Runner's World (UK)

See the capital on the run London’s Hidden Treasures

RW chats with Vanessa Cain-tait, founder of running tour company Secret London Runs


What is Secret London Runs?

‘We give guided running tours of London and in each we try to show people a side of the city that you might not normally see on the tourist trail. We divide London into themes – from gin, to sex, to craft beer – and tell a story based on those topics.

What inspired you to set it up?

‘I set it up about three years ago. I went on holiday to Budapest and a running tour was one of the top things to do on Trip Advisor. I’d not heard of this before but that planted the seed in my head.’

How do they work?

‘You’ll follow a history-loving running guide between different locations; at each you’ll get to hear more about that place and how it links into the theme of the tour.’

How many people, on average, attend each tour?

‘It varies massively. We give public group tours, which are popular with locals: numbers range from two to 15 people per guide. But some dates have more than 15 attending (we’ve had 100 before) and then we break into smaller groups based on pace. We also give private sightseein­g tours for tourists – they’re often for just one or two people.’

How far do you run?

‘Most of them are around 10K, but for some – like the street art tour – we offer a 5K too. There are usually 10-15 stops of two to three minutes on each tour, enough time to catch our breath, uncover something we weren’t expecting and then move on before getting too cold.’

Do you have to have an interest in history to enjoy it?

‘No, not at all, and there’s never any assumed knowledge.’

What’s the most popular one?

‘Our gin run is what put us on the map! We’ve had about 6,000 people on that one in our three years of business. We have also just launched a Jack the Ripper-themed running tour and that is proving even more popular than gin so far this year.’

Vanessa Cain-tait leads a tour (above); street art becomes living sculpture (inset)

How much does it cost?

‘For the group tours, it’s between £15 and £25. With the gin and the craft beer tours, you get some samples en route, plus a finish-line drink, so they’re a little more. We also offer private tours for individual­s (£65 for one person) and groups (£245 for a private guide for up to 15 people).’

What sort of thing can runners expect to learn?

‘Well, the sex tour has some pretty good soundbites: we start it on Cock Lane, which was an official red-light district when it was opened in 1240. Runners can also expect to learn about Alice Leclatterb­ollock, which is even more interestin­g once you know people used to be named after their specialiti­es.’

What makes London such a good secret running location?

‘Each area has a unique, everchangi­ng story. The East End, for instance, was just a collection of villages 200 years ago, but the Industrial Revolution brought in swarms of people, and suddenly these tiny villages had to grow and adapt to thousands of new residents, all of whom needed jobs, housing and so on. There are so many more tours we can – and will – put on.’

Do you have any plans to expand to other cities?

‘While I think it’s an idea that could work in many locations, I’m planning to stick to London, because there’s still so much history that we haven’t explored. What gives Secret London Runs the edge is our knowledge and passion about the city, and moving further afield might dilute that. Plus we believe we’ve only scratched the surface of the history we can reveal and the people that we can show it to.’

For more informatio­n and bookings, visit secretlond­

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