Run #1: Southbank and City Sunriser
START: Aldgate Station
END: Aldgate Station
DISTANCE: Approximately 5.2km
END: Aldgate Station
DISTANCE: Approximately 5.2km
Aldgate Station, nestled in between Fenchurch and Liverpool Street Station may not be your obvious choice for the starting point of an early morning weekend run. At best you might think it’s counterintuitive to start your workout in a part of the city that all but shuts down on a Friday night, at worst you probably think it’s downright depressing. But bear with me.
Cross Aldgate High Street and turn into either Mansell Street or Minories and a few nasty crossings, cheap gyms, abandoned kebab shops and failing pubs later, you'll find yourself on the edge of the St.Katherine's Docks area and en route to crossing Tower Bridge, arguably one of London's most iconic landmark's.
During the week the bridge is almost always jammed with traffic and mobbed with camera wielding tourist desperately snapping away at their fellow travelers against a backdrop of the steely rods of the bridge or the imposing cityscape of high-risers downstream. But on weekends, providing you've laced up early enough, you'll have it practically to yourself.
Get to the middle, by which time you will have clocked up your first kilometer, and you will have an uninterrupted view of Canary Wharf on your left and the splendid array or buildings and landmarks that make up the Southbank on your right. Behind you on your right, the Tower of London is a stark reminder or the richness of this city’s history, while further upstream St. Paul's Cathedral stand proud, seemingly overseeing the vast expanse of the city the way the monarchs of this country for centuries have done.
Take a sharp left down a winding staircase and onto the banks of the river. Be careful though, these steps can be wet and slippery if it’s just rained so this is not a place to up your average mileage per minute.
Turn left again when you get to the bottom and passing below the bridge you will find yourself trotting past a an unexpected grassy area where you might see a few keen athletes battling through redeye PT session and urban yogis practicing their sun salutations.
Take note of City Hall, the mayoral office, and spare a thought for Boris Johnson – not a runner as far as I know, but least a keen cyclist - before heading towards the newest jewel on London's skyline - The Shard.
Granted it’s somewhat of a "marmite construct" - you either hate it or love it - but when the morning sun shines on it in just the right way, and the rays reflect and refract at all different angles you must admit that it’s a sight worth slowing down for.
Passing under London Bridge, your route will skirt Borough Market. One of my personal favourites in the capital this market claims to date back to 1014 and was first mentioned in 1276. If you’re already feeling a bit wobbly, or have a sweet tooth to rival mine, treat yourself to a quick stroll around and a nibble of cake, cookie, or bread to power you through the second half of your run. Famous regular traders include Artisan Bakers DeGustibus, Furness Fish & Game Supplies, Peter Gott and Sillfield Farm, and the Spanish company Brindisa.
Once you’ve managed to tear yourself away from the delicacies, head back down to the river and continue along it until you hit the “wobbly” or Millennium Bridge. No matter how early you get there tourists will have ceased this place so consider crossing it a real-life obstacle course and try not to injure anyone in the process.
Again, admire the view from the middle of the bridge if crowds permit (by which time you will have clocked your third kilometer) before heading up the steps to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Up close, I think that this is one of 17th century landmark is one of London’s most imposing. Run around it if you like, admiring Christopher Wren’s Baroque finesse, but watch out for the pigeons, yet more tourists and angry cab drivers. Traffic is usually busy around here.
Cross through the churchyard and turn into Cheapside. Bustling during the week, you should have a pretty clear run on the weekend, aside from the odd one or two stumbling home from a big night out and of course – the inevitable stray tourist.
Pass the Bank of England and turn up the tempo a few notches as you turn into Fenchurch Street and come full circle at just over 5.2km.
I suppose the next thing I should be penning is a guide to post-run breakfast venues in the City. Better get researching…
Run #2: Hyde Park double circular and Serpentine
START: High Street Kensington Station
END: High Street Kensington Station
DISTANCE: Approximately 15km
I live in East London and do my best to scout out running routes near home, but when the sun comes out the manicured parks, quiet residential streets and manor house-flanked avenues of West London are simply too inviting too resist.
One of my all time favourite runs in the capital starts and finishes outside High Street Kensington tube station and even though it’s no easy feat, stretching almost ten miles, it’s a gentle route, largely flat aside from a few undulations, with some water stations on the way and plenty of shade for those sunny summer afternoons.
Start by turning right out of the station onto High Street Kensington and navigating through the inevitable masses to the corner of Kensington Gardens. Rather than cut up to the palace though, remain on the lower tow path, which traces along the bottom edge of the park, past some beautiful flower beds and fragrant bushes before spitting you out at the foot of the grand Albert Memorial and the iconic Royal Albert Hall.
Continue along to the corner of the gardens before crossing the road into Hyde Park. Here veer onto the dirt track which serves the Royal Horse Artillery but is ideal for running on as it is gentler on the knees, hips and shins than the tarmac we usually run on in the city.
Follow it all the way round to Hyde Park corner before turning north and running parallel to Park Lane up to Marble Arch - the end of London’s iconic Bond Street. If you were to continue running and simply cover the periphery of the park, you’d clock up a solid 8 kilometres, but my preferred route is to turn onto the north side of The Serpentine when you reach Lancaster Gate.
Track the water past a bushy overgrown field and back underneath the main road before passing the pedallo station, a cafe and an ice cream stand. Stick to the shores of the water all the way round and you’re bound to see all kinds of birds and even a squirrel or two. Watch out for the Diana Princess of Wales memorial just past the Lido, as well as a charming statue of Peter Pan – yet another tourist favourite.
By the time you get back to Lancaster Gate you’ll have covered about 9km so have a few sips of water at the next drinking fountain to keep hydrated before heading back across to Marble Arch. The track is slightly downhill on the way back, so this is a good place to up your tempo or do some intervals if you’ve got the energy.
When you get back into Kensington Gardens, one option is to continue back to High Street Kensington directly, but I prefer to add a few last miles on by cutting up Broad Walk. You probably want to take it slow, as its steeper than it looks (especially now that you’ve already got about 12k under your belt) but it is a beautiful avenue providing a nice view over the Round Pond, Kensington Palace and the Orangery.
At the top of the park, turn left along Bayswater Road and continue along there a few hundred meters until you reach Kensington Palace Gardens, dubbed “billionaires row” by the locals. When you see it you’ll know why.
Slow down to a gentle jog as you finish off the last mile and briefly turn into the park for some stretches to prevent any day-after soreness. The area also has plenty of eateries and cafes for post-work out snacks. Why not try Crussh for a refreshing smoothie or Wholefoods for a piece of cake or homemade pie to restore those calories? If you’ve not earned it then I don’t know who has...