How to create a route for the Centre of the Universe ultra
Updated: Mar 4, 2021
CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE PLANNING by Camino Legend Mark Kerry
So after signing up to the Camino Centre of the Universe 50km the first thing I thought was how am I going to run this? So many options, where do I start?
First of all I decided that it would be fun to make an adventure of this unique concept and run as a team rather than race it alone. This wasn’t my A race and being a mountain/trail ultra runner I thought I’m never going to be fast enough to secure a podium place so lets have some fun. With this in mind I had some friends that are new to ultra-running and some that hadn’t gone beyond the marathon distance so this was the perfect opportunity to rope them into running with me. After reaching out to friends 3 of them committed and we had our team of 4 (myself, Kris, Jon and Rhydian).
Now for the planning…Being the most experienced runner of the group I agreed to plan the route and take responsibility for navigation on the day. After a bit of back and forth with ideas we finally decided that we would run the route from South of the river as that’s where the others live (I was out-voted). It was also decided that we would try to incorporate a good amount of elevation (over 500m) so that the route was not completely flat and that we would try to include as much trail as possible so that we A) weren’t running on busy roads and B) were able to take advantage of some of the great paths and scenery that link the Home Counties to London.
That was the easy part and now came the part of plotting out the route. I have a fair amount of experience with route planning and navigation however I can imagine that this would be a daunting task to someone of less experience. My advice would be to use either Garmin Connect, Strava or OS Maps. They all have route planning options that are fairly straight forward and user friendly. The way I started planning was to plot the finish line (details are on the Camino website) - but it is essentially in front of Here East in Hackney Wick - near the restaurants and bars) and work backwards.
Our route of choice was to start from South - so looking at the 50km distance it had to be either Surrey or Kent. I then played around with distances from the finish to see roughly where 50km would take me to. I spoke to Camino and they suggested that most locations that were 40km from Hackney would give you an approx 50km running route.
Once this was determined and after speaking with the team we decided that we would start at Oxted Station on the Surrey/Kent Border and work our way up through Kent including the North Downs, South London, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, and the Thames Path before our final stretch on the Lee River from Limehouse Basin to the finish at Here East in Hackney Wick. After a few adjustments I managed to finalise the route at 50.9km with 521m of elevation.*
There is the possibility that we may make some nav errors and go over or under the plotted distance slightly but I believe that this is fine as long as you reach a minimum of 50km once you cross the finish line so may need a contingency plan in place for this. If you are planning on running a fast time or getting a podium finish then you ideally wouldn’t want to exceed the minimum 50km distance and therefore may need to have a contingency plan so this doesn’t happen. A good way to overcome this would be to incorporate some loops around either Hackney Marshes or the Olympic Park towards the end so you can cut short as and when you are close to the 50km mark.
For our route choice we included part of a historic route called the Greenwich Meridian Trail and tried to cover as many parks and green areas as possible. I also added in a sneaky FKT (Fastest Known Time) section which the team are yet to know about which makes it even more exciting. One piece of advice I would give is to pick a route you are familiar with if your are not that confident with navigation, possibly even a route that you have previously recce’d or ran sections of. Understand where points are for potential aid if you need it and have a contingency plan if you find yourself slightly under the required distance towards the end.
In terms of aid and support we are planning on running the race self-supported which means we will stop at shops as and when required however you have two other options where you could go unsupported (carry your own provisions) or opt for supported race where friends or family can meet you along the route to provide aid, drinks and food. That’s the beauty of this race is that it offers flexibility for all runners.
Whether you choose to race and try to secure a podium finish, run a PB or whether you decide to do as I have and make an adventure of it with friends it’ll be a great day out. I’m very confident that this is one race that will go ahead due to the socially distanced concept and after a year of having races cancelled it’s great to be able to have something fun like this to look forward to. This is a great event for people that are new to ultra-running or yet to attempt their first 50km and could also be a very good event for a fast marathon runner or ultra-runner to secure a good time.
Happy planning people and good luck!
Our proposed route:
Start of the race in the town of Oxted
Oxted Downs (Approx 8km in)
West Wickham Common (Approx 16km in)
Beckenham Place Park (Approx 25km in)
Ravensbourne River (Approx 31km in)
Greenwich Foot Tunnel (Approx 37km in)
Olympic Park (Approx 48km in)
Finish of the race at Here East Hackney Wick