It’s one of the most exciting events on any London runner’s calendar, and indeed for thousands of runners from around the world, the London Marathon represents a unique opportunity to race through the streets of this diverse and historic capital. Sponsored by Virgin Money, the 26.2-mile (42-kilometre) course takes in many of the city’s top attractions – and for participants and spectators alike, it’s an inspiring spectacle of determination, athleticism and sheer, hard work.
Whether you’re running the marathon this year or perhaps still dreaming of future challenges, London is a city with a lot to offer runners. If you’re new to the city (or just new to running), we’ve put together a list of London’s top running shops and a few great running routes to try – plus a few tips for those who’ve come to watch the marathon, to make sure they get as much out of the day as do the runners…
London’s best running shops
While you really shouldn’t be breaking in new trainers or kit just before running a marathon, sometimes last-minute gear emergencies do arise (or maybe you’d like to celebrate your successful finish with some new running treats!). London has a great selection of running shops, from big-name brands to independent specialists.
Runners Need: A specialist running chain with 17 branches across London; has a great selection of running shoes and gear, plus staff can offer expert advice on shoe fitting and more.
Sweatshop: Another popular running chain with locations across London; has all the major brands, plus customised insoles, sports bra fitting and more – some of the branches even have their own running clubs.
London City Runner: Stands out among the independent shops for its friendly and experienced service; it’s a particularly good destination for those interested in barefoot or minimalist running.
Run and Become: Specialises in “natural gait analysis”, in which staff watch you run on a short piece of track rather than a treadmill to determine your running style and any muscular imbalances before helping you choose running shoes.
Nike Running: Specialist running shop near Covent Garden from the major brand, with a large selection of shoes and gear.
Asics: The brand’s flagship store offers a high-tech foot scanning service to fit your running shoes, as well as running clinics and other gear.
Great places to run in London
Because of its huge size and diversity, London offers a wonderful variety of options for runners. Whether you prefer nature or architecture, people watching or solitude, there’s a route for everyone in this ever-intriguing metropolis.
Central London parks and gardens: Perhaps unsurprisingly, many runners cite Hyde Park and the neighbouring Kensington Gardens, St. James Park and Green Park as amongst their favourite places to run. Scenic, relatively peaceful, and easy to reach from anywhere in Central London, these public parks and gardens are the perfect place for a quick lunchtime jog.
Hampstead Heath: If you’re craving a country run without leaving London, lace up your trainers and head to Hampstead Heath. There’s enough variety within this one great parkland to keep you entertained on countless runs – from hills and wooded paths, to open fields and fabulous views over the city.
Thames Towpath: Depending on how far you wish to run, the towpath along the Thames can offer quite different running experiences. Pass through Battersea and the South Bank for urban cityscapes, or head out as far as Richmond for gentle greenery, wildlife, and sparser human companionship. The advantage is that it’s all a pretty flat, easy run, leaving you free to focus on your surroundings.
Morden Hall Park: For those who like both a bit of history and nature on their runs, pay a visit to Morden Hall Park and try out the network of trails that meander through wetlands, meadows and along the River Wandle. There’s plenty of quiet woodland to enjoy, as well as rose gardens, historic bridges and former mill buildings dotted about the landscape.
Tips for watching the London Marathon
While it’s certainly possible to watch the televised broadcast of the London Marathon, there’s nothing like experiencing the atmosphere live on the day – especially if you’re there to cheer on a particular runner. However, as exciting as it is to be amongst the hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the route, it does require a little forward planning to make sure you get a good view. Here are a few tips for spectators at the London Marathon:
• Dress for the weather, and wear comfortable shoes – you may not be running, but you will be outside on your feet for most of the day! Bring water and snacks (or schedule in time for a lunch break at some point).
• Don’t try to see your runner off at the race start. There will be huge crowds in the area, and you won’t be admitted into the runners’ enclosure in any case. You’re better off allowing your runner to take advantage of the free transportation to the starting point and heading off to your own vantage point early.
• Remember that roads along the marathon route will be closed for the entire day, so leave your car at home and take advantage of the extra services put on by London’s public transportation.
• The London Marathon provides a time guide that will help you pick out when certain groups of runners will reach different points along the route – make use of this to plan where and when you should watch.
• Many people wish to try and spot their runners at several points along the route – make sure you plan ahead and leave enough time to travel to each point, bearing in mind that public transportation will be busy and you’ll want to reach each vantage point early to get a good view.
• If you want to get a prime spot on the sidelines so that your runner is sure to spot you as they go past, try to aim for one of the less busy sections of the route – places like the Cutty Sark and Parliament Square tend to get jammed with spectators quite quickly. (Remember, too, to tell your runner in advance where you’ll be standing!)
• If you’re looking for a dramatic overview of the race, try watching from The Tower Hotel – you’ll be able to see the runners at a slight distance as they come across Tower Bridge.
• It is virtually impossible to get a clear view of the finish line on The Mall, so you’re better off arranging where to meet your runner ahead of time and making your way there. The Meet and Greet area for family and friends is on Horse Guards Parade, so those staying at The Royal Horseguards Hotel will be able to reach it quite easily (and return afterward for showers for their runners and celebratory drinks for all!).
For more tips on watching the marathon, check out the Virgin Money London Marathon 2014′s comprehensive Spectator’s Guide.
Do you have any favourite running spots in London, or tips for those watching the London Marathon this year?