THE BLOG

The Magic of the 2014 London Marathon, Starring 35,000 Heroes

25/03/2014 16:12 GMT | Updated 24/05/2014 10:59 BST

There are no prizes for identifying the headline act in the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon. Double Olympic and world champion Mo Farah will compete in his first full marathon, having run half the course in 2013 to assess the route and the environment.

The 30-year-old, bidding to become the first British athlete to win the event since Eamonn Martin 21 years ago, heads an elite men's field which also includes marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang - the favourite - world marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich, defending London Marathon champion Tsegaye Kebede and Emmanuel Mutai, who won the 2011 race in a course record time of two hours, four minutes and 40 seconds.

Farah certainly has his work cut out to compete with truly world-class competition, and his preparation for the London Marathon hasn't been ideal. His second-place finish in the New York City half-marathon on March 16 was overshadowed by a collapse, right on the line; he was reportedly unconscious for three minutes, though thankfully recovered.

Earlier in the race, Farah had tripped, losing ground on the eventual winner, Geoffrey Mutai - officially the fastest marathon runner in the world, having won in Boston with a time of two hours, three minutes and two seconds - and, as he told the Guardian, his attempts to catch the leader, coupled with the cold conditions on race day, were contributing factors in his misfortune at the conclusion.

How Farah copes with not only such high-calibre opposition, but also the step up to the 26.2-mile mark, on Sunday April 13 will be fascinating. But the London Marathon has never really been about the top-class athletes and professional runners; not really.

The magic of the marathon lies with the individuals who compete not with an eye on records, but to raise money for charity and experience that exhilarating sense of achievement at the finish line. Or just to have fun - watching the race and scanning the field to spot the runner in the wackiest outfit is always highly entertaining. As well as making the spectators ask: just what is it that motivates someone to run 26-odd miles inside a furry bear costume? And: how hot and sweaty is it inside that?

The 2013 race saw figure-hugging 'morphsuits', shark and rhino costumes, a naked man in a Borat-style thong and an impressive range of comic characters - while others maintain a low profile, quietly chalking up the miles.

There are thousands of inspiring stories. If you're one of the millions of TV viewers, look out, if you can, for Tony 'The Fridge' Morrison, who will be running with a fridge strapped to his back. Not a fake, fabric fridge, but a real, fully functioning one, weighing in just under 7st. Actually, if you're attending the marathon live and lining up somewhere along the course you won't miss him - Morrison is running it four times over: that's 104.8 miles, in 24 hours.

He's done it before, too. In fact, the 49-year-old has spent most of the last three years running; him and his fridge - he's done Land's End to John O'Groats, and the equivalent of 30 Great North Runs in 30 days, culminating in the official event itself. This year's marathon will be his final challenge. It looks and sounds ridiculous, of course, but Morrison's continued achievements are worthy of enormous respect; he runs to raise money for Cancer Research.

Stephanie Nimmo's story is perhaps a familiar one, that of a former athlete re-connecting with running after a lengthy absence. Stephanie ran her first London Marathon in 1996, at the age of 27, and before family life took over, and took priority. Her build-up to this year's race is documented on the official Virgin Money London Marathon website, where she's been blogging about her training and preparation.

"I needed to get out and feel the wind in my hair and get out on the trails again," she wrote. "So, in January 2012, on one of the coldest mornings of the year, I put my running shoes on once more, dropped the children off to school and ran. I ran 5k and I felt great."

That 5k was the catalyst for Stephanie re-joining her former running club, progressing her distances and pace, and eventually tackling the marathon, again, in 2013. Stephanie finished in 4 hours and 19 seconds - more than respectable - but is going again this year and aiming to get below four hours.

2013 was also the year Paul Freedman completed his 22nd marathon - at the age of 88. The grandfather only took up running at 61, but has taken part in every London race since 1990, barring the 2003 event, which he missed due to a heart attack. There was also a finishing line proposal from James Carvel, who got down on one knee to pop the question to girlfriend Lorraine Humphries after both completed the course!