For the first time in its 40 year history the London Marathon went Virtual!

45,000 runners including several from the Sevenoaks District, braved Storm Alex to complete the 2020 London Marathon – wherever they were in the world! We hear from two local residents who took part.

On Sunday 4th October, for the first time in its 40-year history, the London Marathon went virtual, with 45,000 runners invited to run the 26.2 miles, wherever they were in the World!

Originally scheduled for the 26th April 2020, the London marathon was postponed until the 4th of October due to the Covid-19 pandemic, making it the first London marathon to be run in the Autumn.

Elite runners were invited to still run in London on the 4th of October, however, stringent Covid-19 safety measures were put in place, including runners and their support teams being tested multiple times prior to the race.

The elite event also used a different course from usual, consisting of multiple laps around St James’s Park, with sadly, but inevitably, no spectators allowed.

For the mass participation event – the part that makes the London Marathon, the ‘real’ London Marathon to so many of us, the organisers worked hard for many months with a number of different scenarios, including a possible socially distanced mass participation event. Until finally however, in August 2020, plans for the Virtual London Marathon were announced.

All runners who had been offered a place in the 2020 event were eligible to enter the virtual 2020 London Marathon for a fee of £20, with places also offered from charities who still had places.

Participants were allowed 23 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds, to run, walk or jog their marathon, making the event the most inclusive London Marathon ever. Indeed, if you had ever fancied ticking the London Marathon off your bucket list, the 2020 marathon sounded like the perfect opportunity to do so – well it did until a certain storm named Alex decided to make its appearance!

Come marathon day, despite the wind, the rain and the sodden pavements, thousands of participants still turned out to brave the unrelenting weather to run their 26.2 miles.

Included, were several local Sevenoaks residents, all of whom with their own unique experience and their own personal reasons for running the Virtual London Marathon.

George Dance-Harvey from Riverhead told us “I ran the marathon for the charity, Lighthouse, The Construction Industry Charity. Their mission is that ‘no construction worker or their family should be alone in a crisis’, which is especially important in these times.”

“My work sent an email around offering a place for the marathon with just less than three months before the original official race, and I offered to fill this space with it being the 40th anniversary.”

“I have never been an avid runner before, but I wanted to push myself with the short time frame. The day after I applied for the marathon, I went for my first run and after 1.4 miles I was light headed and got jelly legs! Running was definitely not easy for me to begin with, as my next long run I hit my head on a sign, ensuing the light headedness all over again! However, after pushing through, I was able to run my first half marathon on the 2nd April, in 02:06:16, just two months after my place was accepted, which was a great confidence boost.”

“After finding my motivation, training became easier and I got into the swing of running. I was dedicated to my regime but then Covid-19 brought us into a national lockdown and the date for the marathon became a complete question mark.”

“Not knowing when the race was going to go ahead, or even at all, I fell behind with my training and lost discipline in my regime. The situation was also not helped by obtaining an injury in my knee, which made training much more difficult. With the announcement of this becoming a virtual marathon however, came with its benefits, as on marathon day, I was able to split the run into three parts.”

“I went for my first run at 2am and went from Riverhead through to Otford and back for my first 10k. I then went for my second run at 11am and went from Riverhead again, through to Westerham and then back around Bradbourne Lakes. I finally went on my third and final run at 4pm from Riverhead back to Otford and managed to plan it perfectly to complete the marathon on my road, where I was greeted by friends and family. They had even made a makeshift finish line and medal!”

For local running fan Libby Hartley, her place in the Virtual London Marathon was offered right at the last minute!

“Three weeks before the Virtual London Marathon, the lovely Myeloma UK fundraising coordinator Maggie emailed me to tell me they had a couple of spaces left for the 40th London Marathon and asked if I would be in a position to help them with fundraising. I had run a couple of half marathons for them last year and she wondered if I would like to run the Virtual London Marathon.”

“The required fundraising goal was far smaller than the usual London Marathon, all I needed to do was raise £150, oh and run a marathon! I had done zero training, other than my usual couple of 5k runs each week with my local running club, Beginners2Runners in Tonbridge, where I am a volunteer team leader, and also a lot of waking in lockdown”.

“If they had asked me to run the actual road race three weeks before, it would have been a ‘No’, I would have been swept up by the van clearing the route at the end! But the Virtual Edition was a very different set up. We had 24 hours to complete the 26.2 miles, it didn’t even have to be all in one go. So the day after I dropped my first born to university, in the middle of a global pandemic, we hit the lanes and footpaths of Kent.”

“I ran with my two favourite running buddies, who were already signed up, one of whom was running for locally based charity Juvenile Arthritis Research (JAR).”

“Our route took us through Tonbridge, Shipbourne, Sevenoaks, Charcot, Chiddingstone Causeway, Penshurst, Haysden and back into Tonbridge in Storm Alex. The support from people who didn’t know us but clapped, cheered, tooted their horns and supported us at rest stops was invaluable. I ran in memory of my good friend Paul Roser and in support of my best friend’s Dad, Malcom, who has been living with myeloma for many years now.”

“So of course our route had to take in The Chaser, a pub that Paul managed and loved so much. It was a long, wet, undulating 26.2 miles, but I raised £846 in three weeks, which my work will match £500 of, bringing my total to £1,346.”

“Whilst the world came to a standstill this year, cancer never stops, research never stops, support for patients and families never stops, even when the fundraising looks like it might. So it’s absolutely vital that we don’t let the fundraising stop, and the London Marathon is often the biggest single fundraising events on the calendar for so many charities.”