The Big Half Marathon: Your Guide to Running London’s Iconic Race 

Half marathons are getting more and more popular every single year. In fact, there are more than 500 half marathons held annually across the UK. And one of our favourites is The Big Half in London. 

The Big Half is brought to you by the same people that organise the London Marathon and it features many of the same iconic sights along the way. It’s a great option if you plan to run the marathon one day and want to get a shorter run in first. Or if you just want to test yourself over 13.1 miles, The Big Half is a fun festival-like half marathon to do it. And even if you can only run a quarter of the distance, you can do that too – with The Big Half you can enter as a team of four and each complete a quarter of the course. 

Planning on running The Big Half? This is what you need to know. 

What is The Big Half? 

The Big Half is the London Marathon’s very own half marathon event. It is held annually in September and is an inclusive half marathon with a festival atmosphere. As a community running event for everyone, it encourages people of all ages, backgrounds and running abilities to take part. 

It’s a spectacular half marathon in the heart of London. It started in 2018 and represents a great option for both novices and experienced runners. The course winds it way through the capital from close to Tower Bridge finishing at the Cutty Sark. It is mostly flat, but there are a couple of tough stretches to tackle. 

The Route 

The Big Half starts just north of Tower Bridge and heads east towards Canary Wharf. One of the first things you encounter, just after mile one, is the Limehouse Link Tunnel. Here you head underground for around 1 mile – there are no spectators and it can get a little eerie. You’ll also need to look out for the long downhill into the tunnel and the long uphill out of it. Remember your pacing (don’t overdo it on the downhill) and also remember that your GPS may struggle in the tunnel. 

When you hit Canary Wharf, you turn at around the 3 mile mark and head back towards Tower Bridge. You’ll run across the bridge (a fantastic experience in itself), turn left and follow the river’s curves. This takes you through Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Surrey Quays and Deptford. 

When you’re getting close to the finish line, just after the 11 mile mark, you hit a long straight. This can feel a little draining and like it’s never ending, but you will get there. It’s time to push to the finish line as the iconic Cutty Sark comes into view.

Training for The Big Half 

Yes, you might not be taking on the London Marathon, but a half marathon is still a long-distance event. If it’s your first time, we recommend going to see your GP first for a quick MOT. It’s essential if you’re overweight, have a history of hereditary heart disease, or are a smoker or ex-smoker. 

Once you get the all clear to begin training from your doctor, you’ll need to ease yourself into it. If you do too much too soon, you can cause injury which can scupper your plans for The Big Half. Start by spending 30 minutes walking or jogging four times a week. This should create a foundation on which to build. You can then start to set yourself goals once you feel comfortable. 

This isn’t to just go out and run 13 miles straightaway. Do things like running a mile at a time without stopping. Can you do a 5k? Can you then build this up to a 10k? Gradual gains like this will help improve your strength and endurance and help you build up to the final distance. You will now feel like a runner with the capacity to take on The Big Half. 

One of the benefits of The Big Half being held in September is that you can train throughout the summer when it’s light in the evenings and the weather is better. Although some days it may feel a little stifling, for the most part you’ll enjoy ideal training conditions compared to London Marathon training in the depths of winter. 

If you’re a first-time half marathon runner, you’ll find plenty of helpful guides on The Big Half training hub. You’ll find advice on how to start your training, how to train in summer and your essential recovery rules. 

Think you’ll be out running every day? Think again. With a 10-week beginner training plan, you’ll be lacing up your running shoes just three times a week. 

For more experienced runners that can run a 5k without stopping, you’ll find a 9-week training plan that features four training runs a week. 

Gear and Equipment for The Big Half 

When you’re running The Big Half, you’ll need the right clothing and footwear. 

Footwear Recommendations for The Big Half 

The right running shoes create the foundation for your entire body. They will help protect you from injury and make running more enjoyable. For a half marathon like The Big Half when you’re pounding the pavements, you want plenty of cushioning, breathability and flexibility. You also want to choose shoes that are comfy and lightweight. The wrong shoes can put pressure on your knees, joints and feet from the hard impact of the road. 

We recommend choosing from the following: 

  • HOKA Mach 5 
  • Asics Gel-Nimbus Lite 3 
  • Saucony Kinvara 14 
  • Nike Vaporfly 3 
  • Brooks Ghost 
  • New Balance 1080 
  • Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 39 
  • Mizuno Wave Rider 25 

Clothing Recommendations for The Big Half 

Running 13.1 miles is a fair distance, so you’ll want to choose proper technical running gear. 

Specifically, you need to look for lightweight clothing with excellent breathability and moisture-wicking capabilities. This means that your sweat will be wicked away by the material and won’t soak into it. If the latter happens, your clothes can become heavy with sweat and can weigh you down just when you don’t need it. Technical running gear means this doesn’t happen. Taped seams or no seams are also key for running shorts and t-shirts as they will help you avoid the dreaded chafing. 

You’ll also need to invest in some technical running socks to keep your feet fresh and hopefully blister-free. Shorts with plenty of pockets for all your energy gels and chews are a great idea too. 

We recommend: 

  • Moisture-wicking technical running t-shirt (with taped seams) 
  • Moisture-wicking technical running shorts (with pockets and taped seams) 
  • Technical running socks 

What to Expect on the Big Day 

In 2023, the race starts at 9am with a cut off point of 1pm. This means that you need to complete the course in under four hours to win a medal. Runners start in staggered times every 10 minutes. Your exact time will be provided to you when you check-in. 

The start area is just north of Tower Bridge. You’re asked to use public transport to reach the start area as there will be no parking available and plenty of the roads will be closed. The closest tube stations are Fenchurch Street and Tower Hill (District Line & Docklands Light Railway). You’ll see directions to the start line from the stations. 

When it comes to the race itself, make sure you: 

  • Relax – keep calm and remember why you’re running the race. The Big Half is inclusive and all about the fun. If you relax and soak up the atmosphere, you’ll be ready to go. 
  • Don’t rush the first few miles – don’t go too fast at the start as you’ve got 13.1 miles to complete. When you first head into the Limehouse Link Tunnel, you’ll be going downhill. Remember you’ll have the same distance to complete uphill on the way out of the tunnel, so pace yourself. 
  • Soak up the party atmosphere – there’ll be plenty of people cheering you on from the sidelines and getting into the party spirit. If you’re wearing earphones, take them out occasionally if you can and soak it up. Pop them back in for the eerie section in the tunnel and get your head down to run! 
  • Push yourself on the home straight – the last couple of miles to the Cutty Sark can feel like it’s a never-ending home straight. Get your head down, If you’ve got anything left in the tank, it’s time to go for it. 

How to Raise Money for The Big Half 

There are loads of charities that support The Big Half which will pay for your entry in exchange for your agreement to raise a certain amount on their behalf. Charity partners for the Big Half include: 

  • British Heart Foundation 
  • Epilepsy Society 
  • The Felix Project 

Raising Money with Easyfundraising 

When you’re running The Big Half, you can raise money for your fundraising efforts through easyfundraising. All you need to do is: 

  • Sign up your personal fundraising efforts on our website. 
  • Secure donations through online shopping. You can then invite people to join easyfundraising and support your cause. They can then shop with more than 7,500 online retailers who will donate a part of the total spend to your cause as a thank you for shopping with them. 
  • You can also boost your fundraising efforts through our app and browser extension. You’ll have your own personal dashboard where you can check how many supporters you have and the donations you’ve secured. 

To help boost your page and make it stand out, you can: 

  • Create a compelling story and truly bring your messaging forward. Why are you doing it? Why does the charity mean so much to you? Give people a reason to believe in you and your cause. 
  • Highlight your cause with emotive imagery. 
  • Showcase your fundraising goal so your supporters can see how close you’re getting to your target and the impact of their donations. 
  • Promote it on social media to build awareness. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is there a time limit for completing The Big Half? 

The cut-off point for The Big Half is 13:00. This means you need to complete the course in under four hours to win your medal. 

Can I wear headphones during the race? 

You’re discouraged from wearing headphones during the race. The route is completely traffic free, but the race organisers want you to be able to listen out for marshal instructions and emergency vehicles on the route. Plus, you’ll want to be able to hear the crowd cheer and enjoy the festival atmosphere. 

Are there water stations along the route? 

Yes, there are water stations along The Big Half route. These are located at miles 3, 6 and 10. You can also grab an energy drink at mile 8. 

Taking in the Sights of London 

If you’ve never run a long-distance event before, we couldn’t recommend The Big Half more. It’s a great way to see London on two feet without having to commit to the London Marathon and it will still challenge your body as you push yourself over 13.1 miles. 

With that in mind, whether you’re a beginner or you’ve run some long-distance races before, you’ll need to train thoroughly in the lead up to the event with around 10 weeks of consistent training time. To look after your body during training and the race itself, you’ll also need to invest in the right kit. 

And with such a fun festival atmosphere and a community feel to the event, it provides a great option to raise money for a charity or good cause that means something to you. If you plan to raise money for charity by running The Big Half, don’t forget to sign up to easyfundraising to aid your efforts. 

Good luck. It’s going to be a fun one!