Updated: Dec 14, 2022
The Capital Ring is like a footpath version of the M25 - it goes all the way round London in a continuous loop. for some 78 miles. Although, it’s a lot harder to follow than the M25! With us both living very close to the path and having raced on it (badly) in the early days we’d always had the thought of doing the whole thing in a oner. With Autumn 100 (daz) and Albi 24 Hour World Championships (bone) coming up and the need for a long training run that had some kind of meaning, we decided to take a crack at setting a new “FKT” (Fastest Known Time) for the route.
FKTs are quite a new concept for us but they’ve been around in the ultra-world for a long time and are getting increasingly popular. Big multi-day attempts on famous routes by pro athletes attract a lot of attention, and money. This one would be, er, somewhat lower key. We checked out the information on the current records at: https://fastestknowntime.com/route/capital-ring-london-uk and found there were two records held by Sam Anderson (Supported in 14:36) and Alexander Steer (Self-Supported in 15:43). Not sure exactly what category we’d fall into running as a pair we figured we’d start off at a pace that might see us near Sam’s time and just see how it went. The main purpose was the training run and any thoughts of new marks was a secondary concern. We contacted Sam and Alex to let them know anyway and they were both super supportive, thanks guys.
We set off at 05:35 on Friday the 20th of September from the canal bridge at White Post Lane, near the Olympic Park:
We’d picked this start time and location to maximise daylight running and try to ensure we didn’t encounter any locked parks (a lot of the route goes through public parks). The first few miles along the Jubilee path went easily and smoothly and the park opening plan almost worked, we had to climb over a couple of spiky gates, just as daz almost crippled himself on one of them the park warden appeared with a bunch of keys to open up! From there on in the park opening plan worked well, until we almost got stuck in a graveyard.
The recent weather had been very hot for September and this day was no exception. We enjoyed some glorious early sunny hours and some surprisingly unspoilt almost rural trail through parks of east and south London. There was a novelty factor in crossing the Thames via the Woolwich Foot Tunnel and soon we were on the long westbound section of the path that would take us all the way across to Richmond where we would cross the river again. We were running well and fueling fine on a mixture of Tailwind and SiS gels. A wobble at Crystal Palace around the marathon mark had us reaching for some old school cycling sandwiches - cheese and jam - a fine combination to get things started again.
We had a couple of frustrating detours near and in Wimbledon Park where the Capital Ring path had been consumed inside a festival site being built. Very annoying and we lost a few minutes trying to get ourselves back on track. Soon though we were upon Richmond Park and enjoying the hike up the hill and the sight of the deer:
It was by now a boiling hot day and we were struggling in the heat. Out of the park and we managed to grab some ice from a pub on the river which helped massively to cool down and get running again. By this stage although we knew there were a long few hours ahead of us we were starting to think that we could possibly set a new FKT mark on this course.
Back across the river and now northbound through Brentford, Ealing, Perivale and heading for Harrow on the Hill where we encountered a horde of schoolboys all dressed up. This section went well although running was often punctuated by hills or navigation checks so it was a bit stop/start and lacking flow.
Now the part we knew would be an absolute grind. Eastwards through Brent and Hendon is for us the most uninspiring section of the path and, tiring now, it seemed to go on for a long time. Our next major target was Highgate Woods which is getting near home turf - we knew if we could reach here in around 12 hours elapsed we’d be home and dry and this we did reaching it in 11:40 elapsed. This left us around 9 miles to go and nearly 3 hours to break the record. The public water fountain in Highgate Woods was manna from heaven, we spent a good five minutes getting cooled down and re-filling here.
Homewards now and we sped down to Finsbury Park finally getting back to Sub 10 minute miles although only briefly. Round the reservoirs and then attempting to go through Abney Park Cemetery we came up against a gruff warden with a huge bunch of keys. “The Capital Ring doesn’t exist at 6:30pm” he informed us! But then he strangely relented as we made to run off on a detour and said he would keep it open for us. Plunging past the gravestones we feared this could be an amusing end to the trip as there was no way we could climb these walls but we sneaked out with the gravediggers in a fading light.
All that remained was to get back to the canal at Springfield Park and a short shuffle south towards the Olympic Park. We reached the start point in 13:34:51 elapsed for a new FKT of just over an hour. This is currently being submitted to the website fastestknowntime.com and we’ll see how things end up. Massive respect to Sam and Alex, they’ll be back to try to lower this mark we’re sure so it probably won’t last long!