An ultra distance London trail adventure?

Long run

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.

taking a break in highgate woods

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.

someone has a sense of humour

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.

DIY aid station

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.

Of course it’s on strava

nohtaraM ehT. Or, the anti-race

Long run

Off we go!
Bong, bong, bong, bong, and we’re off! It’s just gone 4am and the official unofficial London marathon is underway.

I’m in a group of about 30 people,
tapping out a nice 8m/m pace, and tracing the marathon route in reverse. The plan is to finish in Greenwich just in time to catch the crowds and wish them luck as they embark on the actual race.

With the SIPR and GUCR looming, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a long run in, without losing most of a day and hopefully having some nice chats along the way.

Sleeping’s cheating

Pre “race” day prepetrations went about as expected; slightly too much beer, not nearly enough sleep (a three year olds night terror episodes do not make for a restful evening) and a low carb meal. So leaving the house at 3am feeling rested on springy legs was an unexpected, and very pleasant, feeling.

The 5 miles to Big Ben took in a fairly standard early Sunday morning array of discarded chicken bones, drunken girls in exceedingly short skirts (am I turning into my dad already?), mini cab touts, night buses and the odd shift worker. Some abuse was expected but nobody even seemed to notice me, presumably I was just some nutter in bright green shoes and a running vest – I would’ve avoided eye contact too.

A little part of me still thought this was some elaborate practical joke (though quite who would bother hadn’t occurred to me) so there was a feeling of relief when I rounded the corner at Westmister to see a crowd of chatty runners stretching and looking sprightly.

Richard Cranswick, the man behind the excellent Social Ultra site, was even there with his promised mobile aid station, which was to be a very welcome treat at Tower Bridge at the half way point.


I first heard about this event on a train back to London from Sheffield a couple of years ago. I’d just finished my first ultra (the very well organised and highly recommended Dusk till Dawn by Richard and Wendy Weremiuk), and had got chatting to Robin Harvie who I’d ran with for 10 miles or so the evening before.

There was something instantly appealing about the idea of running one of the worlds biggest marathons, before everyone else starts and reversing the route. Slightly silly, a little bit subversive and a great opportunity to participate in the capitals annual day of race fever.

Sadly Robin couldn’t make it this year due to injury (James Adams took the organising lead) but I think he’d be very happy with the number of people who took part. In 2012 there were just 14, somehow I suspect next year will be even busier.

Too fast!
The first 10 or so miles went by quickly and my legs felt pretty good. As we rounded the bottom of the isle of dogs we saw four or five runners ahead, complete with rucksacks and determined expressions. “Weirdos” I thought, “what’re they doing out running at this time of the day”, it took me a minute to realise that I was also a weirdo, and that we’d caught up with the “4:30 target” group that started out half an hour before us.

Sore legs

Sore Legs? No! This couldn’t be! We weren’t even half way and my legs were sore.

Not good.

I eased off a bit and fell in with another group, it wasn’t long before someone commented on how well those on track for a 3:15 finish were moving. That at least explained the legs, and sure enough when I checked my split times later I was knocking out 7:20s, so easy to get carried away!


Somehow Richard had almost hidden himself and his cakes behind the corner of Tower Bridge, and quite a few sailed right by. Luckily I spotted the bottles of coke, cheese and pineapple on sticks, Mr Kiplings finest and mini sausages. Proper ultra style feed stop, what a star!

Hanging onto the blue racing line we zipped through the rest of the route nicely, and before long were able to run down the middle of the road and watch the race preparations get fully underway.

Of the people we saw most were surprised but encouraging, we were even given water towards the end. Comments tended towards the “you’re going the wrong way!” end of the spectrum, but one bus driver did give us the internationally recognised hand gesture for “fuck off you bunch of show off tossers”. I gave him a big smile and wave, it seemed the most appropriate response.
One lady shouted “good luck lads” very enthusiastically, I suspect she was drunk or half asleep.


Not surprisingly we weren’t allowed to cross the start line, but did mill around a bit chatting to official looking people and helped to lighten Richards bags of cakes. Rather than being annoyed with us, there was a lot of genuine enthusiasm and support. One amusing conversation went a bit like:
“Don’t you get tired when you run a marathon?” Yes, but most of us do ultras too.
“What’s an ultra?”
“Is it even possible to run X miles in one go”
“What did he say? What’s JOGL?” Pointing at Richard.
Lovely to see the sarf landan bored and dismissive attitude dissolve into curiosity, moving through incredulous and settling on bemused admiration.

Last leg
The plan was to go for a fry up somewhere near the cutty sark, but with family staying for the weekend I topped up my water bottles from the mobile reservoir and trundled the 5 miles home at an easy pace.
36.4 miles and home just in time for a big breakfast at 9, what a wonderful start to the day.

I can’t recommend it enough and assuming I don’t get a place in the official official one, will definitely be back next year.

Oh, my time for the 26.2 was 3:51, not a personal best but not too shabby.

Social Ultra – nohtaraM ehT

Strava log