I never thought I would be tempted by a virtual marathon. Give me the buzz of the busy start line, the enthusiastic supporters en route and the sprint to the finish line any day. Like many other runners, I thrive with company en-route and a little distraction along the way to keep me going. The thought of running 26.2 miles on my own just for a medal never appealed to me – until very recently.
In the past few months, I have realised that a virtual marathon is an opportunity like no other. This year we get to be the boss and run a marathon on our own terms. We get to design our own marathon course and decide how to run it to suit our running preferences.
How do you run virtually?
For those not familiar to the concept of a virtual marathon, due to coronavirus restrictions, most large-scale marathons have replaced their traditional big day out with an option for runners to run the marathon distance on their own local roads on race weekend. Runners track their progress via an app on their phone or their running watch and once complete they are sent their medal and a few extra goodies out in the post. Not quite the fanfare of traditional post-race marathon celebration, but a reason to get us out the door all summer and have a deadline on a training plan.
Having the right mindset
Although some might consider a virtual marathon an anticlimax compared to a big city event, making the most out of the big day comes down to having the right mindset. A virtual marathon will not have the same atmosphere as the traditional marathons, but it has some serious perks. Firstly, you get to pick your own route, you decide what time of the day you run best and you don’t have to hang about the start line in the cold for an hour. Your own personal cheerleading team won’t have to scan the crowds to find you as you pass them by and the queues for the loo should be pretty quick. You can set up the food stations at exactly where you want them to be and avoid having to carry gear with you. You can pick the flat roads and maybe a few downhills. You might even convince a few buddies to join you for a mile or two along the way.
Sort out the logistics
While all the above perks allow us to create an individual marathon experience and can help us enjoy the day more, the most important thing is to remember that someone has got to do the planning and you are also now the official race organiser as well as runner. So take the time now to plan the basics of these logistics. You can’t just download a route map and see where the toilets, drinks stations and hills are. That is up to you to define. No matter how polished your training is, if you have not taken the time to plan the practical aspects of the day you may end up wasting time and energy that would be better used to get you to the finish line with a smile. It is also a lot harder to get excited about a big day if you cannot picture exactly where you are going.
Visualise your race day
It is a challenge to stay enthusiastic about something that is vague or unknown. So in order to stay motivated, inspired and excited about the finish line, let’s take a little time to design our ideal marathon day now. Can you picture the start line? What will you be wearing? Where will you run? Consider making your event a looped route. While it may have less variety in scenery, you do get to have a base where you can have your food, drink and maybe even a few supporters. You might even convince them to run a lap with you. What time will you start? What will you eat? What pace do you plan to run? All these details will become clearer as the weeks go on, but we have to start with a vague plan now. Finally, can you picture your finish line? Who will be there? How will you feel? What will you do once it is all over?
Remember the basics
Whether it is a big city marathon or a virtual one, some things don’t change. If you are aiming for a late autumn event, you are at the peak of endurance training. Make the long run the most important part of your week for the next few weeks. Prepare well in the days before, get organised, get to bed early, but also respect the recovery after each long run. Don’t panic if each run doesn’t go to plan. These weeks are for experimenting so you can make your mistakes now rather than on the big day. Remember to note all the good things about your long run rather than just focus on the one thing that didn’t go to plan. Each of these long runs are to be celebrated especially if you are running these distances for the first time ever.
Celebrate every week
If you have been training for your autumn virtual marathon over this summer, well done on getting out there week after week. In such uncertain times, the training sessions have been an anchor, something that we can control in the midst of all that is uncertain. The miles have given a positive focus to a crazy summer. Each week is an achievement, a chance to create memories, learn lessons and watch the seasons change. Look back at all the miles you have run so far and look forward to all that lies ahead. Yes, your marathon is going to be different to marathons past, but whatever happens your virtual marathon will be one that will stand out from any other.
Now it’s up to you to plan it well so you can make it a day to remember forever.
– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary’s book, Get Running, is published by Gill Books.
Sign up for one of The Irish Times’ Get Running programmes (it is free!).
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
– Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
– Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
– 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!