The rescheduled London Marathon 2020 will take place this Sunday. While an elite race takes place on a lap around St. James’s Park, the mass race is now a virtual event. The runners set off and cover the 42.2 km route wherever and whenever they want.
While the flexibility of a virtual race offers some advantages, runners will of course miss out on the special London Marathon atmosphere and logistical support during the race.
That means careful planning is needed to make sure your marathon is fun. We spoke to London Marathon-based trainer Martin Yelling for advice on planning your virtual run.
What advice do you have when planning a route?
Determining your route is very important as it is easy to make mistakes when you are tired. Set a finish line ̵
How should you stay hydrated without water stations along the way?
It is very important for runners to rethink the logistics of their event. Do you run loops? Do you carry fluids?
People run in different places around the world so you need to think about what your environmental needs and conditions are, and what strategy you are going to use to meet them. For runners who want to run it in three hours they might only carry 250ml with them, others might be six or seven hours away and might need to stop and refuel. If the strategy is grinding, you can expose fluid.
Medical assistance will also not be available. What should runners do to reduce the risks on that front?
First you need to lay the foundations – make sure you have everything you need to make the distance, tell people where you are going, and bring petroleum jelly with you!
Then you have to think about contingencies. What if everything goes wrong and you have to make a choice when you are tired and emotional? Especially if you are walking alone, not in a particularly populated place. Identify a “responder”, let them know and have their number on your phone. It is a good idea to tell some people that you do, but in case you need help, you have this answer person. This could be anything from just giving encouragement to saying that you need medical attention.
I recommend an app called what3words. If you need assistance and want to quickly let someone know where you are, describe your location in three words by putting a pin on a map. You paste these three words into the same app to find out where you are. If you’ve been on a country road and someone asked, “Where are you?” You might not be sure you’re standing by a tree! what3words gives you “orange, wrench, dish” and these three words give your answerer an exact location within three square feet.
So I would say plan your route and share it with someone so they know where you are. Have emotional support and then a full rescue plan in case everything goes wrong.
Do you have any tips on the pace of a virtual event?
All marathon stimulation rules continue to apply. If you are going out at a pace that you cannot keep up, it becomes difficult and the more likely you will need the contingencies you have set up. Running steady, steady to get you the distance is the best advice.
There are also some amazing flexibility benefits from doing it virtually. Because of the uncertainty at the moment, you may not have done all of your workout or you may not be as fit as you’d like. So take the pressure off. If you want to stop, stop. Take a rest Refuel, walk a bit. There doesn’t have to be any pressure here.
The key is to Accept your fitness level. I know people for whom Lockdown was a great opportunity to tear a few more miles out. You feel very fit and a virtual marathon is a highlight of the year for you and you will push it forward. At the same time, I know people who have been at home with their children for six months and just haven’t been able to exercise. Understanding and accepting where you are is really important.
Should you be taking pain medication to deal with pain experienced while running?
I keep seeing those flat layers where people put all their gear out and there’s always a pack of ibuprofen or something. My understanding is that taking a pain reliever only masks pain, pain that is there for a reason, and it can also cause gastrointestinal problems.
I would prefer people to listen to their bodies, notice the discomfort they were having, and work safely in it. Most of the time, that means slowing down. This is not the end of the world. There are times when the discomfort is really significant, an injury, but even then, you shouldn’t use pain medication to treat the pain, especially during a virtual event where you don’t have racing assistance.
When your body aches, you need to adjust. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop. It can, but most of the time when I’m really hurt, it goes away. If it’s not really acute and serious, you can work it through with patience. You don’t have any time pressure either, so just let yourself be worked through. This is a safer option than smashing yourself up and ridiculing loads of pain medication.
Any other tips for the day?
There will be a lot of people running at the same time. For a little motivation I would say even if you are walking alone you are not really. There are 45,000 other people out there pounding 26.2 miles with you.
If you’re doing it on your own, put up some virtual viewers too. Have someone call you at specific times, maybe three, four, or five hours. Or, respecting the rules of social distancing, you can say when to walk past people’s homes so they can cheer you on.