The London Marathon will go ahead thanks to social-distancing wearables

Bump devices will alert runners when they get too close to each other.

Andrew Boyers / reuters

Elite-level marathon running will return this weekend. The organizers of the London Marathon have announced that they will use distance-measuring ‘Bump’ devices to keep roughly 100 athletes safe as they participate in the men’s, women’s and wheelchair races. The hardware will also be worn by 500 members of staff that are necessary to carry out the event on Sunday (October 4th). As the Bump website explains, the wearable — which can be worn around the neck like a lanyard, or clipped onto a piece clothing — will light up and make a sound when the user gets too close to someone else. It was developed by a British company called Tharsus and has already been deployed in Ocado, BT and other businesses.

“Tharsus’s Bump technology has played an important role, giving our athletes and internal teams extra confidence to engage with the event safely,” Hugh Brasher, event director for the London Marathon said.

According to the London marathon team, Bump hardware can also monitor the frequency and length of time that runners and staff stay within a set distance of each other. That means organizers can be alerted when Bump-wearers get too close to one another, and also track a person’s movements if they later test positive for COVID-19. In addition, the London Marathon will be held in a behind-closed-doors “biosecure bubble.” Athletes were tested at their homes, in a COVID-safe hotel outside of London, and once again on Monday when they arrived at the event’s ‘bubble’ hotel.

The event usually takes over the city, but this year the race will be confined to a course that loops around St James’s Park 19.6 times. There won’t be any spectators, but fans can still keep up via the BBC’s live coverage.

The London Marathon is the first “Major” — a running event classification that includes New York City, Chicago and Berlin, among others — since the Tokyo Marathon on March 1st. Other competitions have switched to a remote-only model, allowing professional and amateur runners alike to complete the distance on a route of their choosing. London had hoped to hold a mass participation event using the Bump wearables. But the spread of the virus, coupled with the ever-changing restrictions in the UK, have forced the organizers to adopt a similar ‘virtual’ event for amateurs.