For this month’s interview we chatted to Ben Craddock (senior operations manager in the Event Experience department at London Marathon Events (LME) and finish director for the TCS London Marathon) a few days before the iconic event.
Overall, what are the biggest operational challenges that you face when organising the event?
The Finish of the TCS London Marathon Finish presents unique build and break challenges as it’s located within St James’s Park and we only have a two-day road closure window. All works have to be carefully planned around the two hour Changing of the Guard movement which takes place four days a week. During these times there can be no vehicle movements across the site and no vehicle in or out of the Park. Every day, especially in the spring and summer months, both Green Park and St James’s Park have thousands of visitors. All these visitors need to be accommodated which requires careful diversion routes through the parks and the creation and management of crossing points. Added to that, this year the Coronation takes place just two weeks after the TCS London Marathon, so we’ve worked very closely with the Coronation planning team as much of the infrastructure is in place prior to Marathon weekend.
You’re returning to your April date this year, so you’ve had a much shorter timeframe between events, has that impacted on the operations?
Well, we’ve known for a long time this has been coming. The impacts of the pandemic meant that the London Marathon was held in October for three years but we always planned to move back to our traditional April date as soon as we could. The short time frame between the events helped the team to focus on the key changes we wanted to make between last October and April. There were definitely benefits in delivering two editions of the TCS London Marathon. For example, we were able to contract some suppliers to both the 2022 and the 2023 events which helped with negotiations.
Are you doing anything different from an operational point of view in 2023 as a result of learnings from the 2022 event?
We decided to build the traditional Marathon Day media centre earlier so that the press conferences for our elite athletes can take place on venue rather than in the elite athlete hotel. This will work far better for media attending, provides access to the spectacular backdrop of the Finish area and makes better use of the facility that we build.
One of the keys points from the review of the 2022 event was the need to improve the wayfinding signage throughout the venue. Consequently, we spent a lot of time on this earlier in the year and will be working with two new suppliers on a new approach to wayfinding. We’ve also reviewed the entire participant event experience, in line with our company value of Customer First and we’re implementing various small changes that improve that.
What suppliers did you work with in 2023? Were any of these different to 2022? And if yes, why did you make a change?
We work with around 40 different suppliers providing a whole variety of services across the Finish venue. We are working with six new suppliers in 2023, all contracted for the purpose of improving the overall event experience.
We are working with two new signage suppliers to provide a digital signage solution which will be displayed at key customer facing entry points. We believe this will provide better customer engagement and give us flexibility on messaging across the two event days.
We are once again working with SquareOne and Creative Technology on the delivery of the spectacular TCS London Marathon Finish Gantry, which also features a hospitality viewing experience over the Finish Line. This must be one of the greatest views in sport with The Mall lined with flags and the world-famous backdrop of Buckingham Palace. The new Finish Gantry was one of the major developments for October 2022 and we are looking to make the digital screen content on the gantry even more interactive in 2023.
Can you tell us how important delivering a sustainable event is and what you do to minimise your environmental impact?
Sustainability is hugely important for LME and we work to drive positive change in environmental sustainability through our own actions and inspire our stakeholders and partners to do the same. We have set ourselves very ambitious sustainability targets, including net zero carbon emissions across our own operations within our control by the end of 2024.
We publish an annual report on our environmental work and outline all our initiatives on the TCS London Marathon https://www.tcslondonmarathon.com/more/sustainability >
This year we are working with the Council for Responsible Sport to track and measure the social and environmental impacts of the TCS London Marathon, using the ReScore app which was developed for the Council by our title partner TCS. We are the first major UK event to do this.
We have introduced many sustainability initiatives across the Finish venue for the 2023 TCS London Marathon and these include:
- Electric plant and small vehicles (mules and buggies)
- Baggage lorries & generators fuelled by HVO – a biofuel with low carbon emissions
- Finisher medal ribbons made from recycled plastic
- Finisher bag made from sugar cane (which is recyclable)
- New Balance Finisher T-shirts made from 100% recycled polyester
- Dedicated waste stations
- Reusable banner roll which is washed and stored to be used again next year
- Partnership with Trees not Tees, offering our participants the option to plant a tree instead of receiving a Finisher T-shirt.
What are you most looking forward to at the 2023 event?
The TCS London Marathon is no longer just a one-day event. On Saturday 22 April we will host the second mass TCS Mini London Marathon on the same roads within St James’s Park that will be used for the TCS London Marathon following day.
The inaugural event was held last year but the turnout was badly impacted the by national rail strike on the day. This year, we have more than 10,000 children registered to take part in the event which is free to enter and for children of all abilities aged four to 17 years. In a unique initiative, every finisher earns a £10 donation from sponsors TCS which goes to their school to be used for PE or IT equipment.
On Marathon Day, I encourage everyone in my team to take a moment sometime during the day to step back and just take in the powerful and raw emotions of our participants crossing that famous Finish Line and accomplishing their dream - whether that was to run a personal best or simply complete 26.2 miles to raise money for a charity close to their heart. Every single person has their unique reason for participating in the TCS London Marathon.
It’s these extraordinary human moments which make my role so rewarding.