This year, London's 26-miler is being overrun by hip, young celebs. A flushed HESTER LACEY gives chase
Today, among the sweating hordes staggering round the 19th London Marathon, there will be the usual high quota of runners decked out as panto horses and enormous chickens, etc.

But among them will be some familiar faces - rather younger and trendier faces than the usual worthy-but-hardly-cutting-edge stalwarts such as Sir Jimmy Savile. This year, for example, Jonny Lee Miller has joined the long haul from Greenwich to the Mall. Others pounding the streets include Jason Statham and Jason Flemyng, stars of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; actors Jerome Flynn and Linus Roache; DJ Dr Fox, and pop heartthrobs Spike of 911 and Tony Mortimer.

Since when has the London Marathon - sorry, the Flora London Marathon been cool? Surely a celeb's natural habitat is propping up the bar at the Met or K Bar, nibbling at Momo or Nobu or jumping the queue at the Atlantic - not rubbing shoulders with sweaty proles in Greenwich, and legging it through Docklands and the City. Even from the Mall, they'll have to limp quite a way to find a suitable apres-run drinks venue.

London's parks and streets have been swarming with runners every evening for the past few weeks, honing their technique in the run-up to the big day. Plenty of them, wheezing and perspiring along in baggy old T-shirts and disreputable shorts, look almost ready to expire. But it seems the fitness aspect of marathon running is not the only lure for celeb joggers. It's a Mind Thing. Jonny Lee Miller says of the training: "It's like a meditation thing; you get rid of all that fear and think about stuff." Jason Flemyng says that running is the perfect escape from a film set. "It helps keep me sane," he explained. Co-star Jason Statham says, "All exercise releases endorphins and makes you feel good. I wouldn't do it if it was a pain in the arse."

Whatever happened to the personal trainer, the weirdy far-Eastern-type power yoga and the posh gyms that are the traditional territory of the fitness-mad celeb? The Marathon press office suggests the lazy-but-famous may have been encouraged to get moving by the recent revelation that Alanis Morissette is, in fact, a highly proficient triathlete. "Running complements their lifestyles," says a Marathon spokeswoman. "If you're going round the world on tour, wherever you are you can run. All you need is a good pair of running shoes."

Getting out of the gym and into the open is a definite trend, according to Kathryn Leigh, fitness editor of Health and Fitness magazine. "People want something to show for their fitness other than big muscles they only use in the gym," she says. "They want power and strength they can use in everyday life. Challenges like the Marathon used to be seen as extreme, but now they're seen as accessible." She believes running compares favourably to mincing about in a leotard: "It puts fitness in a real-life context rather than in an artificial gym. I go running at lunch. It's a really wonderful break - it makes me feel clear and clean, ready to go back to work. There's also the smugness factor - when you tell other people you've been running, they think it's cool."

But Jason Statham, who is running for Dreams Come True, a charity that provides treats and trips for terminally ill children, is not convinced by the "cool" argument. "I started running to break the monotony of sitting in a hotel room," he says. "There's nothing cool about the Marathon. There'll be lots of fun runners, and that's what we are too - we run at a pace where we can have a chat, and as long as I finish on the same day I start I'll be happy."

Yet girlfriend Kelly Brook, The Big Breakfast presenter, isn't won't to be there to cheer him on. "I told her I don't want her to see me with rubber legs, and gasping for breath," beams Statham. He might be surprised. There could be lots of young women in the crowd with, not charity fund- raising, but talent-spotting on their minds.