Saturday, April 30, 2016

Running near London: a 14-mile loop around Heathrow airport (LHR)

When I stay in a new place, with some time for a run, I like exploring based on what Google Maps provide, then document what I found in my Running in... series (see tags on the right side of this blog). But nowadays, there are so many running-related blogs, websites or apps out there, it's worth doing a quick search. Spending a night at Heathrow between two flights, I was very pleased to discover Keith Hauser's Running Routes blog. Quite a great resource for globetrotter runners like me!

Now, Keith isn't an ultra runner so his routes are on the short side for me. More specifically for his Heathrow route, it is less than 3 miles so I decided to create my own route, all around LHR, and I'm pleased to report it's quite a great run! At least if you stay in one of the numerous hotels on the edge of the airport and on Bath Road in particular (there must be more than 20 hotels qualifying!).

Here is the trace of my Wednesday run:
And I ran the loop again on Thursday morning before my flight, adding another half mile by missing the turn on Great South West Road:
First, I strongly suggest running the loop clockwise. This way you are on the inside of the loop and running again the traffic since locals drive on the 'wrong' side (left! ;-), since they have their driving wheel on the... right side (yes, this is confusing, as it is when you cross a street and need to watch for traffic coming in the other direction you are used to).
This is a view of the sidewalk on the South side of the airport. Although it border a 2x2 expressway, it looks really nice.

Of course, you are close to car and airplane traffic so it's pretty noisy, but wait for what's next
 Yes, there are still fields and crops that close to the airport, looks like the country side, doesn't it?
 Another nice sidewalk as you approach the reservoirs.
The first reservoir, Staines reservoir. I was excited to run along some water per the map, but these reservoirs are well protected, as are those providing water to San Francisco in our Silicon Valley.

 This shoes the only section where you have to run on the left side, after exiting the underpass at the crossing between the two reservoirs, the Southern point of the loop on the above map (by the way, the underpass is call Subway here!). After about half a mile, you'll find this trail on the left side which allows you to cross the expressway underneath (next picture).

At his point you enter the real green area, which is a pasture for cows. I was lucky that the grass was dry. If you run this loop during a lay over, make sure to have a good place to change and shower as this section must be quite muddy after rainy days.
You can barely see the trail here, you just have to trust Google Maps (I don't know how these guys are mapping out trails which are barely visible when you are on them...).
Don't miss this tricky connection to climb on the old railway line, it's really the nicest part of the loop, the one which makes you forget you are just next to one of the busiest airport in the world. That's also the section I saw a fox, at the same place on both my runs, quite an experience!

After that, my phone died so no more picture, make sure to check out or download one of my two Strava runs: Wednesday evening (14 miles) and Thursday morning (14.5 miles).

The end of the loop is actually pretty straightforward once you get on Bath Road. You may see that I left Bath Road when getting closer to Terminal 3: I was supposed to meet blind runner Simon Wheatcroft before his flight to Namibia where he is running on his own the 7-day Sahara Race from May 1 to 7! You may recall I met Simon in Vegas in February. Anyway, I missed him because, with my dead phone, I couldn't figure out how to get under the North tarmac. Someone told me the tunnel was closed and I had to take a bus, but it was too late. Anyway, a good lesson that, if you want to run this loop during a lay over, from one of the terminals, you need to plan accordingly. If I had to do that again, while not staying at one of the Heathrow hotels, I'd try to escape the perimeter of the airport through Terminal 5 which is much closer to the outbound perimeter: you need to take the Heathrow Express train from Terminal 3 (e.g. OneWorld) or 2 (e.g. Star Alliance), to 5 (domestic).

Also, as you can see in the above maps, there is likely a way to shorten the run by taking the Southern Perimeter Road. But I say likely because I haven't assessed the feasibility of running along that road.

With the traffic at this airport, I hope this is helpful for a few runners stopping by Heathrow. As a matter of fact, it was super cool to receive this message from Chris, shortly after I posted my runs on Strava: "Thank you Jean for the inspiration. I ran a similar route around LHR this afternoon." At least it helped one! :-) As a matter of fact, Chris cut it shorter by hopping on that Southern Perimeter Road, and you can check his 10-mile version on Strava. But then he missed all the green countryside section at the Southwestern corner of the loop, that's the trade-off.

Again, great run if you have a few hours while going through or staying at Heathrow!

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