Thursday, 30 April 2015

Crowded 'round: an alternative London marathon

I was lucky enough to run the London Marathon last Sunday. It was an incredible day, with crowds lining most of the route, and it felt like a 26.2 mile party. Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult to gain an entry to the event so I recently tried an alternative way of running a marathon around the nation's capital. There was no ballot to get in but, as it turned out, the crowds were just as big.

I counted my urban jogging adventure as
an emergency and evacuated the station
as quickly as my legs could manage.
The London Underround in an 'anytime' challenge, dreamt up by performance coach, Rory Coleman. Taking in 42 underground stations in Zone 1, the route covers more than 20 miles overland but don't expect to stay outside in the open: the real challenge is that you have to touch the yellow line on the platform in each of the stations, and exit using the stairs or escalator.

I thought 9.30 on a Tuesday morning would offer the perfect window to set out from King's Cross: just late enough to miss the morning rush, just early enough to be back before the evening one. By the time I reached the third station and encountered another hoard of people piling down the escalator, I started to wonder whether I'd be the life and soul of the commuter party at both ends of the day, and struggling to beat the last tube home.

Rush hour was starting again by the time I reached some of the later stations in the City that afternoon and, as I weaved my way around the maze of Bank station and the people who filled it, I marvelled at the current record for the route. Standing at four hours 36 minutes, it's only half an hour slower than my marathon PB at Berlin: a flat and fast course, where world records are often broken. A man did a wee on my leg in the start pen of that race and, however long I took to complete the Underround, I figured that if I made it out of the crowds without that happening, it would be a performance I could be proud of.

The crowds weren't the only thing slowing me down: I don't live in London and my sense of direction isn't the most reliable. I received the route from Rory the day before and printed out my booklet of maps to help me find the stations but, running the route by myself, the navigating took me more time than I expected. I was very grateful for a friend's company for 2 miles in the West End, not only for his witty repartee, but his local knowledge too: entry to Covent Garden tube station was closed and only accessible by train but he had a plan ready that involved a quick sprint to Leicester Square and short tube journey back. Enjoying a 20 second sit down between stations, I proudly declared that, at 260 metres, this was the shortest tube journey in London. Phil looked at me sympathetically. If it weren’t for the fact we were underground, I suspect he would have abandoned me there.

The only major navigational hiccough happened after Sloane Square, where I ran for 15 minutes in completely the wrong direction. A local newsagent shook his head when I asked him for directions back to Victoria, and he suggested I get on a bus; instead, I bought a bottle of water from him and carried on running. The route itself was spectacular, taking in some beautiful parts of London; with my GPS showing nearly 26 miles, it looked like I'd also seen some bits of London I wasn't supposed to.

If you want to try the Underround, you can find out more on Rory's website. I've also written about it over at the Guardian Running Blog and recorded a podcast for Lazy Girl Running.

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