Whenever I run in a different country I tend to write a blog post about where I ran in that country or town and what it was like. Some of my favourite runs are written about on the blog on that topic, like a stunning run on an old railway as the sun rose in Andalucia, seeing New York fast asleep early one November morning, or getting a run in while exploring ancient temples in Guatemala.
But I’ve never really written about where to run in London – when you run every week in the same places they just seem normal. Then a month or so ago I was listening to Warren Pole on the wonderful Becoming Ultra podcast. If you don’t know who Warren is, he’s the guy behind the 33 Shake products – natural nutrition based on chia seeds for runners (and cyclists!) to fuel themselves on long endurance workouts. He is all over the US ultra running podcast network publicising his product (by the way, they are great!) but he lives in London. The last time I listened to him he was complaining about how hard it was to get out and train when you live in London, how few routes there were and how rubbish they were. Well – partly, I get that. London is a huge city. And it’s nowhere near mountain ranges with glorious long trails and stunning views. But actually, you can have a pretty good off-track run from London if you just know where to go.
And this was just a 5 minute run from my house.
So here are some ideas of running routes in London and around. And these are just the ones I know of so I am sure there are loads more!
Along the Thames
The Thames is the big river that runs all the way through the centre of London, cutting north from south. The south of London used to be a kind of no go area and taxi drivers wouldn’t want to take you there as it was unlikely they’d get a fare back. Which I know because when we first moved to London before the days of Uber, James always used to say “do you go south of the river mate?” when we got into taxis. Anyway, digression aside, the Thames marks north from south and the Thames Path runs all the way along it. I really do mean all the way along it – it’s 185 miles so certainly enough for your longest long run!
Some sections are certainly nicer than others, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to run along the South Bank during the weekend unless you’re very early in the morning (especially if the weather is nice) as it will be absolutely full of tourists! But I love the section out west from Battersea Park. You start by running past luxury flats that cost millions, then through a park and past the market and church at Putney. You pass the boat houses and then if you keep going you are soon on a trail running through woodland. The temperature drops, the noise disappears, and it’s hard to believe that the hustle and bustle of central London is just behind you. I love it. I tend to do out and backs along this path, but you could always run entirely one way and then catch a train back into London.
Through the parks
The great thing about south London is the amount of greenery. You may have to cross a few roads to get there, but you can string together some great runs that are primarily through and around parks. Much better than just doing laps! For example, from my house I can string together a run through Brockwell Park, Clapham Common, Battersea Park, and then up to Hyde Park and even St James Park if I’m running a long way.
Each park is slightly different and less than two miles apart, along quiet roads without much traffic to slow you down or pedestrians to get in your way. Its pretty good fun.
This is practically like being out in the countryside, despite the fact its a 30 minute cycle or a short train ride from central London. There’s a 10km (ish) loop around the outside, all on trails, and a number of different paths looping all over the park. A few summers ago I went pretty regularly, running all the way along the outside on the trails, getting the opportunity to get in some hills (London is not generally a hilly place). Then last year in an 18 mile run I went all the way from my house to Richmond Park and up through the centre of the park. It’s absolutely stunning, very hard to believe I had run from home and was still pretty close to central London!
North Downs Way
This national trail is 153 miles in total, running all the way from Farnham to Dover. One of my goals for 2017 is to finish covering the entire trail (I do still have quite a long way to go!). It’s also the route I picked for my first ultra marathon, the NDW 50 miles. The reason for this is because at least the first half is so easy to get to from London, especially if you live anywhere near London Bridge, Brixton, or Clapham Junction. There are a number of train stations along the route that are just 30 minutes on the train from those London stations – you can almost get there in as much time as it takes me normally to get to work! And it is certainly faster to get there from home than to go to east London, for example.
And once on the trail it is glorious, miles and miles and miles of footpath weaving over the North Downs, through woodland, past vineyards, up and down beautiful meadows. My favourite run last year was 20 miles all by myself, running gently along the path on a sunny day. If you like being outdoors and you live in London there is really no excuse for not having explored these trails!
This one I explored just last week, after years of my friends who live in north London telling me I should go. Other than the fact that my phone ran out of battery and so I got very lost trying to find a tube station to take me home, I loved it. Like Richmond Park, a trail runs all the way around the outside of the park. It’s pretty well trodden on, but it is a trail, not a paved path. It’s 3.6 miles around the outside but of course can be made longer by criss-crossing through the park itself. And it has beautiful views of London, and stunning ponds which usually are swum in but were all frozen over so I didn’t see anyone swimming… I’d love to go back with slightly more battery on my phone, and less of a structured workout planned, so I can explore properly.
The main difficulty in my view comes in cycling. While Richmond Park is gorgeous, cycling laps round it every weekend does get dull, and it still takes me 30 minutes on the bike to get there. It is possible to get out into the rolling hills of the North Downs, but again, it takes me about 40 minutes to get there. I miss my cycling routine in Madrid where I had a small challenging circuit 15 minutes away, and then a deserted bike path I could ride on for as long as I wanted. I think what would really help is getting faster and cycling longer… Then I could get out of the city much easier! I think I’ll focus on that once I get this ultra marathon done with 🙂