London Marathon Course Strategy and #ProTips

You know the “don’t wear anything new on race day” and all the basics… you can get that anywhere else. Let’s focus on the London course per se now.

Note to keep in mind: the marathon I did the most is NYC, so I might be biased and comparing, okay? Don’t judge me!

The tone: I NEED you to know I didn’t want to do this race, this is important. I only went because two of my besties bullied me into it. I was forced. I don’t like marathons, and I don’t like racing marathons that I don’t know, so I was NOT looking forward to it. I decided to sign up last minute (I had a world championship entry to do London the last two years, and in 2022 I just couldn’t shut them up so I went. The Result: I had the best time. The race was as amazing as everyone had tried to tell me for years plus my time was ridiculously fast. I truly have no idea how I dipped into the 3:20s after 10 years of 3:30s and 3:40s. Unexpected and beyond brilliant. Shocked still a bit also.

Course Overview

This course is not as flat as you might have thought.  It is not hilly either. Like those false climbs you never see. It is mostly rolling hills, all the way through and most are so mild you might not even notice you are climbing then (and therefore wondering why your pace has slowed down). So, study the course, think, plan with your coach. Work a strategy and STICK to it. Whatever it takes. ProTip: plan for a negative split. And use your tangents well, this is key.

Study and Plan

I have only run this course once so I don’t know it thaaaat well but I really enjoyed the race. I am a planner and I really benefitted from looking into the course beforehand. And I broke it into parts, which really helped me figure it out and not despair about a race I didn’t know.

Study the course. The course it is NOT simple. Memorize some landmarks, streets, neighborhoods, water stops, and direction (for wind, etc). It helps that the London Bridge is at the halfway point and there are very distinct neighborhoods. On a course like this, you should execute a classic negative split. If you don’t know what that is, look it up and aim for the sky. London can make miracles happen, I know it.

Part 1: the first 10K (start to mile 6.8)

The beginning was TOUGH. It was really crowded and people were passing us left and right, and we were also passing people. It was a bit scary at points but we managed. I didn’t see anyone fall. The first mile was a bit too crowded but in general get ready for a first few miles of people too close.

The first few miles are quaint roads, big roads, a bit quiet at parts, nothing too stressful or with a lot of spectators, it’s a good place to find your rhythm. Right before Mile 3 all three waves merge, it’s neat to see, and another landmark. It can get messy with all these new runners finding their spot, stay relaxed and no weaving!

There is a steep downhill at mile 3, don’t go wild but use it. At around mile 5.5 or 6, look to your right and you’ll spot the iconic domes of the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, I was flipping a bit about it.

And then we just head over to the Cutty Sark. What is the Cutty Sark you say? (I didn’t know either, obviously). “Cutty Sark represents the pinnacle of clipper ship design and was one of the fastest ships of its day.” Yeah, I don’t know, but you run around it and it is REALLY COOL. Also, LOTS of people there, it’s like a big city crowd. Get cultured here.

Part 2: To the Bridge (miles 6.8 to 12.5)

Once you turn on the Cutty Sark, and now that you know what that is, and after a quiet mile 7, you head to some exciting shit: the Tower Bridge at mile 12.5, I’d say half the race. This is some pants-melting stuff, I was so excited. You’ll see it on your right and you’ll hear the crowds before you get there. The Bridge is the wildest climb on the whole race and it is no big deal (if you did a little hill training), you will be so excited to be there that you won’t even notice. I was so high that I was singing, I was completely out of my mind. There are tons of photographers here so if you’re not happy, at least fake it.

Part 3: To the Isle of Doggies (miles 12.5 to 19.5)

Once you get off the Tower Bridge, it’s like the race gets a bit wild. Lots of spectators.

Yes this is the cover of THE GUARDIAN. Can you see how fun this part is?

Mile 13 is the only out and back, plus it’s the first time you’re on THIS side of the Thames, so lots of people go there to watch. WOW, I really enjoyed that part! At Mile 15 the course separates to go into the mysterious Isle of Dogs, which is, shockingly, not full of dogs. Disappointing. Plus I had been told this area had little spectators, it was quiet, so many turns, it was boring, I’ll be bored, all bad things. It wasn’t bad. Yeah, some parts were actually quiet but it was charming old neighborhoods and you also have all the contrast going through Canary Wharf which is all this new shiny construction, reminded me of the Chicago Marathon in a way. There were a bunch of turns so mind your tangents here, and the wind, stay calm and on pace. And don’t be shocked if your GPS starts shooting wild numbers (I always use manual lapping, it’s just so much safer),

Part 4: Go Straight that Way (miles 19.5 to 22.5)

Once you get to 19.5 or 20 if that is easier to remember, you’re just going towards the finish line. If you raced this right, you might be ready to hit the gas and speed up (or soon). Also, you’ll be passing pretty much everyone. I couldn’t believe how badly 98% of the people were slowing down around us, use this lesson NOW.  Mile 20 can be quiet but it’s a good time to see where you are and how to tackle the last 10K.

The way back felt great because I knew I’d have a lot of support on the course. Right after mile 21st, we go through Rainbow Row and it was soooooo gorgeous, lots of fun. Right after that, you get back on the highway (where everybody was cheering before at mile 13!) and you go towards the Tower Bridge again.

Part 5: God Save these Runners! (miles 22.5 to the end)

At your left is the Tower of London, and so many iconic Londonish things, your mind might blow. You might spot Big Ben and the London Eye. Focus. Just use the spectators. This part can seem long, at least until you get right on the Embankment but you are so close now to loose your mind. USE THE ENERGY FROM THE SPECTATORS. At mile 24 you go under the Blackfriars Tunnel, pay extra attention because it can get sticky, slippery, and dark in there. And you’re finally on the Embankment!!!!

This is it, time to drop the hammer and use all you’ve got if you didn’t launch it before. After mile 25 is all flat or down, and you know what the finish on the Mall looks like, let that be your target and hit it, hard.

The finish line is beyond exciting!!

Other Random Notes:

Pre race:

  • Try to go to expo as soon as you can, it’s a bit of a trek (take the train) but don’t leave it for the last minute. Quick 20 seconds London expo reel.
  • Your apple pay, phone, or credit card, all work on the trains/subways, so no need to try to get any special card, just push your phone or card on any station. On race morning, there will be different stops for different ways so don’t just follow anyone dressed as a marathoner. I took the train, it was super easy.

Race day:

  • On race day, transportation is free with your bib! Flash’em!
  • Check the wind and wind direction that morning. You are doing long stretches in the same direction and once you know where you’ll have a wind coming at you, go towards a building or tuck behind a group, etc. Try not to be dumb to want to beat the wind.
  • The start is SUPER chill, do not stress about it, but get there with time to enjoy it, there is a bit of walking, so wear a throwaway layer if you think you’ll be cold. And check a bag, it is so easy to leave and retrieve. Here’s a few pics of the start area:
  • Get in the right starting pen. We didn’t do that. And then we walked over to our actual right corral. Dumb.
  • The GPS!!!! I like to go by manual lapping. Basically, turn off your auto lapping for every mile and lap when you see a mile marker. If you need to see your last lap, look at last lap time, not pace. Besides last lap time and current lap distance, you’ll also need elapsed time obviously.
  • Use your brain for pacing. Seriously. If you start too fast gonna hate yourself very soon. Also, think of mind games to kill the monotony of running straight: look for tangents, look for mile markers to lap your watch, etc. One thing I like to do in very flat races to switch my form and not get the same muscles to get stiff or to set on a motion is do pick – ups -maybe every time you see a mile marker you sprint to it (that’s what I do!).
  • There is a thin blue line on the course, marking the tangents. It might be too crowded to do in the beginning, but if you can follow it, go for it.
  • You’ll see so many costumed runners, it’s hysterical.
  • Once you finish you can retrieve your stuff, get your finisher shirt, and get on the train fee again. If you can move.

Questions??? Bring them!


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