Trail Running In London | How And Where To Get Fit For The Trails - Outdoors Magic

Outdoors Gear, Equipment, News, Reviews, Forums, Walking Routes and More at


How To Guides

Trail Running In London | How And Where To Get Fit For The Trails

When you're city-bound and find yourself signed up to an alpine ultra, it's time to improvise... as our editor found out

What do you do when you’ve booked yourself into a gnarly trail race in the mountains but live in a place where some of the buildings are twice as high any of the hills around you? That was a question I found myself pondering for a while, after I naively agreed to run the adidas Terrex Infinite Trails race in the Alps.

I spent the first 22 years of my life in Wales, where even one single journey to get home from school involved more altitude gain than I can chalk up in a week in London where I now find myself (for my sins). How was I going to get myself suitably ready for 40km of off-road running in the Austrian Alps? Either I needed to get myself an expensive season pass for the Caledonian Sleeper train to the Scottish Highlands or I had to find a way to improvise. Of course, I chose the latter option, reassuring myself that I’d do the best I could in London.

“No matter what city you live in, with the right mindset and gameplan, getting trail fit isn’t actually as hard as you might think.”

At the time of writing, there are a few weeks left until my race, and do you know what? It’s transpired that actually, I’ve found some surprisingly nifty places to help me train for such an event; places to get attuned to running on the soft, slippy and often trippy stuff that I might find in the Alps, and also perhaps in respectable enough fitness to at least have a sniff of being able to take on the climbs. Time’s going to tell on that one though.

It’s been a journey of discovery, that’s for sure, and I thought it might be worth sharing on my findings to any other urbanites as silly as me to sign themselves up to race without really thinking about what they’re getting themselves in for. These locations might be London specific, but my intention is to show that no matter what city you live in, with the right mindset and game plan, getting trail fit isn’t actually as hard as you might think.

Sydenham Wood

One resource that I’ve found invaluable for seeking out trails in urban areas is the map app on the search engine Bing. You can get free access to full OS mapping on this simply by opening the app on your desktop and clicking the tab on the top right-hand side. By using this function I was able to come across the fantastic trails within Sydenham Wood. It’s a bit of a cliché, I know, but when you’re running in here, it’s so easy to forget that you’re in the city. It’s quiet, beautiful, there are trails darting off all over the place and it’s also quite hilly.

Crystal Palace

While there are options for running off-road in Crystal Palace’s park, I actually found the area’s roads were really useful for training. There are so many of them going up and over Crystal Palace hill in each direction that you can run up and down it multiple times without having to repeat the same route. After two climbs, you can rack up about 150m in ascent, double that up and you’ve climbed the equivalent height of one of the Wainwrights in the Lake District.

Hampstead Heath

This is one of the more obvious options for trail running, after all, it’s one of the highest points in London and it offers 790 acres of almost completely uninterrupted green space. You could spend a long time running here and still find trails you haven’t followed before. For hill repeats, definitely head to Parliament Hill as you’ll get one of the finest views of London from its top.

Richmond Park

Next time you visit a park cast your eye to its boundary. Often, you’ll see that a trail has been carved around it by runners over time. That’s the case with Brockwell Park, Finsbury, Dulwich, and the cream of the crop, Richmond. Runners are spoilt within Richmond’s gloriously wild bounds, but for those looking for a specific challenge to take on, give the Tamsin Trail a go. This 7.3-mile route follows the park’s entire boundary and throws up a total ascent of 113m. Double up on the loop and you’ve got yourself a completely trail-based half marathon.

The Green Chain Walk

South-east London’s Green Chain Walk is a real gem. It’s a series of trails, all of which are interlinked, and they manage to seek out beautiful woodland and parkland in an area that most people probably wouldn’t normally associate as being very natural. I’ve done a few sections of this with the highlights so far being Beckenham Place Park and Shooter’s Hill. For ultra marathon practice in London, try linking up a few of these routes.

Epping Forest

This historic forest is right on the edge of London, but that doesn’t mean it’s hard to get to, in fact, it’s only a few stops eastbound on the Central Line (that red one). Get off the tube at Loughton and about a kilometre down the road you’ll find the entrance to a whopping 5,900 acres of glorious woodland and undulating hills.

Image: Mike Brindley
Image: Mike Brindley

The London Peaks Challenge

Here’s a challenge I cooked up myself and one that would work in any city and in any country. It involves reaching the five highest points within the city’s core urban area in a single day. In London, that’s the Flagstaff (Hampstead, 134m), Shooter’s Hill (Greenwich, 132m), North Hill (Highgate, 129m), Sydenham Hill (Sydenham, 112m), Westow Hill (Crystal Palace, 110m). I’ll confess to getting the tube between the southern hills and the northern ones, which is a bit soft, but perhaps one day I’ll commit to mixing up both trail and tarmac by running the whole thing. If anything in London is going to get me prepared for what I can expect during the adidas Terrex Infinite Trails in June, that’s definitely going to be it.


The adidas Terrex Infinite Trails championship, held 27-30 June in the Austrian Alps, is a unique race format where pros and amateurs battle side by side in teams of three and across different stages. First there’s the prologue race where all entrants run to decide their team’s starting position for the next day, then there’s the relay which covers a distance of 120km split into three rounds, and finally, there’s the last kilometre where all three team members run to the finish line together. 

In association with


Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.