Hugh Brasher, event director, London Marathon Events tells Access of his determination the Virgin Money London Marathon would go ahead this year as a physical event in some shape or form, and how his father, the event’s co-founder, would have loved the fact a growing number of runners from around the world are getting involved virtually.

This article was published in the November edition of Access All Areas. Read it here, and/or subscribe for free here

 

A hugely important event not only for the role it plays in encouraging improved mental and physical health but the massive impact it has on the economy and fundraising, the London Marathon’s return this year as a mass-participation event was a huge relief for all involved not least its many suppliers.

On 3 October, more than 37,000 runners completed the 26.2 miles route from Blackheath to The Mall that takes in some of London’s most famous landmarks including Buckingham Palace, The Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf. Meanwhile, 40,000 runners took part remotely, logging their distance via a tracking app.

At a time of so much uncertainty, race director Hugh Brasher’s apparent commitment to staging the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon in whatever way possible offered the supply chain some much needed certainty.

“Ultimately, it was able to go ahead because of the trust that our suppliers have had in us.”

While taking into account the changing Covid mitigation measures mandated by Government throughout this year, Brasher and his team developed a series of contingency measures to ensure they could react with agility to whatever scenario was thrust upon them.

The team had already staged a Covid-safe version of the event on 4 October last year, which consisted of elite-only races in a biosecure bubble around St James’s Park. Simultaneously, it staged the first virtual edition of the marathon that saw 37,966 finishers.

“Ultimately, it was able to go ahead because of the trust that our suppliers have had in us.”

London Marathon Events was also involved in the Government’s Events Research Programme. Its Reunion 5K pilot races on 15 May at Kempton Park in Surrey, each involving 3,000 runners, tested different scenarios including social distancing. It also staged the Vitality London with 10,000 runners at Hatfield Park on 11 July.

Says Brasher, “We had proven by putting an elite event on in St James’ Park in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, when nobody else was doing it, that we would be able to safely stage the London Marathon this year.

“We had some unbelievable contingencies, one of them was to have 17 simultaneous events around Britain on the same day.”

“We had some unbelievable contingencies, one of them was to have 17 simultaneous events around Britain on the same day with 4,000 people running at each of them. We had members of the team working on that, talking to venues with NDAs in place. We tracked the Covid-19 data, looked at what was going on around the world, and worked closely with the Government. We only jettisoned that option completely on 22 August.

The 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon elite men’s race was won by Shura Kitata while the elite women’s race winner was Brigid Kosgei. While many enjoy watching the endeavours of the elite athletes, it is the mass participation element that has captured the public’s imagination since the event was launched in 1981 by Hugh’s father Chris Brasher and John Disley. One of their initial aims was to raise money for public sport and recreational facilities. In the years since its inception the marathon has raised more than £1 billion for charities.

Let’s get digital

“The London Marathon was founded in the Dysart Arms by my old man and the Ranelagh Harriers running club,” says Brasher. “This year’s event involved people in 198 countries around the world. The virtual aspect fits in 100% with the ethos of what my father and John Disley envisaged at the start. One of the founding pillars was to provide some fun and a sense of achievement in a troubled world.”

Born out of the pandemic, Brasher says the opportunity to run the London Marathon remotely will continue to evolve in the years ahead and it is very much his intention to make it a permanent aspect of the event.

He says, “Why would we limit ourselves to the roads of London? It extends the brand further, and it creates an incredible community spirit. It is another avenue to engage more people and inspire them to be active.

“Soon you will be able to do the London Marathon on treadmills and we are not far away from being able to do the event running against someone you are watching on your glasses.”

He is referring to a recent partnership with iFIT, a provider of connected fitness software and equipment. Its interactive technology adjusts the settings of treadmills to match the natural topography of the marathon course.

The London Marathon has also entered into a six-year naming rights deal with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which will run from 2022 onwards. The IT services, consulting and business solutions organisation has been the technology partner since 2016. It developed the 2019 event app, and in 2020 updated the app to support people taking part virtually.

“There are some fantastic initiatives in terms of inspiring activity with all ages and you will see those through the next three to five years,” says Brasher. “There’s one initiative I am particularly excited about, but not prepared to talk about it yet.”

An initiative he is willing to talk about is the hugely successful launch of the Mini London Marathon, which invited primary schools across the country to take part in the race by running or walking 2.6 miles between 28 September and 9 October.

“We got half a million school kids to do it this year, and we have some incredible goals to expand and amplify that,” says Brasher.

Staged only weeks before global leaders gathered in Glasgow at COP26, sustainability was naturally a major focus at the London Marathon.

Having successfully trialled the use of bottle belts in 2019 they were used again this year. In 2019 the belts, which are made of 95% recycled plastic, led to a 45% reduction in plastic bottle usage. A closed-loop bottle recycling scheme was introduced, with all bottles made from recycled plastic, collected afterwards and returned for reuse.

Other environmental measures included kitbags made from sugar, bib numbers printed on demand to reduce waste from uncollected numbers, the use of compostable cups, generators fuelled by Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil, and electric vehicles.

“We had some unbelievable contingencies, one of them was to have 17 simultaneous events around Britain on the same day.”

Teamwork

Clearly, staging the London Marathon is a massive undertaking. A core team of around 85 people is employed year around, and on the day some 4,500 volunteers and 160 doctors are engaged, not to mention the many suppliers (see box).

“Around 6,000 people work directly on the event and there are a lot more indirectly – Docklands Light Railway had one of its busiest days in 2019 with more than 320,000 people taking it on the day of the race. In terms of suppliers, we tried to work with most of the ones we had existing relationships with for continuity and wanting to support them.”

Among the new contractors this year was WS Transport, as well Square One and Creative Technology which were involved with the new finish gantry and hospitality on the St James’s Park side of the Mall.

London Marathon Events senior operations manager Ben Craddock says, “We did have some challenges with supply in certain areas, one of these was toilets at the start of the event. We ended up using three or four suppliers to deliver the quantity required.”

While it is unlikely any event this year was immune from the impact of the shortages of equipment, services and staff resulting from Brexit and the pandemic, Brasher says the fact the 2021 London Marathon date was announced on 7 August 2020, helped suppliers plan for it.

He says, “We were always clear it would happen. I hope it was through communication with our suppliers, and through the events we did, that they knew we would do something incredible this year. Ultimately, it was able to go ahead because of the trust that our suppliers have had in us.”

SUPPLIERS

WS Transport – Transport

Events Crew, GAP, Arena Site services, Capital Barriers, Sunbelt Rentals, and Xposerv – Barriers and Fencing

ARB – Power

Mitchell Bridges – Footbridge

GL Events, Field & Lawn, Key Structures, Arena Seating, Chord, Paul Simon Marquees – Marquees & Structures

Square One, Creative Technology – Finish Gantry

Loos 4 Dos, SLCTCS, GAP, Simply Hire, Mobile Thrones – Toilets

Logical Safety Solutions, TESS – Health & Safety

Newman, Provide, Mann Commercial, Minerva Elite – Venue Security

IN Event, CSM, Elonex – Branding

2CL – Radio Communications

Cawley’s – Waste Management

This article was published in the November edition of Access All Areas. Read it here, and/or subscribe for free here