Hugh Brasher: running the London Marathon

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Hugh Brasher is in his first year of sole responsibility as race director of the Virgin London Marathon. We chat to Hugh, whose father Chris was a co-founder of the race, about his expectations for this Sunday’s mammoth event. 

How do you think your father would feel at you taking up the role as London Marathon race director?

I think, firstly, he would be very surprised. I had a career running a successful chain of sports shops and I don’t think at any stage in either his consciousness or mine when he died – Chris passed away ten years ago – that either of us then would have thought that I would be in this position. So firstly, I would say he would be surprised and secondly, very proud.

The London Marathon remains a hugely successful institution, but what improvements do you think you could make in future?

London calls itself ‘The Greatest Marathon in the World’ and any improvements I make should be evolution rather than a revolution. I would hope people would hardly notice any of the changes. We are talking really small things. I am new to this role and it would be foolhardy of me to change things.

Do you feel any extra pressure to maintain the success of the event?

Absolutely. The team that David Bedford (the former race director) built here is fantastic. My job, if anything, is to allow the team to do their jobs and give them the space and the time to do that. They are the people that are really delivering the event.

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Nearly there: London eyes on the prize

Do you have a favourite London Marathon memory?

The 2003 race, which was six weeks after my father died. I recall Paula Radcliffe ran the world record and nobody has since got within two-and-a-half minutes of it. That was an amazing day in terms of marathon performance and in Britain it was also a day that really helped revolutionise women’s running in this country.

Have you ever raced in the London Marathon before?

Yes, I ran it in 1984-86 and in 2003. The quickest time I ran it in was 2:53 or 2:54. [Hugh was an 8:54 steeplechaser and 14:25 5000m runner in his younger days]. I have no real ambition to run it again.

You were joint race director alongside David Bedford last year before taking on sole responsibility this year. What did you learn from Dave?

That attention to detail is necessary. David is very much still part of the team that puts together the elite field, and this year he has put together a stunning field. He’s put together the strongest ever wheelchair event for men and women. We have added an IPC World Cup event for visually impaired athletes: T11-13, and a T44-46 event for people with limb impairments.

The men’s field is the greatest field in elite marathon history ever. Besides the Olympic champion, Stephen Kiprotich. We have the defending champion [Wilson Kipsang] course record holder [Emmanuel Mutai], Chicago marathon winner and former London champion [Tsegaye Kebede], the fastest marathoner in history [Geoffrey Mutai] and the world record holder [Patrick Makau].

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All together now: “The family of man can be united,” says Hugh Brasher

What are you most looking forward to?

It would be getting to the end of the day knowing London had celebrated an amazing race across the multitude of events and everyone got around safely.

What qualities do you need to be a good race director?

You need to be both strategic and have a very good attention to detail. Very often those two characteristics are difficult to find in an individual. You’ll find people with very good attention to detail, who can’t deal with the strategy and vice-versa. To have these two things together is what is needed.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

The London Marathon organises more than just one event. As a company we also organise the adidas Silverstone Half Marathon, the Bupa London 10,000 and a multitude of other events.

For me, the biggest challenge is realising how many events we organize and the timescales involved in the decision-making processes. We are like an oil tanker in that if you want to change direction you’ve got to turn the wheel a long way before you get a movement.

But when you do get a movement you get a big reaction. So understanding that, and the timescales, have been very valuable. I’ve learned that from David.

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Family tradition: Hugh’s father Chris Brasher at the 1984 edition

Can you explain the enduring appeal of the London Marathon?

If you look at the founding aims that my father and John Disley started with: looking to improve the standard of British marathon; showing Britain can organise top events better than anyone; showing that the family of man could be united. All these points still resonate today.

The event is about having fun and providing some sense of achievement in a difficult world. People want enjoyment. There are something like 70 pubs on the route and they will all have their busiest day of the year. This is about London celebrating the madness of marathon running.