Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Capital Ring Run - Feb 2012

Rucking up to the start of a race having been running all night was a surreal feeling, seeing all the other folks limbering up and looking fresh. All I wanted to do was find a corner and curl up and go to sleep satisfied I had completed a good distance…

This little jolly jaunt started when I wrote a comment on Face book stating that I might ruck up and run the Tribesport London Ultra 50k, around 2 weeks prior to the event. Ian Berry replied inviting me along to a “nice 42miler prior to the event”. I thought yeah a nice 42miler on the Sat followed by 50k on the Sun would be good weekend of running. We exchanged messages and what Ian meant ‘prior to the event’, was immediately prior to the event i.e. a continuous run. This made it more interesting and certainly got my juices flowing. I had not done a single stage run over 50 miles for a few months so was probably due one. 

This one was the Capital Ring 74miles in a single stage.

My main fear was I would hold Ian back as I knew this run was an essential run for his JOGLE training, but I figured if I bonked then I could just catch a tube back (doh pants planning tubes don’t run through the night! Oh well I know that now just not prior to the event)

So happily armed with my dodgy info I readily agreed to the adventure. For me it was easy leave all the planning to Ian knowing he would have the route meticulously planned on his Garmin and probably with a backup plan. The Guy is very organised to his credit and I am in awe of his planning skills.

My plans consisted of throwing some clothes in a bag, grabbing some food and my trusty first aid kit and heading down to London to the rendezvous point that’s it…

So this was the plan:-Meet Ian at the finish point of the Tribesport 50k Ultra – Perivale Park. Start running at 9pm (loose pace 5mph) so 42miles plus 1hr for general stops should see us at the start point of the race at 6.30am. Plenty of time to get breakfast and change clothes etc. Ok I know you’re all thinking these things never go to plan, but let’s be fair I had absolute faith in Mr Berry’s forward planning so what could possibly go wrong.

Anyhow I dutifully arrived at the Premier Inn in Perivale; we were meeting Rory & Jen who had kindly agreed to carry our bags to the start so we could change. It was quite funny as we met up in their room - I swear the lady on reception thought there was an orgy going on! Any how it was great seeing the guys again its always great banter and mickey taking sessions. Ian and I did our pre run faffing - well I did, Ian just looked like he was going through the motions as his stuff was sorted.

Going back through the reception was even funnier seeing the lady now looking very nonplussed as we were dressed in suitable running attire!  Rory saw us off and we cantered off into the night.

It was great catching up with Ian and quizzing him on his JOGLE training and seeing what info I could glean for my now deferred attempt next year. We soon started comfortably clocking up the miles, to be fair Ian had his watch and had already tuned himself into spotting the capital ring signs. Me I was lazy and just let him do all the navigation. I had however tuned myself into them by about 1am I think.

Ian came out with a classic about half an hour into the run; he informed me that this part of the course was in fact towards the end of the Ultra 50k on last year’s old route. He then said from here its downhill from now until Wembley. Within 5 mins of coming out with that pearler we were faced with our first major hill, but the trouble was it was the wrong way round - it was up hill. These uphill sections seemed to appear with regular intervals until Ian was forced to concede that maybe he was wrong on the downhill comment..!

The idea of the route itself is to encompass and link as many of the green areas of London whilst keeping a loose ring to it. Obviously in order to do this there are plenty of twists and turns to link the points up. The area we were running in was really nice especially through Harrow. The route took you up some really nice hills which gave you some lovely sights of the London sky line. The only drawback was at times it left us fairly exposed on the hills; there was a keen wind and frosty conditions so it was pretty cold in the elevated positions. It quickly became apparent that the route purposely took you up on to the summit of the hills so you could appreciate what this particular part of London had to offer. Subsequently it had you running loops around the park again to showcase each element of the park. It was definitely a well thought out route, if you were running it during the day. Our problem was we weren’t, so consequently a lot of the viewpoints were wasted on us. One which did stand out on this section was seeing Wembly from Barn Hill. It was a picture postcard moment.
We were bumbling along nicely and the miles were ticking along nicely, when we entered the NOW infamous Finchely Borough. This particular borough stood out for 2 reasons, The first was we were confronted with the path taking us into a tube station. How cool was that a public footpath straight through the station naturally it was a photo moment.

 We came out of there laughing and very jolly;  this was short lived when we encountered a locked gate, directly on the path we required. Not just any old locked gate but a fort Knox style locked gate.

Well we thought, oh well we will take the next street and skirt round, only to find short of clambering through someone’s garden there was no way through (we did contemplate this for a few secs). Well Ian was then able to demonstrate his true planning skills he reverted to his plan B, which was basically all the OS maps of the route downloaded to his phone. The guy knows no limits, it proved invaluable, and we soon worked out the best solution (well I say we-  to be fair Ian did I just agreed!)

We were soon off and running again and it was then we encountered the other reason Finchley stood out this was the complete absence of signage for the capital ring. Had  Ian not got the route on his Garmin we would have been seriously in the brown stuff in terms of navigating. So Finchley Council get and put your signs up, stiff letter of complaint is being penned.

The next borough we entered seemed to do signage so we were back on track and happily going on our merry way. We were met at some point on our travels by 3 youths out for the crack so to speak (their words). They chatted for a bit and told us of a new strength exercise for helping with the art of dart throwing (suffice to say it probably involved tissues and certain magazines). Ian in fear of his Garmin decided we were heading off left, so we hastily made our retreat while they went right. Once clear Ian then checked the route, and was very upset to learn we needed to have gone right. So sheepishly we headed back into the clutches of these lads.  When the next turn did come up we did manage to shake them off. Much to Ian's relief he was really worried about his Garmin, not for monetary value the fact that without it he would not be able to complete the run…

Well by this time we had completed nearly 3hrs running so the topic of conversation seemed to naturally move to food and when do we eat. So it was decided that we would try and find a garage or something at around 1am… Well it’s obvious isn’t it, 1am came and we were in the middle of a long path (a disused railway line. ) Where on earth were we going to find a reputable establishment to buy food from down here?   So we did what any sensible person would do, we speeded up to get to civilisation quicker thus compounding the low energy issue.  (to be fair we kind of got a little spooked on this section as it was fairly eerie-  I think this was the reason for the increase in pace)

We soon got back into civilisation and navigated our way round to what looked like somewhere with some night life.

 We turned the corner and were greeted by the giant yellow M sign, no words were required the deviation from the route was automatic, coke and chicken was on the menu. 

Once we had got our goodies from a takeaway window, we realised that we needed to keep moving as we were both getting very cold just standing for 5 mins. We ate on the go - all too quickly the food was eaten, so suitably full and content we broke out into a run (little did we know that it would be over 6hrs before we saw proper food again. Eating bars are ok but they do get boring and it’s only a short lived sugar hit).

The next section was a bit scary, we were running by the side of a canal where the path actually sloped towards the canal, obviously to make it more interesting the terrain was wet grass and slippy mud, oh and some lovely tree branches set to trip you up! At one point I was on my knees crying (with laughter) as Ian tried to free himself from a particular branch that seemed to have him in his clutches and would not let go, I was too weak to help from laughing so much…

At this point in the run my memory gets a little hazy there are a few miles where things happened and we saw stuff, but I am unsure as to the order of these events, so I will just detail them. There was an area where it was quite built up and I guess we happened to coincide it with club throwing out time (great timing) Consequently we had to run in the road a fair bit to avoid being bear hugged by some interesting sights so to speak! At one point Ian shouted at me and barged me towards a group of ladies (used in a loose form) I thought he had gone mad until I saw the Double Decker bearing down on us. We witnessed the aftermath of an RTA which seemed to have involved a car and a pizza delivery bike. All I could think of was how inconsiderate that the police cordon made us go at least 50 yards out of our way.

Another thing I remember was the fact Ian had been saying he needed a toilet stop for a number 2 (sorry Ian ). Well how cool was it that the next street we saw a portaloo stuck on the street and it was open! So while Ian helped himself I decided to take the opportunity to rearrange my bag as it was digging in a tad. Whilst doing this I heard a car approach and stop, so I looked up to see a large person looking at me suspiciously.  It was then I realised I was knelt down on the pavement rummaging in a bag right next to the front door of a rather expensive Merc, So I stood up, he took one look at me in my shorts, shook his head and drove off..

Well after such fun we were soon heading into Hackney area, both Ian and I commented on the fact that the area seemed really nice. Its funny how you get a pre conceived idea of somewhere - we both thought it was going to be fairly run down, so it was a pleasant surprise.

Sub consciously we began to notice a rather large chain link fence that had appeared to the left of us.  On investigating the signage we realised we were heading for the Olympic park region. It had been a topic of conversation earlier in the night as to how much we would see. We carried on with the anticipation growing, then we rounded a slight bend and there we saw the Olympic stadium in all its glory. It was lit up and seemed to glow from within.  It was truly a stunning sight and one that took your breath away. We continued to run by the side of it for what appeared an age.  It finally disappeared from view and we concentrated on our next bit of navigation.

We needed to get on the Greenway - Ian had informed me that the greenway was basically an old Victorian sewer and we were going to be running on top of the mound. After much deliberation and working the diversion signage out, we got on to the Greenway, and we soon realised that we were going to get even closer to the stadium, so the camera had to come out for this tourist moment! 

Another diversion took us off the greenway, and we had to run through the middle of the Olympic construction site - we were waved through by a couple of security guards, it was very cool but a bit surreal.

Finally we got back onto the greenway and settled back into a comfortable run. This was short lived however when we came across a gate across the greenway and it was locked. There are several roads which cross the greenway, at these intersections there were gates so for each road there was a gate either side. You get the picture we had 4 of these roads to contend with (I think I might have lost count, there could of been more) so in all 8 gates to climb. The gates themselves were fine it was the fact that they had spikes on the top which gave it the added interest. We did manage to negotiate them safely apart from one where my shorts got caught, safe to say I now have a pair of shorts which are good for the rag bin…

I was glad to see the back of the greenway although in a strange way it was fun as it was our bit of night time law breaking in the capital! We carried on and the next section was a bit tricky as we encountered another locked gate into a park (not one we could climb over). Ian’s maps came to the rescue and after a bit of a debate Ian figured on the best possible route round, and we were off running again. I must admit the next half hour or so was a bit of a blur for me as I was experiencing my first real Bonk of the run. I can remember thinking we had reached the Thames for Ian to inform me it was some kings Dock, which we had to run around in order to reach the Thames.  How inconsiderate of them, they could have built it the other side of the Thames!

Well we reached the Thames and it gave me a huge lift and I was back on the game again. We ran along thankful in the knowledge that we would soon be reaching the Woolwich Foot tunnel - this was our driving force all night (how many miles to the tunnel). We safely negotiated 2 locks on subsidiary waterways, I'm used to locks from the GUCR but these were serious monsters and the drop on the one looked pretty scary. We were soon back on the Thames following the path, until we encountered another locked gate. Again this was not one you could climb over safely, it was really frustrating as we could not see the point of the gate, let alone why it was locked, it’s a public footpath at the end of the day. So we worked our way round and with a few detours we finally made it to the tunnel, a defining moment in the run.

It was great in the tunnel it felt really warm, I don’t think it was it just highlighted the fact it was cold outside. Ian informed me that it was illegal to take photos in the tunnel, whilst getting his phone out in order to take said illegal photos! 

He also informed me that some mad runner had decided to try and get a licence to run a marathon in the tunnel, it sounds daft but then again strangely appealing hmmmm!

Well after our nice warm feeling it was a shock to step back out into the night air again, although it was close to morning by now. We ran by the side of the Thames for a while, and it was with some gladness when we headed away from the river as there was a keen wind whipping across the open water.

At the tunnel we had completed 38miles so by our calculations we had 4miles (maybe 7 max allowing for errors and detours) to go, so with high spirits we shot off running fairly easily still. We hit a fairly big hill in the next mile or 2, at which point we both thought pffft this is hard. For me it was the start of a downward spiral, I just wanted to get this section completed now, so I could get some food in me and think about the next 30+ miles. We had to negotiate another locked gate which kind of knocked me again, as we had to do a fair detour to skirt round it.

Once negotiated we had some nice off road section which culminated in a fairly large climb through some trees . It was at this time that I then realised that I was probably feeling a bit low as we had steadily been climbing since we left the river so I just put it down to low energy (I needed food).

When we came out of the tree line we were greeted with a superb view of the London skyline in the Pre dawn light. 

We savoured the moment then pushed on both eager to see the end of this section now. I lost count of the times I asked Ian “Are we there yet?” and equally his reply of “Cant be more than a mile and bit left” (I never did get clarification on how far ‘a bit’ was!)

We finally found ourselves at 47miles at 7.40am thinking we need FOOD now. We saw a garage and ran for it to find it closed. We trudged back to the route and then spotted a couple out walking, Ian asked if they knew of a Cafe to which we heard the magic words “Its just round the corner”. We sprinted to the cafe (well it felt like it) and finally we could sit down and eat. To be fair I did not taste any of it but it was doing the job it needed to do.

By the time we finished it was around 8.15am, the race was due to start at 9am so we figured we need to get a wriggle on if we were to get any faff time. Ian dutifully informed me we had just over a mile and a bit to go.  I just smiled and donned my running pack. To be fair once I had ironed out the stiffness I started running quite nicely, and was just bumbling happily knowing that very soon I could ditch my now some what stinky running clothes and clad myself in some fresh clothes.

We were running down a road and saw a guy running in skinny jeans and a back pack. It turned out to be Robbie, who could not find the start. Ian led the way with his trusty watch, and we rucked up to the start at 8.45am (15mins to go). It was a bit strange turning up to a race feeling battered, dirty but strangely elated that 50miles was in the bag, yes Ian 50miles not 42miles hmmmm logistics.

ULTRArace Tribe Sport London 50K

Anyhow Faff time was used to get changed, briefly meet some old friends, then Rory said the race time had been delayed to 9.15am. This was great as I could now relax a little and compose myself for the task ahead. It was not that it appeared daunting it was more the fact that things were aching now, so it was going to be more a case of managing the pain levels and controlling the mental games.

Ian and I had agreed at the start of our adventure that as we started this together, we going to finish it together, so suitably armed with a water bottle only, (I had had enough of my running pack as it was starting to dig in and cause some sores) we headed for the start. Of course it was natural for both Ian and I to make our way to the front, as we felt we could both go for the win at this stage.

Rory gave Ian the honour of starting the race and I believe that was our undoing as by the time we got running the front runners had a good 20 – 30mtrs on us, just too much to claw back on this race I'm afraid.

In all seriousness we started off and I guess we both got pulled along by the fact we were in a race, I think the first 2-3 miles we were 9min miling, which is not JOGLE pace and was quickly reined in.

To be fair the first few miles I was bumbling along just happy to be running further than I had run in a single stage for well over 6 months. The first CP came and went fairly quickly and we carried on our merry way. The capital ring signposts were more than adequate, and if they were slightly confusing you always had the reassurance that there were red arrows spray painted on the ground.

There was one point when Ian and I were chatting and not concentrating and I turned the corner left as I had subconsciously seen a runner go that way. Ian soon reined me in and said “No, wrong way”.  We went back to the junction looked at the signage, and I realised I had made a school boy error of following the person in front - not to be repeated I hasten to add.

I think it was at around mile 8 where I started to seriously flag my body was at a point where it was screaming “No enough, now you have had your piece of me, now leave me alone to hide”. However it was a question of playing the mind games and taking each mile as it came, forget the total. I had to endure this ballsing out (so to speak) method for the next 8 miles, It was tough but it was a very valuable lesson for me. Ian was very supportive through this section and I felt very grateful that he stuck with me.  It’s not that I complained about it, but I think he knew I was suffering a bit. I guess that’s the advantage of running with someone, you help each other through the tough patches.

Any way it was just after 16miles that we came across a bar that sold coffee so we dived in and sat there while the guy made up some very nice strong coffee. I think we both contemplated getting a beer at this stage but decided against it. Some runners went past and saw us in the shop.  They probably thought we were mad, but needs must. So suitably armed with our takeaway energy drink we carried on our merry way.

This next part for me was the high light of the race itself.  There were some lovely views and some really nice areas that we were running through be it parks or commons, and even the road sections had lots to look at and admire.

We soon came upon the next CP after running through a lovely park with lakes, with lots of children feeding the ducks it looked really attractive. I met up with Andy there - I had run with him 2 weeks prior at Rory’s birthday bash. He had pulled out as he wasn’t feeling fit, he looked very blue with cold. We chatted briefly, but I knew I had to keep moving otherwise I would start to go blue with cold.

So off we went heading our way to Wimbledon common, this was very nice running on trails which were through woody areas, I loved this section.  I think Ian was enduring them as he is by default a road runner - oh and a FLAT road runner, hills and trails are not his bag, not that I was reminded of that too often.

We soon came upon Richmond Park, I must say Ian had been filling me in on this particular section since we started the night before. He ran the London Ultra last year and this was the section he hated the most, he just remembered it as one huge hill. So as we approached it I was a little apprehensive of what to expect. For me though I loved this part, the views were fantastic, there were deer grazing in the park and did not seem spooked by people in close proximity. We passed some lakes which were picturesque and there were lots of folks out just enjoying the sun and walking in a great park. The route itself was lovely and even Ian concurred after we left the park that it was not as bad as he had remembered it.  He decided he must have been bonking badly last year at that point.

We left the park knowing that yet again we were approaching the Thames to cross back over, it was nice to see it again. I was pleased that the route allowed us run by the side of it for around a mile or so, there is always something calming running by water that’s flowing, and to see the hustle and bustle that goes with the river is always nice to see. Well the crossing this time was just a simple road bridge so we made our way across and headed down the other side and into the arms of the final CP (so to speak) It was good to see Dan Mullins there, I had spoken to him briefly at the start , we had a chat and a bit of banter as you do.

Well it was nice to know we had 10k to go. At this point I had the chance to repay Ian for his support of me through mile 8 – 16 as he was suffering a bit. I didn’t do a lot but I guess just the fact of controlling the  when to walk, when to run always helps. That way the person suffering can turn that aspect into auto and concentrate on the demons in their head.

It just turned into a game of ticking each mile off as it came, this strategy worked and we were soon down to around 2 miles to go plus Rory’s infamous added extra bit (we had reckoned on three quarters of mile to make it an even 32mile course) We saw some runners in the distance who were looking around as if lost, so we went sailing past saying follow the green arrows.  Let’s be fair here the course was easily marked but the amount of runners we had encountered who were scratching their heads was amazing.

Then suddenly we saw a painted arrow painted in the road and we knew this was it.  The run into the finish was on. To be fair I think I speeded up and Ian to his credit pushed on as well.   He was seriously depleted now and had got double vision. Well we turned the corner and we saw the running track and that was all we needed.  We ran on to the track arms aloft knowing we were about to complete an epic run.

It is always a fantastic feeling to finish a race know matter where you come, but this one seemed more poignant with the fact that for 50miles it was just Ian and I battling the conditions and navigating our own course (well Ian did I followed like a lost sheep)..

Rory and Jen were there to greet us, with a double medal for a double effort, we had completed our 50 50 race. In total 82miles in around 19hrs.

Well there was just the small matter of driving home, which I must say had to be done in stages for fear of falling asleep at the wheel..

I feel I need to say some thank you’s :-

Ian J Berry for organising the whole adventure and for being fantastic company for 19hrs. At no time did I think God I wish this bloke would shut up. It was great fun all the way round and I think the photos prove that.

Rory & Jen for letting us share their room while we faffed and sorted our stuff out. Also for transporting our bags around for us, and even phoning us at just gone midnight to check we were ok. Oh and Jen the lift back to my car was fantastic. Thanks both very much…

Thanks also has to go to Greenwich Council for leaving the Woolwich Foot tunnel open, if that had been locked I did not fancy the swim.

Thanks to the couple out walking who pointed us in the right direction to the Tasty Cafe

Thanks to my Guardian Angel (you know who you are) for carrying me through the tough patches.

Oh and if you read this thanks so much for reading this and I hope I did not bore you….

Here is the profile of the course. It was a bit steep after the tunnel. The tunnel is the negative section.


  1. brilliant reading - glad Hackney got a special mention too! You looked great at the beginning of the race, that Tasty Cafe must have given you an amazing breakfast!

  2. great read - sounds like a real adventure!

  3. Awesome, a fantastic challenge and great article Phil.

    After running the London Ultra this year I started to consider whether it would be possible to run the Capital Ring in one, definitely something I would like to try. Perhaps in the summer, starting at first light.

    1. Perhaps another challenge would be to do the London Loop!

  4. Nice reading! I´m planning to run Capital Ring during February with a couple of friends. We all are from Prague/CZ and our knowledge of London is a bit limited. I have found only you and Rajiv on the web having ran around the ring in one day. Could you please contact me on ? Thans Martin

  5. Hey guys, this story looks cool - did you run the entire ring, from Woolwich to Woolwich? I am going to attempt this run in December 2017 and would love some advice, guidance, or inspiration! Could we chat over email?