Ahead of the original 2020 race day, event director Hugh Brasher says scenarios for the rescheduled race in October are ever-evolving
Usually in Virgin Money London Marathon race week, Hugh Brasher would deliver an opening press conference speech that would whet the appetite ahead of some of the most highly anticipated clashes in marathon history.
This year, speaking two days ahead of the original race date (April 26), the event director was left to rue what might have been.
“It’s a strange feeling,” Brasher admitted, this time speaking via conference call. “Normally we would be looking forward to what would have been the most incredible marathon runners in the world – male, female, male and female wheelchair racers, the current world record-holders in every single genre.
“Our 40th race, it would have been the most incredible day.”
The hope is that later this year, that incredible day can still happen. October 4 has been set as the new race date, which would see the iconic event take place outside of spring for the first time since 1981, when the inaugural race took place on March 29.
But given the great deal of uncertainty as the world continues to battle the coronavirus crisis, who knows right now how that race day might look.
Asked about the possibility of further postponement, or other options including elite-only races, Brasher explained how numerous scenarios have been discussed.
“We are looking at so many different scenarios and those scenarios have probably quadrupled in the last 48 hours,” he said, adding that conversations had been held between all of the other Abbott World Marathon Majors events – which includes Tokyo, Boston, Berlin, Chicago and New York City as well as London – to share ideas.
“Collectively we swap ideas. I chucked one in that we had that pretty well blew a few people’s minds. We have got a meeting next week where we’re swapping learnings from each other.
“There are so many scenarios and, in reality, nothing is off the table.
“We have to look at this holistically for society. It is far bigger than just saying, ‘What is right for the Virgin Money London Marathon?’ This is about what is right for society and that is a really important part of the decision-making process.
“The reality of social distancing, that plays an enormous part of it.
“There are so many scenarios that we will play around with and you have to keep evolving them as scientific advice comes forward, as the weeks go by.”
In March, the Tokyo Marathon featured elite action only, while it has already been announced that the Berlin Marathon will no longer take place as planned on September 27 following a decision by the state of Berlin government to prohibit all events with more than 5000 people until October 24.
The two fastest marathon runners in history – Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele – had been set to go head-to-head in the UK capital on Sunday and although all elite runners have been invited back for the rescheduled race date, their participation in the autumn event is yet to be confirmed.
“At this stage it is not possible to say what we are doing,” Brasher said, when asked whether Kipchoge and Bekele were signed up to run again. “We know what we want to do but we just don’t know the reality of the world that will be in existence on October 4.
“In terms of the London Marathon, we believe we put on the greatest elite field.
“It was, I believe, in marathon history, the first time ever that the current world record-holders in every single able-bodied male and female and wheelchair races have ever been on the start line and the course at the same time.
“We want that to happen again on October 4 but those decisions will be taken later.”
The domestic fields were also strong given that the event incorporated the British trial for the Olympic marathon in Tokyo. With the Games now postponed by a year, Brasher was asked if the October race might still include that trial aspect.
Conversations are ongoing, he said, following World Athletics’ decision to suspend the Olympic qualification period meaning that results achieved between April 6 and December will not count as Tokyo 2020 entry marks.
“With the rules that recently got passed, the time that someone would run (in London in October), if they hadn’t got the qualifying time, wouldn’t count,” Brasher said.
“We are in conversation with World Athletics about that and about whether that was a decision made around track and field or was it a decision made around marathon runners.
“We had an amazing women’s field, four of the nine best ever British women taking part, all having the qualification, and there were many others who were looking to get the qualification.
“As the rules stand recently, you couldn’t run the qualifying so that brings in other issues and it is again part of the myriad of different things that we are looking at and talking to World Athletics and others about.”
While the marathon will no longer be held on Sunday, many individual challenges will still be taking place after London Marathon Events, together with a number of other race organisers, launched a campaign to raise vital funds to help the country’s charities during the coronavirus outbreak.
The London Marathon raised £66.4 million for charities in 2019 and it is estimated that the UK charity sector will lose £4 billion in income as a result of the pandemic.
Encouraging people to take on The 2.6 Challenge (read more here), Brasher said: “We really hope that on and from Sunday April 26, still under Government social distancing rules, still under the rules in terms of activity, there will be people doing incredible, crazy activity.
“There are so many stories of the everyday person getting involved in this challenge that we have helped create and we hope that fills a small hole that will exist as a result of the activity and the fundraising that would have gone on, on Sunday.
“It is a great tribute, I believe, to Britain and the society that we have, that people are getting so behind it.”