Virtual London Marathon: My Race, My Way

At 5:30 am on Sunday my alarm went off, it was dark and it was raining. Five weeks ago I decided it was a good idea to sign up to the Virtual London Marathon even though the furthest I’ve run this year is around 10 miles. I briefly questioned my life choices and went back to sleep.

Just beautiful

When all the big races started moving to ‘virtual’ events I really didn’t get it – what was the point? You sign up for a race, anywhere in the world, and pay actual money to run the same streets you always do and receive a medal for said event that never really existed in the first place.

However, I do understand the frustration of training for an event that gets cancelled just when you’re ready to roll. And I do understand that these events face financial challenges in the wake of COVID with a lot of the organisation already done and thousands upon thousands of medals and t-shirts already made. I concluded it’s actually quite a nice idea to give people a feeling of togetherness and a feeling of being part of something a little bit different in this weird year we’ve found ourselves in.

I signed up on a whim after the fear of missing out just got too much for my brain to handle. It was the London Marathon in a way that will (hopefully) be a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience. I’m still not sure how I feel about getting a medal and t-shirt for the 40th event that didn’t happen – but I guess it did happen, and I did take part, the same way everyone else did, it’s just that the 40th race was a very different format. And that’s got to be something to remember?

Each virtual event tackles the logistics differently – the London Marathon gave you 24 hours from midnight BST to complete 26.2 miles any way you wanted to. You could run, walk, or even head out multiple times, it was your race, your way, as long as you completed it on two feet before midnight. When you set off you started the timer on the app and it kept running until the 26.2 miles were up so if you did do multiple runs, the clock kept ticking while you were resting.

Anyway, after the alarm went off I convinced myself that if I just had a banana instead of porridge for breakfast I could go back to sleep for another hour and still be out the door at 8…so that’s what I did.

A selfie at every lap

My plan was to run 10 miles and walk 16.2, all on an almost traffic free Tooting Common. It was fabulously quiet as I set off, in the rain, bang on time at 8am – just a few other runners and dog walkers around. In some ways the rain was welcome as it kept the fair weather undesirables indoors…ie out of my way.

With my race bib pinned on front and back (a very welcome surprise in the post) the encouragement I got from everyone else out braving the rain inspired me to exceed expectations and run 12 miles instead of the 10. The uplifting cheers from other people was my favourite part of the day – it reminded what it was like to be in a race. But the worst part? Coming home to race HQ after my longest run in months, soaking wet and freezing cold for a quick change of clothes before having to head back out on ouchy legs for a little 14.2 mile walk. But that’s what I had to do so that’s what I did.

Fellow Chaser Zoe was also out doing laps of the common for her marathon so part two of my plan was to find her so we could finish it together. It really didn’t stop raining and I was super happy I wasn’t out there alone walking in circles – it certainly would have been a lot more miserable without her and other friends who turned up for a lap or two with us!

A distance shared isn’t quite a distance halved but it certainly helped me get the job done. And get the job done we did!

Five things that were brilliant about it:

  1. Race HQ is your home – the start and finish line is your doorstep and it’s also where the hot showers and cuppa teas are – plus you always know where the toilet is so that’s a bonus.
  2. There were friends that came out for a few laps at different intervals – we had singing, dancing, (bad) jokes and even some flashing (true story).
  3. There were more than just a few other people doing the same thing around Tooting Common – it doesn’t make it hurt any less but it does help to know you’re not the only one hurting.
  4. There may not have been the usual race day crowds but every other runner gave us encouragement as they ran past and loads of cars were tooting and beeping.
  5. A marathon is a truly unique and special thing, it’s a feeling that’s hard to explain and one I wasn’t sure I would experience this time – but I did.

The FINAL stretch

Five things that were hard about it:

  1. Race HQ is home – It takes a lot of mental strength getting back out again, I recommend doing it as infrequently as possible!
  2. The weather was grim. It rained…the whole time.
  3. It’s still 26.2 miles which is a long way no matter how you do it (and the app was tracking behind so I ended up doing 27 miles).
  4. You’re 100% self-supported. No water stations, no banana stations, no kids handing out sweets and definitely no beer vans (although in fairness Jane did offer to bring us wine).
  5. You’re not in a controlled environment. That’s fine in the early stages but after 20 miles, around about when everything feels a little bit fuzzy, a dog darting around in front of you or a kid on a scooter threatening to wipe you out is enough to make you want to cry.

The 40th London Marathon wasn’t the day anyone wanted, or the day anyone planned for, but it was the day we got and it was wonderful to be a part of something a little bit special. Kudos to the VMLM organisers who did everything they could in challenging times to still put on day for people to enjoy.

THE END. Medal: Pending

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