In a somewhat whirlwind of a week, no sooner had I returned from Paris than I found myself settling down on the train for a weekend in London. A little bit “jetset” perhaps, but Steve was attending a course with Kinetic Revolution about improving running technique and since I was still on holiday, I thought a weekend in The Big Smoke would be fun (and I’d get to see my husband for a while!) so decided to join him.
But with all the hustle and bustle of preparing to go to France, I’d had little time to give any thought to what I might do in London. That said, I was looking forward to spending some time sightseeing at my own pace rather than following a packed itinerary (and constantly checking to see if I still had 35 teenagers with me!) and had one or two ideas in mind about how to spend my time. This was again not a running-related trip (a real rarity for us), but just like my days in Paris beforehand, some of the things I chose to do triggered some running memories. I also, inevitably, found myself comparing London to Paris since I was visiting both cities just a day or two apart. And my conclusion? Well being a Londoner is all very well, but I was really destined to be a Parisienne!
Of course any mention of London and running in the same post means that there’s one subject that just has to be covered: The Marathon. Every other visit to London I’ve had in the past 5 years has been marathon-related, sometimes as a spectator/supporter and, in 2011, as a participant. It was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed and would like to repeat, however getting a place is notoriously tough and I have yet to have any success in gaining a place through the annual
scrum ballot, in fact it was only at the beginning of the month that the postman delivered this little gem:
Yup, I got “Ironed”, however since I’ve already entered next year’s Paris marathon, this particular rejection really didn’t bother me this time… at least not much!
But putting this quickly behind me, I arrived in London excited to have the chance to see a bit of the city for the first time in years without either of us having to run the next day, and got started almost immediately with a quick stop-off at Platform 9 and 3/4 to find out whether or not I’m a Muggle:
Guess I’m off to Hogwarts next term then 😉
And so began a weekend of being a tourist in London. I may have been on my own for the majority of it, but I still had a great time.
I began my grand tour on Saturday with a stroll along Regent Street towards Oxford Circus, calling in at the Nike Store to eye up all the funky new running tights (it would have been rude not to!) before jumping on the Tube to the Tower of London to see the poppies: Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.
This art installation marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War One is constantly evolving. Since the 5th of August, more and more poppies have been added around the Tower’s famous moat. Each poppy represents a British military fatality during the war, and ultimately there will be 888,246 poppies in the installation. The poppies can be seen all around the Tower, creating not only an absolutely spectacular display, but also a focal point for quiet reflection. Each one is hand made and therefore unique.
It was absolutely stunning to see and although there were huge crowds, there was still a fitting atmosphere of reverence. The Tower of London is one of the famous landmarks along the London Marathon route, so it was nice to be able to spend some time here at a more leisurely pace. If you’re in London before the 11th of November, I highly recommend a visit to the poppies.
The remainder of my day was spent in Covent Garden (via Lululemon Athletica to drool over gorgeous, but pricey, running kit!) as I had visited the TKTS Booth in Leicester Square that morning and treated myself to a ticket for the matinee of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’d heard wonderful things about this relatively new show and was keen to see it for myself, so this was the ideal opportunity and I certainly wasn’t disappointed, leaving the theatre with a smile on my face at the end.
I even saw these guys on my way there, which made my day!
By the time the show finished, it was time to meet Steve who was heading into the city to meet me for something to eat, but first we took a walk along Oxford Street to visit the Adidas Store so he could have a look at the Clima-Heat range that I had looked at in Paris (see, it’s not just me who can’t resist a running store!). I really like their current range and have a feeling some more of it will find its way into my life soon!
Sunday, I was a bit less sure of what I wanted to do, but a plan soon began to form as I set out. After securing my weekend bag in left luggage, I got on the Tube and headed to Charing Cross to begin a day of sightseeing on foot.
My first stop was Trafalgar Square to see the Fourth Plinth, currently home to this rather vibrant artwork:
Next, I planned to walk along the Mall to Buckingham Palace, and was pleased to learn that the Mall is actually closed to traffic on a Sunday, so I could walk safely along the middle of the road. For me, this was a rather bizarre experience. The Mall was filled with tourists snapping photos and selfies as well as runners and cyclists out enjoying the beautiful autumn morning, but all I could think about was the last time I was there – the final straight of the London Marathon in 2011 – and just like in Arromanches the previous Sunday, I suddenly found my mind flooded with memories: memories of my training runs with good friends, memories of the emotions I experienced during the course of that weekend, and memories of triumphantly turning onto the Mall to “sprint” for the finish. It seems that it’s not only my memories of Paris which are bound up with thoughts of running, it’s my London ones too, although perhaps not on quite the same scale.
For the next wee while, I spent a very pleasant morning strolling along the final mile or so of the marathon in reverse: The Mall, Buckingham Palace, Birdcage Walk and, after a brief detour into St James’s Park for some photos, Parliament Square and Big Ben. Finally spotting Big Ben as you shuffle along The Embankment in the final miles of the marathon is a huge relief as it means you’re nearly there and I vividly remember straining to spot the famous landmark as I made my way along there, buoyed up by the incredible crowd support.
And my epic adventure wasn’t over yet! I crossed Westminster Bridge, took a “flight” on the London Eye, then set off to walk along the South Bank past the Oxo Tower, Tate Modern, Globe Theatre and The Shard. It wasn’t quite the Rive Gauche of Paris, but It was still a lovely walk and a great way to spend a leisurely Sunday.
I spotted plenty more runners (I’m really not sure how they managed it given the crowds!) and what turned out to be some kind of artistic endeavour combined with preparations for a future Guinness World Record attempt. You really do see all sorts when you walk around a city!
This got me thinking about all the squat thrusts and burpees I must have done in Metafit. They’re probably my least favourite exercises so I wouldn’t really fancy what this guy’s doing, but I wish him all the best!
I concluded my walk when I reached another memorable landmark: Tower Bridge. When running the London Marathon, arriving at the bridge marks near enough the halfway point, and the crowd support here is unbelievable. Beyond the bridge is an out and back section taking in Canary Wharf and the Docklands, before passing Tower Bridge again ahead of the final 5k. Tower Bridge is always a highlight of the race for many, and I again found myself reflecting on my experiences of both running and spectating in the area.
Crossing the bridge allowed me one final glimpse of the poppies before it was time to head back to the station and meet Steve for our journey home.
My “Sunday Stroll” ended up being around 10 miles (according to my Garmin Vívofit) and I was more than ready to get comfortable on the train and reflect on my day. I very much enjoyed my visit to London, but I just don’t feel as comfortable there as I do in Paris. I prefer the Rive Gauche to the South Bank, The Vélib to the Boris Bike and the Eiffel Tower to the London Eye. The London I like is the London of marathon weekend, the London where people are friendly and encouraging, where strangers stop you on the street to congratulate you on your achievement or look at your medal, and it feels like the whole city is pulling together in support of all the runners. It’s a London that looks (and sounds) like the London in this video (and yes, I have this music in my running playlist and have been known to get a lump in my throat mid-run!):
That London makes me feel both pride and a welling up of emotion, but I don’t feel that at other times, unlike in Paris. Maybe it’s because Paris was my first marathon, and you never forget your first, maybe it’s something else, but my experiences over the course of these two trips confirmed for me that Paris truly is my favourite city in the world and I’m not sure that will ever change. Indeed, why should it?
What’s your favourite place in the world, city or otherwise?
What places trigger strong memories for you?
What would be your dream running destination?