Sunday, September 02, 2007

My favourite runs

A new regular feature? Perhaps, perhaps - a little game to look forward to at the beginning of each month. I've had quite a few ideas for 'list' posts lately, and this is the first of them.

It's particularly - shamingly - topical for me at the moment because I am supposed to be out on a run right now (in training for the Beijing Marathon next month - ha!), but am feeling a little too fragile after a big night out last night.

My favourite running routes

1) Stanley Park, Vancouver. An amazing park, a densely wooded peninsula projecting out into the bay, a little bit of wilderness right in the heart of the city, immediately next to the downtown area - and there's a road right around it, following the coast. Unquestionably the most beautiful circuit I've ever run anywhere.

2) Sydney, coast path, Coogee to Bondi. A very close second place. I ran this every day for a couple of weeks when I was staying in a little hostel in Coogee, a mile or so inland from the beach, during my round-the-world backpacking year in '94. It's only about 3 or 4 miles on the map, but a lot further in practice because the coastline is so twisty; and it includes a lot of hills and step-climbs; running a mile or so on the sand up and down Bondi at the turnaround point is pretty knackering too; and then I was ending with a steep uphill run back to the hostel. Probably the most demanding route I've ever run - but god, I was fit back then!

3) Central highlands, Viti Levu (Fiji). Another happy recollection from that backpacking year. I stayed for a week in a remote village in the middle of the main island, and went running every morning in the surrounding hills. There was one day when everything was blanketed in low cloud, but the ridge I was running on was just above this cloud, allowing me to look down on it; and a few hill-tops round about were also peeping through - emeralds on a bed of cotton wool.

4) Mount Vernon bike trail, Virginia. I quite often head over to the States to catch up with the many old college friends who now live there. I usually stay with a couple who have a lovely house in Alexandria Old Town, just over the river from DC. I've been going there at least once every couple of years since the early '90s - it kind of feels like a second home now. And I must have run that trail through the swamps and forests along the edge of the Potomac dozens of times. It's a pretty demanding run, with quite a few gradients - and usually fiercely humid! If I make it all the way to Mount Vernon (George Washington's country home) and back, that's about a marathon distance (I've only managed it 2 or 3 times).

5) Monnow Valley. This is my childhood home, on the Welsh border. For the last 10 years of her life my Mum lived in a cottage on the outskirts of the tiny town of Monmouth (where some years earlier I had grown up and gone to school), and whenever I was visiting I'd go on this run - about 3.5 miles to Tregate Bridge (sometimes a bit further) and back again. I still do it once in a while when I'm visiting my brother's family there. It's a narrow, fairly quiet country road through woods and farmland, skirting the edge of the flood plain of the little River Monnow. It is the hilliest route I've ever run - hardly a flat stretch on it, constant ups and downs.

6) Port Meadow, Oxford. In the early '90s I was living for a while in the Jericho area of Oxford, a Victorian industrial estate along the canal. There were several variations of my running route here that I could throw in - going further north on the streets in Oxford or following the canal path or venturing further into the country - but the basic circuit I'd most often do was to go up Walton Street, across Port Meadow, past The Perch pub, down Binsey Lane and back into town past the railway station.

7) Toronto, west from Queen's Quay along the lake. One of my frustrations with Toronto (I won a scholarship to intern with a law firm there for a year back in the late '90s) was the lack of access to the lakeshore. However, from my apartment on Queen's Quay West there was a decent jogging route going west that stuck reasonably close to the Lake. (I remember once being horribly smitten by the radiant smile of a beautiful girl who passed me going in the opposite direction on roller-blades. She was, alas, going far too fast for me to catch up with her. Bloody roller-blades! I had hoped that she might turn around and come back the same way. Or that I might see her out roller-blading that route another time [the same time next week?]. But no. Another unrequited lust!)

8) Beijing, the Houhai lakes area. My current run. Not quite as spectacular as the ones listed above - but what it lacks in magnificence of natural scenery it makes up for in human colour. It's particularly good early in the morning - it tends to get thronged with tourists later in the day - when the old folks are out doing their tai chi, or their buttock slapping (a very popular form of exercise here, honestly), or their walking backwards (ditto), or their shouting across the lake (ditto).


Anonymous said...

thanks. I really enjoyed that read. a little tour around the world and into your Running Shoes.

I liked the Fiji emeralds-on-a-plate-of-cotton-balls image. I've been fortunate to see that (though not in Fiji -- I was on another mountain in another country) and it truly is fabulous.

I used to bike the mt. vernon trail. my biker buddies and I would take turns with route recommendations every saturday and I was fond of Mt Vernon since I could access it with a quick ride down the Georgetown hill and across the key bridge. But the O&D was good, too, and I eventually got pretty fast with the storing of bike and gear on the back of the Matrix and driving out to Centerville to meet up with the bike buddies for a bagel at Einstein's before biking out to the Quarry and beyond.

I remember one Saturday morning I was particularly tired as we biked past the Quarry and when we got to a nice clearing with a bench (thank you US & State Park Systems!) and open fields, I just plopped down, told them all to ride on, and that I was gonna take a nap.

They rode on and I took a nap on that bench. But not for long. about 5 minutes later I'm awoken from my half-sleep with the sound of my friends chatting. I peek open an eye to see them standing there, amazed that I actually fell asleep.

Turns out they had gone ahead about 2 minutes then decided they were actually ready for their picnic lunch and decided to bike back to me, not expecting that I'd actually "nap."

so, I got up. we ate. we chatted. and we rode on.

moonrat said...

oxford is my favorite place to run in the whole world...

Froog said...

Moonrat, you are full of surprises! When did you get to run in Oxford??

I was an undergrad at one of the colleges near Christ Church Meadow, so I began my running career doing early morning circuits of that - about 1.25 miles for the basic square around the field, I think. A good distance to build up repetitions of.

When I got a bit more hardcore I started running the triangular lap from the Plain up Cowley Rd, then up the steep hill of Divinity Road towards Headington, and then back down past the park. But the Port Meadow one was my favourite.

Froog said...

Tulsa, you know my dislike/terror/abomination of bicycles.

The cyclists on the Mt Vernon trail seem to be almost all ruthless, cackling death-dealers. They are the one thing that really detracts from the experience of running along there.

Although god knows there are a lot of runners too. I've never seen a city with so many joggers as DC. It does make me quite self-conscious. These days I have become such a slow, overweight, shuffling plodder.... well, what I do is scarcely even worthy of the name "jogging" now.

It was not always so. When I was a young man, I used to be able to run at around 12mph for distances up to a mile or so, and could sustain a little over 10mph for quite a bit further - maybe as much as 3 or 4 miles.

Even in the late '90s my 'forever pace' for distance running was still well above 8mph. Now it seems to have fallen to a little below 7mph. Pitiful!

Anonymous said...

ah Froog, don't be sooo hard on yourself. these things happen.

my first roommate/dancer friend in DC (who is also a Brit) had been running since she had stopped crawling. I'd go to the gym with her everyday and can you imagine how self conscious I'd be as I'd chug along on the next treadmill while her fluid/quick movements lefts us all in treadmill dust??

and you're right. Mt. V. bikers are obnoxious, (not me, though!) even to other bikers.

Froog said...

I can't believe that I missed out my current run in Edinburgh, around Arthur's Seat. OK, I only get to run it a few times every couple of years, but the views are absolutely staggering. And it's a very testingly hilly course.

The realisation that I want to run this route every day for the rest of my life is the one thing that gives me a focus for leaving China.