Everything you need to know about the 2021 London Marathon

Defending champions Shura Kitata and Brigid Kosgei lead a stacked field for the marathon that returns to its traditional course.
By Evelyn Watta

Just eight weeks after their Olympics race, Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei and Ethiopia’s Shura Kitata will be back in action on Sunday, 3 October, hoping to defend their London marathon titles.

World record holder Kosgei took silver at the Olympics and will be seeking a third-consecutive London victory.

Kitata, who did not finish his Olympic race in Sapporo due to a hamstring injury, hopes he can produce another sterling performance like in 2020 when he beat a loaded line-up that included double Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge.

Here’s your ultimate guide on the top athletes to watch out for in London, the route course and the schedule.

London Marathon 2020
Picture by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The World record holder targets third consecutive London title

The fastest woman ever over the marathon returns to the iconic London race, a course she knows so well.

Her first time in the British capital was in 2018 when she finished second behind compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot, the track Olympic gold medallist.

That experience aptly prepared her for her 2019 race.

Kosgei became the youngest ever woman to win the London marathon, and ended the 2019 season with the world record, smashing the women’s world mark by a whole 81 seconds at the Chicago marathon.

In 2020, the mother of 8-year-old twins defended her London marathon on a looped course at the St James Park and is anxious to end the season on a high after her debut Olympics where she finished behind compatriot Peres Jepchirchir.

"It is a great feeling to be coming back, as London is one of my favourite marathons. Last year's win was very special, particularly given what the whole world was going through," said Kosgei.

“I hope to arrive again in very good shape and win for the third time.”- Brigid Kosgei

If Kosgei makes it to the finish line first, she must hold off the Ethiopian pair of Roza Dereje, the tenth-fastest female marathoner of all time, who was fourth at the Olympics, and Birhane Dibaba, a three-time runner-up at London (2020, 2017 and 2014) and double Tokyo Marathon champion.

The other elite women in Sunday’s race include Kenya’s Valary Jemeli, Zeineba Yimer and Tigist Girrma.

Dibaba and Yimer were also in the Ethiopian Olympics marathon squad.

Kitata seeking redemption

The other returning, reigning London Marathon champion is Kitata.

He is seeking redemption after struggling in the Olympic race, where none of the three Ethiopians managed to finish the race.

“I was disappointed to have to pull out of the Olympic Games Marathon, but I just did not adapt to the weather well,” said Kitata, who now trains under coach Haji Adilo alongside Kenenisa Bekele.

“It was very cold in Ethiopia prior to leaving for Tokyo, and when we got there, the weather took its toll on my body and made my breathing very hard. But I’m healthy and looking forward to racing in the Virgin Money London Marathon again. I am preparing very well, and my coach has me very ready to defend my title in London.”

“I am very happy to come back to London again. Winning last year was an unforgettable memory, and it gave me huge excitement to bring back such a big victory to my country and to make my family and coaches proud.”

Apart from Kitata, whose marathon breakthrough came in 2017 when he won in Frankfurt, the other Ethiopians to keep an eye on are Mosinet Geremew and Mule Wasihun, who both finished on the podium behind Kipchoge in 2019.

The third-fastest marathoner of all time Birhanu Legese, with 2:02:48, who trains with compatriot Mule under coach Getaneh Tessema is also on the London entry list.

In the absence of Kenya's Kipchoge, compatriots Evans Chebet, the reigning Valencia marathon champion, and Vincent Kipchumba, second last year behind Kitata, will be looking to regain the London title that the world record holder last won in 2019.

Kenyans have won the London marathon title 15 times since the race inception in 1981, with Kipchoge's four titles the most celebrated.

The course

The 2021 London Marathon returns to its traditional course starting at the Blackheath in Greenwich and crossing the Thames at the Tower Bridge.

The marathon route then goes through Central London and passes Canary Wharf, until the second to last bend leading to the Buckingham Palace. The final 350m until the finish line are on The Mall with up to 50,000 participants running the course behind the elites.

Due to the pandemic, the organisers in 2020 held an elite-only race on a looped circuit around St James’s Park .

The schedule and weather

The elite men’s race is scheduled for 9:30am UK time (10.30am CET).

The first race will be the elite wheelchair races from 8.30am UK time (9:30am CET), and then the elite women's race at 8.55am UK time (9.55am CET).

After difficult weather conditions last year, where runners had to contend with pouring rain, the conditions on Sunday could be slightly better and that could mean faster times.

The predicted weather forecast on race day has some light showers and moderate breeze with highs of 16 degrees.

The London marathon is part of five of the six World Marathon Majors - Berlin (September 26), London (October 3), Chicago (October 10), Boston(October 11), and New York (November 7) - that will be held over a six-week period this autumn.