London Marathon tips from the Lonely Goat herd

The London Marathon is the biggest event in the UK running calendar and one of the most important marathons in the world. For one day of the year, London becomes a carnival celebrating running. If you’re running it this year, you’ll have seen and heard all manner of advice – from that colleague whose “friend’s brother-in-law’s aunt ran it one time in 1994”, through to the excellent, informative official guide from the London Marathon organisers.

To add to this wealth of advice, we asked the Lonely Goat Chat Group for their hints and tips and the response was fantastic. You can read the original Facebook thread here, or read the summary below.

During the week before

There is loads of advice out there on how to taper before a marathon, and everyone will be following a different training plan. Regardless of your preferred taper method, there are some universal truths: Stick to your plan and trust in the work you’ve done; rest, recover and look after your body; and check, double-check, and triple-check that you’ve got all your kit sorted.

Trim your toenails on Wednesday or Thursday before the marathon, just in case you cut them too short.

1 mile into the London Marathon

The day before

If you’re staying in London, it’s a good idea to work out in advance where you want to eat the day before the marathon. Partly, this will depend on where you’re staying and what your pre-race fuel of choice is.

For pasta, Italian restaurants are the obvious choice. These are likely to be busy, so phone ahead. If you prefer rice, then Spanish (paella) or Mexican (burritos – without the chillis) is a safe bet. There are plenty of places to choose from, but bear in mind that restaurants in the City of London financial district are usually closed at the weekend. Needless to say, don’t try anything new that might cause you discomfort the following day.

The London Marathon Expo can be a faff. Excel is a little way out of the city and will be very busy. If you have the chance to get there and pick your number up before Saturday, then do so. Unless you’re particularly keen to soak up every part of the London Marathon experience, it might be best to get in and out as quickly as possible to conserve your energy and minimise the amount of time spent on your feet.

Before going to bed, lay out all your kit so you can get ready in the morning with minimal fuss.

Your kit

The golden rule is not to wear anything new that you haven’t already trained in. The last thing you want is blisters or chafing, or to be constantly fiddling to adjust kit that doesn’t fit right. The same goes for food, drink or gels.

The kit bags that the London Marathon provides are pretty big, so it is possible to put a lot of stuff in them. Alternatively, you may choose to arrange to leave something in a left luggage facility such as that in Kings Cross.

There are some people who don’t like the idea of strangers shouting their name and telling them to ‘keep going’, but they seem to be in the minority. The race numbers at the London Marathon don’t have your name on (unless you’re an elite runner), so consider getting your name printed on your running top beforehand. When you’re having to dig deep just to keep moving, it can really help to have the crowd on your side. It can also be reassuring to hear someone tell you that you’re ‘looking strong’ – even if you don’t feel it!

If you don’t have your name on your top, don’t worry. Just pretend that your name is whatever one the crowd are shouting. It’s not quite the same as having them shout your name, but it can help a little bit.

Before the start

The trains to the start will be very busy. Aim to get an early one, or get on ‘up the line’. For example, if you’re heading to Blackheath, get on at London Bridge rather than one of the later stations, as the train won’t be as full. If you’re not able to do this, don’t worry too much, as there are plenty of trains available – but be prepared to stand.

As soon as you get to the start area, familiarise yourself with where you need to drop your bag and where the start is. Then go to the toilet. Once you’ve been to the toilet, get back in the queue and go again. The queues move fairly quickly, but bring your own loo roll and alcohol hand gel in case they run out.

If you haven’t already done so, apply sunscreen.

You will have time to pop your pre-race kit in your bag and drop it off before the start. However, if it’s a cold day, or you like to keep warm, consider wearing a bin bag or something you don’t mind throwing away to wear at the start line. If you take it off once you’re running, be careful not to throw it in the path of other runners.

Enjoy the pre-race atmosphere. There are tens of thousands of people there all sharing the same goal as you – to run the London Marathon. Take a little stroll around to loosen your legs up and you might even see the elite runners warming up.

The first few miles

These should feel easy. If they don’t, slow down a bit. It can be very easy to get caught up in the excitement and race off faster than intended. The first three miles are downhill, so bear this in mind when judging your pace and effort.

The three start lines all converge by the 5km marker and it is an amazing sight to see the different streams of runners all swoop round the bend and join together. Double-check your pace at this point to make sure you haven’t gotten too excited and sped up.

Don’t rush the start. Don’t be afraid to let other runners get ahead of you. If they’ve gone off too fast, you’ll probably end up coming past them in the closing miles.

Where possible, follow the blue line painted on the road. This is the line that the course measurement is based on, so if you weave around all over the place, you’re going to end up running slightly further than the 26.2 miles. That said, it can be worth adding a few extra metres if it means running on the shady side of the street and keeping cool.

On a similar note, trust the mile markers, not your GPS watch or phone. The tall buildings in London can disrupt GPS signals and give you weird numbers. If you base your pace off the officially measured mile markers (which are placed according to the most stringent standards in international athletics) then you’re ensured of accuracy.

Runners at the London Marathon

Drinks stations

The first drinks station is usually the busiest of them all. Good advice is to start moving over to the side of the road early, to get in position. Look around you and be alert to what other runners are doing. After grabbing a bottle, check over your shoulder and move back into the middle of the road so you’re out of the way of other runners trying to get to the drinks station.

Every runner is different. You may prefer to take a tiny swig, or drink more. Do what your body is comfortable with and follow the advice in the official guidebook on the dangers of dehydration and overhydration. Tipping excess water over your head is a great way to cool down in warm weather. Alternatively, offer your unfinished bottle to other runners around you who may have missed the drinks station.

Once you’ve finished your drink, throw it to the side of the road. You don’t want your bottle presenting a trip hazard to runners behind you. Be careful with your throw though, as you don’t want to hit a runner or spectator in the head.

In almost every other race, Lonely Goat Running Club would not recommend littering, but the London Marathon clean up team is massive and has the roads clean within hours of the race finish.

The crowd

The London Marathon spectators are possibly the best in the world. They provide an almost constant wall of sound and colour, encouraging you throughout the whole course. Some areas are a little quiet, such as the bit around Limehouse, and the Isle of Dogs, but if you give the crowd here a little encouragement then they’ll return it in spades. The Blackwall Tunnel has no supporters, but often has big speakers playing crowd noise instead.

Because the crowd is so amazing, you probably don’t need headphones and many of the Goats recommend leaving them at home for this very reason. The London Marathon is an event to absorb, not one to block out. However, if you do choose to run with music, then ‘From Now On’ from the Greatest Showman soundtrack was recommended by one goat as the perfect Mile 24 song.

You could probably high-five every child in London on marathon day. Whether you do so is up to you. A lot of Goats recommend high-fiving as many as possible to maximise the amount of encouragement received. Others, however, suggest you don’t high-five anyone and conserve your energy instead. We’ll leave it to you to decide what to do, but the smile on a kid’s face when you do so makes it worth trying at least once.

If you have friends and family watching you, make sure you know where they’re likely to be along the route. There’s a chance you won’t be able to see or hear them, but if you do it can give you a great boost.

Be warned: You might find yourself welling up and feeling overwhelmed at points. Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, and the Embankment towards the finish are so jam-packed with supporters that it creates one of the most mind-blowing sensory experiences you can imagine. You can physically feel the lift the crowd gives you here. It is difficult to overstate how special this is, so enjoy it – even if you’re feeling rubbish.

London Marathon finish area

If it gets tough

Perhaps this section should be called “when it gets tough”, as it is more likely than not that there will be difficult moments. After all, it’s a marathon – that’s the whole point.

Visualisation and positive self-talk can help here. Think about why you’re running. Think about all your training. Think about a run you did which you really enjoyed. Think about your loved ones. Try over-riding your negative thoughts with positive ones.

Eliud Kipchoge is arguably the greatest marathoner ever and he swears by the power of positive thought. This is why you’ll often see him smiling, even when he’s digging deep leading a marathon. Scientific studies back him up on this: Smiling can help you run faster. So when it gets tough, smile.

Physically, when you’re struggling, shake your arms out and try to relax a little. Spend a few steps shaking your feet out a little bit too – landing with toes in on one step, then toes out on the next. This can help loosen up stiff hip, knee and ankle joints.

Try not to walk. Once you’ve stopped running, it can be very difficult to get going again. That said, sometimes it’s necessary. If you do walk, don’t worry, there’s no shame in it. Don’t be disheartened. Just take as long as you need to get back on track before running again.

Also, don’t fret if you’re overtaken by a rhino. The people running in the rhino outfits are seriously strong runners.

The finish

Once you’ve rounded the right hand turn at Big Ben, there are regular markers telling you how far there is to go. The stretch up Birdcage Walk can be a bit of a slog, but the last 400 metres are incredible. Pass Buckingham Palace, swing round the right hand bend on to The Mall, and go for it. Sprint as hard as you can, feeling like an elite running rock star!

As you pass under the finish gantry, leave your watch and phone alone as you don’t want your hands obscuring your number for the finish photo. Instead, lift your head up, smile, open your arms wide and cross the line in glory.

Jonathan Bean after the London Marathon 2018

After the finish

It’ll be tough, but keep moving. You will be given a goodie bag with stuff in it to eat and drink, and moved along to the baggage trucks. Once you’ve gotten your bag, then you’ll be out of the way of runners finishing behind you and can flake out in the park.

Handy kit to have with you at this time is a packet of wet wipes and some flip flops. You will almost certainly be filthy, covered in sweat and Lucozade. Being able to clean yourself up, even just a little bit, will be appreciated by your friends and family. The flip flops are handy because your feet may be swollen and blistered by the finish. Also, you might be too stiff to bend down and tie laces on ‘proper’ shoes.

Consider meeting your friends and family away from the finish line, somewhere less busy. Make the most of the free travel around London that your race number grants you.

Make sure you have some money in your bag, just in case (or to buy an ice pop). Consider packing a battery pack in case your phone battery dies. Also, remember that with so many people in one place, it is likely the phone network will be overloaded and it will be hard for you to get signal. With this in mind, make sure you have already decided where to meet people afterwards.

Wherever you go afterwards, wear your finishers’ t-shirt and medal. With any luck you’ll get free drinks or food from waiters and total strangers.

Enjoy it

Whatever happens, enjoy it. The London Marathon is spectacular and like nothing else. Take in as much of it as you can, because it is truly special. Have fun!

Thank you to the following Goats who contributed to this article (as well as those who added their advice to the Chat thread after this was written):  Dip Patel, Gary Lovell, Nick Jones, Kaz Be, Lee Harris, Sarah J Pitts, Steve Collins, Shannon Moody, Richard Smith, Emily Hitchins, Hafizah Ismail, Alan Roper, Julie San-Jam, Richard Adam Miller-Williams, Carl Taylor, Ollie Frogg, Louise Taylor, Graeme Wharton, Carol Hayes, Jason Sidebottom-Butler, Katie Grant, Sarah Withington, Kerry Penfold, Robert Martin, Hanna Thorpe, Collette Gains, Alison Pearson, Sara Leggott, and Martin Bowman.

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