THIS is not what Steph Twell expected her London Marathon debut to look like. 

Six months ago, the 31-year-old was on the crest of a wave having, just a few months earlier, broken the Scottish marathon record with a run of 2 hours 26 minutes 40 seconds in only her second outing over the distance and so was looking forward to London with relish. 

However, as we all know, COVID-19 hit, and Twell’s first-ever London Marathon appearance had to be put on hold. 

It has been a long summer for the Scot, with uncertainty around when her next race would be hampering her plans. 

But finally, Twell is once again gearing up to race. 

On the 4th of October, Twell will make her London marathon debut, but it will be a very different race to the 39 previous stagings.  Rather than the usual race route, which snakes through the UK’s capital taking in a number of world-famous landmarks such as Tower Bridge, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, this year’s event will see runners complete 19.8 laps of a closed-loop circuit around London’s St James’s Park, although the iconic finish on The Mall will remain, giving the runners something of a change of scenery in the home straight. 

There will be no mass participation event, something London is renowned for, and the races will be held in a secure biosphere, with no spectators allowed roadside. 

And so while reality will be a far cry from what Twell had envisaged for her London Marathon debut, she admits she had no hesitation signing up for next month’s race, particularly as she remains something of a novice over the distance having completed only two marathons to date.  

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“The reason I want to do this race is you learn so much with each run,” she said. 

“With each race you find out more about how you refuel, how you adapt to the race around you, all of those things. I’m still very young as a marathon runner and so still have so much to learn.” 

The lap-course may be a far cry from a normal marathon but Twell’s background as a middle and long-distance runner, events in which she has represented GB for over a decade, making two Olympic appearances and winning Commonwealth and European bronze, give her confidence she will be able to cope with the monotony of this year’s London Marathon.  

Competition will be stiff for Twell, with the women’s race headlined by world record holder, Brigid Kosgei and world champion Ruth Chepngetich also in the field. The Scot is finding it far trickier than usual to gauge her form but she is in a positive frame of mind, and having spent the past few weeks in Switzerland fine-tuning her preparation alongside Scotland’s best male marathon runner, Callum Hawkins, as well as his brother, Derek, and their father and coach, Robert, she has had plenty of experience to tap into. 

“It’s hard to know where I am because obviously there’s not been any races to give that indicator,” she said.  

“I’m coming into this race a little under-cooked, and because of my lack of access to physio and S&C over the summer I’ve been managing a few niggles. But on the other hand, I’ve not had any races so that might mean I’m going in really fresh.  

“I’ve known the Hawkins’ for a long time and it’s great to have them to speak to – I ask them so many questions when we’re in the gym together so it’s been really nice to have them here. 

“I’m trying to look at everything positively – I feel like I’m making progress every day and when I’m standing on the start line in London, I’m going to be so grateful to race, I’ll put in my best performance.” 

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Lockdown was not easy for anyone and with Twell’s husband a GP, she saw at close quarters how much strain the pandemic was causing the NHS. And she admits the shut-down of the athletics calendar took some time to get her head around, particularly as she was well on her way to selection for Tokyo having secured the Olympic marathon qualifying standard with that blistering run in Frankfurt in December to add to the 10,000m Olympic qualifying standard she already had under her belt. 

“I did struggle early on – I felt like it was an 180 degree turn with my aims for the year,” she said.  

“As an elite athlete, you’re always striving for a goal and you plan backwards from that so when that goal is suddenly removed, it’s strange and I had to adapt very quickly. 

“When everything began to get cancelled, I was literally in the middle of a marathon build-up and I was raring to go so it was all a big shock.” 

However, the initial feelings of disappointment have now been overtaken by optimism and Twell has her sights firmly set on being at her best next summer. 

“Very early on, you can be pessimistic thinking that’s a year of your career lost,” she said. 

“But because I’ve had a niggle in lockdown, I’m actually really pleased I’ve had this chance to learn how to strengthen myself and so if anything, I’m just feeling really grateful that I’m healthy and I can run properly and not take it for granted.”