London is so great for runners - here's why

London is named top city for runners in Europe by Puma – here’s what makes it so great

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According to the experts at Puma Germany, London’s the best city for runners in Europe – followed by four other cities in the UK. That’s not a surprise to London runner and Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi.

On UK soil, I’ve run around lochs in Inverness, by the sea down in Devon, around the York walls and through Lincolnshire country lanes. I’ve raced, run and jogged around tropical Caribbean islands and Portuguese mountains. And still, nothing beats running in London.

I’m not alone in knowing that London is the best place to live as a runner. The running team at Puma Germany has been analysing 76 different European cities and has created an index of cities for runners. 

The index looks at various factors including air pollution, temperature, traffic congestion, running clubs, elevation, green space and quality of water – all things that have an impact on our ability to run. London tops the list, with four cities in the UK (Edinburgh, Belfast, Liverpool and Manchester) making the top ten. At the other end of the scale, Madrid is apparently the worst place to run. 

London has a bad rap for air pollution and congestion  – with good reason (one in three London schools are close to roads with illegal levels of NO2 pollution) – but we’re also an incredibly green city. Low-traffic neighbourhoods (however controversial) are popping up all over the place to ensure that walkers, runners and cyclists have car-free routes. 

Last year, central London was named as the greenest city in the UK by Essential Living for its number of parks, gardens and playgrounds. In 2019, London became the world’s first National Park City, a status designed to ensure that London becomes even greener.

According to Greenspace Information for Greater London, around 47% of Greater London is ‘green’, with 33% of the capital being natural habitats within open space. If you hate running through built up areas, London is ringed by canals and in every direction, you’ve got huge expanses of open space – from Alexandra Palace and Hampstead Heath in the north, to the marshes in the east, Greenwich and Richmond Park in the south and Gunnersbury and Hyde Parks in the west. There’s a canal that runs from Stratford to Wembley (and beyond) as well as the Thames Path. The 15-part Capital Ring covers 78 miles of open space, nature reserves and parkland around London.

Everywhere you turn in London, there's a park, marsh, canal, woodland...
Everywhere you turn in London, there's a park, marsh, canal, woodland...

As a London runner, I’ve spent hundreds of hours on the Regent’s Canal and River Lea but I still maintain that nothing beats the thrill of running in central London. Last weekend, I ran along the River Lea to meet the Thames at Wapping, coming into town by Tower Hill. Trotting along to London Bridge, up to St Pauls, by Farringdon and the Barbican, up Old Street and through Stoke Newington, I found myself back in the relative suburbia of Hackney in no time, thanks to the constant mental and visual stimulation of ticking off monuments, Tube stations and sites of interest.

 You barely notice that you’re running when you run in those kinds of urban settings. It’s exciting. The people you pass, the buildings you clock – it’s so much more interesting than running in the countryside. And no hill is too great in London… unless you’re running in North London or up Box Hill.

Pre-pandemic, commute running used to be a big part of my regime. I’d pack my bag with spare clothes and breakfast, and set off on the eight-mile journey from my flat to the office. Back then, I lived in Highgate and my route would take me through Holloway, Islington, Barbican, Bank and finally to London Bridge. Gradually watching the landscape change, seeing shops opening and commuters on their way to work – the city waking up – was the highlight of my day. I’d be at work before I knew it, and my pace and times reflected that. I’ve never run so fast or free as I did when running through central London. These days, I have to go out of my way to run in the city but it’s always worth it when I do.

I discovered a whole new city when I took up running in London. I found green spaces that I’d never come across if I’d only taken the tube or walked the usual routes. Bakeries, pubs, cafes, canals, short-cuts, street art – these are all treasures that London throws your way if you run. I’m hoping to move into a new flat in a few months time – in an area I discovered on my long runs from Highgate to Wanstead.

London is a paragon of running – there’s a reason why the London Marathon is so oversubscribed and often hailed as one of the best road races in the world.  If you’ve never tried it, why not make central London your next race target, running holiday or weekend adventure? 

PUMA Europe’s independent data collection partner has analysed a number of different variables across 76 different cities in a bid to identify the best European city for runners. All views expressed are not those of PUMA Europe.

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Images: Miranda Larbi

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.

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