03 January 2010

Resolutionary Roads

I enjoy my regular running routes of the Regent's Park Circuit and the long trek through the industrial wasteland around the Grand Union Canal—they are familiar enough that I don't need to worry about navigation and I don't usually want to stop to take photos. However, in honour of the new year, this weekend, I decided to try a couple of new routes—to explore pastures new. Luckily, the Serpentine Running Club has a great selection of routes on their website, most of which begin and/or end at the Seymour Leisure Centre, which is only a two-minute jog from my flat. Taking advantage of the bright and sunny (if still icy) weather, I covered 17 miles this weekend, heading south yesterday and north today. Yesterday, I ran the Three Parks route, although because I included the run from my flat to Speakers' Corner and back, it ended up being more like eight miles and if you count Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens as separate parks, I guess it's really more like four parks. I used to do a circuit involving Hyde Park and Kensington quite regularly when I lived in SoMaRo but now that I'm that bit further away, the hectic trek down to Speakers' Corner is less appealing. Still, once I got to the first park, I felt a lot better--it was a gorgeous morning and the weekend crowds hadn't yet descended so I had the paths mostly to myself.

I stopped outside Buckingham Palace to do my stretching (because, well, why not?) and also had a slight technical failure when my iPod failed to detect the Nike + sensor on my shoe and it took much fiddling and a move to the other shoe before it would work again. This also meant that all my running data was split onto two separate runs on the device and it has no option to manually combine them. Nonetheless, my pace for the first half was 7'39 per mile, which isn't bad given that my asthmatic lungs do not like the cold, winter air; the second half was even better at 7'28 per mile. Better still, as I got to the south-east corner of St James's Park, I overtook a male runner, wearing a Pembroke College, Cambridge, splashtop. I managed to hold him off all the way back up to Speakers' Corner, when I turned off towards the Edgware Road, even though I stopped several times to take photos. He did briefly overtake me on the uphill stretch on the east side of Hyde Park but only for a couple of minutes before my inner feminist propelled me ahead. Rah.

I have been meaning to go up to Hampstead Heath for almost as long as I've lived in London and this desire was only heightened by watching Keats and his muse hang out near the ponds in Bright Star. My intention had been to go one summer's day when I could also go swimming but a) I wasn't sure how running-friendly the route up there would be and b) the public transport options from here to there are pretty poor considering I live close to one of the biggest transport hubs in Central London. The Serpentine Club have a Seymour to Hampstead run, however, and I adapted this slightly—partly unintentionally because there aren't many maps of the heath up there and without a printout of the Serpentine route, I had no idea which paths I was supposed to be taking and just followed what I hoped was a vaguely circular route (I didn't do too badly, although I ended up leaving the park too far north-west, near Keats's house) and partly by choice because I didn't bother with the innards of Regent's Park.

Again, it was a beautiful day and as I mounted Primrose Hill for the second time, on my way back, the sunset over the city was glorious. In all, I managed a pace of 7'33 per mile, which was good given the number of (often quite steep) hills involved and only had to refer to Google maps for navigational assistance a couple of times. If we get any suitably warm summer's days later this year, I will definitely wear my bikini under my running kit and carry a towel in a small rucksack and run up to the Heath again and then go swimming in the ponds--the perfect refreshment after a hard climb.

It will take me a few more tries to become fully confident with these routes (particularly the paths on the Heath) but they will add some much-needed variation to my weekend runs, when I have the time for longer running sessions. I do love running in London, especially on crisp, sunny days. The only problem is that I cover so much ground and see so much of the city when I'm running that in comparison, walking feels slow and seriously limited and I tend to forget that if I decide to just walk up to Hampstead Heath from home, it's going to take an hour or two.

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