With London Marathon places hard to come by the virtual London Marathon is becoming a popular option.

Taking place alongside the physical London Marathon, it allows runners to participate in the event without being physically present in London.

So what’s it like to run a virtual marathon? Well, we took to the streets of London to find out!

How does it work?

The virtual London Marathon uses a dedicated app, which runners download to track their progress during the race. The app provides real-time updates on your pace and distance covered. With encouragement, commentary and even a quiz from Paula Radcliffe herself!

How did it go?

I’d never run a virtual marathon before. A marathon is a hard slog – and the thought of doing it alone, without crowd support wasn’t my idea of fun.

However, what doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you – so here we were at 1.30am forcing down a slice toast and deciding if we had packed enough gels and Percy Pigs!

I have these mad ideas, and luckily Becca was willing to join me. We were off, at just after 2.30am, with disco lights on and a speaker at the ready. With no pressure to achieve a specific time, we could relax and enjoy it. So this eliminated any of the usual pre-race nerves.

With only three hours of sleep, the physical and mental demands of running a marathon were daunting. However, the excitement of participating in one of the world’s most famous races was enough to provide the necessary motivation to complete the course.

Through the night? You must be mad!

London at night is a different ambiance. The city’s iconic landmarks illuminated against the dark sky, provided an incredible backdrop for our run. We weren’t the only ones out there! By 3am we started spotting others who had had the same idea. We ran alongside the course on the footpaths, stopping to take pics – and even had a Maccies pit-stop for a hash brown at mile 20.

I love the London Marathon, even before I took up running myself I would always watch it on TV. Running alongside the course at that time felt like we were getting a ‘sneak peek’ of what was to come later in the day. We had an insight into just what actually goes on behind the scenes to put on an event like this – volunteers were arriving at 4am as the course was being prepared. Cars were being towed away to clear the roads for the runners, railings and drinks stations were being put up.

Logging those all important miles

One thing I will mention – the app. If you’re not used to ‘run coaching’ features – turn the sound down. By mile 13 I was arguing with Paula Radcliffe. I didn’t need to know how many miles I had left and I wasn’t in the mood for a marathon quiz!! By mile 26 I was begging her to speak to me to tell me I had finished!

Another point to note is the tall buildings / tunnels in London really throw the gps out. We ran the entire thing together, but my app was telling me I was half a mile behind Becca. Our watches / Strava were also giving an entirely different reading! So we just kept going until all devices hit the distance! Gotta get that Garmin marathon badge!

Again, if you do this for fun and not a finish time and this is no issue! As long as you hit the distance on the app you have completed it!

Would I do it again?

As long as I had people to run with and zero time pressure – why not! You certainly don’t get the excitement and buzz of race day – but you also don’t get those pre-race nerves!

Running it at night, gave us a little extra added excitement before going to cheer and support the big race itself… and we get a medal and a t-shirt in 2 weeks!