Race report Capital Ring 28/6/18

My plan was to attempt an FKT on the Capital Ring. Up until a few months ago the record as I was aware from https://fastestknowntime.com/ stood at 21 hours. I thought around 18 hours would be possible. A new post appeared on the site in May this year saying it was now 17h 22min. I felt like I may have missed my chance at low hanging fruit when it came to an FKT but this was my time to beat now.

At 5:30am I gathered my maps printed from the TFL Capital Ring site, pulled on my compression socks and laced up my new Adidas Takumi Sen racing flats, which i’d only used for a couple of runs. I knew this was a bit risky but they were my trusted, go-to shoe and tended to wear in pretty quickly.

I started the run at 6am at Green Lanes, Haringey, at the gate leading to the New River Path. A hot day was forecast but it was overcast and cool as I set off. After a half mile run along the canal I reached Seven Sisters Road where I often join the Capital Ring when commuting into work so this section was very familiar. The next half mile follows a path around the reservoirs of Woodberry Wetlands. I passed nesting moorhens on the river then emerged by the Castle Climbing centre.

The gates to Clissold Park were closed so I had to detour off the Capital Ring path and go around the park, taking a longer route. Likewise with Abney Park cemetery. A shame as i’d enjoyed running these sections when doing a recce of the route. The next park on the route, Springfield, was thankfully open and I enjoyed the speedy downhill drop to the canal to complete 4 miles in a little over 40mins. I ate my first Clif bar of the day here. My plan was to eat every hour as this had stood me in good stead on the Lakes in a Day Ultra I ran in 2016.

This section of the route was again very familiar to me as I’d often run-commuted to work at the Olympic Park. I felt good and pushed the pace a bit after Hackney Marshes and headed up onto the Greenway which would take me way out east. It’s a nice raised path which i’ve run a few times before. A detour off the CR route is required at Pudding Mill Lane as you reach the View Tube, rejoining after a run back up the High Street. I turned off the Greenway following the CR path at 10.66 miles into my run at 7:36am.

After a mile’s worth of parks in Beckton the route goes through Cyprus DLR station & out onto the edge of the Albert Dock. I ran along the dockside while planes from City Airport rose noisily and disappeared into low cloud. By 8am at Gallion’s Reach DLR I had done a half marathon overall in almost exactly 2 hours. The route then reaches its most easterly point by the Thames. The path around the Thames feels really out on a limb here and is urban but quite secluded. There are a couple of interesting lock gates to cross with big drops either side at Great Eastern Quays and Galleons Point then it’s round to approach the Woolwich crossing.

I’d managed to run all the way so far with only a few short stops. Shortly after emerging from the Woolwich Foot Tunnel it was time for my first proper stop at a branch of McDonalds 16.3 miles in at 8:35am for a Cheese and Egg McMuffin and a water top up. I used an Ultra Aspire hydration pack and had got through my first batch of water mixed with a Hi 5 electrolyte tablet. I topped up and used another tablet. After a 15 minute break I was off again. I was beginning to feel the strain of the run in my legs now. I was prepared for my legs to start hurting at some point and to then hurt for the rest of it, as they had done in my previous ultra.

The route then goes through four parks before crossing Woolwich Common. I managed a reasonable pace through these sections. I slowed down a fair bit on entering Castle Wood at Shooters Hill. The path is uphill steps as you enter the wood and I slowed to a walk for a while. I picked up again at Severndroog Castle but made my first navigation error. The route has two options, one going down steps, the other continuing north east. I think I followed the Capital Ring sign that took me back onto the alternative path, and ended up going too far downhill. I faced a slog back up to meet the path again. I added on an extra three quarters of a mile and 10 mins with my mistake. A little demoralising but I tried to stay positive and put it behind me.

By 9:47am (at 22 miles) I was crossing the A2 after a nice shady section through Shepherdess Wood. I was slowing down to around 11 minutes per mile pace now, feeling the familiar crash i’ve experienced at around mile 20 in several marathons. After Eltham Palace the route takes you out over the A20 and onto a country path near Mottingham. From here there are views of the City which looks a long, long way away to the north. I’d started off looking south just as far to the buildings of the city so the shear distance covered by the Capital Ring hit me here.

Back on suburban streets it was not far to Grove Park where I planned to rest. With a marathon down by 10:26am I bought water from a supermarket and found a concrete bollard to sit on near the train station. I’d done a marathon in 4hrs 26 min. It felt good to sit down for a 15 minute break.

Setting off again my next mental target was Crystal Palace, another 8 miles away. Though I was on target for the FKT at this point, I was feeling tired and wondered if I would even make it to Richmond at the 50 mile point. Immediately after Grove Park I made my second navigational error. I went north from the station to pick up the main Capital Ring path. I followed a large green Capital Ring sign I assumed was to continue the Ring, but it was one of many markers showing directions to the nearest station, so I ended up back at Grove Park. I got back onto the Ring further up but realised i’d missed out a section. Even though i’d more than done the equivalent distance I went back to link up the bit i’d missed. I lost about 20 minutes and added on a mile and a half with this second mistake. I cursed my stupidity at adding on time and distance when I was tired. I needed to not let it knock me down too much though, I had a long way still to go and didn’t want a mistake to hurt my chances.

By Beckenham Place Park at 30 miles in I was running the downhills, jogging the flats and walking anything uphill. The cool of the morning had receded and the heat was kicking in now making the running harder. After Penge West station I entered Crystal Palace Park at 34.2 miles at 12:30pm, 6hrs 30min into my run. It’s a beautiful and iconic place for athletics so I got a big lift going through the park despite the big climbs. Coming out of the park I knew I was nearing a point where I could come off the route to get a friend to witness my run. I took a little while to find her house so it ended up being a mile detour adding around 20 min extra on. It was good to see a familiar face though and helped spur me on. I commented that i’d be lucky to make it to Richmond given how I was feeling.

My next mental goal was to get to the halfway point at Streatham Common. Walking the uphills and running the downhills I made the top of Streatham Common. I was running quickly down the common when my age old enemy cramp kicked in. I crashed to the floor beside the path and writhed in agony trying to work through it. I had prepared a bottle of pickle juice (decanted from a jar of pickled gherkins) to bring with me but left it behind in the fridge. Pickle juice saved me from debilitating cramp on a couple of marathons and on my previous ultra. Without it I pressed on, trying to stretch and run through it, passing the 40 mile mark as I went. Halfway at just under 8 hours in. I know the second half, if I made it, would be considerably slower.

I stopped for lunch and a rest at Carvalho’s Cafe which I would highly recommend. They seemed fine with a very sweaty mess of a runner sitting out on their chairs and did a good parma ham sandwich with pickle which was a treat after mostly Clif bars for 8 hours. I had an ice cold can of coke as well to keep me fuelled and again filled up my hydration pack with water and a Hi 5 tablet.

Onward to Tooting Commons and Wandsworth Common, crossing the A214 at 9 hours in (3pm) and 45 miles. A very long straight downhill past Wandsworth Cemetery brought me to Earlsfield. The last few southern sections had seemed a lengthy slog but now suddenly I was in spitting distance of Wimbledon and could even think of Richmond. I really felt the pain in my legs coming out of Wimbledon Park and had a mental battle to keep running. Walking just felt so much more comfortable by this point. It wasn’t that I couldn’t run, so i tried to convince myself to keep a jog going where I could. I felt physically capable of running but my brain was constantly looking for reasons to walk instead. I fought this battle a lot from this point onwards.

Wimbledon Common had some lovely downhill sections which brought great relief and I’d not made any more navigation mistakes since Grove Park. I felt I was going well. I knew I’d make Richmond now. Entering Richmond Park felt great at nearly 50 miles. This was the furthest i’d run before so it was good to break my distance record. The wide panoramic expanses of Richmond Park were a great contrast to the residential streets and mostly small parks i’d run through up to now.

The Capital Ring path after Queens Road offered great views out west, and a joyful exit to the park on an amazing downhill i’d been looking forward to since my recce.

Another mile and I was passing under Richmond bridge. 53 miles done, 11 hours in. I felt like I could go further so decided to have a decent break here to give myself a chance at finishing the whole thing, even if it meant I wasn’t able to make the FKT. I wasn’t sure how much more I could do so resolved to take it section by section. I looked a sight to the well turned out Richmond brigade in their neatly pressed pastel shades. I took my shamefully sweaty carcass to a branch of Pret, ate a salad, drank an espresso and can of coke, then changed into clean socks and shirt.

My Richmond break took 45 minutes. I set off just before 6pm which left me 5 hours and 22 minutes to cover 30 miles if I was going to make an FKT. I knew this was virtually impossible given how I felt. The next 5 miles were very familiar as I used to regularly run to Richmond on the Capital Ring path from the Sky site near Osterley on the A4. My next target was Boston Manor at 58 miles.

I had often run speed sessions in Syon Park but was not able to muster a sprint as I passed through. Picking up the canal after Syon Park I managed to run for a while but after passing under the A4 I struggled and ended up walking a lot. I stopped to eat a packet of nuts & had a chat to my wife on the phone. She urged me to keep trying for the record but I was doubtful. I had a text exchange with a relative who is a keen and experienced runner. He encouraged me on and was watching my live track. I made Boston Manor and resolved to keep pushing on after the family encouragement.

The next target I had in mind was Sudbury Hill which would be almost halfway through the third marathon I was doing. I know i’d passed the 100km mark roughly where I’d crossed the A40 which felt like a great achievement even if I did’t finish the route. After Greenford I stopped off at a McDonalds (Another PB, two McDonalds stops in a day)  to get an ice cold slushy, the kind that my kids love. I craved ice cold drinks to keep my temperature down & and needed the sugar hit. I sat down for a while then set off again along the canal and up Horsenden Hill. When I had recced this before, the path down from Horsenden Hill had been really muddy and had slowed me down a lot. It was bone dry today & I was able to run it easily. I made Sudbury Hill at 14h 45min into the run at 66 miles at around 8:45pm.

I knew that Harrow on the Hill was next and it would involve a long climb. I walked the whole way up  then managed a run through the old town of Harrow on the Hill. I relished the steep downhill into the playing fields and managed to jog until I reached the rough, overgrown path below Northwick Park Hospital. Emerging at South Kenton tube felt like a huge relief. I’d run the rest of the Capital Ring from here back to home in one go at night so knew what I was in for. It felt like I could make it all the way round, even if I was reduced to a walk. It was still fairly light which would help me over the wild and isolated Fryent Country Park.

A barely noticeable path takes you between suburban houses into Fryent Park, then up a path through a field to an erie pond at the top of a wooded hill. I’d been looking for faries here with my wife and kids a few weeks earlier. You could believe something supernatural was in these woods. There were a few people around so it wasn’t totally isolated. I took in the view across to Wembley then plunged down into the dark woods to the eastern side of the park. Here I followed a more detailed plan i’d done to stay on the CR route as it can be confusing staying on it around the hedgerows. I made the top of the Hill where a big group of teenagers were playing football and took in the panoramic views. 16 hours in at 71.5 miles.

A few suburban streets then I entered Brent Park, where I had something of a second wind. I was able to run at what felt like a decent pace again for a while. I held off from using my head torch for as long as I could but it was getting difficult to see. I crossed the M1 at 74 miles and the A41, then ran through Hendon Park, which had lights on helping me through. I ran down to the A406 and put my head torch on, knowing that I was about to dive onto paths where I wouldn’t be able to get by without it. The path goes close to the North Circular through various small parks which link up. I’d run these a lot and knew my way through well. I stopped and sat on a bench in Lytteton Playing Fields at 77.5 miles, 17h 31min in. I’d missed out on the FKT now, but looking at the Facebook and Instagram messages i’d received gave me a boost. I was really tired and just wanted to walk. I knew I had around 4 miles left. I’d run out of water as I thought I could manage the last section without. I regretted not topping up as I felt really thirsty. I’d been taking liquid energy gels for the past few hours, a couple more of these helped with hydration.

At East Finchley I knew the Capital Ring path would be closed from my earlier recce, but I’d seen that the previous FKT setter had experienced the same closure and had cut back onto the path the other side of Cherry Tree Wood. I’d gone south on my recce, and on finding Highgate Wood closed had followed a path around the edge close to the north west exit. I decided to try the alternative north and then to cut back down, but the path was closed so I detoured back up a hill. My feet were hurting a lot now and struggling with rerouting at this point was a blow. If anyone is attempting the route at a similar time i’d recommend the detour I’d used on my recce, south east down the road from East Finchley, left at Woodside Avenue, right up Lanchester Road, left onto the uphill footpath to the Woods and left at the closed gate round by the outer fence onto Muswell Hill Road.

After my long and painful diversion I rejoined the path above Queens Wood and dived into the dark woods. I was glad to have recced this bit at night as navigation could be tricky here. For the second time down this path at night, I passed a couple who hurriedly reclothed as I passed with my head torch!

At 82 miles, at 17h 27 min in, I walked up the steep path out onto the A1 below Highgate tube. Next was the long downhill of the Parkland Walk to Finsbury Park. I planned to run all the way down the Parkland Walk in one go, and knew I’d be as good as finished, with just Finsbury Park to cross to finish. I’d encountered someone on this bit last time who got spooked by me and ran ahead of me for a while before realising I was a strange but harmless night runner. There was no-one to be seen this time, just odd pairs of spooky reflective animal eyes caught in my beam.

I’d been a little worried about crossing Finsbury Park at night as i’d been shouted at before on my recce. Though there were a few stragglers in the park I had no trouble and exited onto Green Lanes to complete the run at 1:05am. The run had taken 19 hours 5 minutes and was 83.38 miles according to my Suunto Ambit. I signed off on social media and slowly walked the couple of miles home. I was a little disappointed to have missed out on an FKT, but felt a great sense of achievement on having finally run the Capital Ring in one go.

I’m grateful to my wife Amanda for allowing me the chance to do this and as always for her support in the face of my ridiculous endeavours. I’m also grateful to my friends and family who supported me on social media and by text as I ran. It was great to share the experience & helped me to get all the way around.