At the end of July in 2019, I took a trip to France to attend the wedding of a friend I had met studying abroad in Taiwan 10 years before. I was super broke but those who know me know I can make a little money go a long way. Since I had never been to Europe before, I decided to take a 4 day stop in London on my way to the wedding.
After finding super cheap flights and opting to stay in a hostel rather than a hotel, I picked out two semi-expensive touristy things to do – see the musical Wicked (for the first time) and visit Stonehenge. Everything else I wanted to do needed to be free or very cheap. One idea I had was to visit a local running group and get a local view of the city.
I did some online research before my trip and found the group London City Runners online. I messaged them asking if it was okay for a tourist to join one of their weekly group runs, and they responded I could absolutely join them. Runners are usually nice like that.
I think I arrived on a Tuesday morning and the group run I planned to attend was that very Tuesday evening. In hindsight, trying to go on a group run in a city I wasn’t familiar with on my day of arrival was dumb. I was super jetlagged and tired,and had no sense of direction, but I’m too stubborn for my own good sometimes. I was in London and didn’t want to waste a second of my time there. Plus, the hostel smelled weird and wasn’t exactly the most comfortable place to rest.
Earlier in the day, I used Google maps to find their clubhouse. It was still closed, but a garage like door had their name painted across it so I knew it was the right place. That night when I walked back it was bustling with runners, most of whom seemed familiar with each other. After shyly waiting around like the wallflower I am, I worked up the nerve to introduce myself to a few people. I wasn’t the only American there; I met a really nice woman who had just moved there for a finance job after finishing school in Wales.
The group organizer showed a few of us who were new their route on a large wall map. They had 5k, 6k, and 10k route options. I inspected the map, but honestly none of it sunk in.
The time to run came and followed the pack out of the clubhouse and down the road. I kept up with the 5k group at first until we crossed a bridge over the Thames River. Then I started getting farther and farther behind. I was super jetlagged and already a slow runner to begin with.
I ended up missing the correct turn for the 5k and accidentally followed the wrong people for the longer course. By the time I realized this, I was lost and on my own. Instead of doing the smart thing and retracing my steps back to the clubhouse, I ended up just turning towards the direction I thought the clubhouse was and running that way for a while, trying for a big loop.
The sun started setting, but I wasn’t scared because I had travelled alone before, studying abroad in three different Asian countries. I knew I just needed to look confident and like I belonged and no one would mess with me. No one did.
I could have just returned to the hostel or found a spot to grab a bite but I was determined to get back to the clubhouse so I kept running, evening stopping to ask for directions until I finally made it back.
They were surprised to see me when I got back. Most of the other runners had already left, but the other American woman I had met was still there, along with the club organizer. No one had known where the random American had gone, and we laughed about my big oops over a smoothie.
I don’t regret that solo “group” run at all. I got a great view of Big Ben, the London Eye Ferris Wheel and all kinds of evening life happening around the river. It was absolutely magical. It was also really nice to meet new people in a city I wasn’t familiar with. I would definitely do it again.
If you’re ever in London, I highly recommend visiting the London City Runners. Just maybe don’t do it the same day you arrive like I did.