Virgin London Marathon

On 7th May 2015 by Rachael

It’s one of the biggies, part of the World Marathon Majors Series, but what’s it like to run London for the first time? Pretty loud…


With 36,000 runners, the Virgin London Marathon is the biggest 26.2 mile race I’ve run in terms of capacity. And it is the loudest by a long shot.

From the minute you start, until you cross the finish line, it is like running through a wall of sound which reverberates and clashes around you. The only time the decibels drop is when you run through a road tunnel. It definitely helped my race, although not in the way one might expect.

At the risk of sounding like a grouchy runner, I had to block the noise out to help me focus. Which I achieved so successfully, I failed to even notice Big Ben when I ran past. Lucky for me, I’ve spent 16 years living in London, otherwise…what a waste!

I was fortunate enough to get a Good for Age Place for the 2015 race (this category opens in June for next year’s entry) which has brought me full circle, right back to when I started running.

Back in 2001, when I was living in Brixton and working as a full time journalist, I entered the London Marathon, not only as my first marathon, but my first race.

I was clueless, and didn’t know anything about biomechanics, the importance of strength training, recovery, building gradually. The result? Iliotibial Band Syndrome which aggravated my knee so much, I could barely bend it without pain.

Off I trooped to a physiotherapist. Did they explain the injury? No. But they did recommend a very expensive, tailormade orthortic.

It didn’t work and I was so ignorant about running, I thought I’d never be able to run again. As it was, it took two years but within that time, I took up yoga and learned about recovery for the mind and body, biomechanics and balance. And it gave me the building blocks to the foundations of how I now coach runners.

I felt even more like I’d come full circle as I waited at London Bridge station to take me to the start (there are three ‘jumping off’ points, Maze Hill, Greenwich or Blackheath, depending on which start pen you are given), which was as busy as trying to catch the Northern Line at Clapham North to work.  But once there, it was one of the most relaxed race start areas I’ve experienced.

As we were called forward to our pens, there was no pushing and shoving and as the race got underway, no ducking and diving to get round slower runners. Past trees heavy with cherry blossom and a small church, I felt like I was in the countryside. A vision that was soon to be forgotten as we left leafy Greenwich and headed into Charlton, Woolwich and Deptford and the wall of sound.

‘Hit for power,’ ‘Chafe now, celebrate later,’ signs were being waved round the route. Groups of friends with dark glasses sipping champagne, still carrying on a party from the night before, tourists, and hundreds upon hundreds of children holding out sweets, bananas and oranges, the spectators are a varied bunch at the London Marathon. I lost count of the number of children’s hands I clapped as I ran past, not to mention the jelly sweets.

I started the race unsure whether I could attain three hours hours 30 minutes, a 12 minute improvement, following an injury in January and sporadic tempo training. But whether it was the spectators who helped me to focus, the Science in Sport gels I took every six miles, or the flat course, I raced down the Mall finishing in three hours, 26 minutes with energy left in the tank. I was chuffed but too dehydrated to cry. I tried.

Once I had finished, it was incredible to soak up the atmosphere, a time when all the barriers are broken down by sheer exhaustion and everyone talks to everyone else. Herded through to collect my medal, collecting your race bag is simple. You can meet friends outside the finish area under a letter for your name, simple if you finish swiftly, a nightmare later on!

If you are running next year, a few words of advice. At mile 22/23, you go through a tunnel and lose all GPS, coming out the other side with no idea of what your pace is, just when you need it the most. I had to maintain 7.45 minute miles, my watch said 11.45 minute miles for about a mile after the tunnel adding to the tension.

If you’re thinking of doing your first marathon, London would be a great one to do. For the organisation, the atmosphere, the crowds, the sights and the flat course. It’s hard to beat.

In London, the celebration has to be bubbly

In London, the celebration has to be bubbly

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