4 Nov

Jim Fixed It

Jimmy Saville

The recent death of former Radio 1 DJ and Top of the Pops host Jimmy Saville was greeted in a strange way in the media. Newspapers, broadcasters and on-line media - much like the public - find it much easier to simply pigeon-hole someone's personality. But for an eccentric like Sir Jimmy, it was nigh on impossible to summarise him (writes Chris Broadbent).

So, it shouldn't fall to scottishrunningguide.com to take on the task and thankfully for this writer, it won't. However, it is worth zooming in on Saville's association with running and in particular, the London Marathon.

That's something which is worth reflecting on. It's difficult to imagine now, but there was a time when running was the preserve of track and field clubs and their members. Jogging was not a common activity. You were either a runner in a club or at school or university or not at all. There was very little in between.

The London marathon changed all that. It sparked people's imaginations. Joe Public fancied a go at this and London, provided that opportunity. Jimmy Saville played a role in this. He was the foremost celebrity to take part in the inaugural London marathon in 1981, raising money for Stoke Mandeville Hospital for spinal injuries. He went on to take part in several more, his last being in 2005 at the age of 79.

At that first ever race millions watched on television. Doubtlessly thousands of them saw the ageing DJ running 26 miles and thought: "If he can do that, I can do that. I'm going to have a go."

Suddenly this monumental race seemed accessible, achievable. Jimmy Saville was the forerunner of the celebrity runner who are now a staple of any major road running event and who have also gone on to raise millions and millions for charity.

Prior to 1981 distance races would only include club athletes. Even the UK's most prestigious marathons could feature less than 100 runners. It all seems rather strange, so well established now is running as a major participation sport.

The London marathon now features around 35,000 runners each year with the Great North Run - launched one year later - now topping 50,000. Jimmy Saville played an important role in turning marathon running from the niche market to the mass market. How's about that then?