The Ultimate Guide to Running the London Marathon: Training, Preparation, and More

It’s one of the most famous races on the planet. An annual event that attracts thousands looking to lace up their trainers and embrace a new challenge, seasoned amateurs wanting to raise money and beat their personal best, as well as elite runners from around the globe. We are of course talking about the London Marathon. 

With over 40,000 people taking part each year, it’s undoubtedly the biggest single running event in the UK and an equally big day for charities. Over £1 billion has been raised for charities since the first London Marathon, with over £66 million raised at the 2019 event alone. That’s the highest amount for a single-day fundraising event! So, whether it’s the personal challenge that tempts you to get involved, or the passion to help a charity or organisation that’s close to your heart, the London Marathon is one of the best opportunities to make a difference.

From the history of the event, through to the tactics required to make it through all 26.2 miles to the finish line along The Mall, here is the easyfundraising guide to the London Marathon:

History of the London Marathon

So, how did one of the most well-known endurance races in the world come to be?

Origins of the Marathon

The London Marathon was the brainchild of Olympic medallists John Disley and Chris Brasher, who were inspired by the New York City Marathon and believed a similar event in London would showcase the best of the city and its people. The inaugural London Marathon took place on 29th March 1981 and was an instant success with just over 7,700 runners, though more than 22,000 runners applied to take part. 

Since then, the event has attracted the world’s most successful endurance athletes, and has seen course records broken seven times, as well as new world records for the fastest marathon dressed in pyjamas and as a mythical creature. Even as an amateur runner raising money for charity, there are still opportunities to write your name in the history books at the London Marathon!

Early Years of the London Marathon

The first London Marathon in 1981 started a tradition in the capital that has been kept almost every year since, with athletes of all skill levels training for months prior in order to make it to the finish line. 

To this day, that first race is the only time two athletes have won the race together. In the men’s elite race, Norwegian Inge Simonsen and American Dick Beardsley crossed the finish line holding hands in a time of 2:11:48. Though course records have been broken multiple times at the London Marathon, this kind of sportsmanship and cooperation in a competitive event is what separates the London Marathon from similar endurance races. 

In the following year, the number of runners on the start line more than doubled, and by the time the 6th annual Marathon took place, nearly 20,000 runners took part. It was also the first year that the event officially partnered with a charity, making it a key focus of the race and bringing in a host of dedicated amateur runners raising money for noble causes.  

Evolution and Growth of the Event

Even though the London Marathon has been going for over 40 years, the event still continues to grow in reputation, total amount raised for charity, and number of runners. The 2019 Marathon saw 42,549 runners cross the finish line and a total of £66.4 million raised for thousands of charities, and despite the 2020 event ultimately being closed to everyone but elite athletes due to COVID-19, nearly half a million people applied to take part.

Impressive course records and world records have helped to solidify the event in the athletics calendar. To date, the only elite male athlete to ever set a world record at the London Marathon is the USA’s Khalid Khannouchi, who ran a time of 2:05:38 in 2002. However, British athlete Paula Radcliffe’s mixed marathon world record time of 2:15:25 in the 2003 event, and Kenyan Mary Keitany’s women’s course record of 2:17:01 in 2017 both still stand. 

The most successful athlete to ever grace the London Marathon is Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge. Despite setting the world record for the fastest marathon at Berlin’s event, he is one of only two runners to have won the London Marathon four times, while Britain’s David Weir has won the men’s wheelchair race a whopping eight times, setting a course record of 1:29:48 in the process. 

The London Marathon Route

Thinking of taking part in the London Marathon? It’s good to know what route the course takes so you can plan where to pick up the pace, where to take a little breather, and where to grab a water bottle along the way. Here’s what the route looks like:

Overview of the Route

If you’re planning to run the London Marathon, prepare to see a lot of the city! The race begins in Greenwich Park and you’ll be heading east to begin with, going through Charlton and Woolwich and into Westcombe Park. You’ll then be going west, back through Greenwich and onto the famous Cutty Sark to mark mile 7. From here, you’ll be following the Thames fairly closely as you go through Deptford, Surrey Quays and onto Bermondsey.

Then comes the first major landmark of the route. You’ll be crossing Tower Bridge onto the north side of the Thames, past thousands of cheering supporters lining both sides of the bridge. Along with the finish line on St James’ Park, this is perhaps the most iconic part of the London Marathon.

On the other side, you’ll pass the Tower of London and onto Narrow Street in Limehouse to mark the halfway point. The next stage, is a windy route around the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf before moving back onto the main road for the final stretch. 

As you follow the Thames on the north side, you’ll pass several world famous landmarks including The Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye. Taking a right at Westminster, you’ll pass the Houses of Parliament and head towards Bucking Palace via St James’ Park, looping around in front of the palace and onto the finish line on The Mall.

Reckon you’ve got what it takes? Read on to learn how to prepare to conquer all 26.2 miles of this epic race.

Key Landmarks

We know, you’ll probably be a bit too in the zone to take in the sights. But in this race, famous landmarks are a great indicator of how far you’ve run and how far you have to go, especially if you’re not using a fitness tracker. Here’s a breakdown of landmarks to look out for and where they are along the journey:

Miles 2-6

Woolwich (miles 2-4)

Cutty Sark (mile 6)

Mile 12

Tower Bridge 

Tower of London 

The Shard 

Mile 18

One Canada Square

Miles 22-23

Tower of London (mile 22)

The Shard (mile 23)

St. Paul’s Cathedral (mile 23)

The Home Straight

London Eye (mile 25)

Big Ben/Houses of Parliament (mile 25)

Buckingham Palace (mile 26)

Preparing for the London Marathon

It’s no good lacing up your trainers on the day and hoping for the best. It takes incredible stamina and cardiovascular fitness to run all 26.2 miles of the London Marathon, so you’ll need to train ahead of time! You’ll also want to follow a training program that’s compatible with your skill and fitness level from the moment you start. Here are our tips to train for the London Marathon:

Training Tips and Advice

If this is your first time running in a long-distance event, we highly recommend going to see your GP for a quick MOT. This is especially necessary if you’re overweight, have a history of hereditary heart disease, or are a smoker or ex-smoker. 

Once your doctor tells you you’re okay to begin training, the best way to start is to ease yourself into it. Overdoing it right from the off is likely to cause injuries that derail your plans to run the Marathon. Instead, start by spending 30 minutes walking or jogging four times a week. When you start to feel comfortable, set yourself goals that you find challenging, like running a mile at a time without stopping, or setting a consistent pace for a certain amount of time. When you’ve become acclimatised to running, you’re officially ready to start marathon training.

If you’re a first-timer, The London Marathon has put together an ace training program that’ll get you race ready in just 16 weeks. And if you think you’ll be out running every single day, think again. This plan only requires four workouts a week! (Link to TCS London Marathon Beginners Training Plan)

Further along than a beginner? There are also training plans available for advanced runners and for seasoned Marathon runners looking to beat their personal best. (Link to TCS training page) 

Raising Money for the Event

There are loads of tried, tested, and even creative ways to raise money for charity when you run the London Marathon.

Join a charity running team

The most popular way is to apply for a place in your chosen charity’s running team. The London Marathon partners with countless charities at each event, allocating a set number of places to each charity that runners can apply for. If you haven’t booked a spot in the Marathon independently, you can secure a charity place on the London Marathon website. If you’re accepted onto the team, you’ll get to meet your fellow runners in the team, get support with your training and help with your fundraising efforts.

Set up a donation page

If you can’t get onto a team, don’t worry – you can still run independently for your chosen charity. The best way to get the word out that you’re running for charity is by setting up a donation page online that can easily be shared across social media. GoFundMe and JustGiving are the best known platforms. 

When you set up your page, add a photo of yourself, or the person you’re raising money in honour of. According to the organisers of the London Marathon, people with a profile picture on their donation page raise around 10 times more than those who don’t add one. Once you’ve done that, tell your story on the page. The reason you’ve picked your charity of choice is the key thing that resonates with the people who’ll donate. You don’t have to disclose everything, particularly if it’s personal or sensitive, but explaining why you’ve chosen your charity builds that connection with donors.

Do it in costume

Want to capture people’s imaginations? How about running the race in fancy dress! Pick a great outfit and you’re much more likely to get noticed among the crowd on TV. Or, better yet – let your donors decide what you’re going to wear to run the Marathon. The more people that donate, the more people that get to vote! It’s a great way to encourage donations from as many friends, family members and charitable strangers as possible. 

Get donors to sponsor per mile

This one is perhaps the best way to encourage larger donations and keep your motivation throughout the race. Even if someone chooses to sponsor you £1 a mile, that’s £26 for the full race. If 100 people sponsor you to run the Marathon at that rate, you’ll raise £2,600 for charity! 

Engage with your donors

A good tactic to raise further awareness and get more people to donate to your cause is by sharing your journey from signing up for the London Marathon, all the way to the finish line. You can do this by vlogging your training regime along with all the ups and downs on the way, ask your donors to share motivational tips, words of encouragement, or even to share music worthy of throwing into your workout playlist. 

It’s also a good idea to update those who’ve already donated on the progress you’re making towards your fundraising goal. After all, they’re playing a crucial part in helping you get there. Above all, make sure your donation page can easily be shared to spread the word.

Donate to yourself

There’s no reason not to donate to your own cause! It’s not cheating, and the money all goes to a worthy place. We think the best way to do it is to donate small amounts at regular intervals, as this will help you stay motivated throughout your fundraising efforts and the activity on your donation page will encourage others to get involved.

Buy all your training gear with easyfundraising

Did you know you can raise money for your chosen charity even when buying all your training clothes and equipment? With easyfundraising, it couldn’t be simpler. Just sign up on the easyfundraising website, find the charity or cause you’re passionate about or register your own. Next, download our Donation Reminder browser extension. Whenever you buy something with one of our retail partners, it’ll tell you if the retailer will donate to your cause.

The best way to guarantee donations via easyfundraising is to begin your online shopping journey from our website each time you shop online. Some retailers will donate a fixed amount to your charity and others will donate a percentage of the total sale value. It’s a great way to boost your fundraising total even before you start your training program. 

Among our brilliant retail partners, you’ll find asos, Adidas, Sports Direct and Under Armour. Why not get kitted out with all your pro running gear and get the fundraising ball rolling at the same time!

Choosing the Right Gear

Okay, so you know you’ll need a decent pair of running trainers, a lightweight airy top and shorts for the race. Those are the basics. But what about all the other things you see the more seasoned runners carrying in their kit? We’ve put together a quick checklist of all those less obvious essentials you may not have thought about:

  • Compression/waterproof socks – Those everyday sport socks probably won’t cut it. A good pair of compression socks prevent muscle soreness and increase blood flow to the heart. We think hydrophobic socks are a good purchase too, since you don’t want blisters to get in the way on race day!
  • Gel heel pads – If you find while training that your heels are rubbing against the back of your trainers, gel heel pads are the answer. They prevent the back of your feet from moving around in your shoes, and if you’re a heavy footed runner, they act as a shock absorber too. That means you’ll be able to run at your peak for longer.
  • Chafe balm – Many seasoned long distance runners will testify that this is a lifesaver. It may not be necessary for everyone, but chafe balm is perfect for applying to thighs before a race, underneath bra lines and on feet before applying compression socks. It’ll keep your skin feeling smooth from Greenwich all the way to Pall Mall.
  • Hydration vest – You’ll find hydration points throughout the London Marathon route, so this one isn’t an essential. But if you want to top up your water intake without slowing down, a hydration vest lets you carry all the water you need like a lightweight backpack. Clever.

Staying Motivated and Focused

Sticking to training and seeing it through to the finish line is going to take some serious motivation! Here are some tips to keep that ‘get up and go’ attitude going strong all the way:

  • Have a training plan – Put simply, a training plan is essential. If you just head out for random runs with no structure to your routine, how will you know if you’re making progress?
  • Tell family and friends – Your nearest and dearest will be proud of you for attempting such a feat of endurance. The encouragement they give you is something you can always draw from, even if you suffer a setback in your training or feel that fatigue during the race.
  • Run with friends – Even if it’s just you entering the marathon, you don’t have to train solo. Invite your friends to train with you or join a running club with like-minded people and motivate each other!
  • Listen to new music or podcasts while you run – It doesn’t have to be ‘workout tunes’ or even an ‘inspirational’ podcast. If you reserve your training time to discover music, podcasts or audiobooks, it’s another reason to get out there and listen to something new! You can even ask your donors to send over some recommendations to keep them engaged with your fundraising efforts.

Running the London Marathon

When the race kicks off and you’re there with thousands of other runners, the adrenaline’s going to kick in pretty fast. It’s important you keep your cool and stick to your plan not only to make it to the finish line, but to make it there in a time you’ll be proud of. Here are a few pointers that are worth remembering while you’re on the course:

  • Relax! – You’ve heard the phrase ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’. You’ll be assigned a starting pen according to your set pace that you declare to the Marathon organisers. There’ll be thousands with you, and it could take you around 15 minutes just to get over the start line. So relax your nerves, chat to other runners and use the time to gather composure.
  • Don’t rush the first few miles – the opening 4 miles of the London Marathon are downhill, so you can set a pretty good pace to start. But remember, don’t overdo it right away – you’ll need your energy.
  • Soak up the energy of the crowd – However, many thousands are running, there’ll be many more thousands lining the streets cheering you on. Take your earphones out in the busier stretches of the course and listen to those supporters! It may just give you a boost.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you’re passed by someone in costume – Many people run the Marathon, and it’s a guarantee that some of those in fancy dress will outrun some of those in pro running gear. If that’s you, don’t let it get you down. Use it as your motivation – if they can do it, so can you!
  • If you have the energy in the last few miles, use it! – As you near the end of the race, you’ll notice that the terrain stays pretty flat all the way to the finish. If you’ve got anything left in the tank, now’s the time to go for it and get your best possible time.

The finish line

There you have it! Those are the essential need-to-knows about competing in the London Marathon. Remember, stick to your training plan and allow yourself some rewards and a little respite along the way, and you’ll be amazed at what you’ve achieved when the time comes to collect your medal. 

It’s not just the physical achievement though. We think the ability to build support, get donors onboard and raise funds that’ll change lives is an amazing feat in itself. You’ll be a shining example of what humans can do when we organise and motivate each other. That’s what the London Marathon’s all about.

And don’t forget, with easyfundraising, topping up your fundraising total is a walk (or run) in the park. We’re partnered with thousands of retailers who are ready and willing to donate to the cause you’re supporting. 

Simply sign up to easyfundraising, register your cause or choose from one of the many charities already registered with us, and shop online as normal beginning from our website. When you make purchases, our retail partners will either donate a fixed amount or percentage of the sale back to your cause, charity or organisation. So whether it’s a pair of stylish running trainers or all the protein bars you need to see you through training, easyfundraising will help you reach your target and change lives for the better. Best of luck – you’ve got this!