Last Updated on October 21, 2021

As one of the six main world marathon majors, the London Marathon takes you through the heart of London and past many iconic attractions and locations. So how can you compete, when does it take place, what is the route and where can you stay? All is explained below.

London Marathon guide

When Does It Take Place

The London Marathon normally takes place every April each year and usually involves around 50,000 runners, both professional and amateur runners.

  • April annually

How to Enter the London Marathon

In recent years, the marathon has been sponsored by the Virgin Money group and so the race is often known as the ‘Virgin London Marathon’.

For this reason (unless the sponsor changes), to run in the event you have to apply through the official Virgin London Marathon website here.

*The event is always over-subscribed, meaning that more people always apply to run in the marathon than are accepted.

The main ways to get a place in the race is to:

  • Ballot: Enter the main ballot (you will basically need to be running for a charity to have a chance to be accepted)
  • Charity Places: You can apply through one of the charity websites that have a set number of places for runners in the London Marathon. A great example of this are Water Aid (see their marathon runners page) and the Oxfam marathon page – for runners willing to run on behalf of these charities. You can find a full list of charity places here.
  • Good for Age Places: There are normally 6000 places kept aside for UK-based runners who meet the time requirement for their age group. You can see the age/times here that you need to meet for the ‘Good for Age places.
  • Athletics Club Entries: You can also get accepted as a competitor for the marathon through your local athletics club. Several thousand places are allocated for members of British athletics clubs. You can find out more from your athletics club secretary.
  • International Runners Ballot: Another option and suitable if you are applying from outside of the UK, is to apply in the ballot as an international runner. You can learn more here.

The Route

Running London

The London Marathon is now over 40 years old, having first started back in 1981, with less than 7,000 entrants. The race has since grown six-fold with over 40,000 participants each year.

This 26-mile route takes in many well-known sights in the center of London and is a mainly flat course.

As a runner, you get to enjoy running alongside the iconic River Thames and around Blackheath before finishing in The Mall near St. James Palace.

The marathon route has undergone a few changes in its time, including the moving of the finishing post from Constitution Hill to Westminister Bridge in 1982 due to construction work. The finishing line stayed there for 12 years before it was moved back to the Mall.

As well as being a way for people to push themselves to their physical limits, the London Marathon is also a way for people to raise money for charity.

In fact, the London Marathon is a record holder in that it is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the largest charity fundraising event in the world. Since its founding in 1981, the marathon has raised over £500 million for charity, raising £47.2 million in 2007 alone.

Along the route as a runner, expect also to see up to 500,000 spectators lining the streets of London to cheer you on.

The marathon also attracts a range of runners from elite athletes to people doing it for fun (often in fancy dress).

In fact, the slowest time to complete the marathon is held by Lloyd Scott, who in 2002 did the route in a 110lb deep-sea diving suit.

10 Tips for Running the London Marathon

Here’s a great video with 10 useful tips for running the London Marathon from Ben Parkes, the athlete, and fitness coach.

Rules for Entering the London Marathon

  • You must be 18 years old or older

London Hotels and Accommodation

There is a wide range of accommodation options as you might imagine, in London.

Booking.com

Whether visiting London to participate in the marathon or to watch the marathon, there are hotels, hostels, B&Bs, and accommodation types to cover every range.

If you are planning a trip to London, here are five hotels I have personally stayed in and can recommend.

1. The Connaught Hotel

Located in the heart of Mayfair, The Connaught is an excellent hotel. Stylish, in a great location (close to sights such as the Marble Arch, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square).

This five-star hotel has excellent facilities including a health club, meeting rooms, a nice bar area, and much more. It is a fairly pricey option though hence why I only stayed one night 🙂

2. The Berkeley Hotel

The Berkeley is located in Knightsbridge a stone’s throw from Harrods. Another high-end hotel and pure luxury if you can afford it.

3. The Dorchester Hotel

Arguably London’s most famous hotel, The Dorchester has become a beacon of comfort in the capital since it opened in 1931. With a first-class fitness spa, top-of-the-line facilities, and a world-class reputation, the Dorchester is often frequented by the world’s rich and famous.

4. Claridge’s Hotel

Since it opened in the 1930s, Claridge’s has attracted some of the most influential people in the world. Another world-class hotel.

5. Charlotte Street Hotel

Situated in Soho, the Charlotte Street Hotel is famed for its interior design by Kit Kemp. The rooms also have state-of-the-art entertainment systems while the bathrooms are made of oak and granite.

Getting to London

Gatwick Airport

Gatwick Airport, in West Sussex and with its North and South Terminals, is second only to Heathrow in terms of passenger numbers, as Britain’s number 2 airport.

It is fairly easy to get from Gatwick Airport to the center of London via train or coach.

Heathrow Airport

London’s busiest airport and also one of the busiest in the world, with 5 Terminals and serving many national airlines, Heathrow Airport is many people’s main entry point into the UK and tends to be very popular with business travelers.

Heathrow is also very easy to get to and from if you want to get to the center of London. The London Underground goes to Heathrow. You can also get to the airport quite easily by coach from London Victoria.

Stansted

Stansted Airport is not as large as Heathrow and Gatwick but it is nevertheless a major entry and exit point into England.

The airport tends to be favored by the budget airlines such as Ryanair. You can often get lower-cost flights but the airport is more inconvenient in terms of access from central London.

Luton London Airport

Although not really actually in London, renamed to Luton London Airport for marketing reasons, this is a good airport for budget flights. Easyjet is one of the main airlines serving Luton. Luton is not as close as Gatwick or Heathrow to the center of London.

City Airport

London City Airport is the closest to the Olympic stadium and area and is a great business flight arrival and departure airport, given its closeness to Canary Wharf and the Docklands.

Getting to the Airports

One of the key questions I know you will have is how to get to and from the various airports in London and if it is possible to get between let’s say Heathrow and Gatwick.

Driving

All of the airports have vast car parking areas and each airport tends to have a variety of services such as long stay, short stay, and drop off (where you drop the car and keys off right outside to the terminal). You can make a booking with a company such as www.fhr-net.co.uk or similar parking providers.

Another option is to use car rental and to drop the car back with the rental agency. Thus, in effect, you don’t need to park but have your transportation to the airport.

Train and Rail

The services vary according to which airport you are trying to get to. Heathrow is easy to get to from Central London given that the underground (subway trains) network includes a line that takes you to the airport.

For Gatwick Airport, you can use the Gatwick Express or you can use the normal rail service and which is roughly half the price but with fewer trains available, i.e. a less frequent service.

Coach

National Express offers services to all the main London served airports and from most major cities in the UK. From central London, just head to Victoria train station and you can connect to all the airports via National express and also via a few other smaller providers.

Booking.com