26.2 Tips For Running The London Marathon 

by Michal Bauernfreund

Do you dream of running the London Marathon? We’re sad that it’s cancelled for 2020, but looking forward to 2021! 

The London Marathon is a one of the World Major Marathons, and over 40,000 runners run it each year, including elite athletes, celebrities, and many many runners in fancy dress competing for world records, raising money for charity, or just aiming for their own personal best.  

Whether you are running the London Marathon for the first time, or have run it before, there’s lots of things for you to remember ahead of time and on the day. We’ve pulled together 26.2 London Marathon tips to help you enjoy your big day to the max.

london marathon tips for first timers

Race week:

1. Take it easy

This is it, your last week before the big day. You’ve spent months running up to marathon day, and now all you need to do is rest up to make sure that you are in as good shape as possible heading. Walk, or go for one or two short, slow runs to keep your legs happy.

2. Resist the urge to sightsee (too much)

London is one of the greatest cities in the world, with lots to see and do. That said, when you arrive in London for the marathon, sightseeing should not be too high on your list. Plus the marathon will take you past and over many landmarks, so you can tick them off your list as you run.

3. Eat well and hydrate

Use the week before the marathon to fuel your body. Eat healthy foods, with a good mix of carbs, fibre, and protein, but don’t go all out crazy. Stick to foods you know, now’s not the time to experiment with your race day nutrition. Keep yourself well hydrated, and you will be in a good place come the start line.

The night before the run eat a carb rich dinner a few hours before you go to bed. Again, stick to familiar foods. 

4. Read the marathon instructions carefully

As mentioned above, there are a lot of details to remember for the London Marathon. All information will be emailed to you by the organisers. Download the info you need, and save it for offline use as mobile network coverage can be spotty when you are crammed on the train or in Greenwich Park with thousands of other people.

5. Collect your runners pack

Head over the running show a couple of days before the marathon to get your pack. The London Marathon expo is packed full of booths with everything to do with running, from clothing and race day nutrition, to planning your next race! Leave yourself time to explore it, but resist using anything you buy at the expo on race day.

6. Plan your route to the start line

The London Marathon has two start lines – the elite start line, which is also where ballot runners will start, and the main start line, where most people will start. They are reached by different stations, so make sure you know where your start line is before you set out.

Leave extra time to get there. The trains will be crowded, and Greenwich Park is big, so it is a good few minutes walk from the station to the starting point. Look up the route, but don’t worry too much about it, just follow the crowds of runners.

7. Get your kit bag ready

The London Marathon start and finish lines are miles apart, so prepare everything you need for after the run in a bag to put on the baggage truck. The organisers provide you with plastic bags for the baggage trucks, and you are strongly advised to use them. Some trucks won’t take regular bags. Don’t forget to put your name, runner number, and phone number on the bag so they can find it easily.

Also prepare your start line clothes, including a black bin bag or old sweater that you don’t mind throwing away as it can get cold at the start line.

8. Sleep well

Go to bed early the night before, and get a good night’s sleep. You’ll have an early start, and a very busy day tomorrow.

Race day!

9. Wake up early and eat breakfast

The London Marathon starts at 10am, so you will want to be up with time to eat breakfast and head over to the start line.

Eat a carb heavy breakfast, again of foods that you are used to eating. You’ll want to eat as early as possible to give your body time to digest it.

10. Head over to the start

Travel on Transport for London and Southeastern trains is free for marathon runners – but you will need to show them your race number. You will also need to show your race number on your clothes to get to the start line, so it is a good idea to have it on for the journey too.

Make sure you get to the start with plenty of time to put your bag on the baggage truck, and go to the loo. There will be queues for the toilets at the start, and for the first few miles of the run, so leave plenty of time to go before you head to your starting pen.

FInd the right pen for your time, and make sure you are in there in good time before the start as they will close them, and you’ll have to go to the slow runners at the back.

11. Stretch/ warm up

Take a few minutes to do your usual pre-run warm up. Many marathons provide professional trainers to lead you through a warm up. Join in for fun, but don’t do more of a warm up than you usually do because that will start your body off at a different place than normal.

If you are a runner who prefers to start slowly and use the first couple of miles of the run to warm up, then stick to that plan.

Miles 1 to 5

12. Don’t head off too fast

It’s easy to get carried away, and you may find that there are runners streaming past you in all directions. But you trained for this. Keep to your own plans, and run at your own pace.

Use the first couple of miles to get yourself into the running groove. Take stock of how your body feels from your shoulders down to your feet. Keep your body posture upright, and make sure your breathing is steady. You’ve got this.

13. Keep to the blue line

The blue line runs the entire length of the marathon for the exact marathon distance of 26.2 miles. It is there to keep the elite marathoners on track, but you can use it too. Stick as close to it as possible, especially on bends and corners for the exact distance.

The blue line and the mile counters are also the only true measure you have of the distance you have run. Most GPS trackers are not entirely accurate, usually they suggest you have run further than you actually have. Keep calm, and recalibrate against the official markers whenever you see one.

14. Soak up the atmosphere

The first half of the marathon goes through the residential neighbourhoods of Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich, Deptford, Rotherhithe, and Bermondsey before crossing the river at Tower Bridge.

It’s party time for the residents of these neighbourhoods, the pubs are open early, the bands are out, and spectators line the route with snacks and high-fives. Use their energy to get yourself into the run, and enjoy it. It’s a wonderful feeling to be part of this carnival atmosphere.

Miles 6 to 13

15. Cross the prime meridian

At mile 6 of the London Marathon you’ll cross hemispheres – from the east to the west that is! As you pass through Greenwich, you’ll get the unique experience of literally crossing time. 

16. Make friends with other runners

As you bed down into the run, make friends with the people around you, whether it is for a minute, a mile, or even the rest of the run. Everyone has their own marathon story, and there’s plenty of time for you to exchange stories and encourage each other on.

Miles 13 to 20

17. Set yourself mini goals

You’ve just crossed the river at Tower Bridge, and you can see the elite runners at 22 miles. Most of this section of the race is through the Isle of Dogs and the City of London which have relatively few spectators. The energy may drop, so now’s the time to really use your music playlist, or make friends with the people around you.

Find ways to keep your pace steady during this stretch of the marathon, for example by setting yourself mini goals, 1 mile, landmark, or drinks station at a time.

18. Get carbs in

Any stored carbs from last night’s dinner or this morning’s breakfast are going to be long gone by this point. If you have your own gels with you, make sure to take some on now, or grab an energy drink or fruit from the refreshment stands. 

Taking on carbs now will help you stay alert and clear-headed, and provide the headspace you need to focus on the last 10km coming right up.

Miles 20 – 26.2 aka The Final Stretch

19. Dig deep

You’re nearly there, you’ve got this. Just 10km more to go, and you can do 10km in your sleep. The end is in sight, push yourself to keep going, but don’t push too hard and injure yourself. Keep yourself hydrated, you may think you are near the end so you can skip the drinks, but taking a drink at the final drinks station at mile 25 will only do you good.

20. Focus on the finish line

Do whatever works for you – count down the points of miles, visualise crossing the finishing line, picture running your favourite 10km run, and remember how you feel crossing each marker. The finish line will be there soon.

21. Soak up the sights

The final 10km of the London Marathon runs along the Thames through London’s West End. Take in the views of the South Bank, focus on the London Eye coming ever closer, smile as you turn past Big Ben. Finally drink in the sight of Buckingham Palace and Birdcage Walk and know that you have very nearly done it – you have completed one of the greatest races in the world, the London Marathon.

Post run

22. Remove your chip

One of the marathon volunteers will cut the chip off your laces for you. You may have an idea of how long it took you, and you’ll get official confirmation to your phone any moment now.

23. Get your medal

If you don’t get your medal can you really say you’ve run the marathon?

Pick up your medal and finishers t-shirt, and wear them with pride – you deserve it after all. Plus it is your ticket to free travel on public transport on the way home!

24. Rehydrate and eat

Your body needs water. Lots and lots of water, but be careful you don’t overwhelm your kidneys. Drink little and often to make sure that your body is making full use of all the liquid you are putting in.

You’ve run off approximately 3,000 calories over the past few hours, used up all your body’s energy stores, pulling energy from every part of your body from fat reserves to muscles. Your body desperately needs food to recover, and well you totally deserve that yummy guilt free meal. Make sure you eat plenty of carbs for energy, and protein for your muscles.

25. Cool down and stretch

You’ve just spent the last few hours moving, so stopping dead will shock your system and leave you feeling sore and stiff. Stretch before your body gets cold, and keep moving for a while longer to let it adjust. Even a few minutes of stretching will make you feel better. Anything you do now will have a major impact on how you feel tomorrow morning.

26.2. Plan your next marathon!

Have you got the bug? One marathon is never enough. The London Marathon will be back next year, or check out other marathons close to home and around the world.

If you are all ready for your next marathon, and considering a winter sun run, why not check out our tips for running the Auckland Marathon!


About the author 

Michal Bauernfreund

Michal is a running and fitness writer at The Fit Brit. With finishes at both the London and Paris marathons, she's our go-to source for distance running, and women's fitness in general.

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