Tried and Tested: I tried my first socially distanced marathon. Would COVID restrictions change the race?

Serious question: how does maintaining a 2-metre distance work at a race with over 400 runners?

Tried and Tested:
(Image credit: Marie Claire UK)

Serious question: how does maintaining a 2-metre distance work at a race with over 400 runners?

By now, you might've heard of my new feature franchise, Tried and Tested, which'll see me test all the latest health and fitness must-tries for Marie Claire UK. Last week, I sweat-tested Rowbots, the new Broadgate-based row-strength hybrid fitness studio, and next up? I'm lacing up for my first non-virtual race since lockdown restrictions began in March 2020.

I'm a keen runner - I've completed five marathons and an ultra marathon, too - but, like so many, was left gutted when COVID meant all races had to be cancelled last year.

I understood it was totally necessary to save lives, but I'd just started training with a run coach and had grafted through a twelve week training block with the aim of improving my current PB of 3 hours 58. Then, the world shut down.

In the grand scheme of things, not being able to run any races really wasn't a big deal, but when I heard rumours that runninr races may start to go ahead last month, I booked the first one I could find.

There's something about the feeling you get stood on a start line with hundreds of other runners that you can't quite replicate in a virtual race.

Lucky for me, the event could go ahead, and so on May 23rd, I headed to Peterborough for their annual marathon. 26.2 miles is a gruelling challenge under any circumstances, but what would it be like running it solo, not jostling amongst a crowd of other runners? Would supporters be allowed? And would masks be necessary for any of the running?

Keep reading to find out.

I tried my first non-virtual running race in over a year: Peterborough Marathon review

We were sent just enough information pre-race day to know that this event was going to be a little different to previous marathon events. There would be no supporters allowed, and runners were to be set off in small waves to make sure there was no over-crowding or non-social distancing at any point.

This meant a full 26.2 miles, or 42 kilometres, without the usual cheer crews, megaphones, music or maracas, and sans the camaraderie of being able to run with a large crowd of other runners.

All things considered, the event was really well managed. You started in a large field, meaning there was no need to worry about social distancing. All runners were instructed to wear a mask until you crossed the start line, and they provided bin bags for you to dispose of any throw-away masks as you crossed it.

All the event staff had to wear masks or visors, too, and they sent out several emails asking any runners with even vague COVID like symptoms to stay home.

Peterborough Marathon review

How much did Peterborough Marathon cost? 

Entry to Peterborough Marathon was around £50, including a finisher's medal, t-shirt and official race photographs, too.

What did I think of the race?

It really does make a difference to a marathon not having a cheer squad to support you through those last few arduous miles, and not being able to run with anyone, either.

I felt so grateful to be able to lace up and get on a start line again: the Peterborough Marathon event organisers delivered on all of the COVID promises they made, meaning you didn't need to worry about being close to strangers.

That being said, three and a half hours of running on your own was a very different experience to my last marathon, the 2019 London Marathon. It really highlights just how much these races are about the crowds, and the cheers, and the strangers who come out in their masses to offer you Haribo, water and ice-cold orange segments.

Not to mention, the amazing charity fundraisers who push their body to their absolute limits to raise some money for a charity close to home.

With so few spaces available, I didn't spot many charity runners, but can't wait for the world to get back to normal so that charities can be helped out by large scale events like the London Marathon and more.

Peterborough marathon review

Was Peterborough worth it? Final thoughts 

Finally, a year and a bit after I started training for it, I managed to inch closer to my goal time, coming in at 3 hours 35 minutes.

What other fitness, wellness or health trend do you want to see Ally try, or test? Send us a DM @mareiclaireuk or pop her a message @allyyhead

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.