Polytechnic Marathon

The Polytechnic Marathon, often called the Poly, was a marathon held annually between 1909 and 1996, over various courses in or near London. It was the first marathon to be run regularly over the distance of 26 miles, 385 yards which is now the global standard. A total of eight world marathon bests were set in the Poly, including the first authenticated time under 2 hours, 20 minutes which had been regarded as the marathon equivalent of the four-minute mile. At the time of its demise in 1996, the Poly was Europe's oldest regular marathon. It had seen more world records and had been run over 42.195 kilometres (26.219 mi) more often than any other marathon.

Start of the 1967 Polytechnic Marathon at Windsor Castle.


The Polytechnic Marathon had its origins in the marathon of the 1908 Summer Olympics, held in London. This race was organised by the Polytechnic Harriers, the athletics club of the London Polytechnic at Regent Street (now the University of Westminster). In those days, there was no set distance for the marathon; it was simply a long race, around 40 km (25 mi) in length. The Polytechnic Harriers decided to start the Olympic marathon in front of the Royal apartments at Windsor Castle and end it on the track at White City Stadium in front of the Royal Box, a distance that turned out to be 26 miles, 385 yards.

There was immense public interest in the 1908 Olympic race, with its dramatic finish in which Dorando Pietri of Italy entered the stadium well clear of the field and staggered around the last lap to the finish line—only to be disqualified for receiving assistance. Building on this interest, The Sporting Life newspaper offered a magnificent trophy[1] for an annual international marathon that would be second in importance only to the Olympic event itself. The Polytechnic Harriers were again asked to organise the event, and the Polytechnic Marathon was born.

Early races

The first Polytechnic Marathon was held on 8 May 1909.[2] Henry Barrett won, followed by Fred Lord, and Harry Green.[2]

As with the Olympic race, the start was at Windsor Castle and the course was 26 miles, 385 yards; this distance was adopted as the international standard for marathons in 1924. (The older Boston Marathon, founded in 1897, adopted the 42.195-kilometre (26.219 mi) distance in 1924, but was slightly short for the first three years and was shorter still from 1951 to 1956[3].)

Over the years, the route of the Poly Marathon varied. From 1909 until 1932, it ended at Stamford Bridge in west London; then in 1933, it moved back to the White City stadium, where the 1908 Olympic marathon had finished. From 1938, the race ended at the new Polytechnic Harriers stadium in Chiswick, west London. It was on this course that Jim Peters, the greatest marathoner of his day, broke the 2 hours and 20 minutes barrier in 1953. Even more remarkably, remeasurement showed the course to have been about 150 yards too long.

In 1961, The Sporting Life withdrew its sponsorship, having ceased to report on athletics. A new sponsor was found in the form of confectionery company Callard and Bowser; and in the next few years, the race went from strength to strength, with a succession of world records (see table).

Decline and fall

By 1970, the Polytechnic Harriers and the Poly Marathon were in decline. Traffic problems made it difficult to continue with the Windsor-to-Chiswick route, and from 1973 until 1992, the race was restricted to the Windsor area. Performances declined, and so did the status of the Poly Marathon. With the introduction of mass marathons and big-money events elsewhere, the Poly Marathon could not compete.

There were organizational changes, too. In 1985, the Polytechnic Harriers merged with Kingston AC and moved in with them at Kingsmeadow Stadium in Kingston, Surrey. Some ex-Polytechnic Harriers remained at the Polytechnic sports ground in Hartington Road, Chiswick, where they formed a new club—West 4 Harriers—which was to become involved with the Polytechnic Marathon some years later.

Management of the race passed to the London Road Runners Club (LRRC) for 1986 and 1987, but the LRRC then folded. After a four-year gap, the race was revived in 1992 by Capital Road Runners (an even shorter-lived successor to LRRC) in conjunction with West 4 Harriers. A revised route was introduced, from Windsor to the Polytechnic stadium at Chiswick, recalling the event's former glory days.

From 1993 to 1995, the Poly Marathon was organised by a group from West 4 Harriers. In 1996, responsibility passed to a commercial events organiser, but increased traffic and other difficulties made it impossible to keep the race going beyond 1996.

World records set in the Polytechnic Marathon[4]

Date Athlete Time
1909 May 8 (see note 1) Henry Barrett (GBR) 2:42:31.0
1913 May 31 Alexis Ahlgren (SWE) 2:36:06.6
1952 June 14 Jim Peters (GBR) 2:20:42.2
1953 June 13 Jim Peters (GBR) 2:18:40.2 (see note 2)
1954 June 26 Jim Peters (GBR ) 2:17:39.4
1963 June 15 Leonard "Buddy" Edelen (USA) 2:14:28
1964 June 13 Basil Heatley (GBR) 2:13:55.0
1965 June 12 Morio Shigematsu (JPN) 2:12:00.0

Note 1: Date wrongly given as 26 May in some sources. Note 2: Distance measured as 42.337 km.


  1. ^ "The (sometimes) vexed history of the Sporting Life marathon trophy". Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  2. ^ a b Lambie, James. "A Marathon Trophy". The Story of Your Life: A History of the Sporting Life Newspaper (1859–1998. Leicester, UK: Troubadour Publishing Ltd. pp. 276–278. ISBN 978-1-84876-291-6. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  3. ^ http://www.bostonmarathon.org/BostonMarathon/Records.asp?records=permanent. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ The Polytechnic Marathon 1909–1996 by Ian Ridpath

External links

Albert Raines

Albert "Al" Raines (?? – ??) was an American long-distance runner who is recognized as having set a world's best in the marathon on May 8, 1909, with a time of 2:46:04 3-5 at the Bronx Marathon. Described as a former member of the Xavier Athletic Association, he won the race by over a mile.

Raines competed in at least five marathons and a 20 miler in a three-month period from February 8, 1909, to May 31, 1909. On February 8, 1909, he won an "amateur marathon" in Brooklyn, New York, and on My 8th he won the Bronx Amateur Marathon.On July 14, 1909, he resigned from the Amateur Athletic Union.

Alexis Ahlgren

Alexis Malkolm Ahlgren (14 July 1887 – 14 March 1969) was a Swedish long-distance runner who on 31 May 1913 set a world best of 2:36:06 at the Polytechnic Marathon. He competed in the men's marathon at the 1912 Summer Olympics but did not finish. He was born in Trollhättan.

Basil Heatley

Benjamin Basil Heatley (born 25 December 1933) is a retired British runner, who mainly competed in the marathon.On 13 June 1964 Heatley broke the world record for the marathon at the Polytechnic Marathon in England, running 2:13:55 to surpass Buddy Edelen's world best from the previous year's race by 33 seconds. Four months later, on 21 October 1964, Heatley competed in the marathon at the 1964 Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan. Defending Olympic marathon champion Abebe Bikila won another Olympic gold medal in another world record time. Heatley managed to stay close to Japan's Kokichi Tsuburaya and passed Tsuburaya shortly before the finish line to win the silver medal.He was a seven time participant at the International Cross Country Championships from 1957 to 1964. He was the runner-up to teammate Frank Sando at his first outing in the senior race and became the world champion in the sport at the 1961 International Cross Country Championships.

Buddy Edelen

Leonard Graves "Buddy" Edelen (September 22, 1937 – February 19, 1997) was an American marathoner. Based in England for most of his prime competitive years, in 1963 Edelen became the first man to run a marathon faster than 2 hours and 15 minutes when he set a world record of 2:14:28. Edelen also won the 1964 U.S. Olympic marathon trials and represented the U.S. in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Chris Brasher Sporting Life Trophy

The Chris Brasher Sporting Life Trophy is a trophy that is awarded annually to the elite male and female winners of the London Marathon. It was previously awarded to the winners of the Polytechnic Marathon between 1909 and 1961 which was staged between Windsor in Berkshire and various locations in London.

The creation of the trophy was instigated by Jack Andrew, the secretary of the London

Polytechnic Harriers athletics club in the wake of the popularity of the marathon after the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. Andrew approached William Will, the editor of the Sporting Life, who agreed to fund a trophy for a new annual marathon race in London.The trophy was made by London's Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company and cost £500. It was funded by Eleanor, the widow of William McFarlane, the former owner of Sporting Life.The trophy is 4 ft 6in high. The Sporting Life withdrew the trophy from the Polytechnic Marathon in 1962 after several years of failing finances for the race. The Sporting Life was then owned by Mirror Group Newspapers who declined to fund the event any further. The marathon was subsequently sponsored by Callard & Bowser, who made a butterscotch energy food. The trophy was subsequently stored at the headquarters of the Sporting Life for several years until 1969 when it was presented to the Polytechnic Harriers in perpetuity with the proviso that the club "the best means and method that will fulfill the original purpose of the trophy"; the original purpose being to "encourage long distance running in Great Britain".It was renamed in honour of Chris Brasher shortly before the 2003 London Marathon.

Harry Green (athlete)

Henry Harold "Harry" Green (15 July 1886 – 12 March 1934) was a British long-distance runner who competed in the marathon at the 1912 Summer Olympics and is recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations as having set a world's best in the marathon on 12 May 1913 with a time of 2:38:16.2 in London. Green was a member of the Herne Hill Harriers.Green competed for the Sutton Harriers and won a marathon in Surrey on Boxing Day 1908. At the inaugural Polytechnic Marathon run in London on 8 May 1909 he finished third, behind Henry Barrett and Fred Lord, with a time of 2:49:00.8. Although the 1910 Polytechnic Marathon was cancelled due to the death of King Edward, Green was one of 49 who started the 1911 race that made its way from Windsor Castle to Stamford Bridge. Competing for the Surrey Athletic Club, Green trailed Michael Ryan until Putney, 23 miles into the race. Taking the lead, he finished four minutes in front of Ryan with a time of 2:46:29.8. The New York Times described him as being in "fresh condition" at the end of the race.Green was the favourite to win the 1912 Polytechnic Marathon, a race that also served as "England's tryouts for the Olympic games", but finished third behind James Corkery of Canada and Christian Gitsham of South Africa. During the 1912 Summer Olympics, he finished fourteenth in the marathon. In May 1913 Green broke the world marathon record at a track in Shepherds Bush, with a time of 2h, 38m, 16.2s. Green's record lasted nineteen days. On 31 May 1913, Alexis Ahlgren of Sweden eclipsed Green's mark with a 2:36:06 performance at the Polytechnic Marathon.Green worked at Harrods until he signed up as a private during World War I. He was decorated with the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the French Médaille militaire for his service in the Gallipoli Campaign. Commissioned on the battlefield, he left the army with the rank of Captain. After the war he ran a newsagents shop in Knights Hill, West Norwood and did not actively participate in major competitions. Green died of pneumonia in 1934. He was cremated at West Norwood Cemetery.

Harry Payne (athlete)

Harry William Payne (5 September 1892 – 5 July 1969) was a British long-distance runner who competed in the marathon at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam and was a two-time national champion. He was born in Bedfordshire.

On 26 May 1928, Payne debuted at the marathon distance and posted a fourth-place finish at the Polytechnic Marathon (2:54:50.8). Six weeks later on 6 July 1928, he won the Amateur Athletic Association's marathon championship in only his second marathon. His performance of 2:34:34 set on the Polytechnic Marathon course was a new British record. The following month, an injured Payne finished 13th in marathon at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam (2:42:29).

At the 1929 AAA championships, Payne's 2:30:57.6 mark would earn him a second consecutive title and recapture the British marathon record from Sam Ferris - a mark that would stand for 22 years.With this performance, Payne was ranked first in the marathon for 1929.

Henry Barrett

Henry Frederick "Harry" Barrett (30 December 1879 – 18 December 1927) was a British long-distance runner who on 8 May 1909 set a world's best in only his second marathon with a time of 2:42:31 at the Polytechnic Marathon. Barrett failed to finish the men's marathon at the 1908 Summer Olympics and 1912 Summer Olympics.

Barret was an electrician from Hounslow.

Ian Ridpath

Ian William Ridpath (born 1 May 1947, Ilford, Essex) is an English science writer and broadcaster best known as a popularizer of astronomy and a biographer of constellation history. As a UFO sceptic, he investigated and explained the Rendlesham Forest Incident of December 1980.

Jim Peters (athlete)

James Henry "Jim" Peters (24 October 1918 in Hackney, London – 9 January 1999 in Thorpe Bay, Essex) was a long-distance runner from England. He broke the world record for the men's marathon four times in the 1950s. He was the first runner to complete a marathon under 2 hours 20 minutes – an achievement which was equated to the breaking of the four-minute mile. He achieved this at the Polytechnic Marathon of 1953, a point-to-point race from Windsor to Chiswick, West-London.

Later that same year Peters set the first sub-2:20 clocking on an out-and-back course, at the Enschede Marathon in the Netherlands.

At the 1954 Vancouver Commonwealth Games he reached the stadium in first place, 17 minutes ahead of the next runner and 10 minutes ahead of the record, but collapsed repeatedly and failed to finish. After covering just 200 metres in 11 minutes, he was stretchered away and never raced again. "I was lucky not to have died that day", he later said. His games kit, including plimsolls and the special medal which following the games the Duke of Edinburgh sent to Jim inscribed "To a most gallant marathon runner." were given to the Sports Hall of Fame, Vancouver in 1967 for exhibition.

He served as president of the then recently formed Road Runners Club from 1955 - 1956.

After retiring from competitive athletics, Peters worked as an optician in Mitcham, Surrey and Chadwell Heath, Essex.

Joe Deakin

Joseph Edmund "Joe" Deakin (6 February 1879 – 30 June 1972) was a British athlete who competed at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London.

Deakin served with the Rifle Brigade and fought in the Boer War. During this time he set South African records at both the 880 yards and 1 mile. While posted to Ireland, he ran with Clonliffe Harriers and won the Irish 1 mile and 4 mile titles in 1901. Returning to England, he joined Herne Hill Harriers in 1903 and soon established a reputation as one of the country's finest cross-country runners, winning an individual bronze (1905) and team gold medals (1905, 1906 and 1908) at the International Cross Country Championships.He finished second in the English national cross-country championships in 1907 and showed sufficient form in track races during the early part of the 1908 season to be selected to race in three events at the Olympic Games. Deakin won his first round heat of the 1500 metres event with a time of 4:13.6. Despite being one of the slowest first round winners, Deakin won by seventy-five yards. His time in the final was better, though he still finished sixth at 4:07.9. The next morning Deakin led the British team home to victory in the 3 mile team race. After a celebratory lunch, complete with champagne refreshment, he lined for the heats of the five miles competition. Unsurprisingly, he dropped out of the race before the finish.Deakin joined Surrey AC after the Olympics and competed for his new club in the Polytechnic Marathon. He finished in 20th place. After service in World War I, which saw him temporarily blinded, he returned to racing and improved his previous marathon performance by finishing 8th in the 1920 "Poly". He continued in competition as a veteran and his last race was not until the eve of his 90th birthday. He died just three years after his last race.

Kingston Athletic Club and Polytechnic Harriers

The Polytechnic Harriers was founded by philanthropist Quintin Hogg in 1883. He was a firm believer in the health-giving and character-building qualities of sport. He also enjoyed taking part in them; especially playing football. He provided the facilities for a range of different sports and actively encouraged members to participate. They were open clubs and the membership was wider than the student body. The Polytechnic Harriers were formed in 1883, they were known for four years as the Hanover United AC, and were the athletics arm of Quintin Hogg's Regent Street Polytechnic.The active promotion of sport, combined with the generous provision of facilities at the Polytechnic Clubs, made sport accessible to large numbers at a time when many sports (such as football) were becoming organized for the first time and local, national and international competitions were beginning to develop. As the Clubs grew, talented athletes and some notable coaches were attracted to them. Remarkable success came from this strong base: the Clubs have won at least 50 Olympic medals, 10 world and 175 national championships. The wider membership was able to take part in sport they also could enjoy the social

life that included concerts, dances, excursions and parties. This all was a feature of Polytechnic Clubs.The Polytechnic Harriers were the most remembered and celebrated out of the many sports clubs that arose from the Regent’s Street Polytechnic. The Polytechnic Harriers were based at the Chiswick track, but their name confirmed that they were connected to this important educational and sporting institution. The Polytechnic Harriers was a male only club. In 1985 The Polytechnic Harriers merged with The Royal Borough of Kingston AC, a women's club that evolved from Surrey AC, and it is now known as Kingston AC and Polytechnic Harriers (Kingston & Poly). The Polytechnic's Kinnaird and Sward Trophies are still contested annually at Kingston & Poly's home track - Kingsmeadow. The Polytechnic Marathon is no longer held, having been superseded by the London Marathon. Kingston & Poly's men now compete nationally in the British Athletics League and,at area level,the men and women operate jointly in the Southern Athletics League.

Marathon world record progression

This list is a chronological progression of record times for the marathon. World records in the marathon are now ratified by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the international governing body for the sport of athletics.

Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge set a new world record for men of 2:01:39 on September 16, 2018, at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. Kipchoge also ran the fastest ever marathon with a 2:00:25 clocking at the Nike Breaking2 race in Monza, Italy on May 6, 2017, but the IAAF says "times achieved in the race may not be eligible for official world record ratification should an application be made."

The IAAF recognizes two world records for women, a time of 2:15:25 set by Paula Radcliffe on April 13, 2003 during the London Marathon which was contested by men and women together, and a "Women Only" record of 2:17:01, set by Mary Keitany, on April 23, 2017 at the London Marathon for women only.

Morio Shigematsu

Morio Shigematsu (重松 森雄, Shigematsu Morio, born 21 June 1940) is a former Japanese long-distance runner who competed in marathons.

On June 12, 1965, Shigematsu set a world's best in the marathon with a time of 2:12:00 at the Polytechnic Marathon. Less than two months earlier, he had set a course record at the 1965 Boston Marathon (2:16:33).

In his career, in 22 marathons started, he recorded 6 victories, placed second 3 times and third once. Shigematsu ran seven marathons under 2:20.

Paavo Kotila

Paavo Edvard Kotila (August 26, 1927 in Veteli – January 26, 2014) was a Finnish long-distance runner, Olympian, and three-time national champion in the marathon (1955, 1956, 1961).

Timeline of women's sports

This is a timeline of women's sports.

Toru Terasawa

Toru Terasawa (寺沢 徹, Terasawa Tōru, born January 4, 1935) is a former Japanese long-distance runner who on February 17, 1963 set a world record in the marathon with a time of 2:15:16 at the Beppu Marathon. Terasawa placed second in the marathon at the 1964 Japanese Olympic trials and 15th at the 1964 Summer Olympics. Terasawa is also a two-time champion of the Fukuoka Marathon; he set a Japanese national record during his 1962 victory (2:16:18.4) and improved on it when he won in 1964 (2:14:48.2). At Fukuoka in 1966, he finished fifth (2:15:51.2) after colliding with Jim Hogan, the 1966 European marathon champion, and falling to the pavement just before the half way mark.When Morio Shigematsu set the world record at the 1965 Polytechnic Marathon, Terasawa finished second. His 2:13:41 performance was the third best ever at the time In 1965, he set his second world record, in the 30 km, and in 1969 he won the Nagano Marathon.

Violet Piercy

Violet Stewart Louisa Piercy (24 December 1889 – April 1972) was an English long-distance runner who is recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations as having set the first women's world best in the marathon on 3 October 1926 with a time of 3:40:22. Piercy was reported to have run unofficially and her mark was set on the Polytechnic Marathon course between Windsor and London.According to the IAAF, Piercy's mark stood 37 years until Merry Lepper's 3:37:07 performance at the Western Hemisphere Marathon on 16 December 1963.Piercy died in April 1972 in a London hospital after suffering a brain haemorrhage, hypertension and chronic kidney-related infection. The death certificate mistakenly gave her surname as Pearson.

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