Be Great Outdoors - My 3 Favourite Waterside Runs
I moved to London in 1996. A still very naïve 25 year-old, wandering through Hammersmith with a rucksack, a cd player (ask your parents) and bag of coat hangers (don't ask). A small-town boy moving to the big city, leaving behind the lush rolling Welsh hillside and trading it in for the noise and excitement of London.
Those first few months were quiet and to be honest a little lonely. The streets of Hammersmith threw up smoke and noise that made me feel even further from home.
There was something special about London though. Even though it sprawls across the South-East, blob-like, consuming the small towns along it's outskirts it harbours treasure after treasure, which makes it the greatest city in the world.
I explored through running. Slipping on my shoes and stepping out from my house behind Charing Cross hospital; warmed up a little and just ran.
Step by step the hum of the Hammersmith flyover disappeared into the distance. I had no idea where I was going or how I'd get back, then for the first time I saw it. The river.
There was something compelling about the Thames, muddily snaking London in half, from the wealth of Barnes and Richmond through to the old city's industrial heart of the Isle of Dogs and Woolwich.
It's a gateway to explore the city and these are 3 of my favourite runs.
1. Run The Bridges.
I left Hammersmith after about a month and moved into a shared house right in the heart of the City. 5 minutes from Liverpool Street and the Old Spitalfields Market. Town houses crowding into narrow passages where the sunlight barely lands. Those in turn dwarfed by glistening chrome and steel towers. The sheer number of people makes it hard to get any kind of rhythm and settle into a run. Even when you fight your way down to Tower Bridge tourists mill round the South Bank and you feel more like you're dancing than running.
That changes completely in the morning. If can get out early (before 7) Bishopsgate is pretty clear and you're into your stride by Monument. The character of the run is different at different times of the year. Spring and summer bring hope as the you skip over Tower Bridge and head west.
Pick a bridge depending on how strong you feel. London or Southwark for a short fast one or down to Westminster for a good 7 miles. You can take it even further if you want, heading even further west and really explore how London changes along the river.
Try and stay as close to the river as possible. There are footpaths but they are not always continuous and you may find yourself having to come in to get back to it, but you will find some real gems, running past HMS Belfast, the Golden Hind, the Clink, the Globe Theatre onto the National Theatre and South Bank complex past the London Eye to the Palace of Westminster.
It's flat, it's fast and a real digest of landmarks all before breakfast.
2. Run The Canals (Regents)
If you want a bit more peace and quiet away from traffic and noise but still working your way through the industrial backlot of London go hunting for the canals. When I lived in Spitalfields it was the Regents Canal. A quick trot down the Kingsland up and over the bridge right and down the steps onto the canal. You could go left and west towards Islington and Camden but I always felt the draw east towards Mile End.
You wouldn't see a soul apart from the odd dog walker, cyclist or fellow runner. Skirt Victoria Park, then head past empty warehouses, the skeleton remains of gasholders and sunburnt grassland before stepping up onto the Mile End Road and back into town. Through Stepney Green and past The Blind Beggar. The hustle of Whitechapel Road, dancing through the market, turning in to Brick Lane and home. 5 and a bit miles.
3. The Lea
Falling in love and having babies drew us further east to Leyton & Leytonstone. Birthplace of Alfred Hitchcock, Jonathon Ross and David Beckham. Then a growing family took us to Walthamstow, E17 home of er… E17.
It was here we stayed because it felt like home. A sense of community and a short walk to the most beautiful forest.
In October 2010 I heard the thump of something weighty landing with the post on the doormat. I knew it was coming and this year, I had a feeling. After several years of rejections I finally made it through the ballot for the London Marathon. It was a feeling of excitement and absolute pant-soiling terror.
I ran a lot. I raced triathlon but never went much further that 13 miles. The distance scared me. I needed to get miles in my legs and I needed to find some routes. I ran my usual Wanstead Park and Flats runs but needed something new some real distance.
Head down the Forest Road, past the art deco town hall, past Lloyd Park and the William Morris Gallery. It's busy and smelly and noisy. The traffic chokes the breath out of you as you reach Blackhorse Road (I'm really selling this to you I can tell).
Keep going though and it falls away. You pass the reservoirs and the wetlands and just before Tottenham there's the bridge and the canal.
Choose left and it's a trip towards Stratford, Bow, Limehouse and opening out onto the Thames itself. This was 2010-11 and what was now the Olympic park was just a shell, the bare bones of the stadium just starting to knit together.
At the peak of your marathon training, when you need to be getting 20 plus mile done on a long Sunday this was perfect. Over 10 out and another 10 or so back, although the slow climb up Forest Road is the last thing already tired legs on the way back.
Turn right at the bridge and it's a completely different story. The city a distant memory as you head towards Enfield, past the A406 & M25 into Herfordshire.
What about you?
These are just a few of mine. Like all runs they have an emotional connection to particular time in my life. Running has given me some great times but also helped me through some really tough ones. It gives me the space and time to clear my head and distil my thoughts.
What are your favourite runs or workouts? Let me know in the comments below.
All the best.