Running is a terrific way to discover new places and here, in ascending order, are John Butler’s top five runs from around the world
Because it is cheap and I have no earthly reason not to, I’m living at the moment in Budapest. Life these days is peripatetic, the entirety of it seeming to fit in a bag, and yet everywhere I go, running gear always seems to worm its way in there.
I don’t particularly like the idea of asking a burly stranger to spot me at the bench press, or any group of strangers if I can play football with them. But I can run easily, and only a part of the desire to do this is wanting to keep fit.
It also happens to be a terrific way to discover a new city. The acreage you cover, for starters, grabbing snatches of conversation in a strange tongue, smelling food, finding obscure nooks and parks, and seeing buildings from a quite different perspective to that of the walker, driver and subway rider.
Consider this too: until you are au fait with the layout of any new place, it is so much harder to be mugged while you are already running away . . .
Once you are familiar with your surroundings, some particular runs at your destination will emerge as firm favourites, and here, in ascending order, are my top five runs from around the world; recalled from memory only, and without the promise of factual accuracy (while I ran them, I was too busy wheezing and cursing to take notes).
What are yours? Anyone running in Beijing? Cairo? Moscow?
5 Margrit Island, Budapest
In Budapest, my few-times-weekly-run is around Margrit Island, a five-kilometre long idyll plonked in the middle of the Danube, between the cities of Buda and Pest. The interior is a blend of meadowland, herbaceous borders, outdoor bars and a water park. It also has an Olympic swimming pool, and though I do like to swim, my last time there concluded shortly after I was struck on the head by a water polo ball, flung by an Olympic athlete.
Now I run, on a spongy purpose-built single lane track that wraps around the perimeter. You get all sorts here, and in the evenings, there’s a great breeze off the water, when people come after work to cycle, take out canoes and, it would seem, expertly fling sports equipment at the heads of tourists.
4 Dover Heights, Sydney
As it is for all sports, Sydney is made for jogging. Around every corner is another breathtaking bay, and yet another succession of toned, tan joggers gabbing as they effortlessly rinse you on the outside. The run I best like to scuttle along, crablike, starts in front of Bondi Beach on Campbell Parade and travels the length of the beautiful strand before climbing through the ritzier neighbourhood of North Bondi and onwards to Dover Heights and Valcluse, each boasting properties of increasing altitude (and cost).
There’s a not-insignificant climb at the peak of this run, at which point you’re rewarded with a stunning view of the downtown area, from near Watson’s Bay. From there, loop around the head, back downhill and into Rose Bay, then pass the ferry port and turn left after Royal Sydney Golf club and climb back up to Bondi.
3 Hyde Park, London
The scene of my greatest ever athletic achievement, folks, an Olympic-distance triathlon a few summers back that I managed to complete before they pulled up the finish line and packed it back in the van (in your face, Daley Thompson). Naturally, this place is somewhat . . . touristy.
But the perimeter brings you past four quite different corners of London and plants you, psychologically, right in it. From Notting Hill Gate it’s a gentle descent down Bayswater to Marble Arch. Bearing right after it, you pass Speaker’s Corner, and take Park Lane along the side of Mayfair, and the Dorchester Hotel, where I always think of Richard Harris.
Right after the Green Park Corner, the gradient increases until you pass Knightsbridge (Harrods!), then drops slightly to the Royal Albert Hall (The Kinks!). When you reach Kensington Palace (Lady Di!), you’re all-but done, with a short uphill back to Notting Hill Gate, at which point you can be fairly sure you’re in London.
2 Silver Lake Reservoir, LA
Named not for the reflection of the sunlight on this vast body of drinking water nestled in the hills just east of Hollywood, but for the water commissioner, Hermann Silver. This place is, to me, a kind of heaven. It’s 3.5 kilometres around the reservoir, a sand-covered track for the most part which sits in the bowl at the centre of LA’s hipster neighbourhood.
There’s one crazy hill on the East side to keep you honest, and by day it can be just too hot for pasty Irish me to get around. I like to go in the evening, when it smells of jasmine, and when the workers run it, with their dogs, or walk it, smoking weed. I like the run around the reservoir in Central Park, New York, but here, I can’t help but think of “Chinatown” and the essential value of water to this city. The reservoir will be drained and replaced in two years, but for now, you can see homes designed by Richard Neutra, sense the palm trees that seem to lean in, and spot the occasional starlet, rollerblading in the company of her boutique dog.
1 The Phoenix Park, Dublin
It couldn’t not be mentioned. For runs in Ireland it was a toss-up between Curracloe beach, Sandymount Strand and this place. I love that this takes you past a zoo (with all the attendant odours), a presidential residence, a papal monument (and historical cruising ground), and overlooks Constitution Park and the Liffey Valley. And I love that it is almost exactly 10km around. This matters if, like me, you need to be the furthest distance away from the car at the point when you are most apt to want to quit. At 5k, faced with the choice of running or walking another 5k in ignominy, you may as well run, Forrest. I begin behind the Wellington monument, turning uphill and continuing west, parallel and above the Liffey Valley, which runs towards Islandbridge. After that you’re halfway there, and after that, you really know you’re home.