If the thought of crossing the finish line at The Mall with the crowds cheering you on was keeping you motivated during your London Marathon training – before the April race was cancelled – you might be worried about how a socially distanced race day will affect your performance.
The 40th anniversary of the marathon will go ahead on October 4 for elite athletes only, so thousands of runners have signed up to take part in a virtual version instead.
Competitors will have 24 hours to complete the 26.2 mile course in their local area, which they can choose to run, walk or jog.
We asked running experts to give us some top tips for staying focused on race day and landing a time you’re actually happy with – wherever in the country you might be…
1. Make sure you still prepare for the ‘big race’
Kevin Betts, multiple-marathon runner, marathon pacer and founder of virtual run club Run Things, says: “A marathon is still a marathon, regardless of where it is and how you go about it.
“The distance doesn’t change and neither does the prep you need to undertake it. It’s still helpful to get kit ready the night before and you still need to eat the right things to get you round that 26.2 miles – so dinner, breakfast and in-race snack preparation are vital.
“Don’t forget to tell people you’re still running too, as you may get some visitors out on your own course.”
2. Know where you’re going and sort your milestones
“Plot your route and do some visualisation on the day before so you can prepare for what you might need to deal with,” says Betts.
“Your route needs to inspire you. You should pick out some landmarks to aim for so you can break your marathon down into digestible chunks. What will be your Cutty Sark at mile six? Or your Tower Bridge for half way?
“Wherever you run, know what’s coming and you’ll be winning the battle already. 26.2 miles is a long way, but if you see it as four 10k runs with a little 2.2 on the end, it’s not that scary.”
3. Have your helpful mantras ready for when things get tough
“It’s easy to see the marathon as the procession – the celebration at the end of all those long, hard training runs,” says Betts. “Unfortunately, you can’t have thousands of people shouting for you this year, and so there may be times where you’re left with your own thoughts for company.
“The reason you run doesn’t change though, so remind yourself of those reasons. Who’s your inspiration? What or who are you running for? Imagine the pride those people would have seeing you doing what you’re doing despite the current circumstances.”
4. Use technology to map your route
Dr Martin Yelling, running coach and Garmin running ambassador, says: “This year’s marathon is hugely different in the sense that your route is your choice. Saying that, it shouldn’t be something you decide on the day while you’re running, as it can throw you off when your main focus is getting to that finish line.
“Using GPS technology (like Garmin Connect) to map the route can help you to take into account any potential setbacks, like making sure you’re not including that big unwanted hill at mile 23, or stopping at too many traffic lights if you’re in a city.”
5. Take it just as seriously
“Although it’s virtual and run in your way, you’re still taking on a marathon and 26.2 miles is still a long way,” says Yelling. “Pace, discipline, control and consistency, especially during the first few miles, is really important. That’ll help spread out your energy for the duration of your run and for the all-important final six miles.
“Unless you’re after a time, then take it easy. Be patient and kind with yourself. There is much to celebrate about running 26.2 miles. By doing it in your way, you can truly relish the experience and create a marathon to remember.”