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The Course

The Virgin Money London Marathon course

The London Marathon course is relatively flat and fast. It starts in Blackheath, heads east through Charlton and Woolwich for three miles, then turns west to pass through Greenwich and Deptford, looping around the Cutty Sark between six and seven miles. It crosses the River Thames at Tower Bridge just before halfway then circles through Mudchute and Docklands, before coursing west again along The Highway, Tower Hill and Victoria Embankment to Parliament Square, Birdcage Walk and the final corner in front of Buckingham Palace.

The first London Marathon finished on Constitution Hill between Green Park and Buckingham Palace. From 1982 until 1993 the event finished on Westminster Bridge. In 1994 repairs on the bridge meant the Finish Line was moved to The Mall, where it has remained ever since. In 2005 the course was altered just after 22 miles to avoid a cobbled area near the Tower of London, and the route around the Isle of Dogs between 14 and 21 miles was switched from clockwise to anti-clockwise.

There is one amendment to this year’s course from 2019 at Canary Wharf. Participants will no longer go up to Westferry Circus roundabout before heading towards the famous One Canada Square tower. Instead they will complete an S-shaped circuit of Canary Wharf, turning right off Marsh Wall on to Bank Street, left on to Upper Bank Street and then pass the One Canada Square tower first on South Colonade and then on North Colonade.

The Blue Line

A dashed blue line is put down before the event to mark the shortest possible route. It takes five to six hours to paint the line and it can be done only at night when the roads are dry. The paint has to dry almost instantly and be stable enough to last for three days without fading. It also has to be removed quickly with a special non-polluting solvent and gallons of water. The removal team takes about six hours and by midnight on Marathon Day, all traces of the blue line are gone.

Dressing the Course

The course is dressed the night before the event with 35K of recyclable banners – enough to stretch from central London to Woking in Surrey or Gravesend in Kent. A team of workers also erects 290 three-metre tall signage towers, called ‘Toblerones’.

Mile & Kilometre Markers

Digital clocks set on seven-foot stands are placed at all the mile points, at every 5K mark and at halfway – 35 double-sided clocks in all. Official timing is provided by Tag Heuer.

Time keeping

The London Marathon will use bib chip technology to time all participants in the mass event for the first time in 2021. The timing chip is affixed to the back of the participant’s bib number (running number.) The chip is read when a participant passes over mats at 5K, 10K, 15K, 20K, halfway, 25K, 30K, 35K, 40K and at the Finish. All results are posted on the Virgin Money London Marathon website on Event Day.

Drinks Stations & shower points

BUXTON Natural Mineral Water is available at 14 Drinks Stations – at Miles 3 and 4, then at every second mile point until mile 24. The bottles themselves are made from 100 per cent recycled material and are 100 per cent recyclable.

Lucozade Sport is available at Miles 9, 15, and 21. At all three stations it will be provided in compostable cups.

Many of the elite runners prefer to drink their own special drinks during the race. These pre-prepared bottles are collected on Saturday night and kept in secure and cool conditions overnight. On Marathon Day they are taken to the appropriate 5K points. At these feeding stations, eight in all, there will be four numbered tables allocated between the various elite athletes from which they collect their individual drinks bottles.

There are also a number of shower points available on the course in case temperatures rise above 9°C. The number of points will increase depending on the predicted maximum temperature, from five for temperatures between 9 and 16°C, to 11 for 17-20°C, and 18 for heat above 20°C.

Back of the Pack

A number of improvements have been made from the last time the mass event took place on the traditional route in 2019 to provide a great experience for participants at the Back of the Pack.

Tailwalkers: 50 Tailwalkers will walk the entire route at eight-hour pace. They will be joined by a music bus with DJ at the merge point (just after Mile 3), which will drive behind the Tailwalkers.

Support Squad: From Mile 16 to 26, 80 Support Squad members will support anyone who is struggling and needs help. Positioned about 400m apart and working in pairs, they will remain in place until the Tailwalkers have passed by.