The London Marathon is back – here are the highlights…
The Virgin Money London Marathon is back in full force today after an 889-day break, with runners from 82 different countries across the world gathering the start line to take on the infamous 26.2 miles.
The mammoth amount of organisation it’s taken to put on this event is evident, with more than 40,000 runners being led to the start line by marshals to set off in waves. Hugh Brasher, event director, explains to the BBC that forty waves of runners would set off one after the other to help manage crowds.
This is the first full-scale London Marathon for two years, and the shadow of Covid still looms. All runners have had to provide a lateral flow test in the week leading up to the race, and have been encouraged to only bring one spectator for support to keep crowds to a minimum. Yet this is undoubtedly a day for celebration, as one of the first mass running events to take place post-pandemic, and there’s a sea of smiling faces in the rainbow stream of runners crossing the start line.
Plenty of charity workers will be smiling this morning too, after two years of uncertainty around event fundraising. The London Marathon is the largest annual fundraising event on the planet, with a host of brilliant charities having the opportunity to be the event’s official Charity of the Year over its forty-year history. This year, Macmillan Cancer Support are in the spotlight, and it’s fantastic to see people coming out in support: how we’ve missed the giraffe costumes and sparkly tutus. A giant tap, complete with blue ribbons of ‘water’ coming out of its spout, surely takes the prize for best outfit of the day.
Something new for 2021 is better pack-of-back care, after pacer Liz Ayres spoke out about facing insults from officials and witnessing the event clean up ahead of her as she led the final wave to the finish in 2019. This year there will be 50-strong team of ‘tailwalkers’ who will walk the course at eight-hour pace accompanied by a DJ providing motivational music, as well as a team from the 16-mile mark helping slower runners to keep pushing towards the finish line.
As we watch the everyday runners set off in their waves, the first elites start to arrive at the finish line along the Mall. Switzerland’s Marcel Hug wins the elite men’s wheelchair race in 1:26:27 – a new course record – after breaking clear around the five-mile mark. Britain’s David Weir, who has won the men’s elite wheelchair race on eight occasions, seems very happy with third place, crossing the line two minutes after Daniel Romanchuk with 1:31:34.
Manuela Schär looks strong as she crosses with another course record: 1:39:52. She’ll be pleased, after narrowly missing out on first place to Nikita den Boer last year in St James’ Park.
Meanwhile, Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei leads the women’s elite runners with an incredible performance. She’s come in under 2 hours 20 a few times before, and she’s certainly keeping us on the edge of our seats. In the end she reigns victorious, with an astounding time of 2:17:43, a new personal best.
Jepkosgei’s got something in common with Brit frontrunner Charlotte Purdue: they’ve both got something to prove after being snubbed by their respective Olympic teams at the Tokyo 2020 selection earlier this year. You can see the fight in Women’s Running cover star Charlotte Purdue’s face, and she looks strong and stable as she finishes just short of her goal time, with 2:23. It’s a new personal best, and she climbs the ranks in the leader board with the third-fastest time in British women’s history – a proud moment for British sport and for women across the UK. Natasha Cockram and Sam Harrison are the second and third British women home.
A few minutes ahead of Purdue is a surprise fourth-place runner: world record holder Brigid Kosgei isn’t having her best day. She’s been lagging slightly behind the frontrunning pack for the last few miles, and finally finishes in 2:18, after Degitu Azimeraw and Asherte Bekere and outside of the top two at a major marathon for the first time in a long time. It’s been a tough race, though, with five women finishing under 2:19 – incredible.
In the men’s elite race, Sisay Lemma pulls away as the clear frontrunner in the last few miles, finishing in 2:04. Vincent Kipchuma and Mosinet Geremew come into second and third, with last year’s winner Shura Kitata lagging behind after a rough race. Philip Sesemann, a junior doctor from Leeds, is the first British man over the line.
It’s been a joy to witness the London Marathon’s return: the shadow of Covid may have been present at the start line, but by the time runners start to cross the finish line the sun comes out in a moment of pathetic fallacy that surely points to brighter times ahead