The London Marathon, held on a cold and wet morning on April 23, 2023, was an exciting event for me. Having recently moved to London from Ireland, it was now my home marathon. This was also going to be my second marathon in the same month having completed the Paris marathon 3 weeks prior. My training hadn’t gone totally to plan with a lot of weeks being missed due to family holidays and weddings. I was determined however to get a sub 4 for both marathons. As the day got closer my targets started to shift and I was aiming for a 3:45, a solid 20 minutes better than my previous PB.
I knew crowds in London were going to be exceptional compared to Paris, so I was going to use this to push me through those tough miles. I’d rested fairly well in between, having a week to recover, a week to train again, and then a week to taper, so I was feeling good, hoping that my fitness from Paris would carry me through. Anyone you talk to will tell you how good the crowds are at London; the streets were lined with enthusiastic spectators throughout the entire 26.2 miles, creating a world-class atmosphere.
The London Marathon Route
Although the route may vary from year to year, the London Marathon typically starts in Greenwich Park and finishes in front of the iconic Buckingham Palace. Along the way, runners pass through various famous landmarks in London, as they move from South East to Central West London along the River Thames. A breakdown of the route is as follows:
- Greenwich Park/Black Heath – The race begins in Greenwich Park/Black Heath, which is situated just behind Greenwich main park. It is a beautiful green space that offers stunning views of the city and is home to the Royal Observatory.
- The Cutty Sark – Around mile 7 you come towards the famous Cutty Sark, an old clipper ship used exclusively for the China tea trade and one of the fastest ships of its time.
- Tower Bridge – One of London’s most famous landmarks, Tower Bridge is a must-see for runners and spectators alike. It provides a picturesque backdrop as runners make their way across the River Thames. This a great area for supporters to stand and comes at the halfway mark of the marathon.
- The Tower of London – Situated near Tower Bridge, the Tower of London is a historic castle that has served various purposes throughout history. Its iconic structure stands out along the route.
- Canary Wharf – As the route takes runners towards the eastern part of London, they pass through the bustling business district of Canary Wharf. This area is known for its modern skyscrapers and lively atmosphere.
- The London Eye – Located on the South Bank of the River Thames, the London Eye offers panoramic views of the city. While not directly on the marathon route, it’s a notable landmark that can be seen from various points along the way across the Thames. This is on the final home stretch.
- Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament – Situated near the end of the race, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are iconic symbols of London. These landmarks are located in the Westminster area, providing a grand backdrop for the marathon’s conclusion.
- Buckingham Palace – At the final turn just before you’re about to cross the finish line, you run/sprint/crawl/walk past arguably London’s most famous landmarks.
Is The London Marathon Flat?
Overall, I think that London Marathon is considered one of the faster marathons and is known for attracting elite runners from around the world and has a reputation for producing fast times. The course is generally flat and offers favourable conditions for runners to achieve their personal bests.
Additionally, the presence of highly competitive fields and the support of enthusiastic spectators along the route contribute to the race’s fast and exciting nature. However, the weather does play a part, and as you may know, English weather is not reliable.
On the day of the marathon this year, it was heavy rain all morning making the course extremely wet, running through puddles for the majority of the first half of the race. Thankfully, the crowds were not deterred by the rain and came out in their thousands, making you forget about the weather!
London Marathon Race Day
Race Bib Collection At London Marathon
Prior to the race, I collected my race bib from the Exhibition Centre at ExCel London in East London (near London City Airport). The venue is easily accessible by the Elizabeth Line or the DLR, and the queues were minimal when I went midweek.
It’s advisable to collect your bib early to avoid any potential delays. However, one downside compared to the Paris Marathon was that the London organizers did not allow me to move into an earlier race group, despite having a better qualifying time. When signing up, consider this limitation. There is plenty of activities at the Exhibition Centre, from picking up some last-minute London Marathon merchandise to running gels and shoes.
There is everything a runner would ever need. There is also a wall with every participant’s name on it so you can find your name and get a photo beside it! There’s plenty of staff around to help answer and last-minute questions you may have too.
As a London resident, I didn’t have to worry too much about figuring out the tube system and working out my transport over for the race. However, I recommend arriving at least two days before the event to settle in, collect your bib, and avoid last-minute stress. On race day, it took me approximately one hour to reach Blackheath, the starting point of the marathon, from my location in London. Most people rely on the Jubilee line tube to London Bridge and then take a train to Blackheath. Arriving early is crucial to avoid overcrowded trains.
London Marathon Start Line
Once at Blackheath, it’s easy to locate the starting area by following the flow of people. The area provides porta-loos and a grassy space to prepare, warm up, and drop off your bag in the designated lorries. The bag drop-off process was efficient, and I was impressed by how smoothly it operated. There are four main starting areas, each closely located and clearly marked based on the colour and number on your bib, so you wont get lost!
About 30 minutes before the start, the toilet lines diminish, and people gather in their respective zones. I was in wave 7, which started around 10 am. As London is still cold in April, many participants bring an extra layer to keep warm before discarding it just before the race. Remember to dress accordingly to stay comfortable. I stupidly only brought a t-shirt and was freezing, thankfully a lovely lady gave me a binbag to cover myself with to keep me dry! When your wave number is called, the energy builds up, music plays, and your group moves toward the start line. The crowd’s support begins right from the beginning.
My Race Experience
My target was to finish in 3:45, so I was overtaking other runners during the first half of the race due to being in slower group than my expected time. The route was relatively flat and fast, but the rain made it challenging. Dodging and navigating puddles from mile 3 to around mile 11, which was not ideal for my shoes and feet… The narrow streets and congestion in certain sections made it difficult to dodge puddles and overtake other runners at times. As there is so many people running, the congestion rarely dies down.
Despite the rain, I felt great during the first half of the race, fuelled by the enthusiastic crowds. However, things became more challenging after passing Tower Bridge. This iconic landmark was a highlight of the race for many, with immense crowd support. Bands and DJs along the course kept us motivated. I brought 5 of my own gels with me to help along the way. If you’re new to running, it’s advisable to bring your own gels as the ones provided may not suit your stomach.
As I had started too fast in the first half, my pace began to decline in the last third of the race. To maintain my target time, I had to dig deep. The last 5 km of the race, running along the embankment and passing landmarks like the London Eye, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament, was truly magical due to the incredible crowd support, cheering you home when you need it the most.
London Marathon Race Nutrition
There are water stations were available every 5 km, with Lucozade supplements provided at miles, 9, 15, 21 and 24 to help keep you hydrated. There was also Lucozade gels, as they were one of the main sponsors, these were provided at mile 19 and 22. As I mentioned above, I would definitely advise trying out these gels beforehand if you’re going to try them as they can often leave runners with a dodgey stomach (that’s the last thing you want to worry about!). There was no other nutrition along the way which I was surprised to find, seeing as in Paris there were all sorts of breads, cakes and bananas along the route at the stations. I brought along 5 ‘SIS Sport’ gels with me as that’s what I had been using in my training, however test the market and see what works best for you. It’s good to know where these nutrition and water stations are so that you can plan your race strategy.
After crossing the finish line on Pall Mall with Buckingham Palace in the backdrop, I received my finisher’s medal and New Balance t-shirt. Additionally, a bottle of water, a bottle of Lucozade, and some snacks were provided for rehydration and recovery. Bag collection was quick and easy, and the designated meeting zones for family and friends were conveniently located a short distance away from the finish line.
A nice perk of the London Marathon is that your race medal allows you to travel for free on all London Transport, including TfL rail, DLR, and Southeastern trains, on the day of the marathon.
Where To Stay In London For The London Marathon
As I live in London, I didn’t have to worry about where to stay and get accommodation, however if you’re flying in for the race, where you stay can be key! As the start and finish are in very different locations (start East, finish West), I would lean more towards finding accommodation closer to the start, towards East London. Here are a few areas in London that are often convenient places to stay for participants:
1. Greenwich – Since the race typically starts in Greenwich Park, staying in the Greenwich area can be advantageous. It allows you to be close to the starting line, reducing travel time and potential race day stress.
2. Tower Bridge – As the race passes through Tower Bridge, staying in this area can provide you with a great vantage point to cheer on the runners. It also offers easy access to other parts of the marathon route.
3. Canary Wharf – This area is close to the eastern section of the race route and offers a range of hotels and accommodations. Canary Wharf has good transport links, allowing you to easily access different parts of London during your stay.
4. Westminster – The race finishes near Buckingham Palace in Westminster. Staying in this area allows you to be near the excitement of the finish line and provides access to various landmarks in central London.
It’s important to note that London has a well-connected transportation system, including the Underground (Tube), buses, and trains, so staying in other areas with convenient access to public transportation can also be a viable option. The main thing is being close to a tube station. A great thing about the London Marathon is that all runners get free access to London Transport on the day of the race!
When selecting accommodation, consider factors such as proximity to public transportation, ease of accessing the marathon route, availability of local amenities, and your personal preferences for exploring the city before and after the race.
What Can Spectators Expect At The London Marathon
Spectators can expect lots of music and energy no matter where you stand during the course. Obviously, the main attraction/landmarks host the most people, but there is literally not a bad place to stand. I would recommend getting down early to choose your spot if you’re staying in the one area to support. A few spots such as around half way and in canary wharf allow you to be positioned so that you see runners run past you twice – look out for these locations on the course map. During the marathon the TCS London Marathon app allowed family and friends to track my progress during the race, which was extremely helpful for spectators to find their runner along the course.
There is lots of good vibes with DJ’s and music playing throughout the course. If you are looking to support at different locations, you can expect the tubes and transport system to be crazy busy – plan ahead and make sure you won’t get stuck in a tube!
Other than that you can expect to see some over-the-top outfits and people dressed up as all sorts of animals. The London Marathon is just a much fun for the spectators as it is for the runners.
The London Marathon is one of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, and securing a place can be highly competitive. However, there are options to run for charities, which is the easiest way to participate. I witnessed many participants in creative charity outfits, ranging from rhinoceros, 2 dinosaurs and even someone carrying a washing machine on their back.
Overall, the camaraderie and crowd support at the London Marathon surpassed my experiences at the Barcelona and Paris marathons. If you’re considering applying for the London Marathon, I couldn’t recommend it enough. It will undoubtedly be one of the best experiences of your life.
Final Chip Time: 3:47:30
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