How the London Marathon became a runaway success worldwide

From the Royals to raising millions, here's how the event influenced athletics.

Marathon: The annual event has a unique history.  <strong>PA</strong>
Marathon: The annual event has a unique history. PA

As tens of thousands of runners prepare to hit the pavements of London after months of training, their focus will be set on their goal for the next 26.2 miles.

Some may be aiming to set a personal best, others to achieve a Guinness World Record or quite simply to just cross the finish line.

Yet the world famous marathon could make history on it’s own – by being the hottest on record.

As temperatures are predicted to soar to 24C on Sunday April 22, the heat could break previous record temperatures of 22.2C at the 1996 and 2007 races.


With runners travelling from across the world to complete the famous course, it could be, quite literally, the hottest event of the year.

While the London Marathon may be one of the most famous running events in the world, it was actually preceded by The Polytechnic Marathon which was first held in the city in 1909.

Known as the Poly, it was the first marathon which ran at a length of 26 miles 385 yards which became the global standard.

Previously marathons had been run at a distance of around 40 kilometres, but for the 1908 London Olympic Games, it was decided the route would begin outside the Royal apartments at Windsor Castle and end on the track of the white city stadium in front of the Royal box – 26 miles 385 yards exactly.


It may be the case that the Royal family influenced what is now the accepted length of a marathon.

The Polytechnic Harriers, an athletics club from what is now the University of Westminster, had organised the route and due to the popularity of the Olympic race, the team were asked to organise an annual international event and the Poly was born.

The London marathon was founded in 1981. Reuters

During it’s time as one of the world’s biggest sporting events, it saw many records broken with British runner Jim Peters breaking the 2 hour 20 minute mark, often known as the marathon equivalent of the four minute mile.

It became Europe’s oldest regular marathon until it’s demise in 1996, due to issues with traffic and the rising popularity of the London Marathon which began in 1981.

The modern day marathon was founded by Chris Brasher, an Olympic gold-winning athlete and journalist along with athlete John Disley.

In 1979, after Brasher had ran the New York marathon with Disley, he praised the way people came together to celebrate the event and cheer on participants in an article.

Along with Disley, the pair researched how to recreate the atmosphere of the US event in London.


The first year the marathon was held, 20,000 people applied to take part, with 6,747 places accepted and 6,255 people crossing the finish line on Constitution Hill.

Introducing the wheelchair marathon race in 1983, the London Marathon was credited for reducing the stigma surrounding disabled athletes.

The London Marathon became the city’s annual marathon following the demise of the Polytechnic Marathon in the mid nineties and is part of the World Marathon Majors, comprising of the biggest running events in the calendar – the Tokyo, Boston, Berlin, Chicago and New York Marathons along with the IAAF World Championships and the Olympic Games.

Paula Radcliffe holds the record for the women’s marathon, set at the London event in 2003.

As well as drawing in athletes from across the world and making runners such as Paula Radcliffe, Steve Jones and Mo Farah household names, it has also become synonymous with fundraising.

In 2017, the London Marathon raised the largest amount for an annual single day charity fundraising event, raising £61.6m for a range of charities.

It was the 11th year in a row the event had set the world record.

As the 2018 London Marathon prepares to get underway, it’s notoriety as a record breaking event started before the pistol was even fired, setting a world record after 386,050 people applied for a place via the public ballot, the most applications for any marathon in the world.

While the Royal family may not be influencing the length of the course in 2018, the Queen will officially start the race from the grounds of Windsor Castle at 10am – the first time she has done so.

Prince Harry, who was involved with last year’s official marathon charity Heads Together, will make the presentations to the winners of the elite races and will meet with volunteers and members of St John ambulance.

As the sun shines down on the runners who have travelled the length and breadth of the country to take part in the historic event, even more records could very well be set on the 26.2 mile course.

For the runners however, they may hope that the weather fails to break any records.

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