The Perils of London Lunchtime Running
I recently started running at lunchtimes for the first time in my career. The chance to take in some iconic sights of our capital and the promise of a hot shower afterwards, coupled with the ability to run with colleagues and de-stress from a hard morning was too good a chance to miss. No-one told me about all the downsides, though...
It's 11:55am and I'm striding around the office in turquoise shorts, bright yellow trainers and a running top that barks out words of encouragement. We're pretty casual at my work, but I still feel like HR are going to come down at any minute and lecture me on inappropriate attire in the office place. I quickly mingle with the other runners, creating a corner of psychedelic colours.
The time limit
Like most places, we have an hour for lunch. That's just sixty minutes to change, warm up, run, warm down, shower and change back. Oh, and somewhere along the line I should also eat. I could overrun and work a bit later at the end of the day, but then I also have to catch my train on time. Plus my boss is just a few desks down from me and is rarely a moment away from needing an urgent status update. No, I'll just have to condense everything. Bang goes my ten-minute warm-up routine; a few quick stretches and the six of us head out.
It's just a friendly little jog, isn't it? Nice gentle run with work mates, no pressure. That would be true if I wasn't so damn competitive. It's a very hot day, but the group starts off fast and crosses the busy main road as if we’re in a game of Frogger. It's faster than my usual pace, but there's no way I'm showing weakness by dropping to the back. However, I let the obviously super-fit guy from design zoom off into the distance. Git. To try and show that I'm not at my maximum effort, I decide to chat to another colleague. But hang on...about what? I can only think of work topics, but I came to escape from all that, not bring it with me. Running is the next obvious shared interest.
"So, how often do you run?" I ask, realising six words is probably my limit right now, unless I forgo breathing.
"Not much. Only these lunchtimes, really."
Damn. Right, I can’t fall behind so I’ll have to keep up with him now. Or trip him up. No, can't do that. Just keep going, keep with him. Maybe do him with a sprint finish later, though.
Wow - there's St. Paul's! The Cheesegrater! Tower Bridge! And some other building with a silly nickname that the architect probably cries over every night. My usual route at home takes in cycle tracks and roundabouts, so it's a revelation for me to run across famous bridges and see quirky buildings with every glance. The London Eye appears on the other bank, too far away for my liking, as I know we have to loop back past it before we even think of returning to the office. But it's not all glamour - we sweep past offices with cigarette-dragging workers outside, dodge taxi ranks and go down lanes with less room than a Ryanair aisle. Which wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for other people...
"Get out of the way you bunch of selfie-obsessed tourists! This is my city!"
Of course I don't actually say that, partly because it's very rude and partly because I come from Stevenage, thirty miles away from London. Still, the hordes of people covering every inch of the pavement in the popular areas along the Thames make it hard going. It's like playing dodgeball, and I'm forced down a huge curb onto the road to navigate Westminster Bridge and the throng of people photographing a Scotsman strangling a hairy cat (it might be bagpipes). I've now either got a clear run off the bridge, or will end up being mown down by an open-topped sightseeing bus.
Back on the pavement, other runners zoom towards me as we all play the which-way-do-I-step-aside-to-avoid-a-head-on-collision game. No time for politeness - I split hand-holding lovers, brush past hipsters with their Pret bags and unfeasibly large beards, and a stream of sugar-infused schoolkids in red jumpers heading towards the Tate Modern. "Coming through! Excuse me!" I shout. Just when I think I've made it through the worst, I approach two women from behind and THWACK! I get bitch-slapped by the back of a hand as one of them points out some attraction to her friend at exactly the wrong time. She apologises, as I stumble and do a stock-take on my pupils. To top it off, I misjudge a manoeuvre around a thick lamp post and rebound pinball-like, ending up with a large graze on my arm for my trouble. Maybe I should take up something less dangerous, such as pro wrestling.
Back at the office, I'm so hot that I’m sure I must be nearly clinically dead. The shower is refusing to go lower than just below boiling point and the entire changing cubicle has a small swimming pool as its floor. And I have about thirty seconds to change. I arrive back at my desk looking like I need a shower all over again. I just hope the Right Guard does its job, although it might make my afternoon meetings a bit shorter if it doesn't.
A few minutes later, my colleague arrives back from the run, face redder than one of those old phone boxes London still has just to maintain a British stereotype.
"Good run?" I ask.
"Yeah, lovely workout," he lies.
"Me too," I lie in reply, rubbing my now-purple arm and hoping the pain in my Achilles is just a temporary injury.
"Same time next week?"
"Of course!" I say, turning on the desk fan to level five, trying to hide the dark pools of sweat that are rapidly appearing on my shirt, and opening the biggest bag of crisps you can buy.
While others spent their lunch lounging on a patch of grass by the Thames, taking in the culinary delights of Borough Market or wasting an hour looking at cats on YouTube, I went out there, pushed myself and actually achieved something on my break. And that's something that will make me feel great about myself for the rest of the day.
Just as soon as I stop feeling so bloody knackered.
Thanks to Andrew for his great take on lunchtime running in the capital!
If you'd like to follow Andrew and how he battles the crowds, then you can find him via the following platforms:
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