On a cold wet day in October we ran the “Virgin Money London Marathon – #The40thRace” – a virtual event.
When we celebrated after finishing our Runnersworld pacing duties at the London Marathon in April 2019 none of us could have foreseen that the event wouldn’t take place in its normal format the following year.
Virtual events can have the potential to be a bit of an anti-climax but we were determined to make the most of the day.
A Virtual Run
The 2020 VMLM could have been a complete washout – to be honest in many ways it was. The mass race being cancelled because of Covid19 meant we faced yet another somewhat underwhelming “Virtual” marathon experience. Running around deserted streets with no aid stations, empty of supporters and just a little under-trained. Weather forecasts of torrential rain and a cold wind for the day didn’t bode well either.
To be fair we had enjoyed our first virtual marathon experience – the Lewa Virtual Marathon. It was a novelty and good to be out running the distance again in our own wonderful Richmond Park. Our second virtual event, “The Comrades Race – the Legends”, gave us the chance to feel a sense of belonging to the wider Comrades family on the day that we should have all been meeting up in Durban to run our favourite race. But by the time we got to “Boston” – well, maybe we’d done a few too many laps of the park and the accompanying phone app didn’t work so well. In the end we had to dig deep.
Finishing the Lewa Virtual Marathon in Richmond Park
With Jain running the Comrades Race the Legends, Richmond Park
Boston Virtual Marathon Pre-Race kit
But this was The Marathon
But this was The Marathon – the London Marathon, our home town race. Jacquie’s 9th and Cam’s 5th time of running it. It’s usually one of the most enjoyable weekends of the year. The house is full of running friends, we meet up with lots of people we don’t see too often, help at the expo, run or pace the race and party afterwards. It is a real celebration of everything that running means to us. How could we even come close to replicating that? Well, we couldn’t but we were certainly going to try to make it as enjoyable a day as possible.
With the London Marathon pacers in Greenwich Park April 2019
So one of the things that always makes an event special for us is if we get to run it together. It doesn’t happen too often these days. The difference in our race pace means that finish time can’t be an issue but running together certainly makes for a more fun day out. To this end we also recruited Jain Reid, a running friend and member of our household bubble. The three of us have run together on many occasions in the past and we knew that this combination would work well on race day.
With Jain in Windsor after running the Thames Path from Henley.
We had already decided no more laps of Richmond Park but it was Jain who suggested the idea of a river route crossing some of the iconic Thames bridges. Unfortunately one of our favourite bridges (Hammersmith) could not be crossed because it has been declared a dangerous structure – we really miss it. So when Jacquie got to work on a course – she decided to make it a homage to Hammersmith Bridge – starting and ending there. The intervening 26.2 miles would take us along the river Thames, crossing as many other bridges as possible along the way. Tower Bridge was to be (roughly) our half way point (as it is in the actual marathon). We were all excited about running this course – it would pass so many London Landmarks and be a real celebration of the city we love to live in.
To add to the excitement of the day it started before sunrise with a photo shoot for an article in a national newspaper. The rain meant it was not the best conditions for looking good, but we were flying off to Sicily after the race and the photos were needed before we got back. Even at this early hour we were passed by other runners wearing their VMLM numbers, including a fellow Richmond parkrun runner – little did we know just how many more participants we would encounter during the day.
As promised it was cold, windy and wet – consequently this was the only time our new 40th race vests were seen! After drying off and warming up we were joined by Jain and out again for an 8 am start.
Pre-race photo shoot
Starting our race apps!
Support on route
The weather did not improve but it didn’t dampen our spirits. What we didn’t expect from the day was actually to be running with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of other VMLM runners – the river route was very popular. We were always in sight of other runners, encouraging each other on as we passed. With lots of beeps from passing cars, taxi drivers, and cheers from the few tourists around, the atmosphere was as close to running in a real race as it could be. And of course on the phone app we had Paula Radcliffe and Steve Cramm guiding us round the actual marathon course. The miles passed quickly, the bridges crossed slowly – and the rain kept pouring!
Just some of the bridges and landmarks we passed on the run.
Top left: Tower Bridge
Bottom left: The London Eye
In the centre: The Millenium Bridge, Houses of Parliament and The City Skyline
On the right: The Shard
In all we crossed sixteen bridges including the Albert Bridge, Westminster Bridge and the Millennium (some of our favourites). We passed many iconic London Landmarks: Battersea Power Station, the Pagoda, Lambeth Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and St Pauls Cathedral. We had views of the contemporary London Skyline including the Cheese Grater, the Scapel, the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie building, not forgetting the magnificent Shard. We ran across Tower Bridge, down the Embankment and turned right at Big Ben, although our finish wasn’t on the Mall, but at our own beleaguered Hammersmith Bridge. Some five hours after setting off we returned there looking like three drowned rats – but very happy ones.
It wasn’t the London Marathon but it was a very enjoyable and uplifting day. Much needed in these strange times.
Hammersmith Bridge looking glorious in better days