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Choosing your Virtual London Marathon Route

October 4th sees the first ever Virtual London Marathon.

They are calling it the most inclusive marathon ever. You have 23 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds to cover 26.2 miles. Complete it however you want, as long as it’s dome outside.

This presents a fascinating opportunity to compete in the London Marathon, but it will require some planning and thought.

The first question to ask yourself is if you are Racing or Running the Virtual Marathon. I don’t love these terms so do excuse me if you don’t agree with them.

You are racing the marathon if you going for a time, perhaps a PB

You are running the marathon if you just want to complete the 26.2 miles on October 4th.

I differentiate between the two becuase this will influence how you set yourself up on the day.

If you are racing then we want to minimise outside influences (road crossings, carrying of items) and make the day as close to marathon conditions as we can. This may include getting some support with others running or cycling with you (observing all social distance protocols) and potentially having a drinks table set up.

When thinking about selecting your route, think about the type of person you are. What do you need to run well on October 4th? What is going to keep you going when things get tough?

My 5 route options are:

1. Laps

2. Out and Back

3. The large loop

4. The drop off

5. Mixing it up

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it should give you some idea of how to approach your day.


Laps are simply running “x” distance a number of times to cover your marathon. If I was racing virtual London, this is what I would be doing as it ticks all my boxes (easy to manage, drinks table, manageable chunks)

I would suggest 5km laps or larger. Any less than 5km can be a big challenging, although I do have runners I coach doing 1 mile or even 400m loops!

The advantage with a short loop is it allows for external slow downs (traffic, hills etc.) to be minimised.

You could set up a drinks table to leave your water and gels to avoid carrying them.

It’s easy to get support on the route, people either running sections with you or just being out to cheer you on.

Laps might not be for everyone. They will get repetitive, it would be 8 x 5km laps, and a bit further. Some may find that dull, although you could reverse the loop now and again to mix it up a little. If you loop takes you past your house, it might be tempting to just pop home.

Out and Back

As simple as it sounds, run 13.1 miles in one direction, turn around and head home.

I like this option as you know when you hit halfway, you are heading home. You are also ‘forced’ to run home in that second half of the marathon.

You’d only need to plot out a 13.1 mile route for the day. This may make it harder for supporters to join you, but your route could go past friends houses. Some people may find it frustrating to be running the same way you started.

This and the next options increases the demands on you to carry your own water, gels and anything else.

You’ll need to be more self-sufficient on race day.

The Large Loop

Plotting a 26.2 mile loop out to run means you are always seeing something new along your way. As long as your loop doesn’t pass too close to your house, which might make an early stop rather appealing, you are going to need to keep running to get home.

These does become a little bit more of a logistical challenge. Plotting out a 26.2 mile route isn’t as easy as it sounds, the route is likely to have a number of road crossings and making it flat may be rather difficult. You also may not find it possible to get any support along the way.

The Drop Off

Get yourself deposited 26.2 miles away from home and then run.

This run both requires you to be really self-sufficient with drinks and potentially spare kit if you are going to be out for a long time and the weather looks tricky.

There’s also the travelling to the ‘start’ which will need to be arranged. I have coached runners who’ve taken a train somewhere and run home, but in this Covid era I know I don’t feel very comfortable on public transport.

The advantages is you are always on your way home which may help keep you motivated.

Mixing it up

One exciting option to really mix up your London Marathon experience. The 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds you have on 4th October to run 26.2 miles gives you a lot of options.

Everyone will be different, but I thought I’d use this space to explain my plan on October 4th which may give you some ideas.

A little background, I haven't been anything close to marathon training, my longest run for the last 2 years has been 8 miles! My girlfriend has never run a marathon. We entered London as a chance to do something different on Sunday and I couldn't resist another medal!

Our plan for the day is to:

Run 10km to her parents house - perhaps using a run/walk strategy

Have a coffee, a stretch and a bit of rest - probably lasting 20 minutes

Run 10km home

Once home, have some lunch and relax

Go for a long walk in the afternoon, with a few friends

In the early evening, running the last 5km

There’s lots of recovery built into the day. That has it’s benefits, but may also come at a cost. It can be really difficult to get going again after a break, muscles will stiffen up and need persuading to move.

Getting that length of recovery right will be a bit tricky. This plan does turn the race into an all day affair which some people may not have the time for.

It doesn’t matter what route you do, theres a few things to remember

It’s going to be hard on the day. Even walking 26.2 miles will take a lot out of you. Be prepared for the tough sections. Picking a route which supports you will help, but that medal isn’t given away.

If you aren’t sure about what route is best for you, take a look at your training history. What runs do you gravitate towards doing on Long Run day? What routes did you take for those epic long runs? Don’t go along with someone else’s plan because that’s what they are doing.

Do take into consideration the effect fatigue will have on your decision making. As we get tired it’s harder to think. If you route is going to require a lot of intricate turns that’s might be frustrating. The last thing you want to keep having to do is checking your route.

One final note, the London Marathon is being measured by the App recording distance through your phone. What this means is that your phone needs to go 26.2 miles in order for you to complete your marathon. GPS devices aren’t made equal, and they work to about 97% accuracy. Be aware of this and don’t stop until your phone says you’ve completed your marathon.


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