Race Review: Virtual London Marathon

For the first time in its history, the London Marathon invited participants to run the marathon their way, running virtually alongside 45,000 runners up and down the UK – and across the world.
Jennifer Glass, 52, shares her experience of this historic event with us.

The event was like nothing else I’ve ever done! The race required you to plan your own route, decide your own start time and organise all the logistics involved in running 26.2 miles that are usually handled for you.

There was no expo but equally, there wasn’t a portaloo queue! I found comfort in being able to choose to run the route I’d run all my training runs on. I knew every contour of my race route.

The London Marathon’s social media channels created a good pre-event buzz with count downs to the race. It created a real sense that we were taking part in something historic. You could also see other runners getting ready via Facebook and Twitter which added to the sense we were all in this together. 

Running the race my way

My amazing sister volunteered to ride next to me on her bike to carry and dish out energy gels, drinks and a whole lot of encouragement. I loved hearing the cheers from family and friends that turned up in the rain along the route. As well as the waves and hoots from passing cars and my husband, in the spur of the moment, ran beside me for the last 20km.

The weather wasn’t ideal, it was wet, windy and cold and there were some dark moments around 38km. I could hear the miles mounting up from Paula Radcliffe and Steve Cram’s commentary on the official tracking app, so I knew I was nearly there and I finished almost directly outside my gate. I was greeted by my kids, the dogs, my brother in law, husband and sister with a homemade medal and a cardboard trophy.

I really loved that I could do the race on my own terms and involve my family and friends. Although, you had to be prepared to race alone without the cheers of crowds, famous London sights or the competition of fellow runners to egg you on.

To allow the official app to track you, you needed to carry your phone on your run. I saw on social media that this was a real problem for some runners. However, I always carry my phone so it was no issue for me.

The challenges of a virtual race

Event organisers also advised you to carry a battery pack as your phone needed sufficient charge to run the app for the whole of the distance. You also needed mobile phone coverage on your route, enough mobile data to run the app and to give permission for your phone to use your precise location.

Something that did cause me stress was using the app. It was only released shortly before race day and an app update was released the day before race day. This was stressful as I couldn’t work out how to download the update.

I’m incredibly grateful to a very fellow virtual marathoner on Facebook who showed me how to do it. These technical details did cause me pre-race angst and fed into one of my biggest pre-race worries, that the app wouldn’t track me. 

The Virtual London Marathon advised you to record your run on a secondary device as back up. These are the sort of things that ordinarily wouldn’t concern you pre-race but are a big deal in a virtual race.

For the most part, the app worked perfectly for me. I loved the commentary from Paula and Steve at each mile telling me where I would have been on the actual London course and giving advice which was perfectly pitched for each mile you hit.

However, the app didn’t let my loved ones track my progress as if I was on the London marathon route. This led to stress amongst supporters and a discussion on whether I should restart or not!

Ultimately, I loved that I could step out of my driveway and set off – no travel, no forgetting items of clothing, no missing the start and importantly no queueing for a portaloo – I loved it! My medal came in a lovely pouch and it’s seriously weighty and I love the gold lettering on my finishers t-shirt.

Do you want to build strong foundations for improved running endurance or long course triathlon? Try our Strength for Marathon online programme.

All of our programmes are pre-recorded so you can follow along whenever suits.