When I first decided to run the London Marathon, I would daydream about how amazing it would feel at the finishing line.
Running down The Mall, the deafening applause from cheering crowds shouting my name, surrounded by fellow athletes. But then came the Coronavirus pandemic; the event was first postponed from April to October, and then cancelled.
Instead, they would be holding the first-ever virtual London Marathon. I would be given 24 hours to complete it, and would have to log my run in an official app to be sent a medal.
My friend Jess came up with a plan: she would travel down to my home county of Cornwall and we would run it there together. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed. And I’m so glad I did. While there were many peaks and troughs, it was an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life, and it felt amazing to be part of something that will go down in history.
Here’s what I learned from running the London Marathon virtually.
1. Having a running buddy really helps
I did most of my long training runs over the last couple of months alone. Sometimes that was what I craved; I see running as quite a meditative process, so it was time to just be with my own thoughts, or to listen to a podcast.
But passing others running alone during the virtual race, I was incredibly grateful to have Jess beside me. We both struggled at different points, but we knew to give each other little pep talks. It’s made me realise I need to sign up to my local running club, because it’s so motivating to have that support.
There were a few issues with the app – namely that it kept being behind in recording our run, and friends and family were sadly unable to track us on there properly. But I really enjoyed the audio updates every mile from Paula Radcliffe and Steve Cram, which were included as part of the app. It was a reminder that there were 45,000 other people running that same distance across the country that day, which was a real morale boost.
2. A good playlist will keep you going
This process has confirmed what amazing friends I have. Not only did I get so many supportive messages before we started, but I also had a group of pals who, knowing I wanted a good selection of music to keep me going, all picked songs they knew I would love, to go into an eight hour-long Spotify playlist.
I was so touched when they surprised me with it and I really recommend doing the same for anyone you know doing a sporting event like this. It’s like having your own personal radio station.
3. You can never predict when the tough moments will be
One of the reasons I was most nervous the day before the marathon – and I really was nervous – was because I had a pretty bad experience with a half-marathon I did back in March. I finished that and immediately panicked, thinking, ‘How on earth can I run double that?’ In my head, the halfway point would be a mental roadblock.
However, on the day, other than shoving a blister plaster on, mile 13 went by fine. It was mile 16 where I hit the wall. And then, at mile 20, we were both so wet and cold, we decided to take an unplanned break, have an outfit change, and sit in a car to warm up. Getting going again after that was really tough, but we dug deep and just kept our legs moving.
4. Support makes all the difference
The thing I was most gutted about with running virtually was missing out on the atmosphere of such a big event. But, in a way, it made the cheers we did get that bit more special. We decided to run on the Camel Trail in Cornwall. Lots of other people had chosen this on their route, and it was really quite emotional and encouraging passing others and saying, ‘Well done’ and ‘Keep going’.
I also realise how lucky I am to have had my mum cycling alongside us, complete with a rucksack of everything we could ever need. Plus, I had a couple of amazing surprises on the day – I had one friend turn up with a sign, another two joined for a few miles just as I was really struggling at mile 16, and then another pal turned up to get us across the finish line.
5. You can’t plan for everything
I had a checklist the day before of everything I needed to do to make the event as smooth and enjoyable as possible.
But it was only the day before we realised the weather forecast. We went into it just hoping the insane rain would hold off until we were nearing the end, but from about five miles in, we were soaked through. There was no escaping Storm Alex.
My dad joined us for the last six miles, when we had to battle through gusts of 40-50 mile an hour winds (at one point we literally felt like we were being be blown backwards). As he said, it’s unlikely we will ever have to run a marathon in conditions like that again (because, yes, we are already both signed up for London 2021…)
It’s proof that you just can’t control the weather. All you can do is believe in yourself, take it one step at a time, focus on a point in the distance and keep those legs moving.
Covid-19 put Cancer Research UK’s life-saving research on pause. To help the charity get back on track to continue its vital work, visit cruk.org/give.