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  • Original Marathon Team

When was the first London Marathon?

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

Running a marathon
Runners in the city

Marathon running in London did NOT start in 1981. Well, the London Marathon did start in 1981, on Sunday 29 March to be precise. BUT there was a marathon in London long before that.

The London 1908 Olympic marathon was the first to be run over the now standard distance of 26.2 miles (42.195km) from Windsor Castle to the finish line inside the White City Stadium, Shepherd’s Bush. Prior to this, all marathons had been run over distances of ‘around 25 miles’.

The London 1908 Olympic marathon inspired a legacy event – the Polytechnic Marathon. This was London’s real first marathon, all the way back in 1909. Just as the Boston Marathon (started in 1897) had been inspired by the very first Athens 1896 Olympic marathon, the Poly Marathon was to continue the 1908 Olympic marathon legacy and it was to run from 1909 to 1996.

The 1908 Olympic marathon had been organised by the Polytechnic Harriers, and they were asked to continue the event, and took its name from the running club that organised it.

The Poly Marathon, until its demise it was Europe’s oldest regular marathon. A total of 8 world records were set on the course, as well as the first recorded and verified sub 2 hour 20 minute marathon.

The Poly Marathon route varied. Between 1909 and 1932 the event finished at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea. In 1933 it moved back to finish at White City Stadium. From 1938 the race ended at the Polytechnic Harrier’s stadium at Chiswick. The event’s golden age was in the 1960’s with sponsorship and a string of world record times. However, by 1970 the event was in decline with traffic conditions making the event difficult to deliver. Between 1973 and 1992 the race was restricted to the Windsor area. Standards declined and the event could not compete with the big city marathons. And sadly, after almost 90 years, some of this country’s sporting heritage was finally lost.

…Until now that is! In 2024, a small team of running event enthusiasts are recreating the Original Marathon between Windsor and White City following the route of the very first marathon ever to be run over 26.2 miles. The Original Marathon is being re-run. Your chance to take on London’s first marathon and follow in the footsteps of running legends.

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