45,000 runners prepare for virtual London Marathon

Up to 45,000 runners prepare to brave heavy rain and winds for the virtual London Marathon along their own 26.2mile route as Prince Harry meets participants setting off in sunny Los Angeles

  • Annual race schedule for April 26 was pushed back to October over virus fears
  • Elite runners will take to track in St James’s park while 45,000 will run virtually
  • London Marathon Charitable Trust patron Prince Harry wished runners luck

As many as 45,000 people will run or walk the 40th London Marathon along their own 26.2-mile route on Sunday after the usual mass event was scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual race was due to take place on April 26 but was pushed back to October 4, and it was later decided only the elite athletes would be able to race in central London.

Other participants will now take part wherever they choose and people will be on the streets of the UK and 109 other countries completing their own marathon between midnight and 11.59pm.

People are able to break up the distance however they like across the day and event director Hugh Brasher said: ‘It was about inclusivity, removing the pressure that people can feel on event day.

Elite runners have already started their races on the track in St James’s Park, central London while 45,000 participants will run their own courses virtually

‘There’s a reason we have a cut-off, because we have to reopen roads, to reopen London to get it back up and running. But that pressure is removed.’

The marathon’s vision is Inspiring Activity and Mr Brasher said the unusual 40th event fitted with that vision.

He said: ‘We are delighted to say that’s how we believe the 40th race should be run. A celebration of achievement.

‘That was always part of the thinking. This is not the same as it has been for the other 39 years. For some people it’s better, for some people it’s not as good.’

The annual race was due to take place on April 26 but was pushed back to October 4, and it was later decided only the elite athletes would be able to race in central London

Elite athletes will have to run 19 laps of the downscaled marathon route, starting near Admiralty Arch and running around St James’s Park  before finishing on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace

Asked if he would feel relief when the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon was finally over, Mr Brasher said: ‘What I hope is after the marathon I will feel enormously proud of what the team has achieved, what the public will have achieved and what the elite athletes will have achieved.

‘It will live in my memory for a long, long time.’

Many runners in the UK will face wet and windy weather, with a Met Office rain warning in place until noon which covers Wales, eastern Scotland and much of England.

In a video shared on the London Marathon’s Instagram page, the Duke of Sussex, who is also patron of the London Marathon Charitable Trust, wished people good luck and praised participants for providing a ‘lifeline’ for vulnerable people amid the pandemic by raising money for charities.

Prince Harry, a patron of the London Marathon Charitable Trust, wished people good luck and praised participants for providing a ‘lifeline’ for vulnerable people amid the pandemic by raising money for charities. Pictured: The Duke with runners in Los Angeles

Catherine Woodhead, chief executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, is one of 117 people taking part to help the charity, which has seen its income fall by £2.8 million.

Mrs Woodhead, 48, who plans to walk 26.2 miles from her home in Chelmsford, Essex, said she would not have felt able to take part in the mass event in central London.

Of MDUK’s Team Orange runners, 38 signed up after the virtual marathon was announced and Mrs Woodhead said at least one family planned to push their child in a wheelchair, adding: ‘There are people who could never do it normally who can take part.

‘It will be really inclusive.’

This year’s charity of the year is Mencap which has 10 runners with a learning disability among its 312 participants.

This year’s event will be very different but completing 26.2 miles is still the same challenge.

Martin Yelling, the official coach of the Virgin Money London Marathon, told runners in a Facebook Live event: ‘One of the things to remember is tough moments do pass.’

He added: ‘It may not be what we had in mind but it’s a wonderful way to experience running a marathon.’

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