The UK's Best Running Cities (Preview)

We've crunched the numbers to sort the frontrunners from the back-of-the-packers in the race for Britain's top urban running spot

by Adrian Monti

london marathon
London Marathon runners stream over Tower Bridge. Photo: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

20th: Birmingham

Last time 20th

RUN 16th, CLUB 20th, RACE 14th, SHOP 18th, POP 14th, CRIME 6th, AIR 17th, SUN 11th, RAIN 7th

Bottom again, but there are positives: there are new clubs and more races, and the city’s half marathon raised its profile by becoming part of the Bupa Great Run series last year. Plus, with Jamaican athletes making it their Olympic training base, Birmingham University has had its running track resurfaced. "We’re getting lots of new runners shopping for gear and advice," says Louise Gardner, manager of Birmingham’s Up and Running store. "The city centre’s flat, Cannon Hill Park is a big green space, and Warley Woods offers
a hilly challenge."

On local authority
Starting at Snow Hill station, follow Livery Street to the canal. "After passing the National Indoor Arena cross back over the canal," says Gardner. "Head to the Brindleyplace development to finish this offroad 5K."

Calendar highlight
Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon (July)

19th: Sheffield

Last time 11th

RUN 10th, CLUB 17th, RACE 13th, SHOP 15th, POP 4th, CRIME 8th, AIR 18th, SUN 14th, RAIN 13th

The city has been let down by participation, clubs, air quality and weather, but if we were measuring the city’s runners on sheer enthusiasm, Stuart Hale of Accelerate running store might take first place. "I think we should be known as the capital city of running," says Hale. "We’ve got the Don Valley Stadium, an indoor track, the Sheffield Half Marathon, a great 10K and the Peak District on our doorstep. You can run from the city centre to Edale – which is 20 miles away – through our green spaces, only running on three miles of road."

On local authority
"I love the Rivelin Valley which is only three miles outside the city," says Hale. "You can run up the valley, ascending 300m in an hour, in beautiful countryside."

Calendar highlight
Sheffield Half Marathon (May)

18th: London

Last time 18th

RUN 14th, CLUB 19th, RACE 20th, SHOP 10th, POP 20th, CRIME 1st, AIR 19th, SUN 7th, RAIN 1st

The huge population makes it a bit tricky for London’s large number of runners to make much of an impact on some of our categories. But with over 75 clubs, our lowest rainfall and surprisingly safe streets, it has much to offer. And runners will enjoy a lasting benefit from the Olympics, says Susan Leese of the Victoria Park Harriers in the East End. "Our Mile End track is being used as a training base so the surface has been upgraded. It’s a knock-on effect we’ll gain from for years." Sport England and UK Athletics are also pumping large sums into new facilities and initiatives to up younger athletes’ participation.

On local authority
"There’s a brilliant four-mile loop from Victoria Park, running along the canal to the Olympic Park – it was great watching it all take shape," says Leese.

Calendar highlight
Virgin London Marathon (April)

17th: Bradford

Last time 19th

RUN 17th, CLUB 11th, RACE 12th, SHOP 19th, POP 2nd, CRIME 4th, AIR 8th, SUN 19th, RAIN 16th

Bradford’s rise looks steady on paper, but for those in West Yorkshire’s running world, the pace feels brisker. Entry numbers continue to rise in the varied races in and around the city, especially in the successful Yorkshire Veterans league. The local terrain has an impact: the Queensbury Club on the edge of the city, for instance, is located 300m up a hill, so it attracts a hardy sort. "We start our runs heading downhill, but at some point you’ve got to come back up," says club chairman Steve Jones. "It’s always tough but our hardcore runners love it." This year the showpiece Bradford City Run swapped its tough half marathon for 5K and 10K options, while the Bradford Athletics Network forum continues to spread the word.

On local authority
A six-and-a-half-mile route around the village inappropriately named Idle is ‘a lovely scenic run that starts at Apperley Bridge and takes in towpaths, bridleways, fields and forest’, says Jones.

Calendar highlight
Baildon Boundary Way Half Marathon (April)

16th: Belfast

Last time 6th

RUN 5th, CLUB 9th, RACE 18th, SHOP 14th, POP 7th, CRIME 20th, AIR 1st (joint with Hull), SUN 20th, RAIN 14th

Bad weather and a lack of races are balanced by clean air, over 40 public parks and the excellent towpath from Belfast to Lisburn. A £3m upgrade of the Mary Peters athletics track will be a boon and, according to Gerry Ward of Dub Runners, the city is benefitting hugely from Parkrun, with almost 5,000 runners across its four city locations. "Another clever idea has been encouraging relay teams to run our annual marathon," says Ward. "Numbers have shot up."

On local authority
Minnowburn in Lagan Valley Park is beautiful. ‘Famous for its beech trees, it has the River Lagan running through it,’ says Ward.

Calendar highlight
Belfast City Marathon (May)

15th: Plymouth

Last time 16th

RUN 13th, CLUB 8th, RACE 11th, SHOP 11th, POP 11th, CRIME 19th, AIR 15th, SUN 1st, RAIN 17th

Dropping one place in three years may not worry Plymouth’s runners, who are basking in our sunniest city’s harmonious running scene. Here, local clubs share ideas and talent through the Armada Athletic forum. Neil Williams, secretary of Plymouth Musketeers, says he’s signing up new members without any ‘hard sell’. "We are blessed with amazingly beautiful places to run," says Williams. "Whether it’s along the coast or up on Dartmoor, the scenery is very inspiring."

On local authority
From Crownhill, run to Dartmoor along the disused railway line, which is now a multi-cycle path to Bickleigh. "It’s about seven glorious miles," says Williams.

Calendar highlight
Ivybridge 10K (May)

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