On Sunday, the capital’s streets will be swallowed whole by the 39th annual London Marathon. The biggest event of London's running calendar, more than 40,000 people are expected to finish this year’s race and tens of thousands more will be cheering from the sidelines. Running fever is in the air.
Though a week later than last year – which was the hottest on record, with highs of 23 degrees – forecasters are predicting a happy 15 degrees, but this could change nearer to the day.
For runners, the next few days are crucial for preparation. For supporters and families, it’s time to think logistics to beat the crowds. From last-minute training tips to transport on the day, here’s everything you need to know.
When is the London Marathon 2019 start time?
This year’s event takes place on Sunday April 28. The elite wheelchair races kick off at 9.05am, the World Para Athletics Marathon World Cup is at 9.10am and the elite women’s race is at 9.25am.
The elite men’s race, British Athletics & England Athletics Marathon Championships, and the mass race start at 10.10am. It’s later than a lot of races, but it’s also much bigger, so you’ll want to get there early to avoid the crowds.
What is the London Marathon route?
The mainly flat course passes many of London’s iconic landmarks, and many parts of the capital will be brought to a standstill, with extensive road closures planned.
The 26.2 mile route starts in Blackheath and heads east through Woolwich for three miles before turning west and passing the Cutty Sark in Greenwich between miles six and seven. It crosses the river at Tower Bridge and then snakes around the Isle of Dogs, past Canary Wharf, before heading west again. The home stretch from mile 23 takes runners from London Bridge, along the Embankment to Parliament Square, Birdcage Walk and finishes on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. The finish area is all around St James’ Park and Horse Guards Parade.
Though the race starts at Blackheath, it’s not advised to accompany participants to the start as the assembly areas are for runners only. There’ll be supporters all along the route, so pick your spots carefully, and don’t plan to move much as getting around will be slow. To see runners between miles 14 and 21, take the DLR or the Jubilee Line out east towards Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. Avoid Greenwich town centre as this is expected to be very busy.
Tower Hill is common viewing spot: runners come past there twice so you’ll get to see them at miles 13 and 22.5 without having to get back on the Tube.
Run Dem Crew’s 500-strong cheer station has confetti canons at mile 21, and Birdcage Walk is also popular as you’ll get to cheer runners on the home straight before seeing them in the finish area afterwards. The closest stations to the finish area are St James’ Park and Victoria, but these will be busy. Charing Cross and Embankment stations are a little further away (about a 20-minute walk) but they’ll be less crowded and you won’t have to use the crossing points.
Use the official 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon app to track your runner: this year you can follow the progress of an unlimited number of friends and family out on the course (the app is powered by TCS and will give you updates every 5km and predict your runner's time at the next checkpoint), plus there's an interactive course map with helpful spectator information. It’s available to download on iOS and Android.
Read our complete guide to watching the Marathon here.
How to get to the London Marathon start point
All runners are entitled to free travel to the start on Southeastern trains from Charing Cross, Waterloo East, Cannon Street and Victoria. Give yourself plenty of time and plan to arrive early: the first trains leave central London at 06.50. Keep a close eye on TfL for updates on the Tube and other lines.
How to watch the London Marathon on TV
If you’re watching on TV, there’ll be live coverage on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, the BBC Sport website and various apps. The Red Button TV service gives expert commentary on the elite race and then offers finish line coverage of all runners as they complete the course, accompanied by a graphics ticker containing messages sent in by friends and loved ones.
Which famous people are running the London Marathon?
Roughly 40,000 brave runners are expected to finish this year’s race, from Mo Farah and world record holder Eliud Kipchoge (he ran Berlin in 2:01:39 last year) to pro joggers and people in rhino costumes. Many thousands more will be spectating.
Alongside the many thousands of Londoners running, a number of celebrities will also be attempting the 26.2 mile course, including Chris Evans, Kirsty Gallacher, Helen Skelton and Candice Brown. Barbara Windsor’s husband Scott Mitchell and her EastEnders co-stars will be running for this year’s official charity, Dementia Revolution.
What to wear for the London Marathon
Comfort is key when running such a long distance: make sure you don’t wear clothing you haven’t tried out in advance. Shoes are priority number one and this year’s offerings are high-tech. Asics’ new wonder shoe, the Metaride (£225, asics.com), is designed to make longer distances easier and more efficient, featuring an advanced sole technology that’s scientifically proven to reduces energy loss at the ankle joint by almost a fifth. It’s been two years in the making and the magic lies in the curved sole, which shifts the body weight forward and propels the body forward.
Saucony’s long-distance kicks, the Guide ISO 2 (£120, saucony.com), are engineered for runners with mild to severe pronation, while its new lightweight Kinvara 10s (£115, saucony.com) feature an ultra-supportive mesh upper for looking after your feet. Pair them with some breathable running socks like lululemon’s Speed Sock (£18, lululemon.co.uk) or Stance’s run socks featuring breathable performance mesh and arch support (£11.99, stance.eu.com).
Sweaty Betty’s Zero Gravity Run Leggings (£95, sweatybetty.com) and 2XU’s Print Fitness Midrise Tights (£70, 2xu.com) will help you stand out from the crowd, or for something more neutral Zone 3’s Medical Grade Compression Tights feature compression technology specifically designed to protect your muscles while running (£70, zone3.com).
Many runners will be wearing their charity vests – remember to pin your race number to your top before leaving in the morning. For women, a good sports bra is essential: Lorna Jane’s Fit n Fierce Bra (£57, lornajane.co.uk); Beachbody’s Intent Compression Bra (£45, activinstinct.co.uk) and Shock Absorber’s award-winning Ultimate Run Bra Padded (£38.40, johnlewis.com) are designed for support when you’re going the distance, while lululemon’s trailblazing Enlite Hydraffinity Vest (£158, lululemon.co.uk) carries an impressive 1.5 litres of water and all the energy gels you need to reach mile 26.
If it’s hot, Buff’s CoolNet headband (£13.75, buffwear.co.uk) offers UPF50+ sun protection and vaporises sweat. Be sure to take some layers for pre and post-race chills, too. Sweaty Betty’s new Fast Track Run Jacket (£95, sweatybetty.com) has a pack-away hood for any unexpected showers and Clavas’ Cold Climate Half Zip Top (£28, clavas.co.uk) will keep you cosy on the start line. Pack The Sweat Bag from La Pochette for afterwards (£35, lapochette.co): it’s lined with antibacterial and deodorising properties and has a triple closure system to ensure wet kit can sit comfortably alongside all your other race day valuables.
What to use during the Marathon
Many runners will want to carry their phone, but arm bands can cause chaffing when running long distance. The FlipBelt (£25, flipbelt.co.uk) is a comfortable running belt that sits around your waist and secures your phone, keys and gels – it comes in bright colours too. If that feels too bulky, Adidas’ Run belt (£17.95, adidas.co.uk) has space for your phone, plus rings for holding your gels on the outside.
Isotonic gels are the most effective for marathon distance, says Ben Samuels, performance nutritionist at Science in Sport. They’re designed to be consumed without water so you won’t get bloated, and they digest easily, minimising stomach issues. Science in Sport’s GO Isotonic Energy Gel is a go-to – you’ll get 22 grams of carbohydrate in one hit – and GU’s new Roctane Gel is less sweet than the brand’s other ranges so you can keep up your intake without excess flavour.
Samuels suggests 60-90 grams of carbohydrate an hour – that’s one every 20 minutes – from the first hour, and you should practice this in training to find what works.
The same point applies to fluid intake and Samuels advises against large volumes of plain water. “Sweat loss results in electrolyte loss,” he explains, so replace these with an electrolyte tab, which dissolves in water to help you rehydrate. Phizz’s orange elixir is popular with the Crystal Palace team when they’re training, SiS’ Cola tabs have added caffeine, and Nuun’s new Sport range comes in 13 flavours with a newly added ingredient, rice extract, to help them dissolve faster.
Wearable-wise, Apple has just brought out its new Series 4 watch (from £399, apple.com) which offers six hours of tracking and phone-free music, and FitBit has recently launched four new models: the Versa Lite, Inspire, Inspire HR and the Ace 2. Pair with some Bluetooth headphones to power through the pain – earbuds are the most minimalist option. Apple has just dropped a souped-up, redesigned version of its wireless in-ear headphone, the AirPod II (from £159, apple.com); Samsung opened battle last month with the launch of its new Galaxy Buds (£139, samsung.com), featuring wireless charging and an impressive six hours of battery life; and boutique Chinese tech brand Mobvoi has unveiled an AirPod lookalike, the TicPods Free, with dangerously similar specs and – crucially – a much lower price tag (£119.99, mobvoi.com).
For earbuds specifically designed for running, Jaybird has two models – the Run edition and the Tarah Pros (from £139, jaybirdsport.com); RHA’s TrueConnect Wireless Earbuds are sweat-resistant (£149.95, rha-audio.com); and Jabra’s workout wonder buds, the Elite Active 65t (£169.99, jabra.co.uk), are still the highest-spec fitness earbuds on the market. They have an integrated accelerometer which monitors time elapsed and steps-per-minute, and are IP65-rated against sweat and dust for pounding London’s pavements.
What is the London Marathon 2019 Souvenir kit?
For marathon edition kit after the race, Official Marathon sponsors New Balance have launched a limited London edition of its Fresh Foam 1080v9 trainers, featuring bold colours, breathable mesh and a supersize spongy sole for superior comfort. (£140, newbalance.co.uk), while stylish running experts Iffley Road have launched a small run of a London marathon-inspired version of its most popular t-shirt, with a map of the course penned by illustrator Gemma Robinson (£65, iffleyroad.com).
Boston-based independent running label Tracksmith is hosting its first pop-up in the capital over marathon weekend. Head to Covent Garden for London branded sweats and events including running-related talks and finisher’s poster stamping, while Nike’s all new London-inspired running apparel collection is due to land in-store in the run up to race day. The range spans jackets, shorts and even a running hat, alongside two fresh kicks made for marathoners – the Zoom Pegasus 35 Turbo Mo Farah and the Vaporfly 4% Flyknit.
How to do last minute prep for the Marathon
The final week before a marathon can make or break your race, says Anna Boniface, Saucony UK ambassador and the first female finisher in the mass race in 2017. “Training will not get you any fitter but recovery will. Rest, nailing nutrition and ‘just ticking over’ will allow those final physiological adaptations to occur.”
For those inevitable aches and pains in the build-up, LQ Liquid Health Joint Care will help strengthen your joints, and it’s important to keep rolling after every training run: the latest ones vibrate for extra intensity: try the Hyperice Vyper Vibrating Foam Roller (£135.99, wiggle.co.uk) or the Pulseroll Vibrating Foam Roller (£99.99, pulseroll.com), while Biofreeze Spray (£9.99, boots.com) works fast for immediate joint pain relief in hard to reach areas.
If you don't want to risk doing those final stretch-out runs in the rain, Zwift is an online running platform that lets you run in a virtual world from the comfort of your home or gym. All you need is your phone and a treadmill (and a footpod, if your treadmill isn’t Bluetooth-connected).
HCA at The Shard and Third Space both offer running clinics ahead of race-day, and Pure Sports Medicine’s Bank clinic offers a special anti-gravity treadmill, the Alter-G, to help get those last minute miles in without putting pressure on your joints. Zip your lower body into the pressurised chamber and you can walk or run at pressures as low as 28 per cent of your bodyweight.
For more serious niggles, John Green offers a professional physio service at Virgin Active – he was Head Physiotherapist at West Ham United for 15 years – and a sports massage can work wonders alongside training. Abigail Smith at Virgin Active’s Rehab360 facility on the Strand and in Barbican is an expert on marathon-specific sports massages ahead of the big day. She’s run London twice herself.
Ahead of race day all runners will also need to register at the Virgin Money London Marathon Expo at the ExCel in east London. There you will collect your running number, timing tag and kitbag. Your final instructions magazine explains this in full.
In the last two or three days before the race, follow a diet high in carbs, Boniface suggests. 8-10g/kg will ensure glycogen stores are topped up ready for race day. On the day itself, start hydrating as soon as you wake up, she says. Aim for at least 500ml. Have a light breakfast high in carbs and leave plenty of time for digestion. Power up.