London Marathon 2020 'elite-only' race: Why training for 2021 date might be a blessing in disguise

Lawrence Ostlere
·6-min read
The London Marathon will have more than 40,000 runners: Getty
The London Marathon will have more than 40,000 runners: Getty

After being postponed in April - till 4 October - London Marathon runners have now been told that the 2020 marathon will only involve elite athletes.

For the 45,000 "mass-event" runners - they will have to wait until next year before they can take to the streets again.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures, the half a million people who typically come out to watch the race will have to wait along with the runners themselves until 3 October 2021.

It is hoped by delaying the race even further that it will maximise the chance of it being able to go ahead as planned.

But for those who trained hard through the winter in anticipation of the race, and now have over a year to go, it might feel like a lot of hard yards gone to waste, but might a delayed race bring with it some major benefits?

Why autumn beats spring

Carrying on running through the summer might seem like a daunting prospect as temperatures rise, but it offers a better time of year to train. “People should look at it as an advantage,” says Nick Harris-Fry, running expert with The Run Testers. “I’ve run marathons at different times of year and I much prefer training through the British summer for autumn marathons than through winter. Although there are periods when it is uncomfortably hot, it’s rare. The British winter is horrible to run in and the British summer is generally very nice.”

The key is to avoid long lunchtime runs, where possible, when the temperature is near its highest point, and to take advantage of the long days to get there either early or late.

“The fact you can finish work and go out for a run and still have a couple of hours of light is an amazing feeling, especially as a runner who normally goes out in the winter training for a marathon,” says Harris-Fry. “The evenings are cooler, and I would tend to try and get near any woods or tree cover if you can – it makes such a big difference and the temperature will noticeably drop.

“This winter it rained every single day, pretty much, for about a month. If you ran through that, you definitely don’t need to worry about the British summer.”

If you do have to go out in the middle of a hot summer’s day, just make sure you load up on water and electrolyte drinks to prevent dehydration.

While in lockdown, it also presents a rare opportunity to do some of the ugly fitness work that most of us tend to avoid. “It’s a chance to take advantage of the fact you’re probably stuck at home for a lot more time than usual, and do some strength and conditioning work that no runner likes to do, even just once a week. Then when you finish this lockdown period, you’ll be in a really strong position to start training again, and it really will pay off in the long run.”

How to stay motivated during lockdown

There are two key elements to help stay in shape and motivated during lockdown, and maintain any hard-earned fitness over the winter. The first is to set attainable goals that can keep your mind focused on small but significant steps.

“Obviously it’s a bit gutting if you’ve been training, perhaps for your first marathon, and it’s been postponed,” says Harris-Fry. “But it’s worth remembering that none of that’s gone to waste. That’s all great fitness for your body and that should be quite motivating to think ‘I’ve already done a lot of the work, so when I start seriously again it’s not going to be anywhere near as hard’.

“From there, I would definitely set some goals in the interim. Forget about the big overarching marathon goal for a while, and just think about a goal perhaps to run three times a week, or if you know a local route then try and improve your time on that.”

The other important point is to set a structure and build some good habits.

“Getting into a weekly pattern is absolutely key. Most runners were probably running around three times a week through their marathon training. Try to keep that up, and don’t really worry about doing the longer runs you were doing before. Try to run maybe twice a week and once on the weekend, and just really enjoy the mental health benefits of it, as well as the fact you’re maintaining that fitness without having this thing in the back of the mind the whole time of ‘I’ve got to run a marathon’.”

Should you run 26.2 miles in the back garden?

There have been plenty of stories recently of incredibly dedicated runners undertaking marathons in their 7ft-back garden or on their postage-stamp balcony, often to raise money for worthy causes fighting the coronavirus. It might be tempting to set your own challenge but while it is admirable, there might be other, safer ways to raise money and keep on marathon training.

“It’s really important to remember that running a marathon, at any time, is really really hard on your body, and if you’re doing that in a recurrent environment like running around your backyard, it’s even more so,” Harris-Fry explains. “At the same time, you’ve got all that training done, you’re raising money for charity, hopefully, so if you can find a way to do it safely, then by all means, but I would say that there are loads of other ways you could raise money. Like the 2.6 Challenge coming up this weekend – you can run 2.6 miles and donate to charity, and help to raise a lot of money.

“These kind of garden events, they’re really good but I really worry sometimes that they feed into this compulsion to run that a lot of people have, including myself, and I think that it’s not always entirely healthy. If you’ve been running every day and suddenly you have no events, you’ll try and think of something to satisfy that need to run every day. But actually it might be a good time to reflect, relax a bit and do some strength and conditioning work.

“It’s never wise to underestimate how hard a marathon is. Even if you’re just in your house so in theory you can stop at any time, it takes a toll on the body – one that might be unnecessary at a time when the NHS is under pressure.”

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