London Marathon 2021 – Expo Advice

After nearly an 18 month wait, London marathon is finally here. As it’s a bit different this year here’s some tips on the Expo (yes we still have to go, yes I still don’t like them).

NOTE – no under 18s are allowed, this is enforced. If they’re teenagers and you can leave in the coffee shop whilst you collect the bib it’s not a big issue. If you turn up with a toddler on way home from school you’re going to have to go home and come back another day. Or find the least child-kidnapper-looking person to mind them.

Expo is once again at ExCeL which is an arse to get to and ThEy LiKe tO Do StuPiD CapiTAlisAtIoN.

ExCeL London, Royal Victoria Dock , 1 Western Gateway, London, E16 1XL

Virgin Money London Marathon Running Show opening times:

  • Wednesday 29 September 10:00 to 20:00
  • Thursday 30 September 10:00 to 20:00
  • Friday 1 October 10:00 to 20:00
  • Saturday 2 October 08:30 to 17:30

Getting there –

Still an arse to get to.

The closest station to the Virgin Money London Marathon Running Show is Prince Regent DLR.

If you drive it’s a bargain £20 to park. I’m told there is an Asda about 20 mins walk away, near Beckton station (thanks Gary!)

I’ve literally purchased cars for less than that.

Drop bags –

This year to minimise touch points you have to take your drop bag to the expo – there are NO DROP BAGS AT MARATHON START

In theory the organisers have posted you a drop bag (big clear drawstring bag) for you to take along and drop off at the Expo. Mine, like many others didn’t arrive but don’t worry they have spares at the Expo (update – mine arrived the Friday before London, a full week later than promised).

What you put in the drop bag would normally be dependent on weather on the day but given you’ll need to pack a few days in advance based on dodgy forecasts I would suggest:

  • Warm dry clothes (full set including pants in case really wet)
  • Change of shoes & socks. Some people like those recovery sandals by Oofos. Those people are on a government watch list.
  • Raincoat/poncho
  • Bin bag for wet stuff
  • Wet wipes to pretend you’re clean
  • Recovery food
  • Battery pack for phone or USB lead and find a café to steal their power
  • Directions on where to meet loved ones – you may well have lost your phone and can’t remember which pub your husband is waiting for you at
  • Plasters for any blisters
  • Face mask if taking public transport (although few seem to bother)

What you need for the Expo –

  • Negative lateral flow test – either the text or the email. You’ll need to show this to staff to enter the Excel and again when you collect bib
  • Drop bag (or just the contents, they have spare bags if yours never arrived like mine)
  • ID to collect bib – I don’t think this was well publicised but there may have been documentation with the drop bag I never got that covered this.
  • QR entry code – either on the email sent before or install the official London Marathon app on phone & login as per the emailed instructions you should have received on Wednesday this week. It will also confirm your bib number if you never received the drop bag.
  • £20 parking charge if driving – machines take card. Or first born child.
  • Face mask if taking public transport (although few seem to bother) or if you want to wear in the expo. Maybe 20% of attendees and 50% of the staff had them on.

When you get there –

STEP 1 – BAG DROP

Head to hall S8 first. The event staff may want to see either the Covid test or your QR entry code on the app it seemed a little random what and who they asked.

This is where you drop off your bag and must be done first. Even if you don’t intend to have anything for after the race you must drop off the empty bag for them to put the finishers tee, medal, drinks and other goodies in. This is to reduce touch points.

From a rough estimate of the attendees when I went approx. 50% were taking the spare bags as either they hadn’t received one or had lost it. The volunteers have fat permanent markers to label up with your bib number. This is where the app is handy to check your bib number.

If you’ve not done a big race before then showing your bib at the end gets your bag back and is proof of ownership. No bib = no bag or at least a very long argument on why you lost your bib and trying to prove you’re not not some sort of weirdo with a fetish for stealing tracky bottoms and awful sandals.

For London this year your bib is printed after drop off and the crate your kit bag will be in at the end is printed on the bib along with start wave. This does reduce waste and needless bibs but as people found out on Saturday of the expo added enormously to the queues. Some reported total of 4hrs queuing for bag and bib.

Photo from Karly @karly_runs

Oddly despite picking the size of the finishers tee during registration, at drop off you get in the queue for whichever size top you fancy and they check your bib number against your name, add in the finishers top of that size and take it to the back for further bits to be added. Potentially this means you’re not guaranteed the size top you picked at registration if you’re one of the last to attend on Saturday, or it could mean they have a huge surplus of sizes due to the expected drop outs and the virtual race. This is yet another reason I wish they offered something like Tree Not Tees where instead of plastic tops shipped around the world that are often unused they could plant a tree instead. In the case of the finishers tees for 2021 this is even more relevant as they are NASTY. Mine is going straight on eBay.

Finishers top. Sold mine.

STEP 2 – BIB COLLECTION

Head to hall S10, the event staff will want to see your QR entry code on entry. They didn’t seem to ask for Covid test. If you bring someone else with you they will also need a Covid test. As above, no under 18s allowed. Big issue for some and not well publicised.

Once in the registration desks are first and for normal runners they’re dead ahead of you. If Good For Age or Championship then find the appropriate desk for that.

The volunteers at the desk will want to see your Covid test, your bib number, and double check the name against your ID. As on previous years you can collect for one other person but need a letter authorising it and a copy of their ID.

Then they stick the chip on the bib and hand it to you. No big bag of goodies like previous years, literally a bib and some safety pins. Personally it made the whole expedition seem even more pointless. A four hour round trip, £20 of parking, to collect a piece of paper they could have posted (although given how unsuccessful the drop bag postage was maybe using address stickers isn’t their forte).

You are now done and can go home.

That man is daring to use the entrance as an exit to avoid the stands – arrest him!

STEP 3 – NOT YET!

Just like a game show where they hate to see you leave empty handed you need to wind around the expo to the exit as going back out through the entrance would be impossible.

Presumably due to Covid and being close to other marathon majors the expo is pretty poor this year. None of the big brands like Nike, Asics, Adidas, Brooks are there. New Balance as the main sponsor are there, and for trainers there’s Hoka (if you like clown shoes, I actually do) and On (if you like squeaky shoes that pick up every damn stone, I actually don’t) but that’s about it.

Buying kit just before race day is never a good idea but this year there’s not really the option. The charity stalls are there and a few of the specialists in underwear etc but the selection is poor. If you went to The National Running Show in Farnborough this month you’d have seen far more brands.

STEP 4 – GO HOME

I love London Marathon but as with all Expos this is awful and pointless. Get home and do something useful like rest or have a massage. I managed to be in and out in 20 minutes and even then felt like a waste of my time.

Did I mention I hate expos?

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