Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Sweating with Big Ben
Running tours let you see great cities while still burning calories
IT'S a pleasant London evening and Buckingham Palace is teeming with people. It's not the usual sea of tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of a monarch.
Londoners are out in force in hats, gloves and fascinators because Queen Elizabeth II has just wrapped up an afternoon tea party. In our head-to-toe uniforms of Lululemon and Nike, my running partner Kathleen Fox and I, along with our Lycra-clad tour guide Denise Sofia, are feeling badly underdressed.
However, we are also turning heads on our City Jogging Tour. We are weaving in and out of this spiffy crowd as we head toward St. James's Park.
We make our way past Parliament, the prime minister's digs on Downing Street and Big Ben, to the banks of the River Thames where most of our eight-kilometre sight-jogging tour will be spent weaving forth and back across six of this city's iconic bridges.
City Jogging Tours, along with other similar companies, allow tourists to hit the highlights while simultaneously hitting their daily calorie-burning targets.
Having both visited London previously, Fox and I were resistant to the usual tour options, but knowing that we needed to do something to counteract all the fish and chips and Guinness we had been ingesting, a self-powered aerobic adventure seemed like a brilliant idea.
The truth of the matter is, neither Fox nor I are avid runners, so the prospect of logging nearly 10 kilometres at someone else's pace was met with some trepidation.
Turns out, though, that with Sofia directing our attention from one sight to another and filling us in on London's sometimes-seedy history, we barely noticed how much ground we'd covered.
While this type of tour isn't for everyone -- a certain level of physical fitness is required, though it may not be as daunting as you think -- it does offer tourists a unique opportunity to experience the city like a local.
Not a huge percentage of travellers work exercise into their schedules, perhaps because they don't think it's the best use of their limited time. For that reason, while the pathways of the Embankment district were packed with runners, it was clear the vast majority were locals who had just finished up at the office and were fitting in their daily activity.
"I feel like we are part of this town, rather than standing out for all the touristy reasons," Fox says as we head toward Tower Hill, our final destination.
"It's also mildly amusing to watch all the double-takes as you two cruise by, ponytails flying in the wind."
For me, it's the tidbits you wouldn't likely hear on a double-decker bus tour that left a lasting impression. As we jogged across Blackfriars Bridge, Sofia told us the grisly tale of Italian banker Roberto Calvi who was found hung from the bridge's arches in 1982, $14,000 in various currencies stuffed in his trousers.
Originally the case was written off as a suicide, but investigation years later revealed it was the work of alleged mafia executioners.
Frankly, once you've seen the extravagance of London's Tower Bridge (not to be confused with London Bridge, which really isn't much to behold), you've kind of seen them all.
It's the gritty stories like that of Calvi's scandalous demise that you actually want to hear about a bridge!
Sight-jogging tours have been gaining speed across Europe for the last few years and it's easy to understand why. Whether or not fitness is a priority, hitting the cobblestones at a slightly faster pace than the Bermuda shorts and fanny-pack wearing crowd allows visitors to cover serious ground and collect all the pertinent details quickly -- even if they aren't all that quick on their feet.
As an added bonus, there's also no need for the telltale Lonely Planet guide, when you have a living breathing local running in stride.
City Jogging Tours (www.cityjoggingtours.co.uk) offer a selection of guided runs throughout London. Customized tours can also be arranged.
-- Postmedia News
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2013 E3
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