The Virgin London Marathon in the time of COVID

Written by Philip Holmes on Wednesday 10th March 2021

The Virtual London Marathon 2021 and The Big Give


The Virgin London Marathon has been a highlight in the running world's calendar since it was first run forty years ago on 29th March 1981. It has also been high on the charity fundraiser's priority list, with guaranteed "Golden Bond" and "Silver Bond" places highly sought after by runners who missed being allocated places through the public ballot. Each of these is offered in exchange for a pledge to raise around at least £2,000 (the amount varies from charity to charity), but in practice the average amount raised per Bond is £2,700. Unfortunately, this has been somewhat of a closed shop with only those charities that were registered when Bonds were first introduced being in receipt of an annual allocation. That means that Pipal Tree, which was registered in 2015, hasn't qualified for Bond places but that very unpopular and unfair arrangement has now been reviewed by the event organisers. From 2024 charities that have annual Bond allocations will see these reduced to allow newer charities a chance to apply for Bonds too. 

A survivor of the 2019 London Marathon

A survivor of the 2019 London Marathon

Personally, I never considered myself to be a "runner". My distance running career only really began when I turned fifty in 2010. That was only because my previous charity faced a funding squeeze following the austerity of the noughties. So, I grudgingly pledged to raise badly needed funds through running four 10km events around the world. At that time, 10km felt like a long way. In fact, after the first of the four races, in Hong Kong, I had to retire to my bed. In fairness though, it was an early start - in the dark with fireworks at 6 a.m. as I recall - to avoid the heat and humidity. The outcome of those four runs was that I raised an incredible £30,000! The following year, I felt that, in the light of this fundraising success, I had no choice but to run again, this time upping my game to run my first half-marathon (Silverstone race track) followed by the London Marathon. In honesty, I hated the Marathon as it was just such hard work. I don't remember any of the sights apart from the finish line and recall my sense of relief at crossing it. At the time, I said "never again", but the £11,000 I raised (some donor fatigue had set in!) meant that, upon reflection, I felt duty-bound to run London again in 2012. Maybe it was because I knew what to expect and had prepared and paced myself better, but that year I absolutely loved the event. And I raised just over £5,000.

Fast forward to 2019 (and skipping a memorable Paris Marathon in 2017) and, at the grand old age of 59, I ran my first-ever non-stop marathon in a personal best. I will never forget the last two or three miles of pain leavened by a certain geriatric smugness, as I trotted past other runners who were decades younger and walking or limping the final stretch. I guess I have now become a marathon-junkie!

Pipal Tree's involvement in the 2021 Virgin London Marathon

Pipal Tree's involvement in the 2021 Virgin London Marathon is going to be different for two main reasons:

Reason one:

This year's Marathon on the 3rd of October will be a hybrid event. It will be the biggest ever with up to 50,000 runners following the actual route in London and the same number running a virtual marathon wherever they are in the world. In these uncertain times, the latter figure remains a more predictable one. Of course, a virtual run is not the same as the real thing as participants miss out on running past iconic sights such as Cutty Sark and Big Ben and crossing a traffic-free Tower Bridge. And there won't be the added buzz that is always derived from the fellowship and good humour of thousands of other runners and the encouragement of the crowds - not to mention the odd bagpiper, brass band etc. But, virtual events can still be very rewarding. Last year, I ran the Bonn half-marathon, virtually, somewhat unconvinced beforehand. However, through an App I was able to receive a little cheer at each mile point, record a finish time and submit my own pictures. The London Marathon organisers also offer running vests and medals to all runners, including the virtual participants.

Pipal Tree has some guaranteed places in the virtual London Marathon. This offers the added attraction (!) of being able to join Pipal Tree co-Founders, my wife Bev and me, on the run. We will be tramping around Kingsbridge, south Devon, on the day. There certainly won't be any "PB's" ("personal bests") recorded as unlike the flat banks of the Thames, we will have to contend with those notorious Devon hills. Just email me if you would like to secure a place in return for a pledge to raise a minimum of £300 in sponsorship. That target should be achievable for most who undertake a marathon, if only on the basis of "sooner you than me"!

Reason two:

In these tough financial times, at Pipal Tree we are trying to extract the maximum value from every pound or dollar donated. We are doing that by making the maximum use of the Big Give donation platform that potentially allows gifts made online to be automatically doubled in value. Pipal Tree will be running four one-week-long Big Give appeals in 2021 (compared with three in 2020) giving our supporters the choice of programme that they would like to invest in. The appeal launch dates are:

Rather than raising marathon sponsorship through conventional fundraising platforms like JustGiving and Virgin MoneyGiving, which add no value apart from Gift Aid, we are suggesting that runners collect pledges that can be called forward when the above appeals go "live". That way the sponsorship is doubled in value, with Gift Aid added as well. To the best of my knowledge, no other charity offers this financial return on running effort!

You can see my pledge form here. If you would like us to help you set up something similar for this or another event, then just let me know. And please do become one of my pledgers, sharing the form with friends. Tomorrow is my birthday - hint, hint. 

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