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Adventure planning

November 26, 2012

Winter is pretty much here. The the recent strong winds and heavy rain have whipped the remaining leaves from the trees, and we’ve even had the first predictions of snow. 

The onset of winter and the inevitability that is Christmas – and alarmingly, less than a month away – means that it’s time to start thinking about long runs again. Granted, I’ve had a couple of 17-mile long runs in recent weeks, but when I get into marathon training the runs get longer than that. And become weekly. So, it’s time to start planning routes that will stay interesting.

In the first year I moved to London, my route took in a wide loop around central London, covering Regent’s Park, Baker Street, Hyde Park, Westminster, Embankment, St Paul’s Cathedral, Bank, Liverpool Street, Shoreditch and Stoke Newington. It was very much the sight-seers running route – full of ‘ooh’ and with interminable waits at busy roads and frustrating weaving around tourists.

In my second year, I found the Lee Valley. I took inspiration from the Olympic Park as it hurtled towards its completion date, enjoyed the crossing-free route around the canals that lead into the Docklands and the runner-friendly circuit around Victoria Park. Eventually, though, I came to add distance by just adding another loop to Victoria Park, and then another loop, which feels a little soul-destroying after 18 miles. But I alternated my long route with a slow, hilly, run up to Highgate, round the woods to Alexandra Palace, Back through Highgate and then down the hill for a convoluted lap around Hampstead Heath before heading back up the beast of a hill, down Woodland Walk, through Finsbury Park and back home. Usually covered in mud. The rotation of different types of long runs worked for me and kept me fresh and motivated.

So, this year, what’s the plan? I’m definitely keeping the long hilly run, because I think that helped me recover well and it certainly helped my leg strength since it usually involved climbing every hill I could find. But I’ve been fancying something a bit different for my paced long run.

My 17-milers have been to the M25 and back – nicer than it sounds, by the way – but I’ve not really explored much beyond that point of the canal, even on bike. Tantalizingly, once you get close to the motorway, the surroundings start to feel much more like the countryside. Sure, you have to run through a bus depot, past a rank-smelling waste site and a series of strange warehouses, but once you’re beyond that…

So, after spending an evening on Google Maps trying to discern how far the towpath goes and whether there are any logical loops, I found the Canal & River Trust website. If you live anywhere near a canal, check it out – it’s invaluable. The maps highlight canal paths and help plan routes – and, should you want to, you could plan some really long routes. There are suggested walking routes, notes on places to eat, everything you could possibly want for a long run or cycle. Or, yes, even a walk.

It transpires that there is an unbroken canal route from Seven Sisters to Bishop’s Stortford, and this is going to be one of my long runs in the build-up to the 2013 Virgin London Marathon. I haven’t measured it yet, so I’m not sure of the exact distance, but to run from my house to the very end of the canal is likely to be somewhere in the region of 22+ miles. It’s certainly enough to look impressive on a map!

Route from Tottenham to Bishop's Stortford

The off-road route from Tottenham to Bishop’s Stortford. Or, as it’s more commonly known, Stanstead Airport.

Fortunately, at the end of the route, there’s a train station with a direct line back to Tottenham Hale. The train will cover the three-hour journey by foot in about 30 minutes. From this side of the run, that feels disappointing, but having spent that time on my feet carrying clothes, water and something to eat at the end of the trek, I imagine that 30 minutes will feel about right.

As yet, I’ve no idea when I’m going to run that route other than in the spring, but I’m properly looking forward to it.

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