Anyone who runs in Derry City will inevitably be drawn to the running routes along the River Foyle and the bridges that cross it. There is a greenway and pedestrian paths on both sides with just a few places where you have to share the route with cars. You can mix, match and extend your route to suit your target distance and in the case of the new bridge the weather.
The Peace Bridge
The Peace Bridge is in the middle of the running course. It is a popular start/finish spot as you can park in Ebrington Fort or Sainsburys and navigate to the Peace Bridge from there. The Peace Bridge is part of the Derry City Park Run route. It is great fun when you stampede across in a gang of 200 runners.
The bridge curves in a ying/yang shape symbolising the live and let live aspect of Peace. The two suspension pillars are pitched at opposite angles. Are they the two traditions of Northern Ireland? As you run downhill from the Waterside to the City side and you reach the end of the bridge you are forced to make a sharp turn left or right. At speed, this can provide a slip challenge especially in wet weather. I often make the turn like an out of control double deck bus!
The Craigavon Bridge
This is a double deck bridge with lots of running options. The lower deck used to be a railway. The railway has long gone and both levels are now for cars. The original architects of the bridge probably did not realise how the double deck design would render interesting running routes. An accidental gift.
The most popular route is the pedestrian access path on the lower deck. Running along here you are sheltered from the wind and can watch the tide speed in and out. The cars driving on the lower deck are visible behind the substantial steel work. The bridge has a great industrial feel to it.
My regular run route takes me on the upper deck on the Strabane side. To approach I run under the bridge and make the steep climb up Tillies Brea near the site of the old Tillie and Henderson factory. I pop up near the “Hands across the Divide” statue. I remember the footbridge that used to link the upper deck to the factory door. Now all gone. One time, during the first lockdown I was running with my Daughter over the bridge and as we ran and looked down at the river we saw several porpoises jumping and swimming –magical.
Running “the two wee bridges” refers to any route that involves the Craigavon and the Peace Bridge. It should not be confused with the phrase to “run the two bridges.” The two bridges is a very different task. It is an 10k run with a very particular challenge.
The Foyle Bridge
The Foyle Bridge is also known as the new bridge. A major running decision is in which direction should you run over the new bridge. I think I prefer the anti-clockwise route from Waterside to City Side.
There is a long slow climb to centre of the bridge. A disadvantage of running the anti clockwise route is that there is a small section near the start the climb where you are running on the path but there is no safety barrier between you and the cars coming behind you. I take the modest safety (probably futile) precaution of taking out headphones for this section. It is about 200m. The bridge is high. Wind is a major factor. The views are spectacular. If you run in Derry you simply have to tackle the new bridge. It is a tough run but you will get a huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I think I have run it maybe 10 times and I don’t think it will ever get old.
A significant challenge of the new bridge is the weather. It is nearly always windy. I did run it one time when perhaps I shouldn’t have, it can get uncomfortable and even dangerous. There must be days of stillness and sunshine also. I just have not been out running on those days — yet.
As you approach the City side the gradient turns downhill. If your route is toward Bay Park it is a steep descent. If of course you have chosen the clockwise route then this a steep climb. You can make the climb more gradual if you take the route via the Culmore Road past Myra’s shop. It is longer but less steep. Whichever way you run, the route choices, the bridges and the views are free.