Tuesday, July 16

London’s one millionth marathon will cross the finishing line



If things go according to plan, Sunday should be a memorable one in the Finill household. Julia Finill will be handing out finishing medals at the London marathon in which both her husband Chris and their youngest son, Nick, will be taking part.

The aim is for Mrs Finill to present father and son with their medals, giving the family a unique perspective on an event in which one of the 38,000 runners taking part will become the millionth person across the finishing line since the marathon began in 1981.

Making the family’s participation even more special is the fact that, while Nick, 22, hopes to be picking up his first London medal, Chris, 57, is aiming to collect his 36th, making him a member of an increasingly elite club who have participated in every single London marathon.

A few years ago the club – the Ever Presents – boasted 42 members, but last year this had been whittled down to 12 remarkable characters who are prepared to run through illness to maintain their record.

Remarkably for an athlete approaching 60, Finill, who ran 2:32:55 back in 1981, has completed all but one of the marathons in under three hours – the sort of time many club runners can only dream of.

This year he hopes to dip below the three-hour mark again, preparing the way for a race in Boston on 1 January 2020 against a clutch of others who have run marathons in under three hours in five decades. Nick, running for the Orchard Bale Trust, who hopes to get around in under four and a half hours, describes his father’s achievements as incredible.

“Everyone asks me if I feel competition but not at all,” he says. “It’s not close enough. Maybe when he’s 70 I might have a chance.”

While coaches may want to study how Finill senior has managed such an extraordinary physiological achievement, others will be interested in his views on how the marathon has changed since 1981, when Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen famously held hands to cross the finishing line together as joint winners.

“It’s a hell of a bigger race than it ever was before,” Finill said. “You had six and a half thousand in the first race, and now maybe 38-40,000. The proportion of women has greatly increased from maybe 2% or 3% through to 37%, 40% now.

And of course charity fundraising has become a much, much bigger part of the race than it ever was back in the 1980s. In the early days it was a race for hardened club runners and a few other people who had conceived the idea of running a marathon before it had become popular.”

Some diehards may bemoan the event’s transformation, but not Finill. “It’s good for the country to have that sense of coming together that the race gives everybody,” he says.

“At the front it’s a race between some of the very best runners in the world; at my level, a bit further back, it’s an event for club runners, and down the field an event for people to run round in costumes and break records and raise a couple of thousand pounds for charity in the process. In that sense, it’s a very positive event.”

His enthusiasm for the race is undimmed. But does he resent the pressure of being an Ever Present, and feeling obliged to take part? “If I’d missed the second or the third marathon and hadn’t got the streak, whether I would be running it on Sunday is a bit debatable,” he concedes.

“It’s a bit of a burden, but it’s also a privilege and I wouldn’t swap it for missing a race and not having the streak to maintain.”

It is a view echoed by the Ever Presents’ oldest member, Dale Lyons, 79, who has written a book, The Real Marathon Men, about the group’s exploits, and who will be doing today’s race on a crutch. “I had a new ankle a couple of years ago, and I don’t think it’s up to doing 26.2 on its own,” Lyons said. “Last year I did it in a wheelchair in four and a half hours.

“We’ve said if it wasn’t for the fact that we were Ever Presents we probably wouldn’t be doing it. We’ve all run injured and with problems with sickness. I ran it two years ago with two crutches. A few years before I broke my leg and six months later I did it on crutches tossing a pancake. There’s no way I would have done it if I hadn’t been an Ever Present. It’s an exclusive club. Nobody can join it. You can only leave.”

Lyons, who completed the race in 1981 in 3 hours 10 minutes, hopes to chalk up his 96th marathon today when he and the other 11 Ever Presents will be given trophies marking their astonishing achievements. In Lyons’s case this includes three Guinness world records – the fastest marathon while tossing a pancake (3:06); fastest three-legged record (3:58), and the fastest egg and spoon race (3:47). He has also run the London course back-to-back on two occasions and once completed it three times in the same day.

Today 70 runners will be attempting to break 60 Guinness world records and be part of an event that aspires to leave its mark. Last year competitors raised more than £54m for good causes, setting a world record for an annual single-day charity fundraising event for the ninth successive year and taking the total raised since 1981 to more than £770m. Like the Ever Presents, the organisers must fear the streak coming to an end. They know that they need to keep the race feeling fresh to ensure it can compete against the likes of New York, still the global leader in razzmatazz, or the fast-paced course of Berlin, where records tend to get broken.

This year astronaut Tim Peake, who ran the marathon in 1999, will take part while on the International Space Station, watching himself running through the streets of London on an iPad. Double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes will make her marathon debut, while Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer will add celebrity sparkle.

The slick, media-savvy jamboree that the London marathon has become is the realisation of a dream stretching back to 1978 when its founders, former Olympic athletes Chris Brasher and John Disley, met in a pub in Richmond, south London, to discuss whether it was possible to bring a New York style marathon – a mass participation event watched by hundreds of thousands – to the capital.

In an article for the Observer, Brasher openly questioned whether London was ready for the challenge. “We have a magnificent course,” he wrote. “But do we have the heart and hospitality to welcome the world?”

Brasher died in 2003, Disley in February this year. Today, 12 Ever Presents will join 38,000 other runners, hundreds of thousands of spectators and millions of viewers around the world, to give their answer.


300 Litres of blue paint used to mark the fastest line through the course.

50,000 Length in metres of the barriers put up to secure the course.

1,263 Portable toilets.

7,000 Total of marathon marshals (1,000 at the start line; 2,000 at the finish line; 1,500 stationed along the course, and 2,500 manning the drinks stations).

1,200 St John’s Ambulance volunteers, with …

300 Stretchers on hand for exhausted runners.

500 Ice packs to apply to muscle strains.

40,000 Foil blankets for finishers to wrap themselves in.

600,000 Total of items in the goody bags that are given to all finishers – as well as their medals.