Everything You Need to Know About the 2021 London Marathon

One of the biggest races in the world provides great sights and fast times.

london marathon 2020

With its flat course, numerous historic locations to see, and hefty prize purse, the London Marathon attracts runners from the top of the elite field to regular runners seeking a PR (and a beautiful tour of the city).

Due to the ongoing the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 version of the London Marathon was very different. It featured an elite-only field on a looped course inside its own “bubble” created just for the race.

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In 2021, the World Marathon Major race is set to return to its traditional ways—albeit, on Sunday, October 3, rather than its normal late-April date.

London is one of multiple World Marathon Majors to reschedule a spring date to the fall. The Boston Marathon is set for October 11, and the 2021 Tokyo Marathon, also typically a spring race, was scheduled for October as well, until it was pushed back to March 2022.

2021 London Marathon Preview

A record number of 50,000 competitors plan to toe the start line in London this year. This includes 23 elite runners, led by marathon world record-holder and defending London Marathon champion Brigid Kosgei of Kenya.

On the men’s side, 2020 champion Shura Kitata of Ethiopia returns to defend his title from three challengers with sub-2:03 personal bests: Ethiopians Birhanu Legese and Mosinet Geremew and Kenyan Titus Ekiru.

The races will go off as follows on October 3:

  • 3:50 a.m. EDT – Elite wheelchair start
  • 4:00 a.m. EDT – Women’s elite start
  • 4:30 a.m. EDT – Men’s elite and general start

    You can learn more about how to watch the races here.

    COVID-19 Safety Measures

    The London Marathon is dedicated to ensuring a safe racing environment during the pandemic. The following measures have been put in place by the race organizers:

    • There will not be a baggage dropoff at the race start. Instead, runners will receive a drop bag in the mail ahead of time. Participants should pack that bag with any items they’ll need postrace, and then drop it off at the expo.
    • Medals, T-shirts, and recovery food won’t be handed out at the finish. Instead, London Marathon workers will pack your drop bag with the medal, finisher’s t-shirt, and recovery items. NOTE: Even if you don’t put any postrace items in your drop bag, it’s still important to drop that bag off at the expo, so you can receive your medal, T-shirt, and recovery items.
    • At the start, runners will be split into four separate assembly areas to ensure ample social distance.
    • Runners are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 rapid test result when dropping off their kitbags and picking up their bib numbers.
    • The London Marathon asks all participants only bring one supporting spectator to reduce crowding.

      For more detail, the London Marathon has an event guide on its website.

      Race Date and History

      The London Marathon, one of the six World Marathon Majors, is held every year in the spring. It is typically held in April; however, for 2021 it was postponed to October 3 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

      Chris Brasher, a former Olympic steeplechase champion and sports journalist, along with Welsh Olympic athlete John Disley founded the race after competing in the New York City Marathon in 1979. Both men had been impressed at the spirit of unity among attendees and were determined to create a similar experience in London.

      On March 29, 1981, just two years after the idea was conceived, the first London Marathon took place. Thousands of runners toed the line at the first ever race, with 6,255 finishers. Every year since, the race has continued to increase in size and popularity.

      London Marathon Winners and Prize Money

      The race recognizes and rewards winners in several categories. This year, there is a total prize purse of $313,000, with $55,000 each for the men’s and women’s winner. Additional prizes will go to athletes that run a certain time or break a course record.

      The following are lists of the men’s and women’s London Marathon champions over the past 10 years, highlighted by four-time champion Eliud Kipchoge and three-time champion Mary Keitany.

      Men’s Open Division (Past 10 Years)

      • 2020: Shura Kitata (ETH) 2:05:41
      • 2019 Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 2:02:38
      • 2018: Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 2:04:17
      • 2017: Daniel Wanjiru (KEN) 2:05:56
      • 2016: Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 2:03:05
      • 2015: Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 2:04:42
      • 2014: Wilson Kipsang (KEN) 2:04:29
      • 2013: Tsegaye Kebede (ETH) 2:06:04
      • 2012: Wilson Kipsang (KEN) 2:04:44
      • 2011: Emmanuel Mutai (KEN) 2:04:40
      • 2010: Tsegaye Kebede (ETH) 2:05:19

        Women’s Open Division

        • 2020: Brigid Kosgei (KEN) 2:18:58
        • 2019: Brigid Kosgei (KEN) 2:18:20
        • 2018: Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN) 2:18:31
        • 2017: Mary Keitany (KEN) 2:17:01
        • 2016: Jemima Sumgong (KEN) 2:22:58
        • 2015: Tigist Tufa (ETH) 2:23:22
        • 2014: Edna Kiplagat (KEN) 2:20:21
        • 2013: Priscah Jeptoo (KEN) 2:20:15
        • 2012: Mary Keitany (KEN) 2:18:37
        • 2011: Mary Keitany (KEN) 2:19:19
        • 2010: Aselefech Mergia (ETH) 2:22:38

          A Brief Look at the Course

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          The course runs around the River Thames and is known for its mostly flat and fast nature, as well as its tourist-pleasing proximity to many well-known London attractions.

          Beginning in Blackheath, the race has three starting points: the “red start” in southern Greenwich Park, the “green start” in St. John’s Park, and the “blue start” on Shooter’s Hill Road. After roughly 2.8 miles, the three routes converge in Woolwich. At the marathon’s halfway point, runners cross over London’s famous Tower Bridge, and the final leg of the race is when the bulk of the sight-seeing truly begins.

          The course has runners pass by the stately Tower of London on Tower Hill, and in the last couple of miles, runners are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the London Eye, as well as other iconic sights such as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. The finish line is located in The Mall alongside St. James’s Palace.

          There have been very few changes to the route since the race’s inception. Because of some construction work in 1982, the finishing post was moved from Constitution Hill to Westminster Bridge, where it stayed for 12 years. In 1994, it was moved to The Mall in St. James, where the finish remains to this day. In 2005, two alterations were made: one was a slight re-route at mile 22 to avoid the cobbled area by the Tower of London, and the other was a switch from a clockwise to an anti-clockwise direction around the Isle of Dogs.

          Registering for the Race

          Hopeful runners can usually register in the spring for the following year’s race, but COVID-19 has left registration details for 2022 up in the air. More information about how to enter the 2022 event will be available later in the year.

          Runners can opt to register for a charity entry at any time. Many major charities have a certain number of spots in the marathon each year, which they allocate to runners on the terms that they will raise a certain amount of money for the organization.

          Additionally, residents of the U.K. who have run the proper qualifying times are able to apply. There are also typically a few entries offered through competitions on the London Marathon social media channels and those of its sponsors and partners.

          Charity and Fundraising

          The London Marathon holds the Guinness World Record as the largest annual fundraising event on the planet. Since its start in 1981, runners have raised more than $1.1 billion for various charities. A third of all entry places are offered by charitable organizations.

          An FAQ for the London Marathon charity program can be found on the race website.

          Field Size and Composition

          The London Marathon is one of the most popular in the world. The 2019 field was the largest in the race’s history with 42,549 finishers, which would likely have been outdone by the 2020 race if not for COVID-19. A record number of 457,861 people applied to run in 2020.

          In 2021, we could see a new record for participants if all 50,000 expected to run make it to the start line.

          The current men’s course record, which is now the fourth fastest marathon time in history on a record eligible course, is 2:02:37, set by Eliud Kipchoge in 2019. The women’s course record is 2:15:25, set by Paula Radcliffe in 2003.

          The men’s wheelchair course record was set at 1:28:57 by Kurt Fearnley in 2009, and the women’s equivalent was set in 2017 by Manuela Schär with a 1:39:57.

          How to Train for the Course

          Because the London Marathon course is almost entirely level, hill training is not a huge priority when preparing for this race. As with any marathon, start building up your mileage and endurance three to four months in advance with a combination of long runs, speedwork, and rest days.

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