I RAN THE 2020 LONDON MARATHON
Writer and Runners Need blogger, Beth Henry tells us her experience of the 40th Edition of the London Marathon
The London Marathon is a staple in the running calendar, and was set to celebrate its 40th birthday on April 26th 2020. As we all know, the race was rescheduled to 4 October in the hope that it would be staged in the normal way. It wasn’t to be, so the team at Virgin Money London Marathon had to come up with another way to enable people to take part in a risk free way.
The Virtual Race was announced with 7 weeks to spare before the date of the event, which left precious little time to fit in those long runs which are needed when you’re training to take on the marathon distance. It did feel tight at times, weekends suddenly became completely dictated by long runs and carb loading became imperative - not something many runners complain about!
I have run marathons in the past, so I was lucky that my body is used to taking on long distances. I managed to fit in about 5 runs over half-marathon distance, as well as three half marathons along the way. It’s a lot for your body to absorb in a short space of time, and I did find myself having to ensure that my sleeping regime was paramount otherwise I was becoming too tired to run. It was a case of getting in the best shape I could within a short space of time.
I wasn’t expecting too much of myself, and on some long runs I had to phone my husband for a pick-up as I wasn’t ready to take on such big mileage so quickly. I completed a 21 mile run two weeks prior to the race, for which I fuelled as I would usually do before any marathon - I felt good for that, which gave me confidence that I was in good enough shape to take on the full distance on the 4th. The forecast of rain over the whole weekend was playing on everyones mind, there was a 90% chance of rain across the whole of the 24 hour period!
So there we all were, 45,000 participants all waiting to take part in the 26.2 mile race on any route of the runners choice, during a 24 hour time period. Prior to the race, I’d had some advice that it was wise to ensure you knew your route like the back of your hand. Surprises like road closures wouldn’t be welcome at mile 23 when your energy reserves are gone and your mind is focusing on getting to the end.
I planned a route which left Theydon Bois village and finished by the London Eye, which meant I was able to take in some of the sights of the normal London Marathon route along the way. My husband and parents-in-law set me off with a cheery wave and I was on my way, with the official London Marathon podcast pumping cheering noises into my headphones. The rain was relentless, but once the timer had started and I was wet I settled into the pace, and accepted the fact that it was going to be a soggy one.
Running a marathon with no crowds and having to find your own ways of getting fuel on board is tricky to plan, and as always it is by no means a one person race. My family are a great support to me every year, but this year they were absolutely invaluable. We had planned every minute of the race in the week prior, so everyone knew where they needed to be and when, and most importantly with what supplies. My brother David met me about 14 miles into my route with Mum and Dad and Liv on hand to provide a much needed gel and some water. David joined me for a lap of Victoria Park which gave me a huge boost, even though he was pretty soggy by the end of it! Victoria Park was one of my favourite parts of the race as there were so many others taking part in the London Marathon, so we were able to cheer each other on and give a wave to others taking on the same challenge. A running club had set up a fuelling station for their runners who were completing laps of the park, and were a very welcome shout of encouragement at 17 miles, always a sticky point in a marathon.
After I left my brother at 28kms, I took another gel on board from Mum and Dad and ran the next 4kms along the canal on my own, still passing runners perhaps every five minutes. By this point I was struggling, and I was very grateful for the jellybeans I had stored away in my leggings.
The London Marathon app really helped along this stretch, every mile there would be an encouraging sound bite from either Steve Cram or Paula Radcliffe willing you along which provided a real injection of energy. I met my husband, Stephen, in Narrow Street to finish the last 10kms of the race, which meant that I could switch off from navigating and focus on the task in hand - ignoring the dreaded ‘wall' and completing the last 5 miles. For the final ten kilometres, I had a large glug of Lucozade as well as some more jellybeans so that I was full of sugar to take me over the line.
I crossed Tower Bridge and completed my final few miles along the South Bank, finishing right by the London Eye amongst a number of other runners. The feeling was still the same as crossing the line in any other marathon, complete euphoria at having finished the race, as well as enormous gratitude to my body for having been able to support me the whole of the way.
Marathon running is a funny thing, many people can’t imagine why anyone would want to take on the prospect of hours of constant running. Those who love it quickly become addicted, and with a lot of time on my hands while I was running on Sunday I took the time to think about why I love it. I think the answer is quite simple, the idea that anyone's body is able to complete such a mammoth task is remarkable - it’s something most runners comment as one of the reasons they like to run, simply because they can.
The other answer is that the London Marathon raises a lot of money for charity each year (they raised north of £66 million last year alone) for excellent causes, and being part of that is like being part of a big family. This year, with other runners shouting words of encouragement the whole way round, the marathon family extended across the world, and rather than making runners feel distant from their fellow competitors, it actually made everyone feel closer than ever.
The London Marathon was a constant in the year that everything changed, and for that I am very appreciative. No start line, no finish line, same magic.
This blog post was contributed by Beth Henry, who works for This Is London Magazine. They are currently publishing online at www.til.com as well as through their social channels;
They have new active content each issue, with new running/cycling routes and information about all things active in London. The magazine makes sure that their readers are up to date with the latest information on all things London.