It’s 4am and I’m scaling yet another 6 foot fence somewhere in South East London. I land gently on the pavement and look up into the wide eyed stare of two lads sitting in a parked car. We all silently contemplate the unlikely situation, before I turn, run over the road, climb the padlocked gate into the next park and run into a dark forest. Laughing.
This is the longest training run I’ve ever embarked on. It wasn’t planned to be a solo effort but I wasn’t going to squander the opportunity.
The full Capital Ring is around 77 miles. A (mostly) signposted route that links together various trails and paths, encompassing inner and central London. It was first discussed in 1990 by the London Walking Forum, and was completed in 2005 (wikipedia).
I first noticed bits of the route on an easy run along the Greenchain Walk one weekend. I kept seeing the distinctive signs alongside the Greenchain ones, and after a bit of research found the idea both daunting and strangely compelling.
The usual way to complete the full route is over two days or more. TFL (Transport for London) have an excellent guide with printable maps and directions to and from local trains and tubes.
Taking a map is a good idea, some boroughs take signage more importantly than others, Harrow and Richmond being very thorough, while Newham was distinctly lacking.
My training plan had called for a 12 hour run, but I couldn’t find a weekend free in the family calendar, so I took the completely logical step of getting up at 1am on a Saturday morning. An hour to wake up and fill myself with food and coffee, 12 hours of running, with a 2 hour buffer for food and faffage.
I had to be home before 5pm to have enough time to de-grime myself, put the child to bed and help prepare for supper guests arriving at 8.
Apparently that isn’t normal person behaviour, but I’m so far into this long distance running malarkey, that my reality filter is completely twisted.
Actually you don’t need to look too hard or far to find similar examples of how people fit lots of running into an already full life.
I’m not comparing myself to Ricky Lightfoot, but he’s a great example of juggling a full time job, family and huge amounts of training.
Debbie Martin-Consani is another person to aspire to, there was a great quote in a recent trail running magazine:
…to improve your running stamina, you need to run. As they say you can’t plant potatoes and harvest carrots!
From a practical perspective, doing the whole route in one go is feasible, as long as you don’t mind jumping over lots of fences (or finding the long way round) in the dark. Having said that I did this in early December when it’s dark nearly all the time. A more reasonable early start in the summer would probably get you round before parks start being locked.
I reckon that 70% of the route is on trail, which is pretty amazing for inner London! There are a few opportunities to buy food and water, but not that many. I spotted a 24 hour shop on Prince Regent Lane (the greenway crosses this on the way to Stratford) where I filled up my water bottles, but this was the first one I’d seen since starting 25 miles ago.
There are other shops, probably just enough to get you round. The highlight was a little coffee van just outside East Finchley station. The coffee man even had a few croissants warmed up, what a treat.
Do take a map though, or at least a readily accessible GPS unit to keep you on track. There are sections with hardly any signs, some have fallen over, others twisted 90 degrees sending you in completely the wrong direction.
I’d relied on having the route on my watch, but had forgotten how much that drains the battery. In the end I managed to get google maps working on my phone and just ran with it in my hand. Annoying, but not as annoying as constantly backtracking.
I got as far as the A3 by Richmond Park before running out of time and getting a cab. 70 miles with 12 hours of moving time wasn’t too bad, but shows how much faffing around I’d done.
Ok, so I’m not so bonkers to suggest that everyone should lace up their shoes up and set off on a 75 mile run around London, but the fact that you don’t need to plan a whole weekend away, or even to travel at all, to see a different side to something otherwise familiar is something worth thinking about.
Maybe you don’t live near the Capital Ring, but I bet there are some local trails or walks that can be joined up and made into a loop, or maybe hop on a train after work and run home along a canal?
If you look hard enough, there is adventure just round the corner.
Oh and the dinner party went well, I even managed to stay awake until after pudding.