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Time-efficient training

June 18, 2011

The everyday reality of London transport is something that takes time to get used to. I’m sure part of the reason Londoners typically hate going further afield in the city than the end of their own road (Stoke Newington to Seven Sisters is two miles, yet rarely traversed) is because it just takes so bloody long to get anywhere.

Consequently, Andrew Marr’s Megacities (a BBC documentary by the likeable jug-eared superinjunction-wielding political journalist) chimed a chord with me as he explored the history of the London Underground. With the first tube lines opened in the late 1800s, it’s unsurprising that London’s rapid growth has left the commuter journey a clammy and intimate affair with ill-tempered strangers. And the busses aren’t much better.

Typically my journey to and from work takes about an hour either way. This consists of a short walk to Seven Sisters tube station, a comparatively short journey to Euston, the endless shuffling through the underbelly of the station before emerging into the billowing smoke of the outside concourse, followed by a twenty-minute walk to Holborn. Wanting to run two or three evenings in the week then either means leaving work comparatively early (say 5:30), getting home an hour later, warming up and leaving the house by 7. If it’s a short run, once I’ve had a shower I’m probably sitting down to eat around 8:30, but if I’m running any longer it’s gone 9.

So, I’ve been looking at ways of fitting my training around the necessity of getting to and from work. This has resulted in some moderately successful experiments…


My recent half-marathon demonstrated that I need to build up my speed so I’ve got a kick in the tail-end of a race. Since Finsbury Park in the summer seems to host circuses, festivals and goodness knows what else on a constant cycle my nice hilly mile loops are out of the question. Fortunately, just down the road from work is Russell Square. This turns out to be around 0.3 miles in length and its paths are comparatively quiet for central London.

So, this week saw my first lunchtime jaunt around the park – in a fortuitous interval from the driving rain that characterises the British summer. I wasn’t the only runner doing speedwork around the park, so my set of eight circuit repetitions with 1/4 recovery didn’t look too strange. I couldn’t help humming Blur’s Parklife to myself, though.

The GPS trail of my speedwork around Russell Square

Some food for thought about the accuracy of a Garmin around tall buildings - at no point did I actually cross through the centre of the park, or miraculously run through buildings

Longer runs

I’ve run home from work quite a few times before, both from Holborn and when I used to live in Abingdon and work in Oxford. While the Oxford to Abingdon run took substantially longer than the car journey (it was about 10 miles door to door), the pavements were quiet and I could generally avoid getting tangled up with tourists or commuters. The run back from Holborn, whichever way I go, involves dodging pedestrians and cyclists, and crossing some of the city’s biggest internal arteries. Typically the first couple of miles are frustratingly slow and stop-start.

So, I decided to reverse the journey and run to work. Seven Sisters is generally quieter in the morning than the evening as none of the fruit-and-veg stalls have yet spilled on to the roads and no one is hanging around outside any of the surprisingly large number of  late-night barbers. Similarly, get onto Kingsway early enough and it’s not too busy. All in all, I managed to knock about 15 minutes off my commute by avoiding public transport, which is something worth remembering when the tube grinds to a halt under the numerous threatened strikes this summer.

The big consideration, though, is logistics. A surprising amount of planning is needed to make the commuter run successful. Firstly you need work clothes. Given that the backpack I’ve been using for carrying everything I need is my 1.5 litre Camelbak bag, that doesn’t give me much space. At a push, I can fit some jeans in the bag, but not much else. This means I’ll need to plan my travel about a week in advance if I want to make this a regular fixture, although the run home is easier logistically.

Sadly, I think it’ll be a while before I can stop paying £125 a month to stand in someone’s armpit on a train plagued with strikes, faults and a lack of air conditioning to get to work slightly less sweaty than if I ran.

(I should also point out that we have showers and towels at work. That makes life considerably easier for me – and my colleagues.)

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