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This week heralds the build up to one of the World's biggest marathons with the Virgin Money London Marathon Expo 2014. 40,000 nervous, excited people will visit the Excel Centre in London's Docklands to pick up their race numbers. They also have the chance to soak up the atmosphere and contemplate running one of the biggest events on earth, but more importantly completing a marathon.
This is not just any marathon however. The London Marathon was started in 1981 as the brainchild of Olympic Gold medallist and 4 minute mile pacer Chris Brasher and Olympic athlete John Disley. They had seen what was happening in other cities across the pond in America and decided that London could do this too, but better.
And that's my first question. How can the London Marathon be the greatest when both Boston and New York Marathons are older and more historic? Boston was started in 1897, that's a huge amount of history and prestige, and you can only enter it if you meet certain qualifying standards. New York, founded by Fred Lebow in 1970 has a unique carnival flavour that can't be repeated elsewhere. More recently, both of these events have been struck by tragedy with the Boston bombings and Hurricane Sandy, but they bounce back and carry on in their own inimitable style.
In a way, the answer to this is that London has grown so quickly and has found its own unique niche, that it has created as much history in the 33 years it's been going. The event has been controversial from that first race. 7,500 people lined up on the start line, but the winners Dick Beardley and Inge Simonsen crossed the line together hand in hand. In the early days people questioned the commercial nature of the marathon as Brasher had business interests that coincided with the marathon. There's also been controversy over the women only racing stance for the elites with the London Marathon not recognising mixed gender records. This was relaxed in 2003 when Paula Radcliffe ran an amazing 2.15.24 with male pacers. The charity Golden Bond scheme has also been attacked by some, but the race organisers firm stance on this has allowed the charities involved to give London their all and make it the biggest single fundraising event in the world.
It's the charity involvement that makes London the greatest for me. Ok, you have incredible event organisation, the back drop of one of the most historic and picturesque cities on earth, prime BBC TV coverage, amazing fields of elites, but it's the charities and the charity runners that give London it's greatness and uniqueness.
The charities set up cheer spots from the early hours waiting to support runners raising money for them. They give the runners a huge welcome to the finish with post-race receptions and masseurs. The charity runners in turn raise over £55 million a year collectively and they add a huge amount of colour to the occasion - running in fancy dress, running for personal reasons that would break your heart and running with passion.
I've run both the New York and London Marathons, and I really struggled to separate them in my mind when I'd finished New York. Both had been incredible experiences. Once I'd reflected on New York, however, I realised that it was the charity aspect that I loved about London.
So the answer is yes, The Virgin Money London Marathon is the greatest on earth because it is unique and British. This year more than ever given that Mo Farah will be going for British glory.
The World's biggest fundraising event and greatest Marathon!
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