My first ever Run Commute

Last Friday I finally ran home from work. I’d been planning to do this for over a year, an interesting route from one side of London to the other. And with a week to go until the Birmingham Half Marathon, the 13 or so miles required formed the perfect, longest long run.

I got off to a bad start leaving work late with a massive chip on my shoulder about the person I’d last spoken to there and then hanging around in the early Autumn London chill and drizzle, waiting for a satellite to finally loom over Kensington and shake hands with my Garmin.

I then snuck into Hyde Park, at that point shrouded in darkness and got going. As well as the Serpentine, in the North West of the park there’s a round pond interestingly called Round Pond which on Friday night was decorated with the flashes of white wave tops as the wind howled around it. After semi-circling Round Pond I disappeared into the woods, where every now and then I’d see ghostly apparitions of people walking, running and cycling into focus.

I crossed into the back streets of Lancaster Gate, avoiding the gazes of the armed police outside the more sensitive embassies, inhaling the herby aroma of meat being grilled in the more upmarket Lebanese restaurants.

Over Edgware Road, the scene of my only and severely embarrassing bike accident (I’d crashed, in the main road, there was no one to blame but myself), I ran parallel to Oxford Street through one of those expensive but anonymous parts of London that I’ve only ever cycled through and never stopped (and after yesterday, run straight through) until I crossed Regent Street into Fitzrovia. There I dodged the obstacles caused by office workers stood outside pubs (and the temptation to go and join them).

It was then into Somers Town and Kings Cross’ borders to tackle my favourite Central London hill, LLoyd Baker Street. When I cycle up this I like to pretend it’s one of the more testing stages of the Tour de France where I “attack” other “riders” (and more often than not get overtaken by a really old man on a Brompton), but running up it was no great challenge. Maybe I’m a better runner than cyclist after all?

At this point I was increasingly in need of a toilet stop, which was strange because I’ve never needed such a thing during my marathon and half marathon exploits. The question was, where to go? I wasn’t exactly dressed for the various bijou Islington pubs that I’d just loved to have stopped at for a swift ale, and sneaking down an alley seems increasingly unacceptable these days. So I made the decision to drop down by the Regent Canal. It was seriously dark, there were no lights along the towpath so I assumed I’d have the place to myself. I felt my my way down, clutching onto a rail alongside some muddy steps to the water’s edge only to find that there was an endless stream of people who had no qualms taking a night-time stroll down an shady, slippy towpath. Eventually I found a suitably private place, next to a tunnel where the path ended, half expecting a man in a cloak and top hat to appear from the mist.

Relieved, I returned to my route through more nameless bits of Islington and Hackney, keeping the slow but steady pace going. The final section was the most challenging, the long unrelentingly dull stretch that is Lea Bridge Road. 3.5 miles and I’d be home and so I pushed on, even managing to speed up a little as home came into sight.

So I’d finally run what turned out to be 12.9 miles after a day at work, with a bad attitude, in the dark, in the rain though 7 London boroughs. The usual Friday night wine-lust was temporarily replaced with a thirst for water and more water. It was 9 p.m. The onset of muscle soreness was immediate. The weekend had finally begun.

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Very Cross Training

Halfway into my six week exile from running, I’m not doing too badly on keeping active, aiming to have bundles of new found strength when I finally get to lace up those running shoes again.

One of the most convenient rediscoveries has been the bike, a neat zippy hybrid that I’m embarrassed to admit has been abandoned under a sheet of tarpaulin for most of the past year. As well as improving your running, there’s a strong belief that cycling can preserve some running fitness during a period of enforced inactivity. So the new regime has forced me into cycling my commute to a workplace that has the previously ignored luxury of secure indoor bike storage and showers. Having no confidence in my bike-fitness, I aimed for just one attempt a week for starters.

The commute is just over 13 miles, much of it through the centre of London and on my first couple of attempts I managed it in 1:13, not bad considering the leaden legs and numerous traffic light stops. On Monday this week I felt I was flying, knocking 7 minutes off my “PB” and enthusing me to go for a bonus commute on Friday. This time I thought I’d try a different route, tapping into what’s left of the 2012 legacy by riding down the River Lea. Just as I passed the eerie silence of the Olympic Park, the ride became unnaturally bumpy – the back tyre was showing signs of distress. After pumping it up, it quickly gave up the ghost yet again and as I pumped it up again I could hear and then actually see the air escaping through a very obvious hole in the rubber.

Five miles from home, seven miles from my destination with the most basic of puncture repair kits I was stranded in a desolate bit of London I now know to be called Fish Island, desperately considering my options:

1. Chain my bike up outside Hackney Wick station and collect it after dark. Suddenly feel particularly helpless and clueless, I phoned a friend who reminded me that Hackney had a bit of a reputation when it came to bike thefts. This advice along with the lightweight bike lock I was carrying (which I noticed someone had already tried to saw through) put paid to this option.

2. Wheel the bike to the nearest bike store. This was the sensible option although would pretty much write-off my morning’s work plans.I’m fairly confident London Fields Cycles was the nearest possibility so after some Google-mapping I started to wheel the bike in the right general direction. However the tyre was so flat it wouldn’t rotate properly so I had to carry the bike for 1.5 miles over my shoulder, cursing and sweating.

2.5 hours after enthusiastically setting out, I arrived at work, helmet and high-viz jacket still on, bike 8 miles away. My right shoulder strengthened (glass half full conclusion) or with a newly acquired rotator cuff injury (glass half empty). I do now have a brand new rock hard rear tyre fitted and am not too dejected to have cancelled my future bike commutes. However, for a few hours on Friday, the grief caused by bike mishaps seemed a whole lot worse than the personal malfunction that’s kept me off running for weeks on end.