Marathon Magic

Olympic champion Samuel Wanjiro (KEN) won today’s Flora London Marathon in a time of 2 hours, 5 minutes and 10 seconds, just over a minute outside the world record. It would be all too easy to read the time without realising its significance. To do so would be a mistake.

The marathon distance is 26 miles and 385 yards or 42.195 kilometres. Wanjiro’s average speed was about 12.6mph or 20.2km/h. If you want to understand how fast that is, have a go on a treadmill in a gym. You will need to be a good athlete to last more than a few minutes. The women’s race was won by Irina Mikitenko (GER) in 2:22.11, which is an average of 11.1mph - not much slower.

One of the remarkable features of the marathon is that all of the runners run the same course in similar conditions so every competitor knows their place. If you want an insight into what it takes to win in a global sport at the top level, the marathon is a good place to start.       

The fabled origin of the marathon event is a run by a Greek soldier called Pheidippides in 490BC from the town of Marathon to Athens (26 miles) to announce that the Greeks had beaten the Persians in battle. The unfortunate Pheidippides is said to have collapsed and died on arrival.  

Founded by Chris Brasher in 1981, the London Marathon has become one of a handful of great marathons of the world. More than 35,000 people completed this year’s event, ranging in age from 18 to 80 plus and taking anything from just over 2 hours to 8 hours.  As always, there was a fantastic assortment of uncomfortable and impractical costumes, mainly worn by charity runners competing for attention. Last year runners raised over £46m for charities and the figure for this year is expected to be even higher.

It is noticeable that the branding adopted by both sponsors and charities is increasingly sophisticated with colour coding and website addresses prominently displayed on many of the runners’ uniforms. Highly visible charitable marathon campaigns included Help for Heroes and Cancer Research UK.

The runners were cheered on by large crowds, who probably enjoyed the warm weather more than the competitors. There was an exceptionally friendly, enthusiastic atmosphere, which is reflected in positive media coverage (for example, the Daily Telegraph). Margarine brand Flora will surely be happy with the final edition of their 14-year sponsorship before Virgin Money takes over for the next 5 years.

It will be interesting to see what they have planned for 2011, which will mark 2500 years since the legendary run by Pheidippides (not 2010, as one angry mathematician points out). The story of that run has created quite a legacy.

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