London Is Relying on Unusual Methods to Pull Off Its Marathon This Weekend

New wearable tech will sound an alarm when runners get too close to each other

London Is Relying on Unusual Methods to Pull Off Its Marathon This Weekend
Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images

This Sunday, athletes running in the London Marathon will wear tiny electronic tags supplied by a company named Bump, which are designed to light up and and sound an alarm whenever runners get too close to their competitors. The innovation is one of a few unusual methods race operators are employing this year to bring the city’s 40th major marathon to the finish line.

This will be the first lockdown-era marathon of its kind, and only the second major marathon (there are six) to actually take place this year. Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York were all canceled, and Tokyo took place on March 1, before the coronavirus had firmly arrived in Western Europe and the United States. London is taking cues from how Japanese officials pulled off that race, by only inviting elite athletes in the men’s, women’s and wheelchair races. Just 100 athletes will participate this weekend.

But they’ve gone further than even that to ensure safety. The Bump technology is meant to keep runners from getting too close during the race, and if they do — in which case, air droplets would easily spread among them — the hardware can track exactly who came into contact with whom. Later on, in case someone contracts the virus, race operators could theoretically track the potential spread back to a cough in the fourteenth mile.

Hopefully, there won’t be any need to dig into the data. At the very least, the race will be contained; instead of running around London, athletes will run around Westminster’s iconic St. James’s Park precisely 19.6 times. The so-called “biosecure bubble” will be cut off to the public, but Brits (and early-rising Americans) can tune in for BBC’s live coverage. And in keeping with the running community’s trend of virtual races during quarantine, thousands more will be repping local track clubs, and raising money for charities, while running 26.2 in their neighborhood.

It isn’t just for fun, either: the virtual times amateurs run in “The 40th” will actually count towards placement in the 41st London Marathon, which is slated for October 2021. Find more info here.

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