For Londoners up and down the capital, it has been an eerie and unnerving sight to see the likes of Oxford Street, Columbia Road or The Strand completely empty for the last 18 months. The shots of Westminster Bridge deserted drew comparisons to apocalypse films and Piccadilly Circus without a sole taking selfies looked plain wrong.
On Sunday 3rd October, 40,000 people will pound the pavement to make the journey from Greenwich to the Mall, raising incredible amounts of money for charities and marking an emotional return to the endeavor, vibrancy and inspiration that London is known for.
Last year, the 2020 Marathon took place in the bizarrest of circumstance - just as much of life did - but delivered nonetheless. The elite athletes competed in a closed environment, completing their route as laps of St James Park in a bio-secure bubble, while every day runners were asked to either defer their place to 2021 or compete virtually, running their own route locally.
The event saw people around the globe take on the marathon distance of 26.2 miles on the course of their choice, at any time between 00:00 and 23:59:59 (BST), using the Virgin Money London Marathon App powered by TCS to register their runs.
A total of 37,966 people finished the event, which set a new Guinness World Record for the most users to run a remote marathon in a 24-hour period.
The idea did so well that it’ll return this year, despite the fact that the in-person event will be back.
It also did so well that it was named as the prestigious (Virtual) Event of the Year in association with Miller at the Sport Industry Awards 2021, a category we’re proud to support and an event that brings together the very best of those behind-the-scenes in sport.
Couple that with the brilliant put together 2.6 Challenge, a user-generated-content campaign that recouped some of the money that the London Marathon’s countless charities had lost out on, and when you really look at it, 2020 wasn’t the worst year for the capital’s premier event.
But less reminiscing, more looking forward, and what an event 2021 promises to be. A true celebration of our gradual and careful return to normality.
It’ll be something special, but it’s worth always remembering - particularly for those organising it - that while we can all get swept up in the romanticism of a return, risks still remain.
Of course, COVID still looms large, and the event cancellation policies in place are still mired in fog.
For context, the majority of event cancellation policies have excluded the impact of COVID since early 2020, but the insurance industry AND the events industry have lobbied Government hard to offer support.
Thankfully, it looks like they will start to budge on that front, but it won’t be soon enough for the London Marathon. Its unlikely COVID would force a cancellation at this stage, but the wider politics of that situation remain one to keep an eye on.
Elsewhere, though, the traditional event cancellation risks remain ever present. A quick glance at our weather apps suggest that adverse conditions won’t impact this weekend. However, the failure of key suppliers, such as water for example, has previously led to the cancellation of marathons.
Terrorism, sadly, is an ongoing threat and unrest around certain areas of the world is heightening the risk this year. The London Marathon will be no stranger to the risk, but with the spotlight on one global fear (COVID) doesn’t mean others have gone away.
Outside of event cancellation, equipment remains one of the event’s greatest exposures.
There will be 26.2 miles of barriers, rigging, generators and signage sprawling across London’s busiest streets, which, while heavily cordoned and under the watchful eye of security, some items remain open to all comers. Additionally with thousands on the streets spectating, any incident resulting from errant wires or misplaced fencing can lead to third party injury and a potential liability for the organisers.
Similarly, the event relies on countless staff and volunteers across the course. Hundreds and thousands of fans will turn out to cheer people on, creating a COVID transmission risk, but whilst transmission amongst those spectators is in no way the responsibility of London Marathon, the staff around the event are their responsibility and need to be protected as such.
And so, we look forward to a grand a return of London’s premier event - a special moment in the calendar each and every year, but even more so in 2021. However, while the romantic in all of us can’t wait to hear to amazing stories of triumph over adversity, it’s always worth remembering in the background the supreme efforts from the organisers to carefully manage the inevitable risks that arise from an event of this size and profile.
We hope that all those participating experience the day that they wished for and have been looking forward to.