I had heard great things leading up to the Virgin Money London Marathon and had set the bar high with my expectations. The race and the experience of this marathon did not disappoint. Although it is one of the World Marathon Majors, this is a very difficult race to get an entry for international runners. My friends and I had to not only join Marathon Tours but pay extra to be apart of their 7 Continents Club to get first dibs of their limited amount of guaranteed entries. Although it was more expensive then signing up through the lottery, which I did and got denied with, overall the price wasn't terrible when comparing it to hotel costs for races like the Boston Marathon.
The expo was pretty typical of any major marathon. You can get lost in there for hours and sometimes need to get dragged out of the official apparel area before spending my life savings. The actual packet pickup was easy to get through and there were a lot of areas to take cool photos. A few surprising things I noticed with this race were that the race numbers didn't have holes to put the pins through, you just pinned through the piece of paper and that instead of a tracking device on the bib you had to zip tie a chip onto your shoe.
The actual race was a pretty incredible tour of London. Regardless if you've been there before or not it is easy to get lost in the sights. Overall the course is pretty flat, a few up and downhills but nothing too significant. You run over tower bridge, through small neighborhoods and finish in front of Buckingham Palace. One of the most unique things I found about the race was how loud the supporters could be. On top of the race being well attended by London residents the streets are much narrower and therefore the fans are closer to the runners and create a much louder and exciting experience!
One aspect of the race that differs from typical marathons in the US is that at the water and 'Lucozade' stations bottles were handed out to the runners. These bottles made it easier to get the drink you were looking for and carry for longer distances if needed but felt like such a waste when you are only looking for a quick sip.
Finally, the finish line is one of the coolest finishes I've experienced. You turn the corner and run right out front of Buckingham palace before racing down the mall a final 200m and crossing the finish line. Here the crowds are especially loud and help bring you home. One you finish you receive nice medal and pickup a bag with your finisher tee shirt and other drinks and snacks. I liked the idea of receiving the shirt after finishing the race but I especially loved that the water, lucozade, and food were in an easy bag to carry opposed to trying and hold 8 different things while waddling away from the finish line.
Overall, I thought this was a well organized and exciting marathon. Although difficult and expensive to get into and travel for it is worthy of being on any runners bucket list. The race exceeded my expectations and will look for any excuse to go back and run it again.