The London Marathon will welcome back more than 40,000 runners for a colourful charity spectacular on Sunday after the mass event was scrapped last year due to coronavirus restrictions.
A further 40,000 participants will choose their own 26.2 mile route to earn the same finisher’s medal and T-shirt by completing a virtual run which was introduced in 2020.
It is the first time the two events will take place simultaneously and the first time that runners have tackled the marathon’s traditional route from Blackheath to Westminster in October rather than during spring.
The date is not the only change. There is no bag drop at the start and runners were instead asked to leave any belongings they will need at the finish line at Excel when they collected their number.
There will be no volunteers hanging medals around the necks of finishers, who will instead find their medal in their bag.
And instead of large groups of people waiting at the start line together, participants will set off in more than 40 waves across a 90-minute period and there will be no official pacers.
Participants are also being encouraged to wear a bottle belt so they can carry a drink to further reduce touchpoints on the day, and have been asked to invite just one supporter to reduce crowds along the route.
Those running in central London will have to be able to show a negative lateral flow test for Covid-19.
In a message to participants, event director Hugh Brasher said: “It is the first time in the four decades of our history that people have run the London Marathon together in this way: on roads in London, on roads across the UK, and on roads around the world.
“Tomorrow will show the true spirit of the London Marathon at its very best. A spirit forged by shared experience, by pain, by joy, by achievement and by togetherness.
“Togetherness is what we have missed so much over these past 18 months. Togetherness in mind, in body and in spirit.”
Mr Brasher, whose father Chris Brasher co-founded the London Marathon in 1981, said the combined event, which uses the campaign slogan We Run Together, will be the biggest marathon ever anywhere in the world.
London Marathon participants have raised more than £1 billion for good causes during the past 40 years and Mr Brasher said it “will be one of the greatest days of the year for charity fundraising in times that have been incredibly difficult”.
The event was postponed to October last year but only the elite athletes were able to race in central London and the autumn date has continued this year to ensure the marathon had the best chance to go ahead amid continued uncertainty.
Eight of the Ever Presents, who have run every London Marathon, will run again this year. Seven will run in London while Ken Jones, 88, from Strabane, Co Tyrone, will take part closer to home.
Chris Finill, 62, from Cranleigh, Surrey, told the PA news agency: “With all but the elite running the race virtually last year, the opportunity to run the traditional course this year is wonderful.
“The sensory invasion of running London for real will be in powerful contrast to the many lonely miles often clocked up in preparation for the big day out in the capital.
“Some of the logistics this year, for example the kit drop-off and collection, are more complex than normal, but hopefully such Covid-related measures will be unnecessary by next year’s race, scheduled for October 2, 2022.”
Improvements have also been made to help the experience for slower participants, following criticism in 2019.
Fifty Tailwalkers will walk the entire route at eight-hour pace, and a music bus with DJ will drive behind them after the third mile.
Eight Support Squad members will be available from mile 16 onwards to help anyone who is struggling, and they will remain in place until the Tailwalkers have passed.
The weather is set to improve following wet and windy weather in London on Saturday.
Jonathan Vautrey, an operational meteorologist at the Met Office, said: “It will be a dry start to Sunday with some sunny intervals developing through the morning.
“There’s the chance of an isolated shower in the afternoon, but the sunny spells will continue in between.
“Temperatures will start around 10/11C first thing, and then peak at 16/17C in the afternoon.
“Winds will strengthen a touch through the day as well, so there will be more of a gentle to moderate breeze by the afternoon.”
Olympics BMX silver medallist Kye Whyte will start runners in the mass race and famous faces taking part include former England cricket captain Sir Andrew Strauss.
Former health secretary Matt Hancock and theatre star Carrie Hope Fletcher, who is currently starring in the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of Cinderella, will be among those running the London Marathon for the first time.
Lucy Harvey, from Poole, Dorset, who turned 18 on Saturday, will be the youngest runner, while Koichi Kitabatake, 87, from Japan, is due to be the oldest.
There will be about 1,500 runners raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, which is the Virgin Money London Marathon’s official charity in 2021.