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Virtual possibilities: Training for and enjoying the ‘virtual’ 40th London Marathon


Written by Professor Tracey Devonport and Professor Andy Lane

Applying for and then accepting a charity place to run in one of the world’s best marathon events was likely to have been a big decision. A marathon is 26.2 miles and that can feel daunting. You likely appreciate that training for the London Marathon is a huge commitment, as is the fundraising. What you likely envisaged when entering is to be bounding along the embankment, passing Big Ben, and then galloping along the Mall to the finish as if visiting the Queen herself! As the weeks passed by and race day drew nearer, sponsorship may have started to roll in, weekly mileage increase, and anticipation of the large crowds and vibrant atmosphere build.

THEN… as the global COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, the 40th London marathon was initially postponed and then rescheduled as a virtual event taking place on 4 October 2020. News of the virtual event was no doubt a disappointment as you don’t get to share your day with thousands of other runners and an even greater number of spectators. However, there are many possibilities in making the most of a 40th virtual London Marathon. With virtual race day looming we offer a few tips in training for and completing a virtual marathon.


1. Take perspective

A virtual marathon might not be what you signed up for, but this is an additional opportunity, not a substitute event. Hopefully, this unprecedented situation will not arise again in our lifetime, or for many years beyond. This is an opportunity to be part of a historical alternative and to support charities in riding through a difficult time. With so few events going ahead since late March 2020, this virtual event presents something to aim for in planning and incentivising your training/fitness goals. This is your marathon, let others know that you are doing it, generate support where you are able, and know that the money raised through your fundraising efforts are making a difference.


2. Set a virtual race goal 

This could be to run a certain time, to run a certain percentage of the marathon walking the rest, to have a faster second half marathon split time, or to run a certain route. It could be a goal to enjoy the event. There are 24 hours in which to complete this virtual marathon, so the scope for event goals is increased. For example, it could be to run 26 single miles across the day at a target pace, say 8-minute miles, with a .2 to finish! As you progress through your training, if you find that your goal is becoming too easy or difficult, you can always readjust it to keep challenging yourself.


3. Follow a training plan – it’s still a marathon!

Running/walking a marathon is hard and so be sure to put in the training. A quick Google search will produce several training plans to help achieve your marathon goal. This may be completing the distance, running a sub 5-hour or sub 3-hour marathon. Alternatively, you may select a training plan relative to your needs and circumstances, for example, a training plan starting with ??-weeks to go, or from a certain level of existing fitness.

Following a training programme means you don’t have to think about and plan each training session, whether it be a paced run/walk, recovery session, hill session, interval session. Someone has done all the thinking and planning for you in putting the schedule together – and on that note, pick a credible training plan; one provided by your charity or by a reputable person or organisation. As you complete the training plan your confidence in completing the marathon should increase.


4. Vary where you complete training sessions

Mixing up training routes is always recommended as it can add interest to training and allows weekly mileage to be increased or varied. However, in preparing for this virtual event, you could vary where you train with the aim of selecting a favoured route for the virtual event itself. For example, this may be to take in scenery, preferred terrain, planned fuelling stops, or calling in on people.


5. Connecting with others

Connecting with other runners is a good plan. Training plans are challenging to fit into weekly schedules and so listening to how other people have managed this is helpful. Ask questions in chat rooms, Twitter, Facebook groups and so on. You can complete training runs, or segments of training runs with others, this could even be virtually, by agreeing to complete a set distance starting out at the same time as a friend. By connecting with others, you can offer each other virtual support and encouragement – a virtual high five!

In addition to other runners, also connect with your sponsors, this could be via social media or via your just giving page. Let sponsors and potential sponsors know how training is going and what their support means.


6. Work on your mental marathon

Marathon training and the event itself inevitably means experiencing fatigue and discomfort. During training be mindful of sensations of fatigue and discomfort, learn to develop a relationship with them. They may create an urge to slow down, stop or even consider stopping altogether which is entirely normal. Using positive or motivating self-talk, picturing the finish, thinking of the funds raised, picking a target to run to, thinking of post run celebrations, and a host of other mental techniques can all be used to persist when things get tough. Accepting that the marathon will be tough and having experience of overcoming these challenges in training, can lead to not only a more enjoyable race but also a better marathon performance.  


7. Have fun

Virtual events have become incredibly popular, in part due to the flexibility it provides in completing the miles when convenient and recording progress on a GPS device. Whilst the 26.2 miles of the virtual London Marathon must be completed across the 24 hours of October 4, this still affords some flexibility to be creative in how you run the marathon. You can plan your marathon the way you want to complete it.

You may run segments with friends or family, have a costume change every six miles, stop for a picnic at the half marathon mark, call by friends on route for fuelling stops, record a run using GPS to create an image. You could run loops, be dropped off 26.2 miles from home and run back or run out and back. Do you want to refuel every three mile or at the half-marathon mark? What energy gels, foods, drinks do you want to use? The possibilities are endless! But whatever you decide, incorporate elements of it into training.


8. Tell people what you are doing on October 4

Wear your charity running vest, make your own running bib, let people know what you are doing and why. You may not have crowds of tens of thousands, but the support of friends and family can mean a great deal. Share your route with them (good for your own personal safety too), perhaps use a live tracker so they can follow your progress. Knowing you are being monitored can give the motivation to keep going when the going gets tough.


9. Remember you are not alone

You might not be running with thousands of other runners on the route of the London Marathon, but you are running the virtual London Marathon at the same time as thousands of other virtual London marathon runners in the 40th race, and likely with shared goals! You are part of an iconic event that many would love the opportunity to be involved in but cannot. Be sure to engage in social media about this event, talk with other runners and immerse yourself in the collective excitement. There is a team of ‘Get Kids Going’ runners all completing the same distance and facing similar challenges on the same day. Your achievement in finishing this challenge is not only personally rewarding, you are collectively raising funds for charity, a thought that can help you through difficult moments.


As noted by event director Hugh Brasher: “The London Marathon is far more than just a marathon… it brings society together in a moment of celebration of all that is good about humanity. We believe that Sunday 4 October will be a London Marathon like no other, and The 40th Race will take the spirit of the world’s greatest marathon to every corner of the globe, with runners raising vital funds for the charities that have been so severely affected by the economic effects of the pandemic.”

Professor Tracey Devonport is doing the Virtual London Marathon to raise money for Get Kids Going. You can read her fundraising story on the WLV Blog.

For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.

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