Running in City Parks with author Christopher Beanland
London-based journalist, author, and marathon runner, Christopher Beanland speaks to me about the occasionally illegal joys of running in urban areas and the green spaces within them.
Welcome to Running Sucks, a running blog where I talk to interesting people in the running world to find out how to make running suck less.
City Parks is the latest book from British author and London Marathon veteran, Chris Beanland. Over 80% of Americans live in a city and parks are an essential green break from the concrete-and-asphalt monotony in which most of us live. Taking in 50 parks around the world, the book discusses these urban havens in glorious, technicolor detail.
As someone who primarily runs on city roads and is also fond of being surrounded by greenery, I thought Chris would be an interesting interviewee.
What’s your favorite park to run in, Chris?
“Hampstead Heath is my number one park to run in - from my house in Camden to Parliament Hill and around the edge. I think the wildness is very appealing. On the back side of Parliament Hill, looking away from the city, you could almost be in the countryside. Primrose Hill is also a nice urban park with a good view. You can stop at the top of them and have a breather.”
Is conquering a hill a part of it?
“I think you’re right. Running to the top of Greenwich Park or Parliament Hill is a nice feeling. Those hilly parks are more fun - the topography makes them more interesting.”
Certainly, I’d say that if you go to the other end of the ‘Interesting Runs’ spectrum to the treadmill, humdrum, flat and devoid of nature, you’re just running for the sake of exercise. There is a single-minded purity to that pursuit of fitness, of course, but if you incorporate running into your lifestyle, adding in that sense of achievement of crushing some serious elevation and rewarding yourself with acres of emerald-colored, oxygen-belching organisms is truly a mini-break for your mind.
After all, a 2020 report by the American Psychological Association said, “spending time in nature is linked to both cognitive benefits and improvements in mood, mental health and emotional well-being.”
What do you do to make running suck less, Chris?
“It is always really important to me to listen to music. If I had an album to review [Chris is a fellow former music journalist], I would listen to it, or I’d have a playlist and I would smash through hours and hours of music while I was running. It gave me an extra emotional boost.”
Personally, I’ve never listened to anything while running. It wasn’t an option during cross country at school, of course, and then when I took up running again in my 20s I used that time to get out of my apartment - somewhere I was listening to well over 10 hours of music a day for work - for a little enforced silence.
I’ve consciously developed that aspect over time to be a real period of moving meditation (you can read about some moving meditation techniques in this post).
“I also used it as a way of exploring the city. If you’re running up and down streets, you can learn where every cross-street is, join up the dots in your head, and put that location in context. It’s something that you only truly get at ground level. When I moved to Camden, I ran every single street in the borough - it was like doing The Knowledge.”
Note: Based on the complete knowledge of over 25,000 London streets, The Knowledge is the incredibly difficult qualification that London taxi cab drivers were required to obtain in pre-GPS times to prove their worth.
“When you’re running or walking, you find places like what will become the Highline park in Camden [currently a disused railway viaduct]. I’ve always looked at places like that as forbidden spaces that I want to walk along and explore, but you’d obviously get arrested by the British Transport Police.”
Running Sucks cannot legally condone trespassing, but we can continue to highlight the spirit of exploration of and connection to nature via running. Tell us your favorite park to run through in a comment below!
Listen to Chris’s podcast Park Date at parkdate.co.uk (I will be a guest next season, talking about building a world for butterflies) and make sure you order Chris’s book City Parks (USA / UK). Your coffee table will thank you for it.
We’ll continue with the music theme for this week’s coaching tip. We’re going to make running suck less with…
There is a school of thought that originated from running coach extraordinaire Jack T Daniels that a running cadence of 180 steps per minute was ideal. He came to that figure by analyzing elite runners at the 1984 Olympics. He also coined VDOT or VO2 and lactate threshold, so let’s just call him the Garmin Godfather and get on with it and back to that 180 figure.
180 steps per minute is a great number for an elite athlete. However, the chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re not racing at the next Summer Olympics. 160 BPM might be more suitable for a novice, amateur or enthusiast runner.
Either way, you can build a playlist to both guide your cadence and hype up your run with your choice of songs at the correct speed (and correct genre). Additionally, you can always halve the BPM and run with some emotive, slow jams! Here are some examples before you google it for yourself (or use jog.fm):
Jay-Z- Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
Prince - I Would Die 4 U
Lou Bega - Mambo No.5 (tag yourself - I’m Sandra)
*NSYNC - Bye Bye Bye
David Bowie - Modern Love
Foo Fighters - Monkey Wrench
Katy Perry - Roar
50 Cent - In Da Club
Eminem - 8 Mile
Taylor Swift - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
OutKast - Hey Ya!
Fall Out Boy - Sugar, We’re Going Down
Pharrell - Happy
Lenny Kravitz - Fly Away
Taylor Swift - Shake It Off
Guns N Roses - November Rain
Avril Lavigne - Complicated
Beyoncé - Halo
AC/DC - You Shook Me All Night Long
If you’ve already got a favorite running playlist, drop a link in the comments!
Ways of making running suck less covered today:
Running through city parks
Listening to music or podcasts
Enjoying the less urban views from city park hills
Learning your neighborhood streets with bonus exercise
Thinking (just thinking) about trespassing through urban wildernesses
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