The virtual road to the London Marathon 2020

Nicola Phillips describes how members of local ladies-only running group Sole Sisters supported one of their fold to prepare for and compete in this year’s virtual race.

Last October Claire Stone was lucky enough to be selected to run her first marathon, the London Marathon on 26th April 2020 with one of the Sole Sisters’ ‘affiliated running club’ places.

Training started in earnest in January and was progressing well with several long runs under her belt … but then lockdown happened! This resulted in the 40th edition of the London Marathon being postponed (eventually to October) and Sisters running solo throughout March, April and May as we were not permitted under England Athletic rules to meet as a group.

In April, Claire ran a mile every day with her daughter Ella (aged seven), finishing on the original date of the London Marathon with the 2.62 Challenge running around Cheswick Village in her wedding dress, in the process raising funds for the Wallace & Gromit Grand Appeal.

Photo of Claire in her wedding dress with Ella.
Claire in her wedding dress completing the 2.62 Challenge with Ella.

Claire raises funds for the Grand Appeal following her friend’s 3-year-old daughter Phoebe Waite from Patchway being diagnosed with a Wilms’ kidney tumour. The good news is that Phoebe was able to ‘ring the bell’ to signify the end of her treatment in early October.

Photo of Phoebe & Claire.
Phoebe & Claire.

At the start of June, as lockdown restrictions were eased, we were able to start running in groups of up to six, Claire was looking for running buddies to complete longer runs with her as part of her training for the rescheduled London Marathon date in October. At this point Mary Mainwaring and I joined Claire and on a Monday night instead of doing our usual six-mile route, we started to up the mileage towards the marathon goal. We didn’t do our usual long Saturday runs as we were aiming to complete the Rapha 100K ladies cycling sportive. Both myself and Mary are fortunate enough to have previously had Sole Sisters marathon places, so thought we could run up to 16 miles with Claire.

Lockdown restrictions had not really changed that much by August – we were still not able to meet as a running club and were restricted to groups of six. The chances of the London Marathon taking place seemed slim with 40,000 runners meeting on the start at Blackheath Common. More and more running events such as the Great North Run were cancelled. Then it was announced that the marathon in London would just be for a few elite runners and the mass event would be held “virtually”, meaning that each participant would complete the 26.2 miles “their own way”.

Kitchen & Laundry Appliance Care, Bradley Stoke, Bristol.

Claire entered the virtual event, and after a few days and maybe a glass of wine Mary and I decided to join her. At this point we were still doing lots of miles on the bike and running was a bit disjointed. The plan was to run the first half of the marathon distance, stop for coffee and cake, then walk the remaining miles.

The Rapha 100Km was completed with our Spinning Sisters on 6th September. Cycling was then put on pause to focus on the marathon.

As part of our training, we decided we would do the Virtual Great North Run on 13th September with thousands of other runners across the UK. We met at Warmley Waiting Rooms and ran 13.1 miles along the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path, on a beautiful early autumn day. There were no Red Arrows or Tyne Bridge, but we had our local sights!

Photo of Claire running up Alveston Hill.
Claire running up Alveston Hill during her virtual London Marathon.

When the day of the virtual London Marathon (4th October) arrived, the weather, as predicted, was monsoon wet. We set off from the Jubilee Centre in Bradley Stoke cheered by fellow hardy Sole Sisters who had braved the weather and our relatively early start. We then proceed to run through Little Stoke Park to Patchway before joining the A38 to Thornbury. In Thornbury, the plan changed and we decided we would try to run as much of the distance as possible. The weather was truly wet, but we were cheered on by motorists, friends and family members meeting us at various points along the route. On the return leg, we were joined by Penny, our club chair, to run the last six miles, which lifted our spirits. At the finish it was great to be greeted by a cheering party.

Photo of Nicola, Mary & Claire at the finish of the virtual race.
Nicola, Mary & Claire at the finish of the virtual race.

What next? Claire has had her place in the October 2021 London Marathon confirmed, while Mary and I have entered the ballot for London. We have also decided 2021 will be the year we attempt our first Ultra Marathon ‘Race to the Stones’ – 100km over two days in July. We will be running this for charity, Mary for Prostate Cancer UK and myself for Alzheimer’s Research UK. If you could spare a few pennies we would be very grateful.

Fundraising pages:

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine (on pages 30 & 31). The magazine is delivered FREE, nine times a year, to ALL 8,700 homes in Bradley Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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