Over the last 10-12 years I have run a lot, lived, coached and trained in many different parts of the world. Whilst it’s impossible to trim this down in no particular order here are 5 runs that get inside me and the reasons why, you might also like my top 5 races here…
1) Hampstead Hills.
I can be a nostalgic person at times and this run reminds me of the first 2-3 years of my running life, hammering around this loop with my club mates and friends Simon, Alex, Marc and John with all the naïve passion of someone who was still getting fitter every time they pulled on their trainers….oh how long ago that now seems! I was forming a new life in London, had found a hobby that satisfied my heart and my mind and a group of people I loved running with.
Description: This 9 mile route takes you on an undulating trail and tarmac tour of Hampstead Heath covering some of the less travelled paths in this iconic and beautiful location including a climb up Parliament Hill for a sensational view of London.
Surface: Mixed trail and road
Start point: Talacre Leisure Centre, Kentish Town West
Distance: 9.3 miles
2) Red Cliffs and Wild Ocean.
For many years I have coached training camps around Europe and most frequently in Falesia near Vilamoura in Portugal. Over the years of coaching groups here, with so many memories it’s become a home from home. This run over the rocky deep red cliffs falling away to the Atlantic Ocean with the smell of pine trees and orange blossom is one of the most beautiful and unique runs in Europe. I have a vivid memory of tackling the testing 4k or so over the cliffs and then returning along the beach, with an Atlantic storm rolling in from the west, and the air charged with humidity and electricity, it felt like being alive.
Description: Starting in town this run heads out along the wild and steep red cliffs of the Algarve, the route involves some short steep climbs and sections which are safer to walk. Check the tide times in advance if you want to run back along the beach.
Surface: Rocky cliff top and beach
Start point: Falesia car park, near Neptuno Bar.
Distance: 5.2 miles
3) Limehouse Loop.
Not every run needs to have dramatic scenery. It’s often our day to day routes that ground us, what others may find boring to us provides our space to breathe. This loop is undoubtedly one of the most well-trodden in London but it has a special place for me as for a couple of years of my life this was my daily meditation. At the time I lived in a flat overlooking Regents Canal in Mile End and as I was coming to terms with some big and challenging personal life changes - I ran A LOT of miles, and this route became like an old friend from easy runs to hard sessions.
Description: Starting at Victoria Park, or really wherever you want to on this loop keep taking right turns and eventually you find your way home after about 10k. I would often extend this loop, particularly at night, and run down to the lights of Tower Bridge or over to Greenwich and back - it’s easy to forget the amazing sights on your doorstep.
Surface: Tarmac and compacted gravel
Start point: Victoria Park
Distance: 6.3 miles
4) Cow bells and thin air.
Whilst not perhaps as dramatic or technical as some of the running in the alps I love Font Romeu in the Pyrenees for its peace and simplicity but the fact I can easily get to Barcelona or Perpignan for some bright lights if I need to. GB marathoner Alyson Dixon was kind enough to give me a great introduction to the best routes out here and this run literally caps them all climbing to 2200m via green fields and woodland paths and all with the sound of cow bells ringing in the background.
Description: Whilst not a particularly steep or technical trail this run rises to 2200m which is an altitude than requires respect, if you are staying in the mountains for over week or more this run would be one to target towards the end of your stay. Start at La Bistrot de la Calme and head South East before turning East along ‘La Petite Calme’ gradually winding your way up before reaching the summit of Roc de la Calme with a shorter, slightly steeper descent to get home.
Start point: La Bistrot de al Calme
Distance: 5.5 miles
5) Paris at dawn.
‘Yes many have loved before us, I know that we are not new’ said Leonard Cohen…but in Paris it doesn’t matter. Running these streets is pure indulgent, romantic tourism that ever gets old. A long run around this city means waking early…very early to beat the crowds but over the course of this 12 mile long run you can fall in love and have your heart broken countless times.
Description: Start at Ile St Louis and head East before heading North past Bastille and along Canal St Martin. Skirt around the back of Gard du Nord to work your way up to Montmartre and a stunning view of the city. Head down past Moulin Rouge, Gare Saint Lazare and on to the Champs Elysees before re-joining the river via the Trocadero and Eiffel Tower returning to Ile St Louis for breakfast, or an ice cream, or a glass of Pomerol.
Start point: Ile St Louis or Notre-Dame
Distance: 12 miles