London Marathon 2021: An Expert Guide
The London Marathon is one of the world's biggest sporting events. If you ask a finisher what their highlights are they will most definitely mention the incredible atmosphere as you run over Tower Bridge and along The Mall towards the finish. When I covered the 26.2 miles, I learnt a lot about the course. In this piece I hope to offer some advice so that you won't have any unwelcome surprises come race day.
More often than not runners complete the London Marathon with a positive split. This means they run the first half quicker than the second half. Although this is common in a lot of marathons London appears to be a particularly tricky course to pace evenly or run a quicker second half. I believe this is due to the fast start, over the first 5km or so I definitely ran a little quicker than planned because of the slight downhill on John Wilson Street. I remember asking myself "Is it OK to run 5 seconds quicker per kilometre?", but I recommend you hold back at this point as there is still a long way to go. This is also where runners from the various starts merge so you can find yourself weaving past others to maintain your goal pace.
As you approach the Cutty Sark the crowds grow but at this point you want to be keeping an eye on your pace and not getting carried away. There is a water station just before the 10km point; and then as you run around the Cutty Sark there are two pubs playing music.
Cutty Sark. Photo Credit: Pixabay - jeffwallis
Tower Bridge & The Halfway Mark
The course weaves through Rotherhithe, and these kilometres pass relatively quickly as you should still feel fresh as you head towards Tower Bridge. Running along Jamaica Road you will notice the crowds getting bigger and the pavements will be completely full. After mile 12 there is a sharp right turn onto Tower Bridge where the noise is incredible. There is a slight incline to run up and over the bridge so try to keep calm and run conservatively as there is still more than half the race to run. However, do keep your head up and soak up the atmosphere, as it's not every day that you get to run down the middle of Tower Bridge.
Tower Bridge. Photo Credit: Pixabay - rmac8oppo
After crossing Tower Bridge you will take a sharp right to run along the highway towards Canary Wharf. The noise from the crowds on the bridge disappears instantly and you have to find your own rhythm and keep motivated whilst heading away from the finish line. At this point you will probably be able to see other runners heading down the other side of the road. It's inspiring to witness the elite athletes flying towards the finish.
The course weaves its way through Canary Wharf, and I remember it being relatively quiet and the roads seem wider. If you are feeling tired at this point it can be demoralising knowing there is still more than 10km to go. However, once you have taken the left onto Poplar High Street you are well on your way to the finish, and the crowds start to grow once again.
As you run by Tower Hill you'll find the atmosphere electric; you're on the home stretch. Running clubs line the roads to cheer on their friends in the final few miles. Passing under Blackfriars Bridge your watch may lose GPS but don't stress, hold your pace. It is great to be running alongside the river and you know you're not far from the finish line when the London Eye and Big Ben come into view.
Photo Credit: Michalis Vin Koutsoukos
The Mall & The Finish Line
Taking a right to run along Birdcage Walk you have the beautiful St. James's Park alongside you and the crowds are willing you to the line. With the finish situated a couple of hundred metres down The Mall, the last few seconds of the marathon feel like an eternity compared to the first kilometres of the race. However, running down The Mall with Buckingham Palace behind you is incredibly special and the crowds are awesome. You've made it!
Steve celebrating with his family (and his medal!) after the finish.