Sunshine and Smiles as London Marathon Returns

October 3, 2021 Updated: October 3, 2021

There were plenty of smiles and even some sunshine as the London Marathon returned to the streets of the capital.

More than 40,000 runners tackled the traditional 26.2-mile (42.1-kilometre) route from Greenwich to The Mall after last year’s race was scrapped due to COVID-19 restrictions.

After Olympic BMX silver medalist Kye Whyte got the main race started, marathon organizers Virgin Money London said “so many smiles, so good to have you back!”

It is 889 days since the colourful charity spectacular in front of cheering crowds last took place.

Swarms of fun runners donned outrageous outfits—including being dressed as a rhino, bumblebees, superheroes, and a giant nurse—to help raise money for their favored charities.

Since the race was first run in March 1981, the London Marathon Charitable Trust has awarded grants totaling in excess of £93 million ($126 million) to more than 1,490 projects in London and across the UK.

There was a dry start to the race, which took place under cloudy skies with sunny spells and brisk winds.

A smiling former Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave a thumbs-up after finishing his run.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, earlier wished Hancock who ran for his local hospice all the best, but jokingly added “obviously don’t agree with him politically but hope the run goes well [wish I was running now just so I could beat him!]”

Labour MP Charlotte Nichols ran for the Warrington Wolves Foundation that helps support local projects tackling a range of issues including holiday hunger and fostering good mental health.

Scott Mitchell, the widower of Dame Barbara Windsor, ran the marathon in her memory and to support the work of Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Dame Barbara—known for her appearances in the “Carry On” films and as “EastEnders” matriarch Peggy Mitchell—died aged 83 in December 2020 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s.

Virgin Money London Marathon 2021
Runners in fancy dress cross over Tower Bridge during the London Marathon 2021 in London, on Oct. 3, 2021. (Steven Paston/PA)

A host of retired sports stars also pulled on their trainers to take part including former London Marathon winner Liz McColgan, footballer Danny Mills, and Olympic gold medalist cyclist Dani Rowe.

Former rugby league players Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield ran for charity. Former Leeds Rhinos scrum-half Rob Burrow, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2019, wrote on Twitter: “Well done to JP and Kevin at smashing the marathon today. I’m so proud to call you friends.”

Newlywed two-time Olympic rowing champion James Cracknell, who crossed the line in just under 2 hours 55 mins, told the BBC: “I think it is the biggest testament to what people have done over the last year.

“They have done most of their training on their own when they weren’t allowed outside. To be honest, it is one of the first times in the last year and a half when everyone has been heading in the same direction without people having different opinions.

“It really is the best about being British—people supporting their mate, partner, their charity, and staying to clap everyone else.”

Formidable fundraiser Claire Lomas, who is paralysed from the chest down, said it was going to be “tough-pushing” as she took part in full motorcycling gear.

Lomas, who became the first person to complete a marathon in a “bionic” suit in 2012, broke her back in a horse-riding accident in 2007, and has turned her devastating injury into a positive thing by raising thousands of pounds for charity.

DJ Chris Evans, vet Noel Fitzpatrick, actress Tanya Franks, and former “Blue Peter” presenter Peter Duncan were also among the runners.

There was a rush of weird and wonderful world records for the runners who took a quirky approach to the race.

The title of the fastest marathon runner dressed as a three dimensional plant went to Jane Faulkner in 4:05:18, while Jez Clements who ran as Bender from “Futurama” was the fastest three-dimensional male TV character in 3:55:27.

Siddharth Paralkar, who completed the course in 3:50:44, is the fastest male marathon runner dressed in a safari suit, while Liv Anderson, who appeared as Henry VIII, finished in 3:39:50 to be the fastest female dressed as a monarch.

Guinness World Records also said that Troi Baxter and Kerry Bullen, who clocked 3:30:08, are the fastest pair of females to run the race in handcuffs.

Sarah Dudgeon and Max Livingstone-Learmonth—who were dressed as a dog—were the fastest two-person costume at 3:17:12.

Last year’s marathon was replaced by a virtual run where participants chose their own route and a further 40,000 participants will earn their medal by taking part in the virtual event this year.

Sunday’s outing was the first time the two events took place simultaneously and the first time that runners have tackled the marathon’s traditional route in October rather than in spring.

There was also no bag drop at the start and runners were instead asked to leave any belongings at the finish line at the ExCel centre when they collected their number.

There were no volunteers hanging medals around the necks of finishers, who instead found their medal in their bag.

Large groups did not wait at the start line together and instead participants set off in more than 40 waves across a 90-minute period with no official pacers this year.

Those running had to be able to show a negative lateral flow test for COVID-19.

Sisay Lemma became a first-time winner of the men’s race with an impressive run of 2:04:01 while Joyciline Jepkosgei won the women’s elite race in a time of 2:17:42.

Marcel Hug and Manuela Schar both set course records to win the men’s and women’s wheelchair races.

David Weir, an eight-time winner who completed his 22nd London marathon in a row to finish third in the men’s wheelchair race, told the BBC, “It is good to be back on the old course and having a bit of crowd support.”

By Helen William