Monday, 18 March 2013

10 things I wish I knew prior to running the Virgin London Marathon

I ran the Virgin London Marathon in 2011 (4hrs 16mins and 57secs, if you are interested). It was my first marathon and like a lot of people running their first marathon, I learnt a lot during training but also during the race itself.

Here are 10 pieces of information I would have found useful prior to running this iconic race:

1. It may be significantly hotter on race day than during your training runs. If you live in the UK, you will have done the majority of your training during the winter months. When I ran the VLM in 2011 it was quite a hot day (in the early 20's). I had adjusted my clothing according to the forecast but I hadn't accounted for the difference it would make to my hydration strategy (which consisted of water and gels during training and on race day). Cue: calf cramps at 19 miles due to a lack of electrolytes.

Smile! You might be on TV!

2. If you are staying in London for the race, pick a hotel closer to the finish (on the Mall), rather than the start. Trust me, you will be more willing to travel in the morning than after the race has finished! Public transport is free for runners on the day, so travel to Greenwich Park in the morning is easy.

3. The start of the race (for about the first 4 miles) can be a bit slow, due to the sheer volume of runners. You should be aware of your pacing strategy anyway but you should also be prepared to adjust this to account for any slow miles (or loo breaks!). This adjustment should be carried over the remainder of the race rather than made up in the next few miles.

4. Anyone who has raced before knows that it is easy to get swept up in the excitement early into a race and end up going off too quickly. Well, at VLM, this can happen at almost any part of the race because of the volume of runners and the fantastic levels of support. So, keep an eye on your pacing. Use a Garmin (or similar) and/or a pacing band (available at the expo).

At the VLM Expo
5. The VLM is sponsored by Lucozade, so you will find their gels and drinks at the drinks stations on the course. If you are planning to use these products during the race (as opposed to your own drinks, gels etc), then it is a good idea to use them on your longer training runs. Otherwise, you run the risk of an upset stomach. Not something you want as part of your VLM experience!

6. If you are bringing a support crew with you on the day, it is a good idea to pick out a landmark for them to support from. The crowds are huge and whilst they might see you, it will be difficult for you to pick them out of the crowds. If you are running for a charity (and assuming they have a stand on the course) then this is a good place for them to stand. Seeing my wife at about 22 miles was very emotional and gave me a huge lift!

7. You should also pick a landmark close to the finish to meet friends/family. Mobile networks may well be down.

8. In addition to the photographers on the course, there are also race photographers in the finish area. I neglected to have my photo taken but looking back would have liked an official photo in front of the sponsors hording, sporting my medal. So, be prepared to wipe the sweat from your face and give your hair a quick comb through! There is no obligation to buy the photo's but it might be nice to have the option.

                                                    You might opt for an official finish photo!

9. You may well have a long wait at the start at Greenwich Park, so make sure you have adequate clothing to keep out the elements. You may also have to wait for a while before you are reunited with your friends/family at the end of the race. I would recommend including a fresh top to change into and any recovery drinks/food within your kit bag (rather than leaving it with friends/family). Note: you have to use the plastic kit bags provided. You can't just stick your number on your own rucksack, for example.

10. Finally, VLM is a unique racing experience that will live with you forever. Enjoy the day and remember to smile, cheer the marshalls and support and take it all in.

Good luck!


  1. Hi David, Thanks for your piece. Those are all great tips. And congratulations on your time last time! I was much, much slower but here are a few things that I wish I'd known:
    - Be prepared for the debris on the road. Bottles, gel packs, fruit peel etc get kicked around the road, particularly in some of the more narrow sections. I had to watch my step more than I'd been used to in training.
    - The noise can be overwhelming. I loved it during my strong miles and during the last few, but there was a weary, difficult stretch in the middle where the constant honking and shouting rattled me and made it hard for me to focus on where I needed to be mentally.
    - Keep your chin up. My race didn't go anything like as well as my training runs but even in the bleakest moments, I've never known anything like the warmth and support that came from the other runners, staff, and spectators. It truly is the human spirit at its best so, however your day pans out, be proud that you are part of it.

  2. This is excellent advice to have and I am really looking forward to my first marathon now. Only 2.5 weeks to go.

  3. Thank you for letting us know these stuff. Definitely taking them on board. Cheers

  4. @melitalucy @Wharton @Wendell Many thanks for reading guys and for your kind comments and input. Good luck with your final training runs and enjoy your VLM experience!

  5. Thanks for the tips - I will take them all on board (well, all except the first, as I'm fairly certain it'll be much colder than my training runs, considering these have all been done in the height of the Zimbabwean summer!) Good luck on the day!

    1. No problem and thanks for reading.

      In that case, you should be fine if we have a mini heatwave!

      I am not running VLM this year but doing Milton Kenynes on 6th May.

      Good luck!

  6. Hi David,

    Many Thanks for your great tips. Absoluteness appreciated! I just would like to ask you some questions regarding the energy drink Locazade.

    1- Are there lots of stations that serving Locazade drink and gels?
    2- Would u recommend me this energy drink or I can choose another one as Locazades doesnt have lots of minerals inside it and that why you had a calf cramps at 19Miles! I usually do not take energy drink during my run!
    3- What would u recommend me to take during the race? Eg cold spray, Vasaline....etc

    Many Thanks

    1. Hi Jeff

      Many thanks for reading and for your questions.

      There are plenty of drink/gel stations on the course. They are marked on the route map.

      I would recommend you using the same nutritional products you have trained with (Disclaimer: I am not a qualified nutritionist or doctor). I only used water during training and on race day, hence why I ran out of electrolytes.

      Again, I would recommend taking anything that you have needed during your long runs. Some extra plasters (if you use them) might be useful. St Johns Ambulance volunteers (among others)hand out Vaseline on the course and there were showers set up on the route in 2011.