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The London Marathon is arguably the world's most famous marathon. This year, Lauren Burke takes a look at its traditions and future, and catches up with three London Marathoners who are racing for their own unique reasons...
On the 23rd of April, 2006, 48,000 participants will line three different starting points near Greenwich Park and show off their months of training, as they proceed along a meandering 26.3 miles along the Thames and ultimately finish at The Mall near St. James Park.
For the 100,000 or so spectators who have chosen to watch instead of run, the entire course is just waiting for enthusiastic fans to cheer on the tired runners.
Race coordinators suggest using the East London Underground that will take visitors to the Greenwich DLR station - just five minutes from town centre - and to stations all along the Isle of the Dogs and Tower Gateway Station, both prime viewing areas along the course.
And the fun doesn't end at the finish line. After the race, more than 60 pubs are hosting special marathon events and specials, many of which are linked to charities. You can expect to find plenty of runners celebrating the day and re-hydrating with a few pints.
Other events during the weekend include the Flora London Marathon Church Service at All Hallows by the Tower on the 22nd of April at 6pm - this is a free service welcoming all runners, family and friends.
From the 19th to the 22nd of April, the marathon will host an Expo where runners pick up their race number and a variety of running merchandise is available for purchase.
A Fancy Dress Frolick
The Flora London Marathon has been described as a tremendous hybrid of the Lord Mayor's Show, Wimbledon, a Wembley Cup Final and an episode of East Enders.
The race combines amateur runners who realize just how long the River Thames can seem when they're winding around it by foot; competitive champions aiming be first to arrive at the Mall; and people slowly shuffling along in large fancy dress charity costumes - all being cheered along by thousands of rambunctious Londoners packed along course sidelines.
"The essence of the Flora London Marathon is the way it combines elite fields and the community runner, the fund-raiser and the person who simply wants to complete the race...because it is something they have to do," said London 2012 Olympic Chairman Sebastian Cole.
In its 26th year, the Flora London-Marathon is the single biggest fundraising event in the nation, with most of its 48,000 participants collecting donations for the marathon's two official charities - the Stroke Association and the Anthony Nolan Trust, a leukemia fund - or personal causes of their own.
"Sport has the ability to move and inspire people. The Flora London Marathon is living proof of that," Cole said. "Millions of pounds are raised for charity each year."
The London marathon has become known for its hundreds of participants running in fancy dress - such as rhinos, giant trees and football team mascots - all for charitable causes.
"Overseas, people look at you like you're insane," said Tim Rogers, who has run in fancy dress for the past 8 years. "In London, it's normal."
The race truly lends itself to the spirit of Londoners, as they come together in all sorts of dress and running styles to raise money for countless causes and celebrate the city itself.
"It's not only the runners themselves who add colour and excitement to the day," said Race Director David Bedford. "It's the charity support teams themselves who do so much to make the day as successful as it is."
London, The World
This year, the Flora London Marathon will unite with the Boston Marathon, Berlin-Marathon, LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon and the ING New York City Marathon to form an international series called the World Marathon majors.
Commencing with the Boston race on the 17th of April, the contest will finish in 2007 in New York City where USD1 million will be split between the top male and female series finishers. The contest will also consider performances at the IAAF World Championships and the Olympic Marathons held during the two-year period.
"The creation of this series will generate collective interest and excitement at a level that has not existed between our great events in the past," said Carey Pinkowski, executive of the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon.
The WMM series is designed to elevate the sport of marathon running, creating a platform for competition by champions across the continents.
"Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events," said Mary Wittenberg, race director of the ING New York City marathon.