With the news that the London Marathon will be going ahead as an elite-only race this year, it's easy to feel disappointed or unmotivated at having another year to wait to cross the finish line on The Mall.
However, just because the race you’ve been training for has been cancelled, doesn’t mean you can’t still cover the distance. The Virtual London Marathon will be the London Marathon's 40th race and you'll still receive that hard earned medal and finisher's tee. You might not have the crowds cheering you on, but you can still have a good time, put your training to good use and raise some money for charity. You just have to do so in a smart and sensible way. Here’s how…
1.Don’t run the actual route
Two of the things that make marathons special are cheering crowds and the chance to run on closed roads. If your race has been cancelled and you insist on running the course, you will enjoy neither of these pleasures. Instead, you’ll be stopping and starting at road junctions – if you’re sensible – or endangering yourself and other road users if you’re not. Either way, it’s a bad idea.
2. Plot a lapped, runner-friendly route
Without hydration stations to keep you topped up with water and energy drinks, you’ll have to think smart. One easy way to do this is to plot a lapped route and leave your bottles of water and/or sports drink at the start of each lap.
Think large parks, trails and quiet roads. Limit road crossings so you don’t have to stop and start. Avoid busy pavements. Set off early (but not in the dark). Picking a runner-friendly route is safer, more considerate, quicker and, ultimately, more enjoyable.
3. Be comfortable with uncertainty
'The last few months have been difficult, complex and uncertain for many and without doubt running will have been impacted in some way', says Garmin coach and ambassador Dr Martin Yelling. 'For some lockdown, anxiety, furlough, family and work changes may have allowed a consistent and regular running routine to have developed, whilst for others running may have been disrupted, infrequent and challenging. It’s okay to not be completely where you want to be fitness wise. It’s okay not to have done all the miles you thought you might. It’s okay to do what you can, when you can and feel like you are physically and mentally able to cover 26.2 miles however you can, walk, jog, run or a mixture of all. Be comfortable with that approach and where you’re at.'
4. Record it
Marathons do exist even if they’re not uploaded onto Strava, but having a digital record of your achievement will undoubtedly make it feel more official. If you’ve been sponsored, it also acts as proof that you’ve run 26.2 miles. Not that you’d lie about a thing like that, would you?
If you're running the virtual London Marathon, you can also qualify for a Good for Age or Championship spot at a future London Marathon if you run a good time.
5. Run the race on your terms
'The great thing about having a full 24 hours to cover the marathon distance is that you can approach tackling it on your terms, in your own way,' Yelling adds. 'This level of flexibility can take away unwanted stress and pressure. But it’s still important to plan your personal 26.2mile strategy. Think carefully about how you’d like to achieve your marathon finish and what you’ll set up to help you do this. Do you want to be optimistic and set yourself a personal goal finish time to help motivate your miles or do you want to me more relaxed in your approach and allow the miles to tick by. Do you want to run an out and back course, a long loop, or multiple laps? When do you want to start your run? Will you set up supporters, friends to join your for sections? Know your route, understand what motivates you and it’ll help you enjoy the process.'
6. Pacing is key
'Despite increased flexibility and the ability to set your own aspirations it’s still a marathon and shouldn’t be underestimated! You’ll almost certainly enjoy the experience and your virtual London Marathon a lot more if you have a pace plan to ensure you’re in good shape to do the distance,' says Yelling.
'Getting all excited in the first 10 miles will mean the final 10miles are more likely to feel tougher. Be disciplined in the first few miles, it should feel easy in those early miles. If it doesn’t, you’re working too hard so slow down. It helps to check in your pace by using a GPS running watch, like a Garmin Forerunner, to monitoring each mile as you tick it off. By setting your wearable to bleep each mile (or kilometre depending on your unit of measurement preference) you’ll see your time for the previous mile / km and be able to stay on pace right to target split markers, (eg 10k, halfway, 20miles) right to the end. Remember, to stop your watch when you’re done! You’ll also need to to share your marathon activity and data after you’ve completed it (and bask in your glory of course!).'
7. Stay motivated
'When running on your own in a virtual event it can be hard, even for the most dedicated and committed, to stay motivated and on track. There’s not the same big event build up or on the day race spectacle, excitement, crowd and support to keep pushing you along', Yelling adds. 'Setting regular pace targets, distance marker goals, landmarks to reach, and breaking your own personal 26.2mile run into sections can really help you manage the distance and concentrate when things things start to slip. '
8. Break the wall
'Despite the marathon being virtual, having much more personal participation flexibility, you can control your goals, the setting, the course, (I mean, who is going to include any vicious hills at mile 20!!!) it’s still a marathon', says coach Yelling. 'It’s still a long way and you’ll be gutted if you don’t complete it. So, understand the same marathon rules apply. Don't get complacent. Respect the distance and the challenges you’ll face. Running out of energy, muscle pain, deep fatigue and a serious and painful slowdown in the final few miles is known as ‘hitting the wall’. Runners struggle in the later stages of the marathon typically because they’ve started off way too fast and failed to distribute their effort economically throughout the entire distance and / or they’ve failed to be sufficiently fuelled and hydrated before and during the marathon run and run out of energy.
'If on the day of your virtual marathon you find yourself significantly struggling in the later stages, bring things carefully back under control.It’s really important to notice this ahead and pay attention to how you are feeling particularly if you are running your virtual marathon alone and self-supported. This is really important, be kind to yourself, don’t push too hard, drop your pace, allow yourself to find a new rhythm and get things under control. This might mean walking. Don’t be disheartened, be safe, keep moving.'
9. Get dressed up
If you had your heart set on wearing that penguin costume, don’t let a race cancellation prevent you from doing so. As long as you’ve plotted a car-free route and your costume doesn’t impair your vision, there’s no reason you can’t wear fancy dress for your DIY marathon. Get ready for some funny looks, though.
10. Keep it small-scale
One of the main reasons some big races have been cancelled is the fear that having large numbers of people in the same confined space will increase the spread of coronavirus. So if you do run your own marathon, don’t invite everyone you know to join you; one similarly minded friend who can stay 2m apart from you at all times is enough.
11. Celebrate at the end
Running 26.2 miles, officially or unofficially, is a cause for celebration. 'With the virtual nature of the marathon, it’d be easy to not celebrate it the same way you would if you were completing in mass participation event. but it’s just as an impressive achievement. Doing the distance is something to be proud of and a significancy accomplishment. Share your success with your friends, be proud of yourself for doing it. It can be even harder to toe the line solo and keep pushing without crowds and other runners, so you’ll have definitely done an amazing job!' says Yelling.
Be sure to put your feet up and celebrate - there are few things more satisfying in the world than a post-marathon pint (while watching the Kipchoge vs Bekele highlights).
If you run your own marathon, take a picture of yourself at the start or end and tag us in @runnersworlduk. Be safe, run well and enjoy.
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