So today was the day of the Virtual London Marathon, something I had been looking forward to and training towards for the last six weeks. With the mass-participation event cancelled, London were allowing participants to put all their training miles to good use and earn their medal by completing the marathon distance on October 4th, any way they wish; run, walk, all in one go or split up throughout the day.
I started my run nice and early at 6:30am, sticking to the local streetlight illuminated roads, until it was light enough out to head onto the canal towpath. The persistent rain had kept most of the usual Sunday morning runners away, in fact, I didn’t meet anyone at all until a few km in. A walker, bundled up in waterproof layers, turned towards me and started to unzip his raincoat, giving me a momentary fright, until I saw that he was showing me his marathon race number. ‘I’m doing it too!!’ he exclaimed and we both wished each other well before continuing. As it turned out, he was the first of many marathon runners I saw that morning, giving a really unique dynamic to the run as we enthusiastically cheered each other on while passing. I loved how we were all out on our separate little adventures, but all working towards the same goal.
For me, one of the biggest challenges about running a virtual marathon was running it alone, as I was always really uplifted by the crowd support at the two real-life marathons that I ran last year. So this time, I had arranged for some help! First up, I met up with my friend Molly at the 14km mark, and we ran a lovely section of the Lea Valley canal together, dodging the many, many puddles, and splashing through the flooded sections we couldn’t avoid. Molly stuck with me all the way until 29km (thankyou soo much for that!!) before I turned off the canal back towards home. I had been generally feeling quite good during the run, but 3+ hrs of running in the wind and rain was starting to take its toll, and as I reached home at the 31km mark, my hands were so numb that I couldn’t even turn my key in the front door!
The next couple of hours were spent watching the elite men’s race, and getting myself warm and dry, but before long it was time to head out again and get this marathon finished.
There was only ever one option in my mind for finishing the run: Walthamstow parkrun. My spiritual home of running, where my journey began and I first began to dream of someday running a a marathon. As I jogged up there in the ever-present drizzle, I started to wonder if it had been a mistake to choose an off-road, grassy, muddy trail course with six hilly laps for the final 10km of a marathon. But no time to worry about that! I had told a few people that I would be running there in the afternoon, and after a warm-up lap by myself, I was joined firstly by Steve, and then more and more parkrunner friends until we had a whole little team. I started to feel just like Kipchoge surrounded by his team of pacers! My pace had been starting to flag, but with the parkrun crew by my side I was carried along in what turned out to be my fastest segment of the day. In an incredibly thoughtful touch, they had brought along a finishing line, and ran along ahead to roll out the tape when I had reached the end. Penny had even brought a bottle of cava for me to pop open and share out, in proper celebratory style.
So the marathon was complete, in 4h45 of running time, but of course the actual elapsed time being a fair bit longer with my lunch break in the middle. It was great to get back home and hear the stories of other people running today. A virtual run will never quite emulate the real experience of a World Major marathon, but London really gave it their best shot to make the day memorable for the participants, and allowing everyone to run their race, their way. It was certainly a unique way to run a marathon, and one I will never forget!
I’d love to hear from other runners today, how did you find it? I hope you all keep safe and well, until we meet on a start line somewhere again soon. But until then, enjoy those marathon finish-line feelings!