WHY CAN'T LIVERPOOL HOST A MARATHON?
As many of you will know I was able to host a marathon in my city over two years in 2011 and 2012 and it was, and always will be, the highlight of my involvement in running events going back 30 years. It gave me a sense of pride and a sense of achievement and I thought it had the making of a first class event supported by a five year plan. So why after just two years was it stopped in it's tracks? I can only speculate as to why but I think most people know why!
The origins of the BTR Liverpool Marathon go back to 2008 when Liverpool was the European City of Culture and the odd thing about that particular year was that there were no sporting events at all…..none. I thought the city had clearly missed a trick there so suggested to the local authorities that a marathon would be a great addition to the sporting calendar and the time was right to bring one back. Looking into the history of the Liverpool Marathon I found some great background information about the old City Marathon dating back to the early 1920's which drew crowds of spectators in excess of 300,000 swarming over St. George's plateau. Halcyon Days indeed. The City Marathon ceased in 1962 when a young aspiring Ron Hill took part. It was his debut marathon and he won... naturally.
With the passing of the City Marathon there was a gap until the early 80's when it seemed that literally everywhere had a marathon as the running boom took hold of everyone's athletic imagination. The Mersey Marathon as it was known started in the south of the city and went to the far north up around Seaforth before heading back to the south end to finish at Camp Hill in Woolton. I was one of the many thousands who took part in it... and I have to say I didn't enjoy it only because I knew the area so well. It just seemed like way more than 26 miles at the time. Well it lasted for 10 years before the running boom tide ebbed along with many local marathons leaving London as the dominant force which it still is today. It was noticeable in 1994 that Liverpool now had no major distance event and that is where the current Liverpool Half Marathon started. It was introduced as a replacement for the marathon and that particular event has managed to stand the test of time. I was there at the creation of that event and I'm still here now 30 years on.
So to get back to 2008 - 20011... I had pestered the life out of the local authorities to let me host a marathon that would add significantly to the profile of the city and also enhance the BTR portfolio. Along the way there was a significant amount of politics involved which I managed to overcome and in 2011, I was in a position to host a marathon which I subsequently did. I based the course on what I believed runners would look for in a marathon in a major city and structured the course accordingly. To that end with a start in Birkenhead Park and early miles up to New Brighton, a return along the promenade to view the full city skyline and a drop down into the Birkenhead Tunnel I thought the structure of the course ticked all the runner boxes. The final 12 miles of the marathon were Liverpool side of the River Mersey with a finish on (what was) a World Heritage Site at the Pier Head. I used all of my running experience to put that course together and it would be hard to argue that that course wasn't an excellent route that would allow for future development and improvement along the way. So, how come it was only allowed to happen twice before being cancelled by the local authority. As I have said I can only speculate.
Despite the obvious success of the Liverpool Marathon in it's first two years it was abruptly stopped while Liverpool City Council considered the position of the event. There was no marathon in the city in 2013 but the Rock N Roll organisation was brought in to deliver a marathon in the city in 2014. To my way of thinking their marathon plan was doomed from the start for two reasons... firstly the event was underpinned by a number of different distances which weakened the marathon proposition and secondly the course was awful. No other way of saying it.
The BTR Marathon was just that - a marathon - and it was set up to attract marathon runners. In the second year it had a 10K option but that was to give people a sense of what marathon day was all about and to encourage 10K runners to go the whole hog the following year. The RNR proposition was a different entity altogether with a much diminished focus on running 26 miles. It wasn't really a marathon, it was running event for people who wanted to run different distances and for me that was the problem. In addition, the much revised course lacked appeal on so many levels in that it was tough, didn't really go anywhere of interest and lacked the much needed spectator appeal. It was always going to be difficult to get people to run that course more than once so you are immediately relying on attracting a high percentage of new runners year on year. Again, I think the event plan was set up to fail... and ultimately it did.
Around 2019 the ownership of the RNR 'marathon" changed hands and the event (in conjunction with other RNR European races) was considered not viable and the 'marathon' along with the Rock N Roll brand withdrew from the city. Between 2014 and 2023 two other marathons have flourished in the region - the Chester Marathon and more recently the Manchester Marathon. Both are completely different in profile but both are flourishing and that is now why I can't see a marathon in Liverpool being viable in the current climate. Chester and Manchester are at both ends of the running calendar (March and October) so the premium time slots for spring and autumn marathons are taken up. With both in close proximity, it is difficult to see how a Liverpool Marathon could currently compete with either.
What would attract runners to Liverpool in sufficient numbers to ensure a marathon was viable? There is no doubt that the city itself is an amazing visitor destination but the timing for a Liverpool Marathon just isn't right in 2023. The city had it's chance to create a first class marathon with an attractive course that was challenging and appealing in equal measure.
The structure of the the 2011/2012 course was deliberate and considered to maximise runner appeal and minimise local disruption which is fundamental to event planning. The course from 2014 wasn't. It caused too much disruption and wasn't appealing enough for runners. Again, as I said earlier, to my mind it was set up to fail and it proved to be the case. So what is the potential for a future Liverpool Marathon? That's not really for me to decide... but if I was asked again what would I do, then I would revert back to what was in place for the 2011/ 2012 marathon... BECAUSE IT WORKED. Whether it would work 10 years on I'm not sure... but the template is there.
What would be needed to recreate the Liverpool Marathon is political will from the regional authorities, commercial investment because it is without doubt a huge and costly undertaking and there has to be sufficient interest from the running community.
At the moment there are none of those three elements in place and it's difficult to see when those three stars would align. Once the BTR Running Community Trust is firing on all cylinders it might be the first big project to assess? So for now, if you ever wonder why there isn't a marathon in our fantastic city then hopefully my little article will will give you a bit more of an insight. My parting shot would be... never say never...
All the best and thank you for taking the time to read this if you got this far!
BTR Liverpool (and huge fan of the marathon).