Trail Running In London
Written By: SportsShoes
We recently spoke with London based ultramarathon runner and Salomon ambassador, Hannah Leith (@escapingthecity) to get the low down on how she manages to keep up with training in the city.
When I tell people I run ultra-trail marathons in the mountains, the first thing they always ask is how can I possibly train in London?! The second thing I get asked is do I have a full-time job? Although most people opt to pound the pavements around the city (and there are some awesome places to do this), there are actually a surprising number of great trail running spots in and around London, and some decent hills too! So much so that I don't do any road running during my training, and still manage to fit it in around a busy full-time job.
This year I had the UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) to prepare for. This world-famous ultramarathon is 105 miles, with 10,000+ metres of elevation, circumnavigating Mont Blanc. Most of the race is on trails, including many steep and very technical sections.
These were my favourite spots to train for UTMB in and around London this year:
Hampstead Heath is trail running heaven for those in North London, and luckily for the rest of us it's very easy to get to from other areas of the city. It’s popular for runners that want to get to the trails before or after work in the summer. The endless kilometres and hidden pockets make it very easy to escape the crowds and get lost amongst the hills, trails, and trees. You won't feel like you're in London anymore! It also includes Parliament Hill, which at 322ft is great for hill work and also offers incredible views across the city.
Richmond Park, the largest of the Royal Parks (2,500 acres!), is very popular for both cyclists and runners (road and trail) for good reason. There's a popular undulating 12km trail route (Tamsin Trail) that you can follow around the perimeter of the park, but if you like to get lost on the trails away from the crowds then I recommend heading into the centre of the park to find your own route. I usually do a mixture of both to help clock up the miles.
When I need to get some elevation in during training, I head to one of the steep hills and do hill repeats. You can also explore the nearby Thames Path, Bushy Park, or Wimbledon Common if you want to do a long run and don't fancy doing loop after loop in the same place.
Epping Forest is a hidden gem on the outskirts of London. With 6,000 acres of forest, there's plenty of trail routes to explore! There are nine waymarked trails with posts marking the route, so these are a great place to start if you're new to the area. They're also all circular so you can pick them up from any point. You can find these routes on the City of London website.
Box Hill is well-known as a cyclist hotspot, but I discovered this year that the running trails around Box Hill, on the North Downs Way, are both beautiful and challenging. There are plenty of steep hills if you're looking to get in some decent elevation! Leith Hill is also nearby and definitely worth including on a long run for the woodland trails and impressive views from the top. The North Downs Way is a 246km route that runs from Farnham in Surrey to Dover in Kent. There are towns with train stations all along the way so it's easy to plan a long run in one direction and get a train back home at the end.
Hampton Court Park and Bushy Park
Both Hampton Court Park and Bushy Park offer plenty of great off-road trail options. Similar to nearby Richmond Park they're also filled with wild deer. Bushy Park is the home of the original Parkrun, and attracts around 1,000 runners each week! So, if you're heading to the trails to get away from the crowds then maybe avoid Bushy Park on a Saturday morning…
When I'm too busy to escape to one of the above trail running spots, I simply head to one of the many London parks in and around central London and stick to the grass. My local park (Tooting Common) has lots of trail sections through small woodland areas so I still feel like I can escape the busy city on my morning or evening run!
I hope you enjoy exploring the incredible trails that London has to offer.
For more inspiration on where to go for your trail runs check out our guide here. Or, for more details about our trail running shoes and gear, take a look at our trail running store.