Advice for First Time London Marathon Runners

Almost there…..

London comes alive on the day of the marathon.

The excitement in the air is palpable. It brings out the best in runners, in the fantastic marshals and volunteers and organisers, and those 10s and 100s of thousands of members of the public that line the route. Bands are playing and some make a day of it with picnics, others with wine or beer in hand – it’s a day that brings out the best of everyone. I’ve included a few photos of what I’ve seen as a spectator and marshal over the last few years.

If you’re in or near London, even if you don’t know anyone running it, go along and cheer us on. It’s a day you’ll remember.

And for us runners, it’s all a little bloody intimidating. So I thought I’d offer a few hints and tips for those first timers and those who may well have done other marathons but this is their first London Marathon.


I’ll say upfront I’m not an expert. This is my second London Marathon, and only my second marathon. I’ve been plagued by injury in the past so this year I’ve done what my physio has been telling me for years and focused not just on running, but as far as I can, injury proofing my body.


These pointers come from my own disastrous efforts in 2014, having marshaled a number of years, from hearing from others who have done it and from Run and Become’s pre-marathon session.


Let me know if you’ve run London and have suggestions for additions – I’ll add them in!



And the details…..


Nothing New on Race Day

  • This means for any running kit and shoes you’re planning wear, practise now. You don’t want to find you’re chafing in nasty spots on the day.
  • And you guys out there, please sort out the nipple situation – over the years I’ve seen way too many men with blood stained shirts with a lot of miles still to do – painful to see!
  • You should also know what you’re doing fuelling wise – whether that’s jelly babies, gels, handfuls of nuts – whatever works for you.


The Expo

  • This is where you’ll be picking up your number and timing chip. Have a wander, take some photos, buy some new kit to use on days other than marathon day! If you can, go early on in the week and rest those legs of yours. You’ll need all the energy you can muster for the running!
  • If you don’t already have your name printed on your running top, get this done. You can get this at the Expo if you haven’t already. On the day, it will make you feel like a rock star – random strangers will be screaming your name from the outset. For those newbies amongst you, this can be rather disconcerting. When I did this a few years ago, I started doing a quick wave to acknowledge people’s support. I realised very quickly how much energy this took. I ended up doing thumbs up instead!


The night before

Paula’s last London Marathon in 2015. If only I could smile like that at mile 13
  • Chances are you won’t sleep very well. This is very normal. Just ensure you get some good sleep on the Thursday and Friday nights before.
  • Get your kit and bag sorted. Pin the number on your top and put the timing chip on one of your shoes. Get your bag ready. Last time I was so nervous I’d written a checklist a few days before. There’s nothing worse than having to faff first thing in the morning.
  • You’ll also be given a bag with a sticker with your race number at the Expo. These bags are a good size and generally fit a small backpack. It is essential if you want anything transported to the finish line that you use this bag otherwise they will not take it on the baggage trucks.
  • Sort out how and when you’re getting to your specific start line. If you’re unsure, with your running number in hand, look at p26 of your final instructions.
  • Public transport is FREE for runners on London Underground, London Buses, London Overground, DLR and Tram so wear that race number with pride.
  • You might also want to write yourself an idiot’s guide to who you’re meeting, where and when at the end of the race. This is because when you finish, you might find it a little hard to think straight. This was some great advice from a friend who had done 10+ marathons.


The morning

2015 Women’s Elite
  • Temperatures in London can be fickle. Check the weather in the days leading up. Trying to determine what it will be like 2 weeks out is best left for clairvoyants! The year I ran it got up to about 22c. Last year when I was marshaling, it was cold with runners towards the back given space blankets to keep them warm.
  • It’s likely you’ll get to your start point early-ish. There will be some hanging about so take along a jacket and perhaps some tracksuit bottoms – something to keep you warm that you can dump to the side when the race starts. Charity shops are a great place to find something if there’s nothing in your wardrobe that fits the bill. These items are then collected and donated to charity. The other option is a very very large rubbish bag – I did get looked at strangely when I went to a local hardware store and asked for rubbish bags big enough for a person!!!
  • Portaloos  – go when you get there, line up again, and perhaps line up again. Better that than needing to go 2 miles in.
  • Enjoy the atmosphere. There is a real buzz being at the start line. But remember, you’re about to go for 26.2 miles! No need for running around and using up those energy stores if you can help it. Perhaps do a very gentle warm up – a few ankle circles etc – again whatever you’ve done in training.


The race

2016 Men’s elite
  • After the horn sounds, off you go. It will take most of us 5 to 15 mins to cross the start line. Unless you’re right towards the front, there is no need to race to the start line – there’ll be lots of folks pretty much sprinting on the spot. Remember, conserve that energy.
  • In the first few miles, unless you’re one of the elite or extremely speedy folk, it will take some time to find your pace because you will be surrounded. People will be passing you in seconds eager to get moving and racing. Remember your plan and stick to it – you don’t want to burn out half way through.
  • Enjoy the fact you have folks screaming out your name.
This is about the half way mark. It’s a busy race!
  • You will also see kids on the sidelines high-fiving the runners – lots of fun. Great to do if you want to but it will take up energy. In 2014, when my whole marathon went to pot, I decided to do lots of high-fives as a way to distract myself!
  • You will also see lots of folks handing out sweets – generally jelly babies and gummy bears. I must say the marathon is the only time I’ve ever taken sweets from strangers!
  • Water stations are every mile from mile 3. You might want to think about slowing a little around the water stations – there will be bottles all over the road which are really easy to roll an ankle on. BEWARE! After a few miles there will also be lots of gel packets which can be a little slippery – something to watch out for.
  • Please, please, please – if you’re running with friends, don’t run more than 2 across – you will be irritating to other runners!
  • If you need to walk or stop for a little break, get to the side of the road before you do otherwise you’re a danger to yourself and others. This is a big race with a lot of people.
  • If you see anyone ill or injured on the course, if they’re not already being helped, call out to the nearest marshal. If you need to and only if it’s safe to do, help them to the side if they’re not already there and then keep going as you don’t want to cause congestion.
  • Enjoy!!! And do those miles. But remember, plan your pace and stick to it or go slower. Unless you’re a really experienced marathoner, going out faster than you have planned in the first half could mean a disastrous second half.
  • Smile! It takes less energy than grimacing.
  • If you do start feeling ill, there are marshals right along the route as well as St John Ambulance stations. Be extra nice to these folk, as well as everyone at the water stations – they are giving their time to make sure you have a great day!
  • If you’ve got family and friends coming to cheer you on, I’ve been advised that between miles 16 and 20 are pretty much the most helpful. By this stage you might be starting to get a bit tired and also parts along that way can feel a little grim. Be very specific about where folks are cheering you on from – the crowds are huge. Perhaps ask them to hold up a sign.
  • Along Embankment, past Big Ben and down to St James Park is where the crowds can be 10 deep. You’re almost there.  Embrace the cheers!
  • Once you’ve finished, your chip timer will be cut off, you’ll collect your medal and a goodie bag, get a photo or two taken and then pick up your bag from the baggage truck. It’s brilliantly organised so no waiting about.



  • Focus on hydration and getting a little salt and fat into you – your body will appreciate it. So go the milkshake with burger and fries.
  • From the physio at Run and Become – while it might seem like a great idea to get a massage straight after, don’t. Give it a few days for those blood vessels and muscles to settle down.
  • Have a cold shower if you can or get some cold on your legs. Though of course unless you’re staying in a hotel in central London and not going straight from the race to the pub, this will be a little tricky so don’t worry about it.
  • Feel free to have a pint or two – though much more than that will make recovery take a little longer.
  • And trust me on this, stairs will suddenly emerge from places you never noticed – they will be your enemy for a couple of days. Embrace the pain, laugh at it because no one made you do this amazing thing and wear that medal with pride!


Wishing everyone a fantastic day!

The Pearlies – you might see them on the way around – give them a wave!


If you’ve run London before, let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed.








And while you’re here

My #reasontorun the London Marathon

I’m running the London Marathon to support a wonderful organisation called Free to Run. You can read more about my #reasontorun here.

Please support – any amount gratefully received whether it’s £1 or $1 or £100 or $100. You can go to my JustGiving page here.







(April 2017)


Follow my blog with Bloglovin

2 thoughts on “Advice for First Time London Marathon Runners

    1. Cheers Marcus. And it would be great to see you only I think the folk you’ll be supporting are likely to be finished about the time I hit the half way mark!!! If I don’t see you, then we’ll have a catch up at Ealing Half if not before!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *