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Culture
The London Marathon is the world’s largest annual fundraising event.

The London Marathon: a brief history

The London Marathon is and has been for many years one of the world’s top sporting events – but how did it all start, way back in the mists of time?
Since its launch 36 years ago, London Marathon runners have raised more than £770 million for charity.

"The hottest marathon day was in 2007 when temperatures peaked at 21.7°C."

Jeremy Smith

 

The London Marathon. Let’s start at the beginning, and reassuringly for a British institution, it all started in a pub – the Dysart Arms, in fact, next to Richmond Park, home of the Ranelagh Harriers running club. Club runners had previously competed in the 1978 New York City Marathon and hadn’t been able to stop talking about the difference between its buzz and vibe and the more pedestrian, homegrown marathons. This is when John Disley and Chris Brasher, both Harriers members, decided to enter New York’s 1979 race and see for themselves whether the hype was deserved.

Having completed the 42km (26 mile) course and become immersed in the backdrop of its world famous tourist sights and fervent crowds, Brasher said this in an article he wrote, shortly after returning, for the The Observer:

“To believe this story you must believe that the human race can be one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible. Last Sunday, 11,532 men and women from 40 countries in the world, assisted by over a million people, laughed, cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen.” Brasher concluded, perhaps not surprisingly, “Do we [too] have the heart and hospitality to welcome the world?”

Attending a lunch hosted soon after by The Observer specifically to consider this possibility, both Brasher and Disley were able to meet with the relevant authorities who would be responsible for organising such an event. Having met with the police, the Greater London Council (GLC) and the Amateur Athletic Association, it was decided that a London Marathon might indeed be a viable proposition if (and it was a big ‘if’) the police could be persuaded that shutting down 26 miles of road was A) not only possible but B) unlikely to bring the capital to a standstill.

Astonishingly, the police approved the event, and with a caveat requested by the chairman of the GLC that ratepayers not be asked to bail out the enterprise, the planning went into overdrive. A budget was set at £75,000 – which at the start of the Eighties was no small sum – and this was further buoyed by Gillette becoming the Marathon’s first title sponsor.

Charitable status was established for the event, and both Brasher and Disley outlined their six aims for the event including raising money for sporting and recreational facilities in the capital and boosting London’s tourism.

Just five months later, on 29 March 1981, the first race was held and although 20,000 people had applied to run, only 7,747 were accepted. It goes without saying, of course, that Brasher and Disley’s dream became an immediate worldwide hit and consequently their next race, the 1982 marathon, saw more than 90,000 applications from hopeful runners across the globe.

Chris Brasher CBE died in February 2003. John Disley CBE, the President of the London Marathon Charitable Trust, died in February 2016.

 

The London Marathon 2017 takes place on 23rd April.

 

Ten fascinating facts about the London Marathon

1. The London Marathon is the world’s largest annual fundraising event.

2. Since its launch 36 years ago, London Marathon runners have raised more than £770 million for charity.

3. The highest amount raised by a single runner was £2,330,159.38, by Steve Chalke in 2011.

4. 2015 was the most successful year to date, with funds reaching a cool £54.1 million.

5. The London Marathon is shown on television in nearly 200 countries around the world.

6. The hottest marathon day was in 2007 when temperatures peaked at 21.7°C.

7. The coldest race day was a chilly 7.6°C in 1994.

8. The most common occupation for people running the marathon is teaching, but scientists, nurses, taxi drivers, electricians and burlesque dancers have all taken on 26.2 miles across London.

9. English long-distance runner Paula Radcliffe CBE has won the marathon three times (2002, 2003, 2005).

10. American wheelchair athlete Tatyana McFadden has won the marathon an astonishing four times.

 

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