How It Feels To Run A Virtual Marathon
Running solo has huge mental benefits and a virtual race can feel just as credible as the real thing
Rosie Denny in her own words:
Turning 40 this summer was the catalyst for running 26.2. Despite being a seasoned runner of nearly 20 years, the big one had remained somewhat elusive. So, 2020 was to be the year I joined the marathon club.
Brighton Marathon was my choice. For me, racing was always about the crowd, the camaraderie, the craic. Brighton looked to offer this in spades, and I was excited for what to come. Club places were relatively easy to come by, so I paid up and by January, my training was well on target.
Coronavirus was starting to dominate the headlines – but in terms of running, everything carried on as usual.
Until March. That first weekend, I ran my first ever county race for Suffolk. As I waited nervously at the start line, my fellow runners were rumouring that this would be the last competitive race of the year. I didn’t – or wouldn’t – believe it.
Of course, shortly afterwards, the country went into lockdown and Brighton was duly postponed for autumn 2020. During this time, I was clocking up 50+ miles a week and my training load was starting to hurt. But, the idea of not running my marathon simply didn’t cross my mind – I would keep up the training, keep going until I could get to Brighton.
It didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off that particular wagon of thought. Niggling injuries became increasingly painful. My family were starting to resent how much time I was spending out running. And with governmental guidance unclear on ‘how much exercise was enough’ I continued my training but on increasingly remote roads where my only company was the odd passing car.
I’d had enough.
It was then that I started to notice the increasing trend towards virtual marathons. In fact, a seasoned member of my own club, Sue Hargadon from the Woodbridge Shufflers, undertook her first lockdown marathon using only the space in her garden.
It set my mind thinking: what, or who, was I running a marathon for?
Was it for the craic, the crowd, the t-shirt – or simply to conquer the distance? For that personal sense of achievement?
At the time of writing, both Brighton and London marathons are currently scheduled for autumn 2020. Yet with no guarantee, I decided I was going to smash this thing – on my own.
I told my running club, who instantly chimed in with their support. At work, my colleagues got behind me, offering sponsorship, and even promising charitable incentives if I hit a specific time.
In the weeks that followed, I kept to my plan as though it was the real thing – tapering, eating right, and staying away from alcohol (pretty tough given the rising stress at work and at home as the reality of the ‘new normal’ kicked in).
Undertaking the distance in summer, rather than spring as planned, meant that I had to be prepared for the heat. My planned route also involved some decent hills. Of course, being a virtual marathon, there wouldn’t be any marshals or water stations on route, which was slightly daunting.
In preparation, I gathered my essentials, (water, sun cream, gels) and set my alarm early (5.30am). On the morning, I woke naturally before my alarm, with pre race nerves as tingly as any official event. I duly ate my energy bars, and then stepped outside my front door to get going.
I can truly say that I enjoyed my virtual marathon.
My pace was on-point and I pushed hard both physically and mentally. As a nice touch, lockdown restrictions had lifted just enough that my good friend Emilie Wix could carry me through the last five miles – socially distanced, of course.
When I finished (collapsed against the wall of my local co-op no less), the euphoria was just as good as any race that I’ve ever been to.
The support came thick and fast on Strava and other social media. In many ways, it was so much less stressful than what might’ve been – no need for an overnight stay, a long drive home and the associated costs.
I also raised decent amounts for my chosen charity – Cure Parkinson’s UK – and have received lovely messages of support as a result.
Another advantage of being a virtual runner is flexibility. I could run on a Saturday, as opposed to the traditional Sunday – allowing one extra precious day of recovery before getting back to work.
I clocked 3:39, which I was delighted with. Friends have since commented that I did ‘really well’ on my own and hinted that the roaring crowds might have further boosted my time.
I’m not so sure – I could also run with my headphones – something that’s not always encouraged in races – which gave me a mighty boost at the most challenging moments.
My only slight regret is that I don’t have an ‘official’ time – but I’m confident that my Garmin holds all the permanence I need.
Who knows what the future of races may hold, but as I’ve proved, a pandemic doesn’t have to stand in the way of reaching your goals.