It’s in London.
Enough said already, right? I am quite frankly sick to the back teeth of arriving in some cold, damp field at 6am in some Godforsaken backwater to run 100 miles with barely more than a herd of cows to cheer me on. Where’s the Costa for my latte or the Pret for my toasted sandwich? London is full of people shouting a cheering you on, as though you’re an elite athlete, a superstar. Furthermore, I’d rather queue for a few minutes to poo in a proper toilet with toilet paper, than squat down and get stung by nettles on my nether regions, or worse still get bitten on the arse by an adder and have to wipe with a handful of dead leaves. I can stop almost anywhere on the London Marathon course and buy a latte and don’t tell me there’s a more classic British scene than Tower Bridge rising majestically over the Thames.
There’s no grass to run on.
Don’t get me wrong, grass is soft and green and lovely. But it’s also, usually wet and slippery, crawling with midges and hiding tree roots. London Marathon is a road marathon. It’s run entirely on soft tarmac. All the way. No slippery grass, no mud, no broken concrete farm tracks, no liquid cow shit, no sheep urine puddles, no sinking sand or rocky beaches. The race director does not have to run the route beforehand spraying orange paint on every protruding tree root or jagged stone. Apart from the odd time you jump on to the pavement, you hardly need to watch your foot placement at all. Imagine that!
There’s not a hill in sight.
The London Marathon is not the flattest marathon in the world. It’s not even the flattest in the UK. But it is devoid of hills. There’s the odd incline and in fact there is quite a nice little downhill section around 2 miles in. But other than that, it’s gloriously flat all the way. You can actually PLAN when to take your walk breaks rather than having them forced upon you by elevation of the course. Conversely, you can run the entire route if you like without having to walk up bloody hills. There’s no need for hands on knees power hiking here and there’s absolutely no need to bring those £120 Leki/Black Diamond poles you ordered last week.
There is no need to use a head torch.
For the uninitiated, the London Marathon is run entirely during daylight hours. I know!! It is quite remarkable. And get this the start time is 10am. TEN AM!!! Most of us are back home having breakfast at 10 am having done our 30 mile Long Slow Run. If you run the London Marathon, you can get out of bed at 8am, leave the hotel at 9 and be rocking the start line by 9:45. How awesome is that?! If you really can’t bear to be without your headtorch, I suggest you get up at 4:30am, but don’t put the lights on in your house or hotel room. Instead, get your Petzl Nao and use that whilst getting ready. You could even leave early in the dark. You’ll be waiting for three hours in Greenwich Park but at least you get to use your headtorch. Similarly, if you can eek out the race to an 8 hour finish, you could sit in Horseguard’s Parade until it gets dark and pretend you’re at a checkpoint, then run back to the hotel.
There is NO mandatory kit list.
This HAS to be music to the ears of every ultra runner. Why do I need a jacket with taped seams to keep the rain out? I run ultras! I’m hard as nails ffs. If I get wet, I get wet. Furthermore, who has ever used a space blanket in an ultra? Come on, who?!! NO ONE, that’s who. If you’re cold and tired and want to pull out of a race, you run to the next checkpoint and they take care of you there with hot drinks, blankets and all manner of volunteer marshal love. Space blanket my arse. Also, usually on the standard mandatory kit list is a compass. A COMPASS and a WHISTLE!!!!! This is the 21st century people. Most of us don’t even know what a compass is. We have GPS running watches with navigation and maps. We also have phones. Mobile telephones….to call people. That said, I have gone the wrong way during an ultra occasionally and you know what, just for once it would be nice not to have to worry about where the hell I’m supposed to be going and just run. You will not get lost running the London Marathon. Although I know one or two people who would give it a darn fine effort.
It’s only 26.2 miles.
You did read that correctly. 26.2 miles. This is hard to fathom but let me try and help. When you see 26.2 miles or perhaps slightly more on your watch, that’s the end. That’s it. You can stop running. Who knew, right? Sometimes we forget that 100 miles is a reasonably long way. It takes an entire day to run. Even 50 miles is a actually quite a long distance. No really, I’m serious. For most people, 26.2 miles is the furthest any normal person can, or should, run. Treat it as speed training if you like. Five kilometres hard effort, 5km recovery, times 8, then a 2km cool down. But to be honest, just bask in the happy knowledge that you’ll be done in 3-4 hours and that when you get to 25 miles, you’re not a quarter of the way there, you’re not half way there, you are in fact, about 10 minutes away from crossing the finish line. Home in time for lunch.
There are people dressed as rhinos
I like running. I do it because I enjoy it. But I also take it seriously. I am constantly looking at Strava, comparing times, performances, HR, cadence, placings, Age Grade percentages and Run Britain Rankings points. Almost every race is a search for the next PB. Sometimes, once a year or so, it’s nice to let that all go and dress up as a chicken. If you find yourself in a race getting passed by runners in enormous wooden-framed, carnival style creations, you know the pressure’s off. No need to time yourself at the aid stations. Turn your watch off if you like and jog it in. Or alternatively, join in the fun you miserable git. You are surrounded by thousands of strangers. And who’s going to recognise you anyway if you’re entirely covered in 20ft T-Rex outfit? Come on, don’t be a stick in the mud. Now, where’s my Kenenisa Bekele costume?
There are about 23 aid stations
Ok, this is simply awesome. After mile three of the London Marathon, there is an aid station every mile. Every freaking mile!! We all love an aid station. A chance to stop and catch your breath. A chance to refuel and take on some well-needed calories. However, at most ultras they are 10 miles or so apart. You have to run an entire 10 mile race before you get some sustenance. It’s simply not right to put people through that kind or torture. If that were the case in the London Marathon there’d be TWO aid stations. I guess it would require fewer volunteers from the local scouts though. Now, look, don’t expect sandwiches, crisps, chocolate, sweets, coke, juice, Tailwind and coffee at these 23 aid stations. It’s pretty much just water at most of them and Lucozade at others. But what do you expect, it’s only 26.2 miles for goodness sake! If you want a sandwich or a coffee there are plenty of shops. I mean, YOU’RE IN LONDON, you can’t go more than 500ft without a Starbucks, a pub or a Pret a Manger.
Trail shoes are pointless
You know you’d been looking for some new trail shoes and you saw those Mudclaws, or was it Hokas, anyway they were reduced and you bought them. Then you took them home and lined them up with the 20 other pairs of trail shoes you have, including the Vibram 5 fingers you experimented with when you tried forefoot running for all of 2 weeks. Well those trail shoes are all useless for the London Marathon. Tarmac will not get caught in the lugs of your shoes. You will not sink knee deep into soft tarmac or have to wash the dried tarmac off your trail shoes when you get home. Folk who run the London Marathon will almost certainly not hose down their shoes at all upon finishing the race. Most who run the London Marathon will wear something called Road Shoes. I tried looking this up on Google but no one seems to know what they are. My suspicion is that they are essentially just trainers and as such, you don’t need to spend £140 on those Scott Kinabalu. You can simply go to Sports Direct and buy some Dunlop Green Flash for £15. What’s not to love?
You won’t know everyone
Honestly, quite a lot of people run the London Marathon and you probably won’t know most of them. These are people you will not have seen at other races. These people are not Facebook friends and they do not follow you on Twitter. They are actual strangers. Thank God. Seriously, I usually spend the hours before a race desperately trying to remember the name of someone I vaguely know from a race two years ago. Or conversely, I know their name from the countless races we’ve run together and the various messages we’ve exchanged on Facebook, but I can see in their glazed-over eyes, they have no clue who I am. If you see someone you know, great , but this is not the Thames Path 100, ok? You will not recognise everyone or have shared an exhausted moment together in a camping chair in the dark at an aid station in 2003. You won’t have compared injuries or Salomon hydration vests with any of these people and you most certainly will not have stood with them at the summit of Helvelyn, looking down on the Lake District as the sun fades and casts a golden glow over Red Tarn. But who the hell wants to do that anyway.