The London Marathon’s Six Steps

We are now down to twenty-four days until the London Marathon, and a couple of weeks ago, the London Marathon sent out their "six steps to the start line".

While these can be read in full here, a quick synopsis:

  1. Give an update on your expected finish time
  2. Receive your kitbag in the post, and pack it with the things you want at the finish line
  3. Take a COVID test before going to the VLM Running Show
  4. Go to the VLM Running Show, drop your kitbag, pick up your number
  5. Figure out how you're going to get to the start line on race day
  6. Take a COVID test before going to the race

The point of all this, of course is allegedly to reduce the COVID risk that having a giant event brings, but ...

It's impossible to take this seriously

The big marathons all have a Running Show.

At the running show, you pick up your race bib and kitbag. They don't mail these out, or let you pick up your bib on the day, because of the logistical difficulty, cost, and environmental impact. Everybody's coming to London anyways, just come pick it up.

The more cynical amongst us, of course, think that the real reason is to provide a captive audience of tens of thousands to people who spend a lot of money to sell running-related stuff.

Well, cynicism unlocked.

Here's the touchpoints from a typical raceday:

  1. Pick up the kitbag (indoors, you probably queue)
  2. Pick up the number (indoors, you definitely queue)
  3. Drop off the kitbag at the start (outdoors, you probably queue)
  4. Pick up the kitbag at the end (outdoors, you might queue)

So how does this look with the 'six steps'?

  1. Pick up number (indoors, you definitely queue)
  2. Drop off kitbag at the show (indoors, you probably queue)
  3. Pick up kitbag at the end (outdoors, you might queue)

Of course, if they really cared about COVID, they would post your kitbag and number, and just tell you to arrive at the start, and you'd get this:

  1. Drop off kitbag at the start (outdoors, probably queue)
  2. Pick off kitbag at the end (outdoors, might queue)

Keeping in mind that COVID is more likely to spread indoors, and if you spend an extended time in close proximity to another person, the new system keeps the two more dangerous touchpoints, where participants are queueing indoors. The London Marathon is already taking on the expense/complexity/cost of a mailing ... so why not mail the numbers and maximise safety?


OK, but then surely it's a little bit safer - they've moved from four touchpoints to three, after all.

This disregards human nature. The kitbags need to be dropped off at least one day before the race starts, which means anybody who wants to have something on the way to the start line, but doesn't want to run with it or throw it away, will need to bring someone to the start line with them to hand it to.

Want to take a selfie at the start, but not run with your phone? Bring a friend.

Want to warm a warm-up outfit, but not give it to charity? Bring a friend.

So ... how many of the 40,000 participants will bring an extra body to the start line? 50%? 20%? I don't know, but I'd bet that neither does the London Marathon. That's perhaps 10,000 extra bodies on public transit, in close quarters. And those extra bodies aren't being required to take a test before race day, and so are more likely to carry the virus.

These extra people packed onto the tube beside me present a far greater danger to my health than an additional, brief, outdoor touchpoint.

Rather than making us safer, it seems that the London Marathon organisers are probably making us less safe with this policy change, all in the name of making it look like they're doing something.

I, for one, would have preferred actual safety measures. Or no changes at all.

In the end, this is theatre disguised as care. And I don't care for it.

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