If you run in a city or any other crowded area, you have probably experienced pedestrians, animals and other things interrupting the flow of your run. You know that feeling – you’ve finally warmed up, hit your stride and you’re feeling great; maybe you’re doing a tempo run and have locked in your top pace or perhaps you’re just cruising along, relaxing into an easy run. Then suddenly you have to veer left or right, stop in your tracks, play chicken or whatever else. Having to leave that sweet spot is extremely frustrating! At least for impatient people like me…

I’m an early morning runner for the most part, so I do tend to avoid the traffic on most days, but on weekends or during lunchtime runs I often deal with a number of running obstacles. Of course I appreciate that the sidewalk/park path/etc is for everyone to share – but come on, wake up people! Don’t take up the whole sidewalk, don’t let your dog attack me, don’t stare at me like a deer caught in headlights – if you stand there and do nothing while I signal my arrival, I will push you aside with my sweaty arm because you have been warned!

Yesterday’s long run of about 10 miles occurred far later than I would normally venture out – sometimes those morning runs just don’t happen, despite your best intentioins. I suspected the South Bank would be crowded given that it was a holiday, and that it would soon be getting dark since it was already 3pm. Nevertheless, I decided to attempt a long, progressive run (30min easy, 30min steady, and 20min tempo) along the river, because it had to get done and it was too late to go elsewhere. At least it gave me an opportunity to hone what I like to call my “pedestrian herding” technique, and to ponder some other common (and in my case, recent) running encounters in London.

1. The Oblivious Pedestrian (often tourist): Yes, hi there – yeah, you about fifteen feet away from me, directly in front of me, arm-to-arm with a bunch of your friends taking up the entire side-walk. I’m coming straight at you, do you not see me? I’m waving and politely shouting “excuse me please” multiple times at a level that surely is loud enough for you to hear and am approaching you at top speed in hi-vis gear. Oh wait you still haven’t moved, funny that, because I’m literally about to crash into you and because you are collectively (and also individually) so LARGE I really don’t think I can squeeze through. Still not moving? kaBOOM. Soooorrrry!

How to deal: It’s not the end of the world to slow down, but if you’re timing yourself and you care about your pace, your options are to keep stopping your watch and breaking stride (annoying) or come up with a more effective way of manoeuvring through the  crowds. I find that “move left” or “on your right” or “excuse me” often doesn’t work fast enough, although unfortunately if you are approaching someone from behind, that’s the best you can do.

However, if you are approaching someone facing you, this system worked quite well yesterday: say you’re approaching a group of people walking towards you, and you see a gap on the right side that isn’t quite large enough but will be if they shift to the left. As you’re approaching them, stick your arm out diagonally across your chest and point towards that gap, perhaps gesturing them to move the other way. You might look a bit weird, but it’s better than crashing into them!

2. The Fast-Walking City Worker: During my morning river runs, I often hit clusters of suited-up walkers on their way into the City while I’m heading home. All too often these encounters turn into a game of chicken – me and the suit, approaching each other at full speed; I know he sees me, he hears my “excuse me” and knows I want to pass along that tiny piece of sidewalk in between the building and the delivery truck. But will he be a gentleman and let me go first? Of course not. Instead he will keep going and hardly turn a shoulder as I attempt to pass by, cause me to slip off the sidewalk and twist my left ankle (this was the first month of NYC training, btw).

How to deal: Thankfully my ankle was only sore for a few days, but it could’ve ended much worse. If someone clearly is not backing down, it’s just not worth it. Slow down and let him or her pass. At least that’s what I do with more aggressive pedestrians!

3. The Shockingly Fast Walking Smokers: There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than being stuck behind a smoker, except for being stuck behind a fast-walking smoker. And they’re everywhere in London!  Seriously, how do they move so fast?! I know that’s one of the few places left for them to smoke, but it’s disgusting having to constantly inhale second-hand smoke early in the morning (or any other time of day) while running or walking around.

How to deal: This is of course more of a problem when you’re walking, and there isn’t anything you can do while running except hold your breath and pass the smoker as quickly as possible, but I needed to include this in my list of grievances because it’s so unpleasant!

4. Umbrellas: Running in the rain is brilliant, except for when you have to somehow part the sea of umbrellas blocking your way and threatening to poke your eyes out!

How to deal: I know it’s frustrating, but take it easy if you’re somewhere busy (not like you have much of a choice). I often see people running on the side of the road, right next to the side-walk in what is basically the bike lane – I occasionally do this, but it’s obviously dangerous so be careful and watch out for cyclists and cars. If you need to do a faster run, try to find a quieter route or hit the treadmill.

5. The Lunging (or Friendly) Dog: Not being a huge dog person growing up, I feel uncomfortable around large dogs and am always on the lookout during a run. But sometimes they come out of nowhere! For example, I was concluding a tough hill session at Primrose Hill in Regents Park, minding my own business running at an easy pace with a friend along the designated path. Suddenly, a dog owner threw a ball right in front of me (who does that?!) and, subsequently, a massive and very excited dog lunged towards me to chase the ball. Faster than I could blink, the dog collided with my stomach and knocked me flat on my face. This was, I should add, only a month before the NYC marathon. Thankfully I fell on the grass and only suffered some superficial damage (and perhaps some mental trauma), since I surely would have broken bones had I crashed into the pavement only inches away.

How to deal: There isn’t much you can do about irresponsible dog owners other than yell at them (which I probably did a bit too much of on this occasion), but obviously be alert in parks or other areas with unleashed dogs. Make sure the dog owner sees you and go out of your way if necessary to stay out of the dog’s path – I keep my eyes glued to the dog until it’s behind me. I’d rather spend a few seconds avoiding another collision than much longer with my face glued to the pavement!

6. Children: See item 5 (although no child collisions to share with you, thankfully!)

7. The Elderly: I had to add this one to the list, because I recently had a run-in (literally) with an older woman. I know, I know, but it was kind of an accident – as in, I didn’t realize she was elderly until after the fact, and I didn’t really mean to run into her.

Here’s what happened: I was in the middle of another tough hill session at Primrose Hill, except this time halfway through a sprint when I saw a body in the middle of the path. Without actually looking at the person, I politely asked that person to move. When that didn’t happen, I asked again more loudly, but soon after I was already right behind her. I then heard something along the lines of “move it” slip from my mouth (I truly didn’t mean to say that aloud!) as I bumped into her shoulder while passing her. I immediately apologized but kept on going, as she shouted “You rude woman!” after me. Meanwhile, my boyfriend, who had been running alongside me, stopped to diffuse the situation. On my way back down, he advised me that in the future, I probably shouldn’t run into elderly women. Yikes!

How to deal: Firstly, I’m never again running in that section of Primrose hill after 10am. With the dogs, children and other people to contend with, it’s too nuts and I need a clear path for hill repeats. More importantly, though, I obviously need to pay closer attention to the people around me, and learn to be more patient (life-long endeavor).

We saw the woman again towards the end of our session – I apologized profusely and my boyfriend made a joke. She smiled and seemed to have let it go, so all’s well that ends well!

8. Sheep (and other farm animals): On the various trail runs I have done around the English countryside, I have noticed that sheep are, surprisingly, keen running spectators. On a recent trip to the Cotswolds, I found it a bit creepy as I ran past a large quiet field and suddenly saw hundreds of sheep turn en masse in my direction and just stare at me, for ages, until I was out of their sight. Same with a herd of cows.

How to deal: If you can manage to steer clear of their excrement (nearly impossible), you don’t have much to worry about these animals. They tend to stay out of your way, at least in my experience so far…

And that concludes my list for now! Feel free to share any of your running grievances.

Happy running 🙂