Anyone getting ready to run the London Marathon needs to read this post! It’s everything I wish I’d known in advance to have the best day possible for a number of our RTTF athletes. Even as a running coach there were lessons to be learned and each race is a little different. The London marathon course in particular has some really key points to know!
Luckily, I was able to cheer at many spots along the course and then talk in-depth with folks who finished for the first time as well as those who have run it for a number of years.
Hopefully these few key pieces to help make life easier. Once you start to realize how long it takes to train for a marathon, I hope you’ve started looking at the right plan!
Going in to London, there are a lot of questions about logistics for the start, the finish and everything in between! It turns out many of you have the same questions, so while I can still remember all the details I thought I would share some answers and some London marathon course tips to help you out.
London Marathon Tips
As one of the Abbott World Marathon Majors the course hasn’t changed since 1981! That’s pretty incredible.
Now that we’re all excited, let’s dive in to some overall tip sand then course specifics!
With any race, I have a few standard recommendations for our athletes:
- Save the sightseeing for post race. I know you want to explore, DON’T.
- Have your what to eat before the marathon meal with you or planned out, so you know it’s food you tolerate. We saw a lot of issues in Berlin with unknown foods causing race day issues.
- Don’t get sucked in to driving the course. :) It’s going to take forever and absolutely freak you out. (especially with all the roads that will be closed)
Following are addition tips and tricks from all of the Run To The Finish coaches.
#1 Train for the Flats with Light Rolling Hills
While it’s great to have rolling hills throughout your long runs, you absolutely need to have legs that are trained to run long stretches of flat road. It requires using the same muscles over and over without a break.
If you’ve been training on rolling hills, you may find that things start to ache or fatigue.
- plotting out long runs that have 400 feet of gain over the entire thing
- including both short hill sprints and long hill repeats at the END of moderately long workouts (because there is a hill at mile 23 which feels bigger than it is due to fatigue).
- practicing how you control yourself on the downhill running to not burn out the quads in the early miles
You will only gain 419 (127m) feet over the course of 26.2 miles. Chicago is only 243 feet, so this is more than that, but still a mostly flat course with slight gains as you run over bridges.
#2 Marathon Expo
Many expos are not like they used to be.
BUT London, as a marathon major, seems to buck that trend which could mean a lot of extra time on your feet. In fact, they give it a fancy name “London Marathon Running Show” just to let you know they’ve got things planned!
We don’t want that remember? Which means if you want to enjoy it all (and I do), try to go on Wednesday or Thursday! Then you can grab your New Balance themed shoes, talk to some of the cool folks on hand and go back to your hotel to rest.
You MUST drop off any gear check at the expo, so no waiting until race morning for this.
The NYC Marathon Expo is held at:
Royal Victoria Dock
1 Western Gateway
#3 Plan Well Ahead for Your Start Line Arrival
Nothing is worse than the nightmare that you’ve missed the start…other than actually missing it.
With 50,000 runners and a race that requires trains to get to the start, planning is a must. The London Marathon starts in Greenwhich Park in Blackheath (that’s right, NOT in the heart of the city).
9:00 is the elite women’s start
9:30 is the elite men and first wave
Depending upon your wave, it could be 20 to 90 minutes before you start the race. Make sure to plan for that with your spectators.
This is one time where staying near the start isn’t the big win we often look for. Instead, you’ll like want to stay closer to the finish so you can enjoy the heart of London and get back for that hot shower.
- Wait for an email that gives you a window for your arrival. This is based on the start time of your wave.
- There will three pens at the starting area and each has 8 sections, so pay attention to your big.
- Red: Southern Greenwich Park.
- Green: St John’s Park
- Blue: Shooter’s Hill Road
Transportation to the Start Line
One of the things you want to consider is total time on feet. I saw many runners at the London marathon on their feet walking for a lot of time pre-race between the train, finding the right stop, then walking through the large start area.
- The start line area color you are going to will determine which train station you want to exit.
- Blue you’ll exit at the Blackheath station and then be walking roughly a mile to the start area.
- Red will want to exit at Greenwich or Maze Hill.
- Green will exit at Maze Hill.
- Driving to the start is not recommended based on all of the road closures.
No matter which option you selected or which departure you are going to have some time on your hands once you arrive.
#4 Start Line Area London Marathon Tips
A few key things you may not know and tips to utilize the time well.
Bags cannot be checked at the start line! You must drop your bag off the day before the race at the expo.
You may only bring in things in the clear bag provided at the expo.
London does allow hydration packs, as well as running belts and handheld running bottles. After the fiasco with NYC and Chicago not allowing them catching runners by surprise I just like to make sure it’s noted and you aren’t worried.
You’ll go through security to get to where the corrals are. The lines move very quickly, but this is where they are checking for hydration or bringing in bags other than those allowed to be checked.
Family and spectators will be turned away.
You will only be allowed in to the corral corresponding to your bib.
Don’t waste tons of energy standing around.
You’re about to run 26.2 miles and standing is taking energy, and making your legs sore. Sit. Wait. Then get up do some dynamic moves and get in to your corral.
Take Throw Away Clothes
The likelihood that it’s going to be chilly is very high. So remember that if you now need to sit around for hours, you are going to get chilled. Shivering again is going to waste energy.
- Bring throw away gloves so you can even wear them the first few miles
- Reuse a mylar blanket from a previous race
- Bring hot hands!
- Absolutely cover your head to keep in the heat
- Bring an old blanket and old clothes – things get picked up and donated afterwards
Bring Your Food
While there are some supplies from Lucozade to possibly bananas available in the starting area, we don’t want you do be stressed about finding it or ensuring there’s still enough left.
With such a long gap between the time you wake up and the time you run, you must continue fueling.
- Keep sipping on electrolytes
- Eat a bagel and nut butter, especially if you have a later start
- In the final minutes before you start take in an energy gel or waffle or some high carb, quick sugar energy
Once you get in to your corral, know that it could still be awhile before you cross the start line. Try to contain your nerves and energy. If you’re bouncing around, well again you’re wasting energy.
If you followed the guidelines they provide for arrival, you’ll probably have about an a hour.
Sit down. Eat. Relax, until it’s time to do your warm up.
#5 Be Prepared for Your Watch to be Wrong
Hopefully you’ve spent some time training by effort because there are going to be moments where your GPS glitches.
It’s not going to be as bad as say the Chicago marathon where the first 3 miles are in buildings that make it impossible to know your pace. But you’ll go under bridges or just hit moments where it might get a little bit off.
Focus on your total time and your goal splits, not the pace it’s always displaying.
#6 Be Prepared for The Noise
Coach Stacey noted that the noise on this course was unlike anything she’d experienced before. While it’s initially really exciting, it can also be a bit overwhelming later in the course.
So don’t get too swept up in that cheering from the start or at other big spots like the Tower Bridge.
This is where I enjoy having headphones, so I can tune out that chatter and get focused internally. Just remain aware of the runners around you.
#7 Plan for Post Race
I know you’re ready for the course talk, but I think this is super important!! Locals know that the Tube near the finish line is a mess and will take literally HOURS to get on and get back to your hotel.
Instead, if you can walk to your hotel that’s going to be faster. Or if you can simply walk a few Tube stations away from the finish area, you’ll have better luck.
London Marathon Course Strategy
London requires it’s own special strategy when you are thinking about pacing. It’s not just the bridges or the early downhill, but the energy levels from crowds that can throw you off your planned pace.
Know that the course is going to feel very crowded from start to finish. That means a lot of holding yourself in check to not weave around people and add a lot of distance to your race, as well as not getting caught up in anyone else’s pace.
You’ll notice there aren’t a ton of turns, which absolutely helps make this a faster course.
It’s a very large race, which means initially you’re going to feel trapped on all sides by fellow runners. Don’t let this make you overly anxious about your pace and don’t expend too much energy weaving around runners.
Your first mile is often your slowest in a good marathon. Remember it’s like the warm up.
London is a tricky course because one of the biggest downhills you’ll find is in the first part of the course. The tendency is to want to really open up and just let yourself fly, but you need to hold back a little bit.
No need to put on the brakes, but if you find yourself going a minute per mile/KM faster than planned, slow down. I know that it feels easy right now, but you’re burning through glycogen and your legs will feel it in the end.
Instead, allow yourself to go 10 maybe 20 seconds faster than your goal pace on the downs. Just keeping the body relaxed and flowing.
This course doesn’t have a lot of variation or big climbs to worry about, which means that a lot of it is just finding the right mental game to keep you going steady and strong.
One trick is to divide the race in to 5K segments. Rather than thinking about all the miles to go, focus what you need to do for just the next 5KM (3.1 miles)
- Fuel early and often is the motto of sports nutritionists. Take that first gel 30 minutes in and keep going. Don’t feel like fueling, check to see if it’s time and do it anyways. (Checkout these marathon fueling guidelines.)
- Keep checking in with yourself on total effort and stay close to your goal pace, no overshooting it or trying to make up time later. We know that even pacing is your best chance of a PR.
- Remember to smile – it legitimately changes your body response and helps.
- Try counting all the costumed runners, it’s a phenomenal amount in London!
- Look around at all the incredible sites that you’re passing and make some mental notes so you can tell people later. It’s a great mental diversion!! For example, running the iconic Tower Bridge around mile 12.
As noted, the crowds are INTENSE in places like the Tower Bridge. So just keep running your race, let them lift you up, but not cause you to overdo it.
You’ll now have passed the iconic London Eye, Big Ben and Tower of London. The finish line is just ahead, which means your final chance to hang on or decide you have a little gas in the tank to keep pushing!
OMG you can see Buckingham Palace, it’s really and truly going to happen!!! By now everything is hurting and your body may want to stop, but you absolutely have the power to finish.
Dig in to all the reasons, you’re so glad to be there and just keep holding on to that hard effort.
London Marathon FAQs
Answering the top questions I received from you over the years and especially as we have seen things shift around other marathons.
What’s the London Marathon Cut Off Time?
The cut off time is 7 hours.
This time starts when the last wave crosses the start line at 11AM. They will be followed by a group of about 50 walkers, which are considered the sweep for this race.
Technically you can continue onward, but they will begin to open the roads back up and you’ll be forced on the sidewalks without support.
What was the start security like?
Cops were checking for bibs, ensuring you had only the clear plastic bag and winding everyone who passed through. Lots of discarded bags, blankets, bottles and such outside because they were on the not allowed list.
- Wear throw away gear because the whole security and then waiting around will have you cool down.
- Sit down as much as you can instead of standing for hours on end (think about how that wastes energy).
- READ the guide so you know what’s not allowed.
Are face masks required?
Not any longer.
Why do they say allow 30-60 minutes for the finisher’s area?
It’s not because you are hanging out having a party. You end up walking at least another mile to get through the entire finishing area and then back out to where you can meet up with family and friends.
It’s simply a lot of people to move through and it’s a slow march past medical, the photo line, heat blankets, a bag with water and snacks then much farther to any bag pick up area.
Also know, that it may take your family a long time to get to the finish area if they are taking the tube from another spot where spectating.
We decided to cheer near the Tower Bridge, then you actually have a few other spots where you can move around to catch your runner a few times earlier and later in the race.
What’s the expo like?
Definitely one of the better expos, if you like expos…and I do! A lot of the sponsors go all out with cheer stations, places to make signs, videos and of course all kinds of gear with London on it.
Not a lot of “specials” or deals that I could find though.
- Do plan extra time since they are checking vaccinations
- Do not spend too long just walking around the day before the race
- Do keep sipping lots of water ALL day long
- Do enjoy every freaking second of this experience
Happy to answer any other questions you come up with! These are just the big ones I heard a lot!
More marathon day tips:
- Marathon Fueling Strategy
- Marathon Pacing Strategy
- What to wear on marathon day (for all different temps)
Other ways to connect with Coach Amanda
Instagram Daily Fun: RunToTheFinish
Facebook Community Chatter: RunToTheFinish
Sign Up to Receive a Weekly Newsletter with Top Running Tips and Laughs