I don’t know when I first heard about the Capital Ring, but I’d keep spotting the signposts throughout London and it was an itch I needed to scratch. A circular route always seems to appeal more to me – perhaps because it just looks good on a map. It also tracked right by my door, so it felt like too good an opportunity to turn down.
At 78 miles long, it was much further than I had ever run before. My last event before lockdown was my longest – a 35 miler on the south coast. That was tough but I had felt like, as long as I kept fuelling, I could keep going. Leaving it quite late in the year meant that light was not on my side – I’d start in the dark and finish in dark, which was my greatest concern in the days before. Starting in Finsbury Park at 0500 was not ideal, however, I’d recced it at similar time a few weeks before and I’d felt OK, so I held on to that.
After a week full of sleeping, stretching and 6-meal days, I was as ready as I could be. The weather was perfect – cool, still, dry. It was a strange feeling stood at the start, knowing that as soon as I pressed the button on my watch, I was beginning a very long day. But I tried not to overly dwell on that and got going.
First stop was less than a mile in as I realised I’d over layered. The buff and jacket got ditched but, after that, the first section was a breeze. I think it helped that I was still half asleep, the route was pan flat and I was feeling fairly fresh. It was 16 miles to the Thames. Much like my earlier trial run, there were a couple of closed parks to divert around but, other than that, plain sailing.
Running through Woolwich pedestrian tunnel was a first for me. Running with a facemask on isn’t ideal but needs must. The climbing began soon after re-surfacing in the South. More closed parks (at 0830?!) invited some Notting Hill-esque fence vaulting – I didn’t fancy adding any more miles at this stage. This section was possibly the most fun. I enjoyed the sense of adventure (I hadn’t visited this part of London before) and my energy levels were still ok. That was until I inexplicably stacked it at mile 25. I like to think it was because of a dodgy surface but in reality I was probably just being lazy and dragging my feet. Thankfully there were no witnesses but unfortunately my hip took a bit of a hit.
The next milestone was a friend’s house in Streatham. The route passed right by his so it was a great opportunity to top up on water. A few miles before arriving I had my first low. I think this was a combination of the Crystal Palace hump and the fact that I was slowly creeping away from the target times I’d set.
My friend joined me for a few miles from Streatham. Having spent over six hours in my own company, it was nice to have someone next to me. I made the point that I wouldn’t be offering much chat and was only really interested in listening. This part flew by and before I knew it, I was in Richmond Park - a place I knew well from countless laps on the bike. It turns out it’s much bigger on foot. And hillier. But still brilliant.
After the park, I had my sights firmly fixed on mile 52, where I’d asked for support from my girlfriend (and dog). I’d figured that by lining up a proper pit-stop for two thirds of the way round, I’d feel more motivated to get going afterwards. I got weirdly emotional when I arrived – their overwhelming energy significantly making up for my diminishing levels. Whilst it was nice to have a decent stop, I was keen to be as efficient as possible. I changed my socks and shirt, and then had a hot Something Good risotto – some proper food to offset the energy bars, gels and isotonic drink.
Before long I was back on my feet. I slowly made my way out of the park and on to a lengthy flat section along the canal. My legs were grateful to have something flat after the stop but, before long, I got really bored of plodding along the same path for endless miles. Don’t get me wrong, it was very scenic, but it was just relentless and every corner looked the same. The miles ticked over. Slowly.
As the route finally peeled me away from the canal, my legs were really starting to get angry. I’d have to walk any incline, no matter how small, and more often the downhills too. Thankfully, energy levels were fairly strong as I kept chipping away at my supplies. My mind felt good too. I’d got to a place where I knew I wasn’t going to be anywhere near my target (with hindsight, a very optimistic one), but I was increasingly certain I would finish. However, 12 hours in, my new watch suddenly packed it in. Low battery (so much for the 30-hour life I was expecting). Plan B – I could use my phone for navigation. Not ideal, but it would work. I was soon to return to familiar surrounds as I entered the final sectors so was also hoping that a map was less critical. Now (hopefully) the only remaining challenge was the deepening darkness.
Cue a blinder from my support. As I emerged from negotiating pitch black Brent Reservoir with only a small headtorch to see where I was going, my girlfriend appeared on the bike with an absolute beast of an Exposure spotlight. At this point, I’d knew I’d make it. I just needed to go through the motions. Jog – eat – walk – drink – repeat.
I’d prepared myself for the final few miles. Highgate Wood and Queens Wood are brilliant for a Sunday stroll but less so with 75 miles in the legs. They felt like mountains at this stage and they are not bike-friendly so I was back on my own and back in the dark. Reaching the start of Parkland Walk was euphoric. 2 miles at a lovely 2% decent was all that remained. Emma and the trusty beam of light returned for the last section to the car, where a hipflask of whisky was waiting.
And then that was it. I’d done it. I’d run around London, in a day. Through all the parks, all the boroughs, past all the people. I was chuffed. Turns out this weird year brings out random unexpected adventures.