Olympic qualification is a high priority, but being able to race again is a huge bonus for British marathon contenders
“I’m here to race” was Steph Twell’s unequivocal answer to the question of her targets ahead of Sunday’s Virgin Money London Marathon. “That’s the main priority.”
With a personal best of 2:26:40 from last year, the 31-year-old is one of a handful of British female athletes to have gone inside the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:29:30 and will be looking to strengthen her hand further this weekend. However, with the 10,000m on the track in Tokyo also still a consideration, Twell will simply be relishing the chance to run again.
“I hear the course is fast so I don’t want to limit myself,” said the British 10,000m champion. “There is a great opportunity.
“I’ve waited for this race since April. I was so disheartened when it had to be postponed. I was ready to go. I’ve invested a lot in this year, so there will be an element of relief that things are getting back to normal.
“Hopefully this race is a pivot point for lots of races across Britain and beyond to hold an event of this nature. I’m going to enjoy it. I’ll have a smile on the start line and hopefully have that smile at the finish line, too.”
Twell, who is self-coached but has been taking advice from the likes of Robert Hawkins – father of Callum and Derek – will be competing in her third marathon, following outings in Valencia and that personal best from Frankfurt.
The qualified teacher admitted to being slightly under-cooked, though she will take confidence from a slightly more traditional build-up compared to her other attempts and is keen to continue her marathon education.
“It was encouraging that I got a lot more work in early in the year and maintained through lockdown,” she added. “Now I’m just starting to progress. This opportunity is room to grow and collect experience. It’s my first female-only race. This is still a British Championships, which is really important to me and times also do count, which is important to me.”
She added: “I certainly feel like there is a lot to explore and grow at the distance. It’s only my third marathon but I felt from a very young age that the marathon is something I’d eventually turn to. I’ve always loved the long run. I’ve loved the social aspect. And it’s always been a string to my bow that I’ve never been afraid of the hard work.”
With the elite women’s race starting at 07:15 on Sunday morning, that hard work will come after a particularly early rise.
“I’m going to have to set more than one alarm!” laughed Twell. “We’ll have to leave very early because we’re staying out of the city. It’s going to be a very short night’s sleep, getting up around four in the morning.
“I’m probably going to take my breakfast closer to the race so I’ve still got that fuel in me to get to the finish line. But we’ve been well-equipped here with the socially-distant aspect. We’ve been given a brilliant protocol to look out for each other because we don’t want to waste this opportunity.”
Lily Partridge is not expecting to get much sleep, either. The 2018 British marathon champion with a best of 2:29:24 is also looking to lay down a marker and put herself firmly in line for a Tokyo spot.
“That’s the goal for the weekend, to make sure I come out of it ready for next year with what I need for the Olympics,” said the winner of the Big Half in March.
With partner Ben Connor making his debut in the men’s race, there is an added incentive to run well, too.
“Whoever runs worst has to drive home!” laughed Partridge, who added that there have been huge benefits to the couple sharing this unique experience.
“To be able to do marathon training with somebody, to have that tiredness and someone there who understands, is brilliant. Especially during this particular year and this particular build-up, it’s been quite crucial to have that support. When one of us has been struggling a little bit we’ve been able to pick the other one up.”