Nowhere to run to…
The 5 places where running is no escape
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the best running experiences I could recount since I began to pack my running shoes on business trips around the turn of the millennium. I’ve had quite a number of responses with some interesting suggestions for great runs, many of them off the beaten track in cities we all know well.
The natural sequel, I think, is the Hall of Shame – the places where, in future, I might actually choose the gym over hitting the streets.
So here goes. It’s entirely personal, and I’m sure some will disagree:
I love Amsterdam. I love the clients we have in Amsterdam. My visits here are the most fun I think I ever have at work.
But it’s a lousy place for running. It’s too flat for a start. Finding a kerb to jump up is about as vertiginous as the climbing gets.
But worst of all is the traffic. Not the cars, in fact it’s one of the least car-infested cities I’ve come across. But the combination of trams, bikes and the odd car means that every road junction has multiple hazards to address. The bikes rule the roost, which is brilliant, except that they come at you from every possible direction, and they stop for no one. Ever.
And trams – crikey – let’s make things safer by running railway trains all over the streets. Great idea.
Then there’s the culture that you wait for the green pedestrian light at every junction even when the road is clear – in every direction imaginable. And it’s only just after 6.00 in the morning. Dare to step out before the light changes and you get the ‘tutting’ disapproval of every other pedestrian.
I’ll often take a chance when running in a city. Sail close to the wind. Visit areas the guidebooks don’t mention. I remember running through a down at heel residential estate in Adana in southern Turkey, where underemployed young men sat around on outdoor sofas staring threateningly at the lone Westerner who had jogged into their midst.
But it was in Paris where I felt most at risk, and then not in some outlying banlieue, but along the quayside by the Eiffel Tower. I stuck to the tourist route simply because I know it well and I just wanted an easy run after a long day. It was dark and raining and I didn’t see another runner the whole time I was out.
A group of young men approached me, taking up the whole of the pavement. I went to avoid them, but they closed in around me, blocking my path and forcing me to jostle my way through. There was an attempt to kick me, to trip me up I suppose, arms and voices were raised, but I carried on. I upped my pace and ran off without looking back towards the jeering shouts of the group.
Not sure what they were after. A sweaty bloke in running kit makes an unattractive mugging target. Just for laughs I suppose, but it changed my view of a city.
A small Swiss city on the lakeside midway between Geneva and Lausanne, most famous for being the home of those pantheons of sporting virtue, UEFA. With views across the lake to Evian and the French Alps, with the Jura behind you and the old town of Nyon sitting in its quaint gorgeousness on the lake shore, this should be a runner’s paradise.
And it almost is. The trail through the woods is just high enough, and the trees spaced out perfectly, to allow a stunning view of the glinting lake. The marina has just the right combination of yachts and fishing boats to divert your attention. The ferry across to France cuts a stunning trail though the crystal clear waters.
But then your lakeside run is ruined by the city’s wealthiest inhabitants. The desire to own an uninterrupted stretch of private waterfront is so great that that the lakeside path is forced inland. Rather than have the plebs ruin the tranquillity of the super-rich, we’re all diverted onto the main Nyon to Geneva road. Trucks, traffic lights and dull straight asphalt replace the glories of the lakeshore, made worse by knowing that these delights exist only a few metres away, and that we are prevented from seeing them.
Better to have loved and lost? Not in this case. Knowing that perfection exists but is denied to us is worse than it not being there.
Oh yeah, and UEFA is one of the main culprits.
Forget what I said about sailing close to the wind, about being adventurous. When the duty manager says don’t, and the barman says don’t, and your room cleaner says don’t, then just don’t. A scary city, at least the bits I saw, with an undercurrent of unfinished business.
When it comes to running around the place, don’t, just don’t.
Instead I went round and round the hotel compound like some crazed zoo animal.
Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy Johannesburg generally, and I met some great people (including the nicest airport security team I’ve ever come across anywhere in the world), but this was not a place for a casual run.
What is it about Londoners? Why are they so bad tempered and miserable? Why do they stare at the ground and avoid eye contact? What is it that they are so frightened of?
You just don’t get this to the same extent in other cities. London may be the self-appointed ‘greatest city in the world’, it may draw millions of tourists, but it’s popularity sure as hell isn’t because of the friendly locals.
And this endemic misery even extends to runners, who should be feeling an endorphin explosion, an exercise-led euphoria. Nope, not in London. They push on aggressively, checking their fitness watches, pounding the riverside paths, staring intently only at the pavement beneath.
In London it seems, running is something you do because you have to, not because you want to. It’s a means to an end, not an end in itself. It gets you fit for the next marathon, it stops you going mad in your city office or your tiny overpriced apartment. It gets you active and keeps the weight off, but it does these things almost entirely without joy.
Lighten up Londoners and love your run.