London Marathon: Should You Take The Challenge?

How to tell whether the world's most famous race is for you this time round

Posted: 23 September 2006

London Marathon 2008 entries are open, and you're sitting on the fence. Your can't-do demon reminds you that even five miles can leave you gasping at the moment. Your gung-ho self counters that a friend of your cousin's ran 3:28 with just two weeks' training and a curry the night before.

They're both distractions. If you can run even two miles now, you're a long way ahead of thousands of people who can barely make it round the block as late as January. With a little consistency, you'll be able to achieve more than you ever thought possible by April.

"What a day! Fantastic – I did it in 6 hours 41 minutes, first time. To do that I have had to lose nearly five stone in weight, combat asthma, deal with a medical history of quadruple heart bypass, all since a year ago when I saw my daughter run the marathon and I said, 'I wonder if...'"Norm, age 60

... But don't underestimate the need for solid training. Of course a handful of people wing it with a week's preparation. But you'd have a 2% chance of an enjoyable marathon like that. Build up using a little intelligence and you have a 98% chance.

Enough of the lecture. Here are some pointers to help you make up your own mind:

Here's what it's like when it goes well

"From the day I got accepted, to the moment I finished, it has built into one of the best things I will ever experience."Andy Gillespie, 4:08

"The crowd numbers and support are absolutely AWESOME and the whole event gets under your skin. I never tire of playing the video; I smile, I choke back tears, my skin tingles."Slotwin, 4:17

"I learnt a great deal about myself – my inner strength and my sense of determination! I would recommend this event to anyone looking to achieve a goal in life: you will never match the high."Lesley Fitzgerald, 5:02

Even when you've run many marathons, the feeling of crossing the line is extraordinary. It's public and private at the same time; unassailable proof that you've dedicated yourself to months of hard training and had the willpower to pull yourself through a race of immense highs and lows. For many it symbolises a confidence they've never had before; a proof to doubters; possibly a huge change in lifestyle.

Here's why it can be agony

A six-mile walk is a long way. A six-mile walk with legs like lead, a pounding head and a knotty stomach can feel like forever. Now picture the sorry souls who have to drag themselves over 12, 14 or more miles like that. Most of them simply didn't train enough.

"My training had gone well, up to a point. That 'point' having been five weeks before the day of the marathon, when work and backache conspired to prevent much happening in the crucial period of build-up... By mile eight I had gone..."Richard Sanders, 4:50

"I was woefully under-prepared, having trained for six weeks. I used the Runner's World emergency schedules, which were excellent. But work pressures and a nasty cold cut into this last-minute attempt at training. I had logged just 50 miles through my preparation... From 11 miles my left thigh began to cramp and I seriously doubted whether I would make it round."Lennonesque, 5:36:40

What you need to commit to:

  • A four-month training period. Ideally you should be running 25 miles a week by the time you start the four months
  • Building up from a minimum of 25 miles a week to a regular 35, 45 or more (depending on your goal)
  • Weekly long runs throughout the training period, building from two hours to three hours plus

In the bad old days of the 1980s, thousands of people took up running with the single goal of training for four months to run a marathon. Masses of them got injured – they were doing too much, too soon. For maximum enjoyment and minimum injury risk, we recommend you have at least a year's regular running under your belt before you tackle 26.2 miles.

"Next time, I would make sure that I had at least one running season under my belt before launching into a marathon build-up, to make sure that I did not have these overtraining injuries."Lollykins, 7:24:06

Like so many elements of marathon training – including kit – eating and drinking on the run comes down to practise and a bit of trial and error. You'll need to do this seriously, over long-run distance, at least four or five times before race day. Sometimes it takes months of patient training to get your body used to it.

Pure bad luck
You have to accept that despite the most dedicated preparation, what should be one of the best days of your life can go horribly pear-shaped through no fault of your own. You could catch a virus, twist your ankle on a drinks bottle or just have a duff run for no explicable reason.

"I am so disappointed to have done a lot worse time-wise than I did last year. My preparation was better, I had no asthma problems (which troubled me badly last year), and the weather was so much better, etc. It beats me totally..."An Coppens, 6:07

"Even with the best preparation (I even managed appropriate long runs, ate well the week before and tapered), the marathon is an evil unpredictable beastie which bites back."Plodding Hippo, 5:35

In short

Like all running, there are no shortcuts in marathon training. It's totally honest, completely unforgiving, and phenomenally rewarding because of it.

"Miles 19-23 were the toughest and the despair and the pain were the worst I have ever felt. Had you asked me then, I would have said Sunday was the worst day of my life, and was close to crying by the side of the pavement and giving up... The thought of my son Josh's words that morning ("Mum, when I next see you, you will be a hero") and the thought of missing out on a medal kept me going."Sarah Ficken, 5:36

Convinced you want to try it? 2008 entries close on October 19, 2007. Here's how to enter

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Discuss this article

I've said exactly the same too Pixie.

So why did I post my application last week?

Posted: 24/08/2005 at 11:40

Ha ha ha ha - you know you both want to!!

What else would you rather do on a cold January night than go out for a 4 hour run!!!!

I'll see you at the start then!!!!

Posted: 24/08/2005 at 11:40

Hope to see you both again in the FLM thread in a few months then ;o)

I'm not doing it either.
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 11:41

why did my OH get the entry form I threw in the bin back out, and check I really meant to throw it away !!!

I did Sweetheart.. I'm not DOING IT !
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 11:41



and you Sezzicle!!!

Posted: 24/08/2005 at 11:50

I've done it Cath, it's in the post!! Eek.

Better start saving up for those physio sessios now!
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 11:52

I have to say I really don't understand. There are other races. The only thing which would make this an essential race for me is if I had a championship place and it is coincidence that race is London.

But then I am odd and my views see to be offending people recently. If they do, sorry.
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 11:53

EP you enjoyed yourself so much last year, go on give it another go:))))
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 11:53

Gumps, I think it's just the prestige and atmosphere of London that makes it so special, with all the crowds and support too.

Yes, there are many other maras, and many peeps here will have favourites way above FLM. But there's just something that bit special about staying you've run FLM.

Saying that, if I don't get in then no probs - I will give full support on the day and go find another mara to do instead.
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 12:12

No I'm not doing it either, I've thrown the form away, I do not want to get a better time than last this year. No, no, no.

So Cath are you doing it next year then.
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 12:16

Erm - it was coffee, Pixel!
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 12:20

Wicked Witch - I've sent my entry in.

Gumps - for someone like me, pretty much the only marathon that would carry significance for my friends and family would be London. Sounds carp because they know that 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles no matter where it's run - but the only marathon that matters to them is this one, which is why I'm pretty desperate to do it. It's my way of saying thankyou to them and for me to make them proud

Posted: 24/08/2005 at 12:30

and errr... pixie..? No rum for me..? :o(
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 12:31

Pix, if you're sure then I'll have ibuprofen and a KUTB at mile 17. If I get in.
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 13:00

Gumps, the first road race I ever did was the "Gillette" London Marathon in 1981. I was one of the 6,255 who finished the first one.

I was 25 years old then. I have only done one marathon since, not London. (Loads of 1/2 marathons and 10K's though).

In april, it will be 25 years since I ran my first road race and I will be 25 years older. So for me, it is an important anniversary that I want to celebrate.

Mind you I have not entered yet. In 10 days, I will be running a marathon in Margate to try to get a guaraneed GFA entry for London. The time I will need to do is some 5 minutes faster than the time I did in 1981.

So yes, I will be entering.

Posted: 24/08/2005 at 13:06

Form in the bin... I will watch on telly (if I get out of bed in time)
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 13:08

Cath I'm sure you'll have plenty of help and running partners for your long runs on those cold, wet days in January.
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 13:12

I'm gonna enter - dispite not having a years worth of running under my belt - but then I don't expect to get in. Want to start building up my rejection letters ;-)

Of course I'm going to train as if I have got a place though - last minute training is not for me.
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 13:19

I won't, I won't I won't

but if I did maybe I could do under 5.30 this year

I might, I might, I might..........

I will!
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 14:19

Right pixel - if you're taking orders, Mine's a large Pinot Groggio at 17 ..... except of course, you'll be running instead!!!

Posted: 24/08/2005 at 15:12

Crikey - can you imagine what state I'll be in at M17 if I'm carrying my own wine?!!!
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 15:14

I had decided that if I broke 4hours I would never do it again. Having done 3hr 40 this year and found out I have a GFA I am madly compelled to run again and despite hiding the form for a couple of weeks I sent the letter in yesterday. I must stop this maddness (maybe next year)
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 15:34

Sent my form in!

Next year am seriously considering one of those nice jackets that keep your hands warm when tied behind your back so I can't sign any silly forms!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 16:11

So Evil Pixie you are entering FLM again well done.
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 16:17

Don't do it EP come and do the White Peak instead. It has Weasels 'n Kestrels 'n things, and five different breeds of sheep !!
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 16:19

Pixie - you know you want to. Just do it.
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 16:24

You see my mind was made up but now.......
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 16:28

hey Pix - -how about this for a role reversal...!!!!

I'm already in - Deferral see!!!!!

So you are supporting me!!!!!!
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 18:08

And then I went searching on the internet and found some previously unseen photos of yours truly on the BHF site from the 2004 marathon-my first......don't think it'll be my last
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 18:36

I'll be doing it. Love it. A masterpiece of organisation, excellent course, brilliant support and the fastest marathon potential I know of in this counry.
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 18:51

pixie thats really evil of you to get people thinking you will not run how can you be so evil and I promise this year to wave at mile 17 ran past everyone this year only remembered at 18m that you where all their obviously I was not all their
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 19:29

Yes there are many other marathons, but the build-up for FLM is special, the banter on here is special, and running it is damned special. Whenever the training is getting tough I just think back to that morning in April this year. Getting the coach from the hotel and being there early. Laying the groundsheet out on the dew-covered grass, sipping the endless supply of free lucozade, and listening to the repetitive but welcome announcement - This IS Greenwich, this IS the blue start, this IS the FLORA LONDON MARATHON!!

Bring it on!!
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 19:34

I said not another FLM but we have unfinished business and she is not going to win next year.

I said NO NO NO NO

So why has my form gone in again dark forces are at work!!!
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 19:36

This morning-never again- right now-can't wait-hope I get in!
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 21:44

pix - i think your plan of not entering until you have GFA is a good one. its a fantastic target. there are lots of other marathons out there so go do one of those.
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 22:10

Pi aint doing AY maras til she gets the GFA

Im in-charity place-but i would hope ballot comes through
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 22:11


which would make getting the GFA an interesting challenge?
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 22:15

<dreams of GFA...>
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 22:21


what's a GFA??

Posted: 24/08/2005 at 23:17

Good for age time - gets an automatic entry if you can run it in another race, or something - doesn't apply to me
Posted: 24/08/2005 at 23:29

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