Britain’s main contribution to marathon races is obviously the London Marathon, the biggest such race in the world. The UK does host other races as well, as in Leeds, but London is the prestige event that attracts the most interest and the world’s top competitors.
   Held annually in April, the London race was founded in 1981 by runners Chris Brasher and John Disley, with Brasher acting as the head of London Marathon Ltd (who oversee the running of the race and arrange sponsorship deals) until 1995. In 1996 the organizers received 66,000 applications for a place in the race, of which only 38,500 were accepted. Over the first fifteen years of its existence some 300,000 people have taken part, most running for charities and dressed up in an array of costumes. Over that time, £60m has been raised for charity, of which £3m was specifically set aside for recreation sites in London. The race was always specifically designed not to be a financial burden on local taxpayers.
   The race is so prestigious that the BBC broadcasts it live every year, offering blanket coverage of every step of the 26 miles and 385 yards course, and it attracts millions of viewers worldwide, including a peak of six million in Britain one year. It also attracts large general media coverage, and sponsors are very keen to get involved with the event. The biggest and latest deal saw food company Flora pay £6m for the sponsorship rights for three years, with the race costing £2.25m to stage annually. But despite these huge costs, the enormous interest from other sponsors means that the organizers can afford to pay top runners handsomely to appear, with British long-distance runner Liz McColgan being paid some £450,000 to run three times between 1993 and 1996; a total of £250,000 was available for appearance money in 1997’s race. Some £100,000 made from the race is also annually spent on the UK long-distance running team.
   Apart from London, there are races run annually in Leeds and on the south coast in April, and there are a number of shorter (twenty mile) and half-marathons held in Liskeard, Watford, Camberley and Reading, with some boasting their own dedicated sponsorship. Marathon races are clearly genuinely popular with people of all ages and from all backgrounds, and constitute one of the truly classless sports in the UK.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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