created by Ross Gillam
It is the proximity, both geographically and in time, between the moments of feeling like a spinning top to floating away into another world that makes running in a city like London so rewarding.
It’s New Year’s Day and I’m lacing up my running shoes about to face the January elements. Why? Because I’m a runner. But more than that, I’m a London runner.
While cycling has been the in-vogue lung-busting exercise de rigeur over the last few years, illustrated by the number of pelotons snaking across London during rush hour traffic, the capital’s runners are still an omnipresent bunch. People popping out for a lunch hour jog to skeletal figures bounding through one of London’s many parks, enthusiastic runners of all abilities pound our city’s streets each and every day.
But surely London, one of the world’s great metropolises, complete with black-bogey inducing pollution, isn’t conducive for a great running experience? Not so.
Firstly, running is a fantastic way to explore the capital and to find new places. It’s unlikely I would have found the grand-looking Harrods Furniture Depository building by Hammersmith Bridge (it looks better than it sounds), or experienced a moonlit Wimbledon Park if it weren’t for running. Too often we look at London’s distorted tube map and confine ourselves to its stations, without thinking what might be in between. Running offers one of the best and simplest ways of taking back the spaces in between and for seeing what’s outside the parameters of our daily commute.
Secondly, while undoubtedly not unique to London, I also find the sense of camaraderie and shared identity afforded by conversations with fellow runners a delight. To our detriment, Londoners can be a self-centred antisocial bunch, so when people bond over something as trivial as 'what's your 10k PB?' it is to be celebrated. Anyone sceptical about this sense of togetherness should attend a parkrun at 9am on a Saturday morning at any one of 47 locations across Greater London.
Commuting, the perennial subject of choice for any London-based worker, also presents another reason why I love running in our great city. While not viable for everyone, I implore those that can to try and run or walk home from work one evening next summer. Not only is London smaller than you think when travelling on foot, but there’s something appealing about the simplicity of it – and seeing other commuters ramming on to buses and disappearing like rabbits into a burrow when descending underground at tube stations.
Greater than all other reasons however, is the contrast in my state of mind when running versus the frantic Catherine wheel state during the everyday hustle and bustle of living and working in London. The calmness of running along the dark banks of the River Thames while torchlit rowers glide by takes me to a world away from the crunch and grind of daily life. Despite the pain in my chest and legs, taking part in a 10k race in Battersea or Regent’s Park, while focusing exclusively on my pace, is respite from the all-go nature of modern city living – no phone, no emails and no need for brain scrambling multitasking.
It is the proximity, both geographically and in time, between the moments of feeling like a spinning top to floating away into another world that makes running in a city like London so rewarding. The juxtaposition of my thoughts while running along the Thames and then spotting the Shard jutting out in the skyline and everything it represents brings this point home most.
That’s why I’m a London runner. I’ve got a lot more exploring to do, and most likely more stress to disperse, so it’s unlikely that I’ll stop lacing up my trainers and hitting London’s parks, paths, roads and river walkways anytime soon. I hope to see you out there.
More by Ross
Ross Gillam implores you to check out the Harrods Furniture Depository building.
Follow him on Twitter.