City running – Easy Street or dead end street?

Screen shot from 'Silence', directed by Austin Siadak (Source: YouTube/Arc'teryx)

Screen shot from ‘Silence’, directed by Austin Siadak (Source: YouTube/Arc’teryx)

There’s a popular image of running which is summed up in this short video by outdoor clothing company Arc’teryx.

In it, a desk-bound city-dweller yearns to escape the noise, hassle and existential angst of what the video’s YouTube blurb calls “the modern world’s trappings”. And so, after some frustrating runs on the streets he finally discovers the idyllic, uninterrupted peace of running in the mountains.

You probably live in a city, like I do and like most people do today. However, we don’t all have the possibility of fleeing to some nearby isolated countryside whenever we want to run. City living means city running.

City living can be stressful, so you would think that running is a perfect way for us urbanites to unwind. However, the opposite can be the case. We have to dodge pedestrians, avoid cyclists, skip over dog leads and stop at junctions. Certain parts of town can be dangerous or menacing, especially after dark. Concrete pavements are bad for our backs and joints. Parks close early in the winter, and so our summer running routes fly away like holiday romances.

City-bound runners can either trudge around in high dudgeon and simmering frustration, or make the best of it and learn to adapt. One of the busiest corners of Paris, where I lived for eight years, is Place Saint-Michel, where commuters and tourists converge from all directions to cause gridlock on street and pavement. But last time I was there I saw a runner pick her way through the five o’clock crowds and across the traffic jam, without a bother on her.

For two of my eight years in Paris I lived in the city centre and most evenings I ran through tourist central – either along the right bank of the Seine from the Louvre up to the replica Statue of Liberty, or from Invalides to the Champs de Mars beside the Eiffel Tower. It took me a few runs to work out a route that minimised disruption as much as possible, but I could no more eliminate disruption than eliminate every traffic light and tourist in Paris. I made the best of it.

(That said, when I moved out to the suburbs I found more spacious and unbroken running routes, which improved things considerably.)

Now in a quintessentially leafy south-western suburb of Dublin, I’m fortunate to have long stretches of tarmac paths near me. My local parks are hot spots for runners, although the short winter evenings have driven us all onto the streets. However, I’ve been surprised by the poor quality of public lighting in Dublin – I can barely make out oncoming pedestrians in the caramel yellow glow of the streetlamps. And cycling on footpaths is endemic here.

So, how can you be a runner in the city? Accept the fact that you must share the parks and pavements with other people, and so you must plan your running accordingly. Common sense will tell you that you can’t do your fast-pace threshold run on a busy street, although I’ve seen runners barrelling along narrow footpaths as old folks shuffle home from the shops. Pedestrians will insist on walking with dogs or prams, and you’ll get a few rogue cyclists too; take them all in your stride and try not to get frustrated.

You know well that cities get busy at certain parts of the day. If rush hour and school time pour crowds onto your preferred route, then just avoid going there during peak demand – or else work it into your run as a recovery stretch so that slowing down feels like your choice.

Just as you shouldn’t be bowling over pedestrians, so you should also keep out of the way of traffic. Cross streets safely – don’t go darting out suddenly or tearing across red lights. If you manage to minimise the number of enforced street crossings on your run, then try making the crossing a natural end to a section of your run. (Jogging on the spot as you wait for the pedestrian crossing light to turn green: do you really need to do that?)

Maybe the golden rule is to run with the city, not against it.

This entry was posted in Dublin, Paris, Training and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to City running – Easy Street or dead end street?

  1. mia79gbr says:

    I like this post and the idea of running WITH the city. Brilliant images you’ve conjured up.

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