TCS London Marathon | Race 101

The biggest marathon in the UK - and one of the biggest in the world - is an event that every runner wants to tick off their bucket list. Here, we deal with the most-asked questions on the web about the London Marathon.

The finish line down the Mall is an iconic moment

With over 48,000 runners taking part each year, as well as tens of thousands of spectators lining the streets to cheer them on, the TCS London Marathon is one of the biggest running events in the world, let alone in the UK. In fact, it forms one of six races in the exclusive Abbott World Marathon Series, alongside Berlin, Boston, Chicago, New York and Tokyo.

This world-renowned status means that entering the TCS London Marathon features on nearly every runner's bucket list, whether you're a beginner runner or a seasoned athlete. Actually entering the race, though, is not that easy - the ballot for entries is always over-subscribed and charities can require a large fundraising commitment. Even once you do secure a place, you'll need to consider your race preparation and the logistics of moving around the capital before and after the race.

Needless to say, there's an awful lot of popular questions around the TCS London Marathon, so we've gathered the most common ones right here and provided answers. Consider this your first port-of-call for any queries about the marathon and the event day as a whole. If you'd like to know anything else, just get in touch.

The TCS London Marathon
The route of the marathon tours the capital's famous landmarks.

Background to the race

The TCS London Marathon has been running for over 40 years, growing in both popularity and size year on year. Runners have raised hundreds of millions of pounds for charity throughout that time, benefiting a huge range of worthwhile causes.

When was the first London Marathon?

The inaugural London Marathon was in 1981, founded by Chris Brasher and John Disley, the former an Olympic champion and the latter a fellow athlete. Over 6,000 people took part in that first race and the victory was shared by American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen.

How long is the London Marathon?

As a full marathon event, the TCS London Marathon is 26.2-miles, or 42K, long. This became the official marathon distance in 1908 - although previously 25 miles, the course was extended during the OIympics on the wishes of Queen Alexandra, so that the royal family could observe the start and finish.

How many people run the London Marathon?

Over 48,000 people currently run the London Marathon each year, with the number of entrants increasing year on year.

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The route of the TCS London Marathon
Beginning in Greenwich, the TCS London Marathon runs to Buckingham Palace.

The route

One of the reasons that the TCS London Marathon is so popular is its route, which tours some of the capital's most iconic landmarks, including Tower Bridge, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace.

Where does the London Marathon start?

The official start of the marathon is in Greenwich Park, specifically along Charlton Way. Runners are advised to get the Tube to either Greenwich or Maze Hill stations, which can be accessed from London Bridge.

What is the route of the London Marathon?

As depicted above, the route briefly travels East into Woolwich before following the River Thames to Tower Bridge, passing the Cutty Sark, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey on the way. Once over the river, runners will head into Canary Wharf, weaving through the financial heart of the capital. From here, the route travels through the City of London and back along the Thames towards the Houses of Parliament. Its final and most iconic mile follows the perimeter of St James's Park, past Buckingham Palace and to the finish line down The Mall.

What roads are closed for the London Marathon?

With a 26.2-mile route weaving through central London, the road closures needed for the TCS London Marathon are substantial - this is one of the reasons that ballot entries are so hard to come by, as the experience of running on these roads is so rare. In all, there are over 25 major roads closed for up to 11 hours on race day.

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As with any major race, the TCS London Marathon will provide a different experience for each runner, depending on whether you are an elite athlete hunting a PB or are running a marathon for the first time.

When is the London Marathon?

The event has a springtime slot in April.

What time does the London Marathon start?

The mass start of the TCS London Marathon is at 09:30. The elite runners and wheelchair racers begin at staggered intervals from 08:30.

How long does it take to run the London Marathon?

Most beginner runners can expect to finish a marathon in between four and five hours. The TCS London Marathon is not regarded as a particularly fast course, despite the fact that there are few hills along the route; the sheer volume of runners could account for the slower pace. 

For more experienced runners, aiming to get a time as close to (or below) three hours as possible is a challenging proposition, while elite runners may be looking at runner faster still. The current records for the TCS London Marathon are 2:01:25 for men, set by Kelvin Kiptum in 2023, and 2:15:25 for women, set by Paula Radcliffe in 2003.

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Running the London Marathon is an unforgettable experience
Running the London Marathon is an experience that you will never regret.

How to get involved

Understanding how the TCS London Marathon works is only useful if you're clued up on how to get involved and secure a place. While entry is over-subscribed and you cannot guarantee a place, knowing the ways to enter and key dates can help you to beat the crowds.

How do you apply to the London Marathon?

Most entries to the London Marathon are awarded through the ballot system, which usually opens just after the previous year's event has finished.

There are also places allocated for different categories, including:

  • Championship entries, for runners who are members of British Athletics-affiliated clubs and have achieved a qualifying time in the previous year.

  • Good-for-age entries, for runners who have achieved a qualifying time for their age category in the previous year.

Beyond these categories, there are a large number of places allocated to charities, who award entries to runners who commit to raising funds for that cause. Details of how to apply for a charity place can be found here.

How much is it to enter the London Marathon?

The cost of a place through the ballot entry was £69.99 in 2024.

Charity places will vary in cost, usually involving an entry fee on top of the minimum fundraising commitment. This can range from a free entry and a £2,200 commitment to a £125 entry fee and a £1,750 commitment.

How do you defer entry to the London Marathon?

If you have secured a ballot entry to the TCS London Marathon but, for whatever reason, cannot attend the race, you need to alert the event organiser using their participant dashboard, details of which are emailed to runners in advance. This can usually be done up to midnight the day before the race. You may then be eligible for entering the next edition of the race, though this is not guaranteed.

If you have entered through a charity and wish to defer, you still need to alert the race organiser but will also need to discuss your deferral with the charity directly.

How does the Virtual TCS London Marathon work?

Although tens of thousands of runners take part in the TCS London Marathon each year, many thousands more will be left disappointed having not secured an entry. For these runners, and anyone else who wants a challenge, the Virtual TCS London Marathon is your opportunity to get involved.

The premise is simple: you will run 26.2 miles at the same time as the marathon in London but on your local roads. By logging your miles in the official app, you will earn your medal and exclusive New Balance t-shirt. This app will also provide you with exclusive access to live commentary from the race. What's more, you don't even have to run the whole thing at once - you will have 24 hours in which to complete your total mileage.

For anyone who doesn't secure a place in the TCS London Marathon, the virtual edition is brilliant chance to join the excitement of this major marathon event!

The Virtual TCS London Marathon app
By logging your miles in the official app, you can earn your medal and t-shirt.

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