For the first time in 39 years, the London Marathon moved away from the capital where hundreds of thousands would annually pass Tower Bridge with sweaty sneakers and fancy dress costumes.
London’s iconic, sky-scraper gleaming skyline was afforded to only the most elite of runners hailing from Mexico to Ethiopia, but for the many amateur runners this year, it was a chance to swap Hammersmith for hillsides.
For some, it was an escape to the country as local marathon participants covered every inch of Gloucestershire.
As Storm Alex emerged over rural villages across the UK, Steve Ackroyd would’ve been forgiven for regretting that he’d signed up for the 26 miles slog around the Cotswolds.
“Not until eight weeks ago or so had I even planned to run the marathon,” Ackroyd told Park Life Sport.
“A friend of mine is a fundraiser for Leonard Cheshire and she contacted me and a few others to ask if we wanted to take part in the virtual London Marathon to help raise money for the Leonard Cheshire charity.
“She roped in seven of us to take part and fundraise, so I hadn’t even planned to do it, and I always said I would never run a marathon but she’s a good cheerleader so she got me roped in!”
Good luck to everyone taking on the Virtual London Marathon today for Leonard Cheshire. Whether you run, walk or wheel it we will be virtually cheering you on all the way to your finish line! #LondonMarathon #The40thRace pic.twitter.com/b0K9SiZ7bZ— Leonard Cheshire (@LeonardCheshire) October 4, 2020
Like Ackroyd, thousands around Gloucestershire were tying their laces and clutching at energy drinks as the rain battered down on the Sunday morning.
Despite the testing conditions and physical riggers of running a marathon, Ackroyd needed little persuading to take up the challenge.
“I’ve always liked a challenge”, Ackroyd began.
“I’ve ran a few half marathons in the past and if I’m ever going to do a marathon, this was it, the pressure was a little bit less so the fact I was a little bit more in control of how I was going to race.
“Until Sunday I’ve never ran any further than 13.1 miles. I’ve done a half marathon before but never a marathon.”
Ackroyd was delighted with his final time as he crossed his virtual finishing line back home in Prestbury.
“My running time was five hours and 12 minutes, but Strava recorded a total time of six hours because I had to get out of my clothes, I was soaking wet!
“That cost me a little bit of time because I had to get out of my running tights etcetera but I was really pleased, I wanted to finish at 2 o’clock and I finished at four-to-two, so I was absolutely chuffed with that.”
Dehydration and overheating are just some of the threatening hazards when London stands still for the annual marathon, but it was your typical Gloucestershire, early Autumn morning on this year’s make-shift marathon day.
“The weather was that bad my dog refused to go to the loo in the morning,” Ackroyd joked.
“When he refuses to go out it just made me think I was such an idiot but it really was a baptism of fire. I had to be so committed to go out in that and thankfully the weather actually got a little better a couple of hours later.
“The first couple of hours, I had to change my route three times because of floods getting in the way, I was spending half the time hoping over puddles on the pavements but I soon settled into my rhythm when the rain stopped.”Embed from Getty Images
No doubt many of the thousand runners who also took to the great outdoors were plotting running routes as they went on and Ackroyd’s route was far from simple.
“I live in Prestbury, so I started from there and I ran down to Swindon village, did a loop around Swindon Village, looped round Hatherley, then back up to Prestbury again.
“Then I did a final run down to the railway crossing by Swindon Village and then finally back up to finish at the Plough in Prestbury to grab a pint!”
Despite missing the jovial London crowds packed behind barriers, Gloucestershire’s locals were equally supportive despite the treacherous conditions.
“It was so good, the sense of elation when I stopped and it was really good because all the way through the race there was cars going past and beeping their horns,” Ackroyd said.
“There weren’t any crowds so that was great support, and on the last mile my leg was really sore.
“I went past a family who were walking and they all started cheering me on and all the way up the road and that gave me the impetus and the motivation to finish the race.
“I was surprised at how much support there was, I saw other runners out there who were encouraging one another but I didn’t expect so many cars to be beeping and horning which really did help.”
It might’ve been his first marathon but Ackroyd can’t wait to do it all over again.
“I’ve entered the ballot so I’ve got a guaranteed place to run in London next year, so I’m really looking forward to running with all the crowds.
“I’m still buzzing about it now, I’m so proud that I managed to finish it and as I said, not until eight weeks ago had I even imagined that I’d be marathon, it came totally out the blue.
“It’s a great feeling and I can’t wait to do it again.”
The ballot for the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon is now open with the race scheduled to take place on Sunday, October 3 2021, Coronavirus permitting.