London on the run
Battle of Britain memorial on the Thames Embankment

So why I am standing in The Mall, my back to Buckingham Palace, pirouetting past tourists from every corner of the world as I try to squeeze through a gap between a gaggle of excited Americans pointing iPhone cameras at soldiers in furry hats?

Let me tell you. I'm dreaming of London Olympics glory. I want to imagine the crowds cheering an improbable victory, a gold medal around my neck months before all those mercurial Kenyans and Ethiopians even start the race on August 12.

Even at school I hated long- distance running. There was always a boy called Tuppen at the front of the field, and I can only account for once finishing fourth in a schools cross-country race that I must have taken a short cut while no one was watching.

So running the 42.19km of the London Olympics marathon route is clearly out of the question. It's to be a gentle stroll for me, taking in the sights and stopping for a pint along the way in a London pub.

The Olympics course will see the athletes run one short 3.6 km lap, starting in The Mall, followed by three longer laps of 12.87km, turning at the Tower of London and finishing back in The Mall.

The London 2012 organisers defied tradition by not finishing the marathon in the Olympic Stadium, as originally planned, instead plotting a course that will showcase London's major tourist attractions.

The route first takes in Admiralty Arch, Trafalgar Square, the Victoria Embankment, Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. Runners will breeze along Birdcage Walk, passing Wellington Barracks, home to the Brigade of Guards, then skirt Buckingham Palace, the Victoria Monument and back into The Mall, where the coloured road resembles a red carpet route to the Palace.


  • PIT STOP *: Birdcage Walk is named after the Royal Menagerie and Aviary that were located there in the reign of King James I. Only the Royal Family and the Hereditary Grand Falconer, the Duke of St Albans, were permitted to drive along the road until 1828, when it was opened to the public.

I set off past St James Palace, which is guarded by a couple of soldiers in ceremonial dress, and immediately make a detour to watch the Changing of the Guard on Horseguards Parade, before retracing my steps, cutting across Trafalgar Square and into Northumberland Avenue, which has a square on the Monopoly board named after it.

I'm now approaching the Victoria Embankment. On my right, across the River Thames on the South Bank, is the hugely impressive London Marriott County Hall hotel and London Eye, but there's no time to take a spin today because I'm picking up a head of steam past Cleopatra's Needle and the impressive memorial to the Battle of Britain airmen. The latter includes an inscription of Winston Churchill's famous words: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few".

A short distance before Blackfriars Bridge - opened in 1869 by Queen Victoria and named after a Dominican priory which once stood nearby - are the gardens and heritage-listed buildings of the Temple, originally the home of the Knights Templar, who fought the Crusades. The area now includes two of the four Inns of Court, the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple.


  • PIT STOP *: In June 1982, the body of Roberto Calvi, a former chairman of Italy's largest private bank, was found hanging from one of the arches of Blackfrairs Bridge with five bricks and around $14,000 in three currencies in his pockets. Calvi was on the run from Italy accused of embezzlement. The Mafia was blamed for his murder. A right turn at Blackfriars Bridge would take you across the river to the Tate Modern gallery and the OXO Tower, but here the Olympic route leaves the Thames, turning past the College of Arms and entering St Paul's courtyard where hundreds of visitors wait to enter the cathedral's Whispering, Stone and Golden Galleries.

  • PIT STOP *: Oculus, an eye into St Paul's, is a 270-degree film experience that brings 1400 years of history to life. Oculus takes visitors on a journey through the history and daily life of St Paul's Cathedral through a series of short, high definition films.

From the shadow of St Pauls' the runners will move deep into London's financial district, through Cheapside, linking St Martin's Le Grand with Poultry, passing medieval Guildhall, Leadenhall Market and the Bank of England. At Bank Underground station, the runners will pass the Royal Exchange. It is the third building to occupy the site and today offers a different kind of commerce: luxury designer-label shops.


  • PIT STOP *: During the 17th century, stockbrokers were not allowed in the Royal Exchange due to their rude manners, forcing them to operate in nearby coffee houses. At Tower Hill the runners will turn back towards the city in the shadow of the Tower of London, past the Monument (to the Great Fire of London in 1666) and Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, before continuing along Cannon Street, and rejoining the outward leg just before Blackfrairs Bridge. Back in the Mall after my 12km stroll, tourists are still making a beeline for Buckingham Palace, but I head for nearby St James's Street and enter the shop of John Lobb, one of Britain's last remaining bespoke shoemakers.

"Can I help you, sir," the assistant asks. "Yes, can we start with a new pair of shoes?"

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West