Saturday, May 25, 2013

Running in London: follow the bikes!

Sorry for those who are only interested in the title, probably visiting London, I'll start with some news. It's Memorial Day weekend in the US and I'm on a plane between San Francisco and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, via Frankfurt, Germany. Did you know that the working week here in Saudi Arabia is Saturday-Wednesday, and the one in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is Sunday-Thursday. Slightly confusing, isn't it? Sincerely, I'd better be keeping up with that weekend tradition which is, in addition to celebrating our Veterans, to train hard in order to prepare for the summer 100-milers. Like Western Sates started the 100-mile tradition almost 40 years ago, their organizers picked this weekend to allow participants to train on the course over 3 days. While I went there in May 2007 before my first Western States, and learned a lot, I started my own training weekends, in the Bay Area, to keep a better balance between many hours on the trails and family time (126 miles in 2008, 122 miles in 2009, only 49 miles in 2010, 75 in 2011, and the weekend spent in Dubai in 2012...).

Anyway, after last weekend's accident or incident (bursting my big toe on a rock), that would have not been a good idea to push too much. For those wondering, the toe is already getting better and the purple changed to dark blue and getting close to pink after 6 days. Amazing how the body heal itself, I just iced my foot a lot the first two days and kept it as much elevated as I could while keeping working. I probably going to lose 2 nails on this one, typical ultra running stuff, sorry for the details... I couldn't stay put and not exercise with such a fitness and amazing weather this week so I went for a few slow walks in the nearby park the first three days of the week. The slow motion gave me a brand new perspective on the neighborhood, allowing me to see things I don't when running. I went for a slow 10K run on Thursday, not farther as I had still quite some discomfort with the impact and tended to run on the outside, an unbalance who could lead to more injury. Before an early morning full of meetings and driving to airport on Friday, I went for a run at 4:50 am, just before the full moon disappeared behind the hills and as the city was still asleep. I ran 15K that time (3 times my neighborhood 3.1-mile loop) and felt good. I was fearing the 11 hours in coach between San Francisco and Frankfurt but got upgraded! Phew, it felt good too to lay flat for most of the flight.

Enough of a digression and news flash, let's go back to the title... 2 weeks ago, I jumped on a plane to London right after placing 2nd at the "hot" Quicksilver 50-mile. After running in temperatures around 90F (32C) in San Jose, California, it felt really strange to find rain and a 57F (14C) temperature upon landing in England. I got to the hotel around 4 pm on Sunday afternoon, spent an hour on the phone with the team in Saudi to prepare for my upcoming trip and decided to go for a run to help managing the 8-hour jet lag. Between the Tube station and the hotel I crossed a bike path whose name caught my attention: Cycle Superhighway.
I went on the Internet to learn more about what the "superhighway" and found information about this network of bike paths across the British capital agglomeration. The routes as well as self-service bike rental stations across the city, like Velib' in Paris, are sponsored by Barclays. Here is a general map of the network:
I ran to the end of CS3 and it was convenient to have a very distinctive route painted in blue as a guide instead of wandering around unknown neighborhoods. Especially as it was Sunday evening and rainy, so I had pretty much the path for myself. I saw many bikes going fast on the trail, to work or from work, so you have to be careful during "rush" hours. Note though that most of the bike path has also a sidewalk along, so you can leave the path to bikes and run more safely.
It was interesting to run along Canary Wharf, a place I visited several times in 1990 when I was with ILOG and consulting for Texaco, and that this 2nd financial district in London was just getting off the ground. After Canary Wharf, going Eastward, you pretty much run along a busy highway, quite noisy and without any tourist interest. But a good way to log a few road miles without taking the risk of keeping crossing streets and intersections on which the traffic is against "common sense" (yes, Brits still drive on the left side).

Now, an anecdote about the category of the post: Running in Europe. My visit coincided with the decision to organize by 2017 a referendum on England's membership to... Europe. While, even with the Channel, you can't deny the geographical attachment to the European continent, it's going to be interesting to see over the coming years how the financial crisis may break the European Union again, with each country fighting for its own sole interests. Or own currency as this is already the case in the UK...

Anyway, let's keep running away from politics and economic policies. If you stay in London, you may find this network of bike paths useful to log a few kilometers. Or miles should I say since we can't even agree on a common measurement/metric system, my dear...

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