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Virgin London Marathon statistics

April 6, 2011

With race-day fast approaching and the taper fully kicking in, I’ve had some time to dig around into the vital statistics of the Virgin London Marathon. From completion rates through to the chances of dying on the course, this post is dedicated to the facts of marathon-running life.

Each year thousands of applicants apply for a place in the London Marathon, with the ballot often shutting just days after it opens. But what are the chances of getting a place in the marathon? In 2009 around 1 in 3 people who applied got a place on the starting line (this is, though, a slightly iffy figure – although 155,000 people applied and 49,995 people were accepted, a significant proportion of those applications were for ballot places, which make up around 12,000 entries). And what are the chances of actually making it to the starting line? Um… Not as good as you would hope, it transpires…

A graph mapping the percentage of applicants accepted for the London Marathon and the percentage of those who made it to the start line

Once you're through the hurdle of getting a place around 28 percent of runners will drop out before they make it to the start line

So, assuming you’re in the fortunate 72 percent of runners who make it to the start line (leaving more than 13,000 runners sitting at home nursing their injuries), how likely is it that you’ll make it to the finish line? You feeling lucky, punk?

A pie chart showing the percentage of runners who fail to finish the London Marathon

In 2009 just 1.42% of marathon starters didn't make it to the finish line.

So, once you’re at the start line you’re statistically far more likely to complete the race than you are to drop out. Since the turn of the millennium the trend for between 1 and 2 percent of runners to drop out has stayed pretty steady, meaning that around 500 runners a year fail to finish. During the London Marathon’s inaugural race in 1981 a rather alarming 11.34% of runners failed to go the full distance, meaning that despite a starting field of 7,747 runners 800 were left nursing ailments over the 26.2 miles.

All of which surely beggars the question: Just how bad are these marathon maladies? We all know that the first marathon runner bit the dust pretty soon after reaching the finish line, but what about modern runners with their breathable sportswear, cushioned shoes and space blankets? Fortunately, in the delightfully titled 2001 paper Morbidity and Mortality in the London Marathon someone’s already done all the hard work. Dan Tunstall Pedoe calculates that, based on 23 years’ of statistical evidence:

  • 1 in 6 runners will have contact with the St John’s Ambulance crews during the race
  • 1 in 800 runners will go to a hospital’s accident and emergency department
  • 1 in 10,000 runners will be admitted to hospital
  • 1 in 67,414 runners will die

So, what causes all these injuries? Is it just the stress and strain of running 26.2 miles, or is it something else? Perhaps it’s global warming…

Temperatures for the London Marathon over time, and over the day of the race

2007 was the hottest year ever for the London Marathon, with the midday temperature reaching 22 degrees Celsius. Toasty.

With the notorious challenge of the marathon, it comes as little surprise that the marathon is a predominantly male event with around 2 in every 3 marathon entrants being male. Perhaps it’s equally unsurprising that the marathon’s youngest and oldest entrants are also more likely to be male. [Insert your own cutting remark about machismo and ego here.]

Percentage of men and women entering the Virgin London Marathon divided by age group

Around a third of the marathon runners are in their thirties. In other news up is still up and down is the other way.

The proportion of women aged between 20 and 39 running the marathon is higher than the proportion of men running the race in the same age bracket. However, men between the ages of 40 and 49 make up nearly 30 percent of the male field, perhaps implying that running a marathon is a cheaper mid-life crisis in these post-credit crunch times.

But, after all, isn’t the biggest question of the day what time the runners finish in? Based on finish times from the 2009 London Marathon, the top 2.83 percent broke the 3-hour barrier and the top 29.81 percent make it to the finish line in under four hours.

Average marathon finish times for the Virgin London Marathon

The majority of runners make up Pacman, and the sub-4 hour runners are being eaten in what can only be described as a naff reference to a very old computer game. Sorry.

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