When I first moved to London 3 years ago, running was quite different: lycra was not cool, trainers looked like they‘d been stitched together from leftover London Marathon blankets, and everyone in my office thought that I was crazy. But these days my running kit is more fashionable than my work wardrobe and my work colleagues keep trying to tag along on lunchtime tempo runs. Seriously, runners - we’re cool now!
The freedom of running is a stark contrast to the sanitary routine of city working. When running we are free from the watchful gaze of our bosses and free from minefields of office politics. And because running is a sport that can be enjoyed pretty much anywhere we are also free to explore our cities and neighbourhoods. We feel inclines we never sense from our bus seats, see buildings we miss when on the tube and have an excuse to venture into new parks. Running is rekindling the romance between Londoners and London as it offers us respite from the city’s constant buzz.
But this new city running is not for the faint hearted. You may well be able to run a marathon, conquer the mighty fells or survive a savage ultra distance race, but nothing can prepare you for the challenges that lie within the M25. Us London runners dodge congregating tourists outside St Paul’s, leap out of the way of buses and narrowly avoid collisions with umbrellas - and all in a lunchtime’s run. There is a serious case for city running to become a category of running in its own right, just like cross country and fell running, so individual are its challenges, strategies and rewards.
But, believe it or not, not everyone is quite so keen on running, and so for the sake of the non-runners with whom we share this city here are my rules for running in London.
Pick your moments wisely
The morning meeting has finally finished and you really feel like blowing off some steam. A couple of miles round the block at lunchtime would be perfect, right?
Wrong. Why? Because everyone else in the vicinity has also just finished their morning meeting and is about to blow their steam too, only they won’t necessarily be running. They’ll be walking to get some lunch, smoking outside their office and/or running to the nearest temping agency. Don’t even think about trying to run through that crowd.
Lunchtime runners must schedule their lunch breaks to begin at noon - not around noon, or 5 past noon. At noon. The average office worker takes 5 minutes to get up from their desk, find their jacket/wallet/bag for life and take the lift to street level. That means you’ve got 5 minutes to run from your desk to the nearest green space. I know what you’re thinking - how on earth can you get kitted up and out of the door in less than 5 minutes?…
Learn to do ‘The Superman’
If you want to beat the lunchtime crowds you’re going to need to get kitted up faster than superman. That means doing it like the man himself and wearing your kit under your pinstripes. Sports bras and lycra tights may not be conventional office attire, but they’re easy to disguise under your civvies which will save you valuable minutes on the way to Regents Park. Just be sure to let your colleagues know what you’re up to before you start unbuttoning at the desk.
Learn to dry shower
As a courtesy, stash a bottle of dry shower gel in your locker or desk drawer. Just a minute or two devoted to personal hygiene post-run will keep your colleagues sweet. And you owe them - you stripped off in front off them 40 minutes ago, remember?
The secret blue line
If you do find yourself caught on busy pavements, don’t panic. Just like any major city race there is an efficient route to follow through London. The legendary blue line may only be laid down in April, but secret blue lines run the rest of the year along every London pavement and they’re about a foot in from the edge of the road. Stick to that line and you will avoid huddled smokers outside office doors, shoppers exiting shops pram first, and queues that stick out of the back of bus shelters. Careful you don’t get pushed in front of the buses though. And watch out for bins.
Avoid Camden Market at all costs
All the vigilance, nimble footwork and polite cries of “excuse me” can’t save you in Camden Market. It may not look too busy as you peak over the canal bridge and launch down Camden Road, but some of those teenage Goths are small and hidden beneath the crowd. I learned the hard way that bumping into them earns you the angst they’ve been saving for their parents. Yes, Regent’s Canal is beautiful to run along, but for your own sake exit at Primrose Hill.
We may not be as fleet-footed as Brasher and Fontaine, but we’ve got some of the fastest thumbs in the West End and a new taste for adventure. So when you’ve just run your fastest mile ever (according to your Nike+ running app) don’t forget to hit ‘share’.
City runners’ stats are logged in a cloud to be retweeted by strangers, fabled in a blog and accompanied by instagrammed illustrations. It’s unlikely any of us street athletes are going to be getting an Olympic gold anytime soon, but virtual kudos will suffice. Share your personal victories and be sure to ‘like’ the victories of those runners you’ve never met.
Be a tourist
And finally, just because we are living in a fast-paced city doesn’t mean we have to be fast all the time too. Slow it down from time to time when you’re running and take in the views from Parliament Hill and Crystal Palace, follow the well signposted walking routes along the Thames and the Capital Ring one weekend, and run to St Paul’s before the other tourists arrive on a Sunday morning. Don’t forget to post a photo to Twitter - I’ll be sure to retweet it.