Rise of the Mini London Marathon

The Virgin Money London Mini-Marathon has grown into one of the most prestigious races in Britain for teenage athletes

Jess Judd and Georgia Peel in the 2010 London Mini Marathon (Mark Shearman)

The list of former Mini London Marathon competitors reads like a who’s who. It includes Olympic champions Mo Farah and Alistair Brownlee, Paralympic champions David Weir and Mickey Bushell, plus top names such as Martyn Rooney, Charlotte Purdue, Steph Twell, Eilish McColgan and Shelly Woods.

Farah, in fact, won the Mini London Marathon four times from 1997 to 2002 as an athlete for the Borough of Hounslow, while Weir won the wheelchair race five times in the late 1990s.

Such history illustrates the importance of this race in the calendar for teenage distance runners. Like the English Schools Championships, it has become a firm breeding ground for senior champions of the future.

Currently sponsored by Virgin Money Giving, the Mini London Marathon continues to develop and since 2011 it has been the official UKA Young Athletes Road Race Championship, making it one of the biggest and most prestigious endurance running events for British youngsters.

Held on the morning of the main 26.2-mile race itself, the Virgin Money Giving Mini London Marathon consists of a series of races for athletes aged 11-17 and these races are divided into girls and boys in three age categories (under-13, 15 and 17, with each set of competitors identified by wearing coloured t-shirts).

Altogether more than 2000 athletes take part and races start at Old Billingsgate and used to be 2.6 miles but are now three miles and finish under the main London Marathon gantry on The Mall. In fact the course follows the final three miles of the main marathon course, which is a great buzz for the young athletes who have the privilege of competing.

Runners pass along Victoria Embankment, through Parliament Square, down Birdcage Walk, and past Buckingham Palace and in recent years the races have also been show on BBC, albeit in highlights or live on the red button.

First held in 1986, the event originally featured teams from all 33 London boroughs. But the turn of the millennium saw the development of English county teams being entered, with the athletes selected from English Schools Cross Country Championship results.

Then, in 2005, teams from home countries – Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – were added. And in 2009 the English county teams were replaced by English regions such as the south-west, north-west and so on.

Meanwhile, top finishers from the London boroughs score points for a ‘united London team’ in the regional competition. And all this unfolds seamlessly every year due to the London Marathon’s expertise, with the Mini Marathon benefiting especially over the years from staff such as ultra-experienced Bryan Smith, Katie Ray, Ben Craddock and Martin Mashford.

Today, the Mini London Marathon is a must-do event for budding young distance runners – and also wheelchair racers for under-14 and under-17s – and to add to the stature of the event the races have been started over the years by such big names as Steve Backley, Jonathan Edwards, Denise Lewis, Sir Steve Redgrave, Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson, Mo Farah, Liz Yelling and Ellie Simmonds.

“I have emails sometimes two years in advance from athletes’ parents asking how they get into the team,” says Caroline Bird, South East Engand team manager. “Many see it as a vital stepping stone to an international career and for the athlete to one day emulate the senior marathon runner.”

David White, Southwark team manager, adds: “The ‘MLM’ is of huge value to Southwark, as it gives us a framework to host an annual schools road running event which also acts as trial.

“It is the event that captures the imagination of our young people the most, we annually receive more enquiries to take part in the Mini London Marathon over any of our other sporting events.”

Shenneth Brereton, team manager of Tower Hamlets, agrees: “Our young people always enjoy the experience. They enjoy the fact that’s it’s the same route as the main marathon, they enjoy the crowds along the route and they always say they would love to progress to the main marathon when they’re older.”

» For more information, such as how to earn selection for teams in future, see minimarathon.co.uk – and look out for Athletics Weekly’s photos, reports and results of the races in our April 25 issue

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