Runner tying their shoelaces.

The Virgin Money London Marathon 2020: The 40th Race

We caught up with Hugh Brasher, Event Director at Virgin Money London Marathon, to get the inside scoop on this year’s event.

In 2010 Virgin Money became the official sponsors of the London Marathon with the ambition to help runners raise over a quarter of a billion pounds for charity over five years. That record was achieved in 2014, and the partnership has seen fundraising records broken year on year.

The difficulties of 2020 have seen many marathons across the world being cancelled. With the New York, Berlin and Boston Marathons all unable to go ahead, many wondered if the Virgin Money London Marathon would have to follow suit…it was clear that innovation was needed to make it happen. However, innovation is what Virgin Money is all about. So, in August, it was announced that the marathon would be going ahead, in a new virtual and elite runners format on the 5th October 2020.

We caught up with Hugh Brasher – Virgin Money London Marathon’s Event Director – to get his thoughts on why it is so important for the marathon to take place this year and to get the inside scoop on the logistics around this phenomenal event.

Hugh Brasher

With so many marathons cancelled this year - why was it so symbolically important to you that the marathon go ahead?

I think this is a lot more than just about marathons - I think it's actually about society in general, and we're living through the most rapid societal change in hundreds of years. I think that people crave some form of normality. The Virgin Money London Marathon is so much a part of people's lives these days – for many people, it's sort of the onset of spring and of people doing more sport, as it's coming into summer.

So many people’s lives have been disrupted this year. There's been a huge amount of loss, and the community spirit that the Virgin Money London Marathon brings – the sense of unity – is huge. Even though we're doing it in a unique way, which is a ‘socially distanced’ way for the marathon, with the elite race still taking part at the same time I think it is symbolic of how in 2020, we can still bring people together through fundraising and a shared experience, and that is why we needed to ensure it happened.

How are you keeping the runners socially distanced before during and after the race?

The elite runners are not socially distanced, as they are tested for COVID-19 before leaving their country of origin. They are then tested when they come into this country and tested again two days before the event.

They're staying in a hotel that is a bio-secure bubble in itself. We've taken over the whole hotel, which is set in 40 acres. They are transported from one bio-secure bubble to another which we have created in the Mall, to ensure that they don't need to socially distance.

How many runners will be taking part in this year's Virtual and Elite races?

We don't know the exact number of runners who will decide on the day that they are going to run, but we do know that we've sold 45,000 places, so that's how many runners could be doing it. We'll find out on the day how many runners will then take part.

This year the race is being broadcast live on the BBC, what can viewers expect to see during this broadcast?

The BBC has been a partner of the London Marathon since 1981, and it's a partnership that we value enormously.

Firstly, we have the most stunning stellar field of elite athletes. We've already announced we have the world's record holder Eliud Kipchoge head to head against Kenenisa Bekele. We've got Bridget Koskai, the women's world record holder, who beat Paula Radcliffe's record that had stood since 2003. In terms of Paralympic athletes, we have Manual Ashar, who is one of the best athletes in the world and hasn't been beaten in a major marathon in over two years.

All these races will be shown one after the other – from 7am to 3pm on either BBC1 or BBC2, you can see elite athletes doing incredible performances around this unique new course, which is 19 and a half laps of St James Park.

The finishing line is the same as it always is, the iconic finish line on the Mall, with Buckingham Palace as the backdrop. And the way the BBC will cover it will be unique.

We’ll also be showing people taking part in the 40th race…in their own way, in their own communities, from their homes, as part of the story of the 40th year, the amazing stories of community spirit and fundraising that is going on.

Do you have any predictions you can share on this year's race?

My biggest prediction is that it will be a year – and a race – that people reflect on, and it will long go down in the history books as one to remember. People will really treasure that finisher t-shirt and medal, even more than they may do in any other year.

What do you think the atmosphere will be like during the elite race?

That's going to be interesting. It's a bio-secure bubble; there won't be spectators, and we will seek to make it as enjoyable as we possibly can. This is 19.8 or 19.5 laps around St James Park – in a way, it will feel more like a track race, but we'll still create an atmosphere that enables the athletes to perform at their best.

What has been the feedback from both elite and virtual runners about this year's set up?

I think people are keen for the event to happen. The feedback has been incredibly positive. For elite athletes, this is their job, and they haven't been able to do it. There are many mid-level elite athletes suffering poverty because they can't race. Eliud Kipchoge, who is probably the world's greatest marathon runner, has been helping to feed elite athletes in Kenya who've not been able to feed themselves or their family.

They're incredibly keen to go back to earning a living, and, from a runner point of view, having a goal is always the best thing to have to keep you motivated.

Can we expect to see any runners in costumes at the elite or virtual races this year?

Definitely not the elites. The elites never run in costumes! But as far as the everyday runner, I am absolutely certain that we will see rhino costumes in streets and towns, and that's the great thing about the Virgin Money London Marathon – it’s how many people do get engaged and do it in fancy dress for amazing charities.

Why is this year so important for the Charity Sector?

Charities have been so affected by the pandemic. It is estimated that ten billion pounds is what's needed to replace what has been lost by the charity sector and to help them provide services required now, and in the future, particularly due to COVID-19.

The Virgin Money London Marathon is the world's best one-day fundraising event – over £66million was raised last year, and we hope runners will be supported by their communities, friends, families and work colleagues through their fundraising. It’s estimated that 1.6 million people will be giving money to someone running the marathon on the day, on any particular year—an incredible number when you think about it.

Are there any standout fundraisers this year who are going the extra mile to help raise money for their charity?

If you go on social media, Mencap has a guy running for them called Aaron. How he articulates running, what it does, how he feels etc. is just incredibly powerful. I would ask your readers to go to Mencap, look up Aaron, and hear him speak. He is an incredible young man and really inspiring.

What is your favourite thing about organising the London Marathon?

It's difficult to say one favourite thing. I think that overall, the amount of good that the marathon does, in terms of inspiring activity, raising money for great causes and uniting communities - it is unique and so special. Being able to do a job, and lead a team so committed to making the day memorable for so many, is what makes the job so incredible to do…and genuinely, it's not a job, it's a passion, and a lucky position I am proud to be in.


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