Forget the headlines about Londoners being sedentary office workers with a deep-rooted Netflix addiction; the statistics show a very different picture. According to Strava, the social networking site for athletes, London is fast becoming a city of runners. Recent research revealed the British capital is the most active area in the UK for runners, with the number of run commutes in 2018 growing by 51%. For the first time in Strava’s history, there are now more runners than cyclists in the capital, and treadmill-focused classes are ClassPass’ fastest growing category. At the heart of the trend is a wave of London-based running groups championing community and performance, offering an altogether more immersive experience.
Beyond the widespread availability of running clubs, there is a deeper force at play; our desire to reconnect as a community. Michael James Wong, an LA-born meditation guru living in London, believes this is something city dwellers are craving. “People are looking to share and reconnect as a community. Getting out in nature is the new gym,” he says.
As health and fitness become increasingly integrated into Londoners’ lives, the need for wellness experiences that facilitate social interactions as well as a sense of community will continue to grow. Running in the capital is going from strength to strength. Jogging is no longer the preferred term - now we’re all runners.
Here's our pick of the best urban running clubs to know about...
Parkrun, a free, timed 5k run with a community of over 1 million runners set the precedent in 2004. There are now 47 Parkruns in the capital alone and the weekly sessions (a bright and early 9am start on a Saturday, FYI) are the perfect way to spend time in nature and your local community. Whether your 5k takes you 20 minutes or 50, the weekly aspect of the event provides the opportunity to compare and contrast runs over a set period, making Parkrun ideal for those getting into fitness or training for a race .
At the helm of the phenomenon is founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who was awarded a CBE in 2014 for his ‘services to grass roots sports participation’ and has long been a vocal advocate for the concept of a running community. Want in? Just remember to register before you turn up otherwise your run won’t be timed.
Free entry; find your nearest group at parkrun.org.uk
DISCOVERING THE CITY
London’s running scene is going from strength to strength. Run Dem Crew was set up by DJ, poet and writer Charlie Dark in 2007 as an answer to running clubs that were “missing the point of community exercise”. “We are not a running club, we’re a running crew,” Dark told us. “Running is the least important part of what we’re about. For us, it’s not about speed, time or distance, it’s bringing generations together to run, making people fit enough to survive in their city. We build, maintain and activate communities.”
Whether you’re a triathlon veteran or just getting started on your running journey, Run Dem Crew is the definition of an urban running community. As well as exploring the capital’s streets on foot, the group also host post-run workshops, film nights and talks.
Email to find out how you can get involved; rundemcrew.com
Elsewhere, in less than four years, Midnight Runners has become one of the world’s largest urban running collectives. Starting out as a group of 13 people jogging alongside the banks of the Thames on a drizzly winter night, they now boast thousands of members worldwide. There are eight cities with a weekly Midnight Runners programme, spanning Barcelona to Sydney and in 2017, they organised a marathon in a war zone - Somalia’s first in 26 years.
The group hosts three runs in London every week, including Tuesday sessions at the Mile End Track and Sunday runs, which, covering distances of up to 30k, are popular with marathon runners bored of training solo. Music also plays an integral role within the community with playlists curated via the Midnight Runners Slack channel. Also keep an eye out for themed Friday night 10k runs (members are encouraged to wear fancy dress), which take place every other month.
Membership starts from £36 for three months; visit midnightrunners.com
THE SCIENCE-DRIVEN ONE
If 2018 was the year of mindful running, 2019 is the year of performance running. Head trainers are, by and large, athletes or fitness heavyweights themselves, on hand to help runners improve technique and avoid injury.
Anthony Fletcher, founder and head coach at Onetrack, is one such example. A Biomechanics Coach and one of London’s most highly-regarded running gurus, Fletcher gets into the nitty-gritty of training. His sessions - held at the Duke of York Square track in Chelsea, where Roger Bannister trained for the world’s first sub-four-minute mile - will teach you all about lactate thresholds, negative splits and fartleks (a form of interval training), even if you’re a total beginner.
“Londoners are embracing fitness like never before and, when it comes to running, are willing to step outside their comfort zone,” Fletcher explains. “Onetrack’s mission is to educate and inform in a market that’s offering workouts left, right and centre”. Athletic prowess, however, isn’t a prerequisite for joining these sessions. Energy, a positive attitude and plenty of willpower is all you need to see you through back-to-back 800m sprints. For Fletcher, Onetrack is a running club-community hybrid. “When you’re working hard as a group, it’s impossible to not feel part of something.”
Sessions are held weekly on Monday evenings and are free of charge; visit onetrack.club
Track Life LDN, meanwhile, headed up by running coach Rory Knight and Omar Mansour, who trained under Team GB Coaches as a junior athlete, prioritise form over distance. The duo host sessions every Monday in Battersea, and in recent months there’s been a consistent stream of new members. Honing in on posture and technique, Track Life want you to “run better, not necessarily faster or further,” Knight says. Speed, they claim, is a by-product of proper running technique.
“Over the last few months, we’ve noticed there’s this real desire among Londoners to train smarter. The one thing all of our runners have in common is their passion for self improvement. A lot of traditional running clubs can be elitist or cliquey. We promote that community feel within our club,” says Mansour.
Track Life sessions are organised on Instagram and runners are split into three speed groups: rapid, intermediate and ‘sexy’ pace (“there’s no such thing as slow,” they say). Whatever your level, the workout is tough, incorporating glute-burning activation work, hill sprints and track drills, but the magic, they say, comes in running as a team. Members are encouraged to cheer others on and there’ll always be a high-five at the finish line.
Sessions are £10; visit tracklifeldn.com for dates and times
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