wheelchair athletes taking place on an enclosed looped course in St James’s Park.
The London Marathon, now in its 40th year, remains open to everyone who had a place for the original April date. Rather than running altogether in London, they are invited to run the 26.2 mile marathon distance from wherever they choose and all finishers will receive a finisher medal and New Balance finisher T-shirt. In addition, all runners and charities will also be able to defer their place to a future London Marathon – in 2021, 2022 or 2023.
Participants will have 24 hours to complete the 26.2 miles, from 00:00 to 23:59 on Sunday 4 October, and will be able to run, walk, take breaks and log their race on a new London Marathon app being developed by event partner TCS. Runners will also be able to use their time, with supporting evidence, to apply for a Good for Age or Championship place in 2021. More information on the virtual event is available on the London Marathon site.
The elite races for athletes will take place on 4 October on an enclosed looped course in St James’s Park in a secure biosphere like that of Formula 1 and England cricket and times will be eligible for Olympic qualification.
Next year, the London Marathon will be held on Sunday 3 October to give the best chance for the mass race to return in 2021.
Commenting on the change, Hugh Brasher, Event Director of the Virgin Money London Marathon, said:

“We have been working for months on a number of different scenarios. We had detailed plans to deliver a socially distanced mass participation event – either a run or a walk – and were planning to utilise new technology using Bluetooth and ultra wideband ranging, which is about to be launched worldwide.”
“This would have enabled us to accurately monitor every participant’s distance from each other, work out if the participant spent more than 15 minutes within 1.5 metres (or any distance we set) of anyone else and then contact them post-event if anyone had informed us that they had contracted Covid-19 in the two weeks after the event.
“The biggest challenges were not those involving participants but the multiple issues of managing spectators, ensuring the emergency services had access across London with the recent changes to the roadscape, the increased likelihood of a second spike that has led to the recent cancellation of spectator trials at major events and the ongoing concern about the pressure even a reduced size mass participation marathon might put on the NHS.
“Despite all our efforts, the fantastic support from all of our partners and the progress that has been made on planning for the return of smaller mass participation events that are not on the roads, it has not been possible to go ahead with a mass socially distanced walk or run.
“In parallel with the work on the plans for the socially distanced mass event, we had a team working on planning the elite races for men, women and wheelchair athletes in a biosphere environment in St James’s Park and another team creating a truly inspiring Virgin Money London Marathon which means participants across the UK and abroad can still be part of The 40th Race from their home or wherever they might be on 4 October.”

Children with Cancer UK had over 1,200 runners signed up for this year’s event, which it says makes the charity the largest participant. 
Commenting on the change, its CEO Mark Brider said that as its largest single fundraising event of the year, the change in format would have a significant impact on the money it would raise, and called for more help for charities from the Government:


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“Bringing in over £3 million worth of donations a year, the Virgin Money London Marathon is Children with Cancer UK’s largest single fundraising event, so we are of course extremely disappointed to hear the news. This must have been an incredibly difficult decision for organisers to take, however the welfare and safety of Marathon participants, including our team of over 1,200 runners, comes first.
“While we hope many of our runners will still take part in the virtual run, it is very likely we will see a significant drop in the level of funds raised. This will greatly impact the work that we are able to support both this year and beyond. Charities across the UK have seen levels of donations decline as a result of Covid-19 and while in response, charities such as ours are being innovative in the way in which we fundraise, it is clear that the charity sector needs further support from the Government.
“We need to ensure that the loss in income does not affect our ability to support lifesaving research projects. As only around 3% of cancer research funding currently goes towards research into childhood cancer we would like to see the Government commit to providing a level of matched funding to preserve charity-funded research and ensure that the contributions of charities to the UK’s research base are retained.”