Book review: Runner’s Guide to London


‘There is something truly special about running in London,’ Hayden Shearman insists in the introduction to his new book Runner’s Guide to London.

I am not so sure. The longer you stay in a place and the more miles you trudge, the more cynical you become. The wonders you once marvelled at scarcely merit a glance.

Convince me, Hayden. Convince a Londoner who has been here too long and is emigrating – well, to Edinburgh – that there really is something ‘truly special’ about the London running scene.

Hayden

I read on.

‘Almost every home in London is within a mile or so of greenspace.’

‘…more parkrun events that any other city on the planet…’

‘…a thriving athletics scene…’

Parks, canals, docklands, estates, royal hunting grounds, woodlands…

I am slowly, grudgingly nodding in agreement. ‘The jogger pounding the pavers next to the Thames has become about as iconic an image as a red double-decker bus,’ Shearman concludes in a hyperbolic but passionate declaration of love for London.

And this is just the introduction. Thereafter comes the sort of information you would find in a Lonely Planet guide, albeit skewed to the runner, before the main action of the book: some 200 pages devoted to running in London’s 32 boroughs (plus the City of London).

The guidebook is unashamedly focused on those borough’s greener areas, and, wisely Shearman centres on where Londoners could run, rather than producing endless potential routes that they should run. For instance, in the ‘Central Hotspot’ chapter, the book introduces seven green areas, including Battersea Park, Burgess Park and Victoria Park (all illustrated by maps), but restricts routes to just three. That approximate ratio continues through the book.

The reader is unlikely to read these pages chronologically. They will flick and dip, inevitably first looking at the familiar, before delving into the less-frequented, then the unknown. For me, that was Tooting Bec Common, Farthing Downs was my less-frequented, and a plethora of unvisited locations – Harmondsworth Moor Waterside, Monken Hadley Common, Crane Park…

The possibilities are endless. Shearman has achieved a remarkable feat: reinventing the familiar while illuminating the unfamiliar. In that sense, the book appeals equally to the gnarled Londoner and the fresh-faced, non-cynical newcomer.

The Runner’s Guide ends with a flourish: interviews with Julia Bleasdale, Paul Sinton-Hewitt and Scott Overall, and routes and maps tracking the Thames Path from Richmond to Erith.

Shearman throws a final challenge to his reader: to run in all of London boroughs. A quick tally puts me at about 25. With Scotland imminently beckoning, I will probably not now reach the magical 33. At least not for a few years.

Job done, Shearman. You have convinced me. London is not all that bad, is it?

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