Hugh Brasher, event director, London Marathon Events looks ahead to welcoming 50,0000 runners to the streets of London in October and considers how the events industry can work with scientists to help develop their understanding of the virus.

If you were to ask the London Marathon Events team what my most-used phrase has been over the past year, I imagine the majority would answer, ‘the only certainty is uncertainty’.

I am not sure exactly when I first used this expression, but it would have been not long after Friday 13 March 2020 when we were forced to postpone the Virgin Money London Marathon from April to October. Since then, I doubt there’s been a week that’s gone by when I haven’t found myself saying it.

But while there is uncertainty now and likely to be so for some time in the future, I remain positive. I am positive about the future of London Marathon Events, of mass-participation sport and of our ability as a society to respond positively from this crisis.

Last year, against all the odds, we managed to put on the Virgin Money London Marathon – the historic 40th race in the event’s history – on Sunday 4 October in a way that was appropriate for the world at that time. We had elite-only races in a biosecure bubble around St James’s Park and our first ever virtual marathon which had an amazing 37,966 finishers.

“It’s imperative that we as industries come together to work with scientists to help them understand the virus from a sporting perspective.”

I am incredibly proud of this achievement and of the team for their agility and adaptability in making it happen. In fact, I am still not sure that we, as an organisation, fully understand what we achieved. But it is because of what we have gone through, that I am very confident in saying 2021 will be better than 2020.

Of course, there will be challenges. We will have curveballs thrown at us which we will have to deal with and we’ll have to continue to be agile but we are far, far better prepared than we were 12 months ago. Indeed, the planning for the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon started the day after last year’s event.

We announced in January a 100,000-person Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday 3 October. We are planning for 50,000 people to run on the historic course from Blackheath to The Mall and for another 50,000 to run the virtual event, which was such a success last year.

People would have called me mad if I had announced this 12 months ago. We actually had a long-term plan to get to 50,000 finishers by 2023 and people thought that was crazy – now here we are planning for 100,000!

Runners at the finish line after completing the Virgin Money London Marathon, 28 April 2019.
Photo: Thomas Lovelock

This is an example of how we have adapted to the situation and how this terrible pandemic has thrown up an opportunity. To just sit there and hope the world will eventually return to what it was pre-pandemic is a very dangerous position to take.

I believe you need to be of the mind that it will take the world time to adapt to what we are living through right now, but it will adapt and you have to take advantage of these changes and look for opportunities to do things differently.

There will be challenges ahead, which is why I also believe, now more than ever, that sport needs to come together to work more closely.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been told science will lead us and, there is no doubt, what science has done in the past year has been quite incredible, but scientists’ understanding changes the more they learn about the virus. I believe it’s imperative that we as industries come together to work with scientists to help them understand the virus from a sporting perspective.

For example, we are a mass-participation events organiser, which is not a great business to be in a socially distanced world, but there have been various studies over the past months that have suggested the chances of transmission outdoors, when you are moving, is incredibly low, especially among the fit and healthy. Science is still finding its way through this and we can help by facilitating the capture of more data for the scientists to analyse.

Ultimately, we also all know how important sport is to physical and mental health. The pandemic has only made this more evident. People need sport and we need to come together to help ensure they continue to have access to it.

This article was originally published in the March edition of Access All Areas. Read it here. Don’t miss an issue – subscribe for free here.