Contested annually since 1981, the London Marathon is one of the five World Marathon Majors series, which includes the Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City Marathons. Run along one of the flattest and fastest courses in the world, the London Marathon has witnessed several of history’s fastest races, including a world record performance of 2:05:38 in 2002, by Khalid Khannouchi, of the United States.
The course begins in Blackheath, proceeds through Charlton and Woolwich, past the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, where it crosses the River Thames on Tower Bridge. From there, the course loops around London’s East End, past Canary Wharf in Docklands, and then along the Highway and the Embankment to Parliament Square, Birdcage Walk, and Buckingham Palace.
For the most part, the course has remained essentially unchanged since 1981, except a few minor changes through the years. In 1982 the finish line was moved from Constitution Hill to Westminster Bridge. Bridge repairs moved the finish-line to The Mall in 1994, where it has remained since. A slight alteration to avoid cobblestones near the Tower of London came in 2005, along with reversing the route around the Isle of Dogs, between miles 14 and 21, from a clockwise to a counter-clockwise direction.
Following is a brief review of the course records:
Blackheath to Constitution Hill (1981)
1981: 2:11:48 – Dick Beardsley (USA) and Inge Simonsen (Norway)
In the inaugural London Marathon, Dick Beardsley and Inge Simonsen finished together in a dead heat, holding hands, as neither had won a marathon before.
Blackheath to Westminster Bridge (1982-1993)
1982: 2:09:24 – Hugh Jones (United Kingdom)
Hugh Jones, the first of six British male athletes to win the London Marathon, won the first race ending on the Westminster Bridge.
1985: 2:08:16 – Steve Jones (United Kingdom)
Steve Jones, who had established a world record of 2:08:05 in the Chicago Marathon in 1984, clipped more than one minute off the course record posted by Hugh Jones in 1982.
Blackheath to The Mall (Since 1994)
1994: 2:08:53 – Dionicio Cerón, (Mexico)
Finishing on The Mall for the first time, Dionicio Cerón won the first of three consecutive London Marathons.
1997: 2:07:55 – António Pinto (Portugal)
In winning the second of three London Marathons, António Pinto ran nearly a minute faster than Cerón’s three year old course record.
2000: 2:06:36 – António Pinto (Portugal)
Pinto improved his course record by more than one minute in winning a third London Marathon.
2002: 2:05:38 – Khalid Khannouchi (USA)
Khalid Khannouchi, a Moroccan born naturalized citizen of the United States, clipped nearly a minute off Pinto’s course record, to establish a world record of 2:05:38 for 26.2 miles.
2005: 2:07:35 – Martin Lel (Kenya)
Martin Lel won the first race over the course altered to avoid the cobblestones near the Tower of London and the counter-clockwise route around the Isle of Dogs.
2008: 2:05:15 – Martin Lel (Kenya)
Lel established the course record in winning his third London Marathon.
2009: 2:05:10 – Samuel Wanjiru (Kenya)
Samuel Wanjiru, who won the gold medal in the marathon at the Olympic Games in Beijing, China, in 2008, clipped five seconds off Lel’s course record.
Ottavio Castellini, António Pinto, IAAF Website
Ottavio Castellini, Inge Simonsen, IAAF Website
Ottavio Castellini, Khalid Khannouchi, IAAF Website
Ottavio Castellini, Martin Lel, IAAF Website
Ottavio Castellini, Samuel Wanjiru, IAAF Website
History of the London Marathon: Course History, Virgin London Marathon Website
History of the London Marathon: Race Results and Reports, Virgin London Marathon Website
Sports Reference, LLC, Hugh Jones, SR/Olympic Sports
Sports Reference, LLC, António Pinto, SR/Olympic Sports
Sports Reference, LLC, Dionicio Cerón, SR/Olympic Sports
Sports Reference, LLC, Samuel Wanjiru, SR/Olympic Sports
Sports Reference, LLC, Steve Jones, SR/Olympic Sports
World Marathon Majors Website