The fastest long-distance runners in the world are living in a London Marathon biosecure bubble at an undisclosed location in England right now, preparing to run 20 laps on Sunday in front of Buckingham Palace. And if that isn’t 2020 in a nutshell, we’re not sure what is—but we are sure we’re eager to watch after such a long marathon dry spell during the pandemic.
The London Marathon typically takes place in April with a field of 40,000 runners. Because of COVID-19, it was rescheduled for Sunday, with a field of about 100 professional athletes who have been repeatedly tested for the novel coronavirus and are living for a week at a biosecure hotel, with 40 acres on which to train. The runners and race staff are also wearing sensors that alert them when they are closer than six feet to someone else, to further mitigate the chance of COVID-19 spread.
“We hope we can be a beacon of light in the darkness, that in our way we can bring people together even while people have to run apart,” said Hugh Brasher, the London Marathon race director, during a press conference. “We all need something to inspire us, to give us hope for the future. And we are trying to give people something to inspire them for their mental and physical health.”
So far the measures seem to be working. A few athletes who were positive for COVID-19 during the required pre-travel testing have stayed home, including Degitu Azimeraw of Ethiopia, who might’ve played into the front of the race with a 2:19:25 personal best.
Make no mistake, though, the field remains historically competitive, including the men’s and women’s marathon world record holders. On the women’s side, Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei, 26, is the headliner and heavy favorite. She set the world record (2:14:04) at the 2019 Chicago Marathon, which is three minutes quicker than her closest competitor, fellow 26-year-old Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich (2:17:08). Vivian Cheruiyot, 37, also of Kenya, will also likely be a factor—she was the 2018 London Marathon champion with a 2:18:31 personal best.
The men’s side was a much-hyped matchup between Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele, however Bekele, 38, of Ethiopia (the 10,000-meter world-record holder) announced on Friday that he has withdrawn from the race with a calf injury. Kipchoge, 35, of Kenya owns the world record of 2:01:39 and also is the only person in history to break the two-hour barrier by running 1:59:40 at the exhibition (non-record-eligible) Ineos Challenge a year ago in Vienna. Six other men are entering the race with sub-2:05 personal bests, including Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia, who’s clocked the fourth-fastest marathon ever (2:02:55).
A sprinkling of Americans will also compete, including Sara Hall, 37, who comes in with a PR of 2:22:16, set at the 2019 Berlin Marathon. Molly Seidel, 26, will race her second 26.2-mile race on Sunday. Her first was the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, where she placed second in 2:27:31 to qualify for the Tokyo Games. Lindsay Flanagan, 29, was 12th at the Trials and has a 2:28:05 best. Olympian Jared Ward, 32, is competing in the men’s field, arriving with his fastest marathon time of 2:09:25.
The race will take place primarily on a 1.3-mile loop around St. James’s Park, adjacent to Buckingham Palace, ending at the traditional finish line on the mall. The course is closed to spectators as part of the effort to maintain a COVID-19-free environment.
How to watch the 2020 London Marathon
Race Start times (U.S. Eastern Standard Time) on October 4, 2020:
Women: 2:15 a.m.
Men: 5:15 a.m.
Wheelchair: 8:12 a.m.
NBC Sports Gold (subscription required)/NBC Sports Network will carry the race live beginning at 2 a.m. Eastern on Sunday. The Olympic Channel will air a replay at 2:30 p.m. Eastern.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect Kenenisa Bekele’s injury announcement on Friday.