London Marathon - Things You Should Know Before Running

Preparing for your first London Marathon is hugely exciting and admittedly a little daunting. This epic challenge requires months of dedicated training on top of navigating the complexities of one of the world’s most competitive mass participation marathons. You deserve a comprehensive guide covering all the insider tips, practical and expert training advice to smash your first 26.2-mile stint around the Big Smoke!

History and Significance of the London Marathon

Since 1981, the Virgin Money London Marathon has cemented its status as one of the top six Abbott World Marathon Majors, alongside Tokyo, Boston, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City. 

It holds the Guinness World Record as the planet’s biggest annual fundraiser, generating £66.4 million for charity in 2019. This mind-blowing sum comes courtesy of the dedication of runners sweating blood, sweat and tears to support incredible causes close to their hearts. 

In 2024, the ballot system will offer around 40,000 highly coveted running spots up for grabs. Entry oversubscription sits between 4-5x depending on the year. This nerve-wracking ratio highlights the immense appeal of ticking the London Marathon off countless bucket lists!

Record Holders and Key Course Details

• The men’s course record belongs to Eliud Kipchoge who smashed the tape in 2019 at a jaw dropping 2:02:37. 

• Brigid Kosgei set the women’s record with her 2020 finish in 2:18:58. 

The iconic 42.195km route winds past quintessentially British sights like Cutty Sark, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace. Competitors tour areas like Greenwich, Docklands, Southwark, and Westminster while wall to wall crowds energize runners with wild support through every step. 

Simply finishing means joining the highest echelons of athletic achievement. Completing your first London Marathon cements your status as a legend worthy of celebration!

Understanding the London Marathon Entry Process

As this marathon is drastically oversubscribed, first timers should understand the ins and outs of gaining a golden ticket entry.

Registration Timeframes

The first window opens almost a full year in advance: 

• April – Public ballot registrations open for the race held the following spring, usually third weekend in April 

• October – Initial round of ballot draw results released to public

• October onwards – Charity entries open for unlimited places 

• December – Small portion of entries allocated to International Tour operators 

• January & February – Remaining charity entries sold on first come, first served basis

Entry Route Options

Whilst over 80% of entries get allocated via the public ballot, several alternate options exist: 

Public Ballot – UK residents aged 18+ can enter by April for the following years race. Draw results release in October. You can be rejected multiple times before exclusion rules apply. 

Good For Age Entries – Runners with eligible marathon times from last two years matching age/gender criteria get guaranteed entry 

Charity Entries – Participants commit to fundraise £2000-£2500+ for charity in exchange for confirmed entry. Sign up anytime from October to February. 

International Tour Operators – Third party overseas tour companies buy small portion of entries allowing travel groups coming to London to participate. 

Understanding these nuances helps first timers strategize the optimal approaches over time to get that massively sought-after thumbs up! 

Tailoring Your London Marathon Training Plan

All runners should adopt structured training programs in preparation for such a bucket list race. However extra attention should get paid to tailoring your training if London lands as your first 42.2 km endeavor. 

Building up core running strength and endurance requires commitment, consistency, and clocking months of road time both practicing the distance itself but also consolidating your cardiovascular conditioning.

Essential Macro Preparation

Long Runs – Start by topping out training runs at 32-35km (18-22 miles) pre-race 

Cross Training – Mix non-impact and muscle building training like cycling, strength, and Pilates into your routine 

• Easy Runs – Don’t hammer every session! Easy jog recovery runs maximize regeneration 

Hill Training – London’s course stays relatively flat but hill reps assist speed and strength 

Rest Days – Ensure muscles get 48 hours recovery minimum between intense stimuli

Recommend Training Timeframes

• Beginners should allow 5-6 months preparation time for first marathon 

• Intermediate runners can get by on 4-month plans 

• Advanced runners can taper training 3 months out 

Using one of the multitudes of free online race specific training blueprints helps remove guesswork planning long runs. Mix and match elements to suit your experience level. Listen to your body! Missing training occasionally offers better fitness outcomes than pushing through pain constantly and risking injury.

Gear and Nutrition Practice Runs

In your last few weeks pre-race, set aside dedicated training runs to… 

• Test race day clothing, shoes, and gear like your backpack 

• Mimic exact gels/drink/fuel plan and intake schedule 

• Practice reaching and consuming nutrition on the run 

• Use only gear you know to be comfortable for the full 42 km 

This strategy verifies what hydration or chafe prevention works (or doesn’t work) for you before the high stakes main event. Fine tuning these elements now means less surprises derailing your race day! 

Curating Your London Marathon Race Day Kit Bag

As this single event encapsulates months of training, you deserve to feel comfortable, supported and chafe-free every second on that tarmac! Use your longest training runs to assess potential friction points needing protection plus confirm your ideal fueling schedule.

Clothing Considerations

London’s notoriously fickle April weather poses an added challenge. Equip your kit bag for all seasons: 

• Base layer t-shirt 

• Lightweight windproof running jacket 

• Arm warmers to pull on if sunny yet cool 

• Running leggings or tights 

• Shorts if warmer temperatures hit later 

• 2 pairs anti-friction socks 

• Breathable running cap for rain or sun glare

Essential Accessories

Body glide for nipples, toes, heels, inner thighs 

• Blister plasters and tape as backup 

• Trusted GPS watch to monitor pace and distance 

• Race belt, vest, or backpack to carry phone, gels, medical/cash/ID 

• Hydration pack if relying on own drink supply 

Choose outfits providing flexibility to shed or add layers dependent on conditions. Bring backups for anything mission critical. Stuff extra supplies like cash, meds, phone charger in your Finish Line kit bag awaiting your arrival.

Arriving In London Race Weekend

If travelling to participate in your first London Marathon, allow ample time in the city before and after the main event


Book 9-12 months out as hotels hike rates exponentially for the weekend. Consider group Airbnbs to reduce costs. Check Narrow Boat options for quirky, budget stays with extra banter thrown in! 

Compulsory Race Pack Collection

All runners must attend the Expo to collect number bibs, check course info and soak up the pre race buzz: 

• Expo held at ExCel Centre 2-3 days pre race 

• Reach via Custom House DLR or Prince Regent DLR 

• Valid photo ID required to match number collection

Getting to the Start

Review transport links in advance to minimize stress on the morning: 

• Red Start – Fastest runners only – access via Greenwich Park 

• Blue Start – Estimated finish times under 4 hours 30 minutes – Walk south through Greenwich Park

 • Green Start – 4 hours 30 minutes projected finish times or more – Position south end of Blackheath south of the A2

Pre-Race Meal Ideas

• Pasta or rice dishes for high complex carbs 

• Lean protein like chicken or fish to aid muscle repair 

• Baked sweet potato or bread options over greasy takeout! 

• Hydrate well and taper caffeine intake 

With attendance topping 40,000, expect crowded scenes!

Logistics For Marathon Morning

• Ensure all your gear is packed and ready the night prior 

• Eat light, easily digestible breakfast – toast, porridge, banana 

• Arrive at station meeting point at least 90 mins pre-start 

• Note toilet queues get very long! 

• Locate baggage trucks well in advance of your wave 

Despite the nerves, take a moment at your start point to soak in achieving the marathon milestone! Then focus on executing your personalized race plan.

Incredible Spectator Support Along The Route

What makes the London Marathon route so iconic lies not in its topography but its world class crowd support! Over three quarters of a million passionate spectators line the entire 26.2 mile course making for utterly electric race day energy. 

Notable Cheering Hotspots

• Cutty Sark – Resounding naval-inspired applause 

• Tower Bridge – Crowds 10 deep to witness you cross the Thames 

• Canary Wharf – Office workers clap runners over the DLR 

• Embankment – Bustling city dwellers shower encouragement 

• Birdcage Walk – Final royal welcome towards the finish 

Spot friends and family dotted along the way by getting them to hold signs or wear bright costumes. Hearing your name as you pass provides invaluable motivational turbo boosts when the going gets tough!

Conserving Energy Across 26.2 Miles

When raced correctly by even pacing using start waves matching your finish time, completing the London Marathon presents a manageable challenge for most first timers. The thrill of event adrenaline however poses the risk of fast early miles leaving you totally spent by the halfway mark if you don’t rein it in

Top Tips For Maintaining Stamina

• Use first 5 km to settle into gentle rhythm 

• Drop all speed work like tempo during the race itself 

• Talk little to conserve oxygen and energy 

• Thank volunteers and high five kids enroute to lift spirits 

• Constantly consume fluids and gels on schedule 

Joining pace groups running at your target finish time helps benchmark if you establish a sustainable rhythm in the early stages. Slow down well before you feel fatigued to avoid utterly hitting the wall later on. Discomfort is expected but don’t push into ongoing pain which risks injury.

When The Going Gets Tough

Hitting a bad patch – aka “The Wall” – most likely strikes between miles 18-22 as glycogen depletes. Symptoms like headache, nausea and shaking kick in if failing to consistently reload fuel. 

• Take walk breaks if needed 

• Consume emergency gel stashes 

• Focus on crowd support and aid stations up ahead 

• Message your support crew to spur you on! 

• Divert thoughts to your achievement so far 

Most marathon first timers build fitness to comfortably reach the finish without needing dramatic interventions.

Celebrating In Style At The Finish

Crossing the finish line for the first time – completely overwhelmed and elated by your mammoth accomplishment – marks the crowning moment of your running journey so far! Before heading off to reunite with your crew, take time to recover and record the moment in London Marathon’s famous historic surroundings.

Immediate Post Race Priorities

• Get wrapped in space blanket to avoid shivering 

• Experience iconic finishing backdrop like the Palace 

• Collect your finisher pack – medal + shirt 

• Capture finish line photos once the worst fatigue passes 

• Locate medical tent if badly struggling at any stage 

Meeting up with your supporters afterwards can feel surprisingly emotional. Agree an exact lettered meetup point along the horse guards parade sidelines to find each other amongst the crowds. 

Finding a balance between gentle movement, hydration and food intake sets you up for less painful days following the pounding. Go steady initially before any long journeys home.

Indulge In Recovery Food And Rest

• Refuel muscles with protein rich nourishment 

• Stick to gentle walking and stretching 

• Book sports massages or physio in subsequent days 

• Wear compression tights to ease minor aches and pains 

• Get an early night before returning to regular routines

A Final Recap

Preparing for your first London Marathon is a thrilling yet daunting endeavor, demanding months of dedicated training and strategic planning. Here are the main takeaways from this comprehensive guide:

History and Significance: The London Marathon, part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, is renowned for its fundraising prowess and competitive spirit.

Record Holders and Course Details: Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei hold the men’s and women’s course records, respectively, while the iconic route showcases quintessential British landmarks.

Entry Process: Understanding the registration timeframes and various entry routes is crucial due to high demand and oversubscription.

Training Plan: Tailoring your training regimen with long runs, cross-training, and rest days is essential for success, with specific recommendations for different experience levels.

Gear and Nutrition: Testing race day gear and nutrition strategies during practice runs helps minimize surprises on marathon day.

Race Day Logistics: Arriving early, managing pre-race nerves, and navigating the start process are key elements for a smooth marathon morning.

Spectator Support: The electrifying crowd along the route provides invaluable motivation, with notable cheering hotspots to look out for.

Race Strategy: Conserving energy and pacing yourself throughout the race, especially to avoid hitting “The Wall,” are crucial for a successful finish.

Post-Race Recovery: Prioritizing recovery with gentle movement, nourishing food, and restorative measures is vital after crossing the finish line.

Embarking on the London Marathon journey armed with this knowledge ensures you’re well-equipped to conquer every aspect of the 26.2-mile challenge. Embrace the experience, absorb the atmosphere, and celebrate your incredible achievement at Buckingham Palace’s glorious finish line. Best of luck on your marathon journey!

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