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Thursday, April 15, 1999 Published at 09:27 GMT 10:27 UK


The London Marathon

If you fancied a quick journey to the English capital on Sunday, forget it. It's the London Marathon.

Around 30,000 people are expected to run in a race which has become a fixture in the nation's calendar since 1981.

Such is the status of the event that half a million people will be in attendance to cheer on the competitors, while it is expected that the race will be televised to over 100 countries around the world.

The popularity of the race tends to overshadow the way in which it originated.

Brasher's brainchild

[ image: Liz McColgan is one of the big names at this year's race]
Liz McColgan is one of the big names at this year's race
In 1979, one of Britain's most revered athletes, Chris Brasher, ran in the New York Marathon.

So impressed was he with the spectacle of the event and the camaraderie generated by having so many people from different backgrounds and cultures competing together that he wrote an article which was published by The Observer. It contained the following suggestion.

"I wonder whether London could stage such a festival? We have the course, a magnificent course but do we have the heart and hospitality to welcome the world?"

Brasher's comments were heeded, and with the help of the newspaper, the Greater London Council and the governing bodies of athletics, created the concept now known as the London Marathon.

There was, of course, much more to be done at that stage, in terms of finding a sponsor, estimating the cost of staging the event and developing some aims for the race itself.

Once accomplished, the first London Marathon was run on March 29 1981. Incredibly, the number of applicants for the race - 20,000 - was smaller than the number that will actually run this Sunday.


[ image: Last year's winner Catherina McKiernan]
Last year's winner Catherina McKiernan
It benefited from being broadcast live by the BBC and from an emotional finish, with American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen holding hands during the home straight thus creating a dead heat for first place.

Since those embryonic days, the legend of the race has grown with each passing year. Not only does it attract thousands of applications from the casual runner but it also brings some of the best runners in the world to London.

Those expected to run in 1999 include world record holder Ronaldo da Costa from Brazil, the Olympic champion Josia Thugwane from South Africa, , the reigning women's champion Catherina McKiernan and former 10,000m World champion Liz McColgan.


Aside from being a natural arena for competitiveness and human achievement, the London Marathon is a huge asset to thousands of charities who enter athletes in the hope of raising money, usually on a sponsorship basis.

[ image: Ronaldo da Costa and Josia Thugwane]
Ronaldo da Costa and Josia Thugwane
With the amount of competitors increasing every year, more money will be raised this Sunday than during previous races. It is estimated that in the 18 year history of the event, over £80m has been raised.

At 26.2 miles, starting at Greenwich Park and finishing by The Mall, the race itself is a gruelling test of endurance and stamina. Some 15,000 runners pull out during the months preceding the race for a variety of reasons, including lack of appropriate fitness and health concerns.

The top regional athletes and interntional runners will start first with the fun-runners starting in tune with their estimated finish time.


Three additional events now form the day that is the London Marathon. A mini marathon is run for over 2,000 children between the ages of 11-17. The kids are required to complete the final 2.8 miles of the actual course.

There is a wheelchair race run from Victoria Embankment to the Mall, with many of the world's finest wheelchair athletes involved and there is now a football challenge, with representatives from many clubs competing in their team colours.

Not incidentally, the winner of the London Marathon, although celebrated and revered for their performance, seldom becomes a household name.

That is because truly, this is one event where the taking part is more important than the winning itself.

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