Running

8 secret London fitness challenges you won't have heard of

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Written by Howard Calvert
From underground marathons in Greenwich to leg-sapping climbs in Highgate, these are the challenges gathering London's most hardcore – and adventurous – fitness fanatics.
Whether it's applying make-up on the northern line at rush hour or scrambling for an outdoor table in central London when the sun's out, there's no end to the amount of daily challenges faced by Londoners, some harder than others.
However, there are a number of Capital-based challenges that you may not quite be as au fait with, such as these nine lesser known endurance challenges. You'll need to do some digging to find how you can sign up to them – and they may take some serious training (and planning) – but it'll be worth it, even if just for the Strava kudos...
Keep calm and carry on...

1. Greenwich Foot Tunnel Marathon

This obscure marathon takes places completely underground
This obscure marathon takes places completely underground
A landmark in the capital that many Londoners don’t even know exists, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel connects north and south along a stretch of the Thames that lacks other crossings nearby. It’s an Instagrammer's dream – a hidden gem of architecture beginning at the back of the Cutty Sark, leading 370m to the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf. So, of course, it was not long before runners looking for a challenge decided it would be a good idea to do laps of the tunnel until they’d completed a marathon (that equates to 58 laps), and in 2002 the tunnel even held an official marathon featuring 100 runners. Even more off the grid these days, you needn't worry about course congestion or getting overtaken by a washing machine.

2. Monopoly Challenge

Before you start spray painting your running shoes silver, this isn't a fancy dress effort. Instead, it involves seeing how many of London’s real Monopoly streets you can visit in an hour. It relies on tactics and planning – you can only use your feet to transport you (no wheels), and you are required to photograph every street and train station on the board.
Runner’s Guide To London has come up with a full scoring system, with a total of 22 street signs to visit, four stations and a jail (the Tower of London), and adventurer Tobias Mews also details the challenge in his excellent book full of challenges, Go!. Helpfully, you can start anywhere, and determining the perfect starting point may well be the key to slaying the challenge.

3. LonDone – running all of Greater London’s parkruns

Runners pass the 1km mark at Finsbury parkrun
Runners pass the 1km mark at Finsbury parkrun
Parkrun ‘tourism’ – the practice of leaving your local parkrun and visiting another for your weekly 5k – is on the rise. And the great thing about London is there is always another parkrun nearby. Naturally, the next obvious step for adventure-seeking Londoners is attempting to run ALL the parkruns within London boroughs. Mind you, there are currently 53 in total, so even if you racked up one a week, it would still take you just over a year. They are constantly adding new ones, too, so the challenge may never end!

4. Everesting Swain’s Lane

The area of Highgate contains one of London cyclists’ most feared climbs: Swain’s Lane. The 900m-long road builds to a wall-hitting 20 percent gradient, meaning one ascent is enough for most riders. But not for the frankly heroic Mat Ilic, who ‘Everested’ this London climb in record time in 2014. Everesting, for those unfamiliar, means repeated climbs of one hill until you reach the height of Everest – 8,848m. For Swain’s Lane, that means a mind-warping 134 ascents, which he completed in 14hrs 20 mins. Good luck!

5. The 12 Summits of London

London is a veritable playground of urban adventure
London is a veritable playground of urban adventure
Conceived, and completed, by Jonny Muir, this is a hidden gem. The rules are simple enough in practice: link up the highest peaks of each inner-London borough in one continuous run. Starting at Hammersmith and Fulham, Muir headed to the Isle of Dogs, then south to Greenwich, ending in Wimbledon. The total ascent? 947m. His route led him across 41 miles in just over six hours, and included, in his own words, “lots of pavement-trudging, lots of head-scratching, lots of reflecting on the sense of all this”. He freely admits it’s not the most inspiring of challenges, but if you attempt it you will get to see parts of London you’ve never seen before. And the time to beat has been set...

6. The original Race The Tube

Back in 2014, YouTube met the London Tube when videos like the one above (Mansion House to Cannon Street) racked up millions of views. But did you know the idea was originally conceived by a commuter called Richard Guthrie in 1999? Guthrie was talking to a friend about Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile, and whether they could come up with a city-based alternative, and Race The Tube was born.
They settled on a one-and-a-half mile, four-station dash against the train along the District Line. To take on the challenge, runners must leap through the train doors at South Kensington and sprint to Fulham Broadway. The rules specify it has to be done in rush hour (mainly because the tube runs slower at peak time, and with 27 roads to cross in less than nine-and-a-half minutes, it’s no mean feat to beat the train.

7. London Borough Challenge

Less about the peaks, this challenge is more about distance travelled and is an achievable task for the average cyclist. Can you visit each of London’s 32 boroughs and the City of London within 12 hours? It involves cycling, but you can use public transport too, if you wish (if you’re just cycling it, the shortest route is estimated to be under 138km). It has been completed in 9hrs 25mins – an attempt that included 92km of cycling and 103km on nine train journeys. The rules state you need to take a picture in each of borough of a sign with the borough name in.

8. The UnderRound

The London UnderRound – a dash to visit all 42 of London's Underground stations, by foot, in one attempt – is the capital’s answer to the Lake District’s famous 42-peak-spanning Bob Graham Round. In January, Suffolk runners Tom Wake and Pete Smith completed the 27ish-mile route with 3,000ft elevation in an impressive 5hrs 45mins. At each station, the rules state runners must descend to the platform, touch the yellow ‘mind the gap’ line, then get back to the surface before moving on to the next station.
The idea was originally conceived by runner Rory Coleman, who completed it himself in 2008. All you need is an official map of the route, starting and ending at King’s Cross, and a Zone 1-2 travelcard. Wake and Smith ended up covering 30 miles after taking a few wrong turns and adding a 43rd station – Monument – by mistake, after getting lost in the labyrinth that is Bank. Covent Garden was a particular challenge, Wake said: “It has about 190 steps – going down was alright, you just had to be careful not to go too fast. But by the end of the climb my quads were feeling it."
Careful though, never run on the platform and never attempt such a challenge at peak times. PB or not, staying safe comes first.
Fancy taking on a run with a difference? Registrations are now open for the UK editions of the Wings For Life World Run. Sign up here for the Organised App Run in Chiswick Park.