Virtual London Marathon: What Is It And How Does It Work?

Virtual London Marathon 2020 in Dulwich
Runners take part in the virtual London Marathon in October 2020 in Dulwich Park, London (Image credit: Getty Images / NurPhoto / Contributor)

The London Marathon is big. Tens of thousands of runners big. But despite the size of the field it’s a hard race to get into. Unless you run for charity or are fast enough to claim a Good for Age or Championship place, you have to take your chances in the London Marathon ballot.

For runners who still want to complete the distance under the official auspices of the London Marathon, there’s the virtual London Marathon.

The London Marathon went virtual in 2020 after COVID-19 restrictions caused the cancellation of the in-person event. Close to 38,000 runners took part in the first virtual event, and it now runs in tandem with the mass-participation race.

As well as earning a bona fide London Marathon medal, there’s another incentive for signing up for the virtual London Marathon this year: Runners are automatically entered in a draw to win entry to the in-person 2024 marathon, with 24 spaces up for grabs.

There’s more to it than that, though, as I discovered when I spoke to Michelle Taylor and Gowri Prabhu from title-sponsor TCS—which also develops the London Marathon tracking app that logs the virtual marathon—to find out more.

What is the virtual London Marathon?

It’s a chance to cover 26.2 miles wherever you want and at your own pace. You can even stop and complete the distance later in the day. 

“It’s created more inclusivity with the event including more access,” says Taylor. For instance, people who need more time because of a disability, or can’t complete the distance on the day of the London Marathon for religious reasons, can take part on their own terms. 

“People who otherwise wouldn’t be able to travel to London can still feel part of the community—still train for the same target date and still participate in their way in their country,” says Taylor. 

The majority of people will use the official London Marathon app to track their race, but that’s not all the app does.

“Throughout the virtual run you get to hear the different sounds of the London Marathon,” says Prabhu. “There are a lot of motivational, informative audio files that are played every half a mile so the runner feels that they’re part of the actual event.

“We have tried our best to give virtual runners the same experience, such as the way the splits data is displayed for spectators.”

When is the virtual London Marathon?

The 2023 event takes place on Sunday 23rd April and runners have from midnight to 11.59:59pm BST to complete the distance, with some exceptions. See the virtual London Marathon event page for more details.

How do you enter the Virtual London Marathon?

Entries have closed for 2023. Entries were open between 22nd March and 4th April.

How much does the Virtual London Marathon cost?

The Virtual London Marathon cost £30 for people in the UK and £40 for people who live abroad.

Do virtual London Marathon runners get a medal?

Yes. However, the run will need to be tracked via the app to earn the race medal and your New Balance finishers T-shirt. 

Can you follow the progress of virtual London Marathon runners?

Yes, you can track virtual runners on the London Marathon app the same way you track runners in the in-person race. Live location tracking can also be switched on in the app and you can give up to three people access.

What happens when you finish the virtual London Marathon?

“Once the runner hits 42.2km, the app automatically understands that they have completed their virtual run,” says Prabhu.

“Once the run is over, the runner has access to various information about their race and timing. They also have access to a digital certificate and medal that they can share on social media. They can also celebrate the run by taking selfies with various frames that are event-based.”

Lois Mackenzie
Fitness writer

Lois Mackenzie is a fitness writer working on news, features, reviews and buying guides for Coach and sister site Fit&Well. Lois is a hill walker and avid runner who has just completed her first marathon. Before joining Coach, Lois worked as a senior SEO reporter at Newsquest Media Group.