Most of the people who live in London and other big cities run on a pavement. It’s the easiest and the most popular way of training – obviously roads are everywhere.
What if you wish to run your next race off road or on trail? What if you moved to London from other, smaller places in the countryside and you miss woodlands? What if you wish to run through the green land, far away from city noise?
Does living in London make your dreams and plans impossible? There is an opinion that trail running in London doesn’t exist because, c’mon it’s the Capital of England – there are no woods here!
Proudly, with 100% certainty I am telling you: you can find trails in London and you can prepare yourself to run trail races while living here.
Like many other runners, I started my running experience on a pavement. But I was always dreaming about getting into the woods, to the hills, running free, without city noise and crowds around me. So, I’ve tried to find the way to incorporate trail running into my training and it was easier than I could possibly imagine.
Do not abandon your dream of your first trail race – I will help you to discover wild and muddy London!
Trail Running Inside London
Did you know that London can be classified as a forest? With more than 8 billion trees, London is described as the largest urban forest in the world! So, let’s explore...
1. Epping Forest
Amazing, huge woodland with plenty of marked trails. Yes, Epping Forest is an actual FOREST. It’s muddy so definitely consider proper footwear. Many times, I got off the main trails and had fun on some off-road bike routes – forests are to be EXPLORED. You can take the Central Line to Loughton station, from there – according to my Garmin – it's 567m to the woods; perfect access. This place is massive, so it’s better to have a navigation system – a smartphone, an offline map or an appropriate GPS running watch are perfect to keep you safe.
2. Richmond Park
The largest Royal Park in London. 2500 acres of beautiful hills and woods. The path around the park is around 8 miles, but if you wish to get muddy (who doesn’t?) run straight across.
Must do: run until you find a group of deer. I always like to pop in into the beautiful Isabella Plantation during spring/summer – it’s heaven on earth. Replace burned calories at one of the few coffee places with a latte and a muffin. Shhh… who said that?
3. Wimbledon Common
A younger brother of Richmond Park, but do not underestimate the power of that wild forest. Richmond Park is bigger – that’s true – but also more urbanized. There you can find parking, roads, cars, shops etc. If you wish to get a bit more wild-ish, muddy and dirty – visit Wimbledon Common!
The best memory: running in the rain on Wimbledon Common. Muddy trails, the smell of the fresh wet leaves, singing birds – 100% of the forest package just for you.
4. Hampstead Heath
I think everyone who lives in London knows about this place, but if you don't for some reason – it’s a MUST GO place. One of the most popular North London green spaces with an amazing view of the city from Parliament Hill.
During winter it might get very muddy, so consider proper footwear. Running along the eastern side will give you an opportunity to meet a few ponds on your way... fancy a duathlon?
Trail Running Outside London
London is surrounded by stunning countryside and what’s best – getting there won’t take you longer than 1 hour by train from central London. Yes, it’s that easy! Spend your day off away from the busy and noisy city; relax and restore your inner energy.
Remember to take with you a running backpack or a race vest, a bit of food, water, cash and your phone. You can consider taking a map and a compass too, but if you have a GPS watch and a smartphone that should be enough.
The most popular places around London, where I like to run:
1. South Downs
2. North Downs
3. Kent Downs
4. Chiltern Hills
5. Surrey Hills
6. Colne Valley Regional Park
A Few Tips & Suggestions
1. Run to & from work.
Try to find an alternative route – examine a map of your city, find green spots between your home and work, try to arrange the route to run through some parkland, along the river, canals, away from the city noise. It took me a bit of testing and adjusting, but finally I found a stunning route along Regents Canal and Victoria Park, which gave me so much joy and relaxation after a stressful day.
2. Run in a park
Find a park nearby – discover your neighbourhood! Even if the majority of parks are not vast and extremely wild, they will give you a taste of trail running. Just step off the pavement and run on the ground next to it. It’s also good for your joints – even hard ground is much softer than a pavement, so your knees and shins will be grateful for that change.
3. Sunday – Runday!
Commit one Sunday in a month to a long run outside the city. Look at the map and notice big, green places around your city – hills, forests, national parks. Check train stations nearby to find the best connection to London (if you have a car, it’s even easier) and book tickets. Like I’ve mentioned before – London is surrounded by amazing countryside with great connections (between 30-60 minutes), depending on which place you want to visit. Sometimes getting to work takes longer than travelling by train to get to the countryside… trust me, it’s not that far. Imagination is your limitation!
4. Proper footwear
I still remember my first run in Inov-8 shoes with an aggressive grip. That was the fastest off-road run I’d ever done! Trail or fell running shoes will give you better grip and control when running in muddy and soft terrain. You will be more confident and faster running up and down hills. They will protect your feet from hitting rocks and roots. Off road running shoes are designed to be used in harsh, wet terrain, so they will be more durable than road running shoes. Remember – do not wash them in a washing machine! You will destroy the cushioning very quickly. To be honest, they get dirty each time you use them, so is it even worth it washing them after each run…? What I do is just simply dry them after my muddy run and then brush off the external muddy cover. That’s all.
Technology gives us the great gift of the smartphone, where we can find our position on the map. When you go outside to discover wild London, I recommend having a phone with you for safety reasons. For those with a bit more advanced running GPS watches – find out if you have an option of “track back”, “Go to [saved location]”, etc. Maybe you are not even aware that your watch has a function to guide you back to the starting position. Check it out! I always save the GPS position of the rail station I am running from, so it’s super easy to get back to the same point where I started.
I wish you lots of happy and muddy runs. Discover and explore the wild city around you and the wild runner inside you! See you at the next trail race...