The impact of essential event adaptations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has changed the face of road running for good, believes Virgin Money London Marathon event director Hugh Brasher.

Never again will the iconic race in the UK capital solely feature the traditional mass race behind the elite action, with the hybrid model for 2021 combining in-person and virtual options announced on Thursday setting the tone for the future of London Marathon Events.

While a record 42,906 people started the 2019 race, last year’s edition was restricted to elite-only events on an alternative looped course, with those races taking place alongside the inaugural Virtual Virgin Money London Marathon which had 37,966 finishers.

Now the plan for 2021 is to have 50,000 participants on the traditional course from Blackheath to The Mall as well as 50,000 virtual entrants taking part around the world on October 3 as the 40-year-old event starts a new chapter.

“All London Marathon events, all the events we organise, will go hybrid,” Brasher told AW. “That is one of the learnings [from 2020] – how you can bring more people to believe that they can run or walk 26.2 miles. Once they do that, if they are doing that in the virtual event, it will bring them more into the event.

“It can make our sport more inclusive and diverse and that is something we absolutely want to do. What has happened is the everyday person has seen people looking like them doing this marathon challenge. That has changed the face of our sport for good.

“We believe that this is the next seminal moment where it [the sport] will do it [change] exponentially again.

“We believe it [the hybrid model] is absolutely the future of events, if you do it with integrity and the right messaging. If you are doing it with the right partners. With the charity programme and sponsors that we have, with our mission of inspiring activity for all, it has integrity and it is absolutely what we want to do.

“We are really showing that a hybrid event, a new type of event, can magnify the unification of the world at a time when more than ever we need that unity,” he added. “We were a beacon of light on October 4 (in 2020), we hope again this announcement today, is that.

“Giving people a goal – we know it changes behaviour, it changes it for the good. It is a big day.”

In the lead-up to the 2020 event, Brasher explained how scenarios for the race were ever-evolving and the same is the case for 2021 but organisers are “incredibly optimistic” about being able to welcome 50,000 people to London to race this autumn.

That figure adds more than 7000 to the previous finisher number record and the original aim was to hit that milestone in 2023 but Brasher explained how that plan had been brought forward.

“We have been working since 2014 on crowd modelling and developing our processes to be able to have 50,000 people running the marathon,” Brasher said. “We started putting extra mats in certain places, we then went to video cameras, we then went to fluid dynamic modelling, we then changed the start processes.

“Every year, behind the scenes, we have been working to this date where we could have 50,000 runners and all we have actually done is put our plan for 2023 forward two years because we had to fit in all the runners that wanted a place in 2021, 2022 and 2023, that couldn’t take part in the in-person event in 2020.”

On whether any changes to the usual mass in-person race might be required, Brasher added: “We have lots of contingency plans, we always have lots of contingency plans, but we are very hopeful. We are very optimistic.

“We have so many different scenarios of how we might adapt the marathon to the circumstances that exist in October.

“We really have learned so much from 2020. Having that learning, taking it on board and realising the agility and the ability of the team here, we are really positive about what we can do. So there might be no changes, but we have lots of other different scenarios.”

Source: AW