Page last updated at 14:28 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 15:28 UK

Welcome to hyperpsychogeography

Joyce Chepchumba passes Tower Bridge
Who wants a long lingering look at Tower Bridge anyway?

Why spend months or even years seeing all the sights in a big city when you could just see it all in a few hours? The answer could be a marathon, writes Matthew Grant, who is about to tackle his fifth.

You've probably seen the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace.

There's a fair chance you've gone to the Tower of London, gazed at the skyscrapers in Canary Wharf and stared at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

But unless you've run the London Marathon, I doubt you've seen them all in a morning. And I'm certain you've never experienced the Wall of Dogs.

Matthew Grant
Marathon sightseeing can be a little tiring

The 36,000 people who will run Sunday's marathon - all 26 and a bit miles - will have their own motivations. Getting fit and raising money for charity feature heavily.

What's less remarked upon is that it's also a great way to see an array of London's best attractions, all before lunch. Put simply, the marathon is sightseeing at speed.

Psychogeography has become a popular term. It's the active exploration of urban areas. One definition is "a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities" and "just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape".

It's walking and paying attention. It's savouring the experience of places and people, instead of regarding them as obstacles blocking the path of A to B.

Time-poor times

Popular with writers, psychogeography has spawned books such as Iain Sinclair's A Walk Around the M25 - the clue's in the title - and Will Self's The Book of Dave, which follows the demented route of a London cabbie into a future world.

But for the rest of us - those of us whose leisurely strolls aren't supported by a publisher - the problem with psychogeography is that it can take up too much time.

Even the finishing straight - that terrible stretch known simply as 'the bit' - boasts not only Buckingham Palace but the Mall and St James's Palace as well

My solution - run, don't walk. Hyperpsychogeography, we might call it.

And I think the organisers of the London marathon must have had hyperpsychogeography in mind when they planned the route.

The start line - zero hour - is the top of Greenwich Park. The next few miles appear unpromising, passing as they do through Charlton and Woolwich.

Yet it is the local community here which brings the place to life. Every pub is packed and their house bands blast out music as the runners stream by.

The sight of the O2, formerly the Millennium Dome, comes next, as the course returns to Greenwich. Then it's the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark, currently under wraps following the fire.

Old East End

A short while later and it's over Tower Bridge and from there into the gleaming, if no longer so proud, metal and glass spires of the financial district at Canary Wharf.

There's a glimpse of the old East End at Billingsgate market, before we head back west, passing the Tower of London and along the banks of the Thames to Westminster Bridge.

From here, the finishing line is virtually in sight, but the architectural and historical riches are only just getting up to speed.

Runners pass the Palace of Westminster
OK, that's Westminster ticked off

Big Ben, the House of Commons, Whitehall and Westminster Abbey flash by as runners battle to complete their twenty-sixth mile. Even the finishing straight - that terrible stretch known simply as "the bit" - boasts not only Buckingham Palace but the Mall and St James's Palace as well.

You might imagine by the end of the marathon the runners are too exhausted too care. Yet alongside the roar of the crowds, it's part of what gives us the strength to finish.

And it's not just on the day itself that the hyperpsychogeography matters. It's vital in the build-up as well. I know some people do train for marathons on running machines at home or in gyms. But as far as I'm concerned, they're missing the point.

It's the chance to get to know London's parks and neighbourhoods intimately that keeps me running. How else would I have got familiar with the Dollis Valley Green Walk, which links Hampstead Heath to the mansions and farms of Totteridge, or become acquainted with such long stretches of the Regents Canal and the Thames paths?

Over the years, it's allowed me to discover a wealth of places I've gone back to many times - as well as a few I'd rather never see again.

Low point

Which brings me to the Wall of Dogs. The concept of a "wall" hit by some marathon runners as their energy reserves drop below critical is a familiar one.

But I think I've discovered its physical location.

For me at least, it lurks down at the bottom of the Isle of Dogs, in an area called Millwall, where there is precious little to see. In hyperpsychogeographic terms, it is a low point.

There are fewer spectators than anywhere else on the course, too. This makes a difference. I'm not the sort to write my name on the back of my t-shirt, in the hope the crowd will shout, "Go, Matt" as I trundle by.

Nor have I ever accepted the offer of a globule of Vaseline from the outstretched hand of a matron in the uniform of St John's Ambulance. But it's nice to know they're there.

The first time I ran a marathon the Wall of Dogs hit me hard. The next time was better.

But it's still there and there's no way round it. The only solution is to push forward in the knowledge the best is yet to come.


A selection of your comments appears below.

You're absolutely right, Matt. I started my hyperpsychogeography career in London in 2005 - later than most, at 52. I've just completed my sixth marathon with Paris this year. In between, I've explored New York, Dublin, Boston and Berlin. Later this year, I'll be adding Chicago. Unlike any other form of siteseeing, there's more to this tourism than simply observing the landscape at speed, you really get to know the people, their music and the rythms of their city streets. But, best of all, as you struggle through that 'bit' on every course, you find the common humanity in their roars of support.
Yodarunner, Chichester

In the Paris Marathon, we all practice psychogeography too, my wall is "the Roundhose mur" at Radio France...but better than the sights are the women who read your name on the bib and shout allez Mathieu! Or Go Matthew Go!
Matthew, Saint-Denis, France

Good luck with it. The 'wall' in the Philly marathon is helped by passers by cranking open their trucks and handing out beer. Does little for the dehydration but it helps you through the boredom of the last few miles.
Alex, Hamilton, Bermuda

I've found hyperpsychogeography to be extremely useful. When ever I have moved to a new area of the country I've always gone for a quick scout of the area to see what's on offer and have always found some lovely surprises such as a new amenity or a hidden little park. Even now I~ still keep discovering new things years down the line!
Guang, Swansea, UK

I've really enjoyed the hyperpsychogeoraphy of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and I'd love to run London, or indeed Britain top to bottom. Baltimore is the worst urban area for physician reimbursement in America, 73% of the national average in the face of 118% of the average cost of living, so I've decided to walk from here to the Altantic ocean, 150 miles in 4 days, to encourage our Legislature to rectify this. Otherwise we'll have no physicians left fairly shortly. The walk is June 25 to 29. I'll take my bagpipes. It's time to pay the piper in Maryland. I'm proud to say my band Loch Raven pipes and drums was second in grade 5 yesterday at the Southern Maryland Celtic Games with brand new drummers - the 2 piping judges gave us first place!
Ted Houk, M. D., Baltimore, Maryland, USA

I remember running the marathon, I was in such a daze most of the 26 miles that I did not notice much until the finish line when I was so pleased that I could see Big Ben and Buckingham Palace
Mark Stephens, Reading

I'm doing my first marathon tomorrow and I have to say I'm terrified. But I agree the training, though tough, has been a real opportunity to explore the nooks and alleyways of London. There are parts of East London that I'm happy to sprint away from, but early morning jogs in Greenwich park have been a real highlight.
Matt Coombes, London

"Hyperpsychogeographic" is just a word invented for something that has existed for years. Guess what: there's no need for it! PS: By the way, most runners, as they go along London, all they can concentrate on is their timing, drink, pulse and rhythm, not exactly a leisure visit...
Jessica

I did the marathon for the first time last year and completely agree with you about the Wall of Dogs! I was going absolutely fine until we turned south at Canary Wharf and headed into the Isle of Dogs and it was grim! It started hailing, there was very little crows support and the landscape reminded my of nuclear desolation scenes from countless B movies - bad times! When we reached Canary Wharf everything got much better as the finish line was in sight (relatively), the crowds filled out and the scenery was immeasurably better!
Edward Marno, London



Print Sponsor


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific