London and I have fallen out of love. I run along the River Thames, up to Buckingham Palace, through Richmond Park, around the Serpentine and over Tower Bridge. So what, I shrug. It was just a run. Another run. Miles – nothing more.
I have been here too long; I am blinded to the supposed merits – the geography, the history, the culture, the landmarks – of our capital city. I have become over-familiar. I have watched her pick her nose and break wind, eat with her mouth open and snore loudly in bed. London and I are trying to make it work, but our relationship has reached that inexorable stage of stagnation. We tiptoe around a seemingly inevitable destiny: break-up. I am casting envious glances to seductive others: Bristol, Edinburgh, even Inverness.
You see, I am no longer fearful when I run through Brixton at night; I no longer joke about Wombles on Wimbledon Common; I no longer excitedly think and marvel, there’s The Shard, because The Shard is everywhere.
Here I am, complacent and drained of love.
A typical club run with Herne Hill Harriers. There are eight of us, effortlessly ghosting through south London streets on another Sunday morning. We leave Tooting Bec Common behind, run a lap of Brockwell Park, then a lap of Dulwich Park, then a lap of Peckham Rye Common. I have run in these places a hundred times. Just a run. Another run. Miles – nothing more. We march onward to Nunhead and Forest Hill. London and I are civil today, but our differences are merely dormant.
As we runners progress along Forest Hill Road, we peel off to the right. The Scotland-inspired street we enter – Canonbie Road – is a ribbon of asphalt that rears to the sky like a mountain. A sign advises of an 18 per cent incline; it looks and feels nearer one-in-three. We shuffle upwards in a line, running for a mere 40 seconds on extended calf muscles until we reach the zenith.
Cresting the summit, Canonbie Road, running north and west, disappears beneath our feet, plunging towards lately-visited Dulwich. A grey haze that characterised our early miles is gone; the sun shines from a blue winter sky.
We pause. Below, London shimmers like an ethereal Turner canvas, like a film set after the special effects have been added. The vista is unreal. London is all there: the arch of Wembley, the dome of St Paul’s, the skyscrapers of the Isle of Dogs, the rotating Eye and – of course – The Shard. London’s imperfections, its rough edges, are smooth. Tranquillity and stillness pervades. Something does stir, however: a feeling. Here is London, adorned in new lingerie, her eyes on me, taunting her beholder, waiting to be re-discovered. The feeling is a memory. A memory of lost love – lost love kindled.
London and me? We are trying again.
This article first appeared on the Runner’s Guide to London website.