Updated: Dec 14, 2022
We really loved all the beautiful feedback from our recent Capital Ring disaster. Seems like most of you prefer to hear about the dramas and facepalm moments!! So as there is already some “London Loop FKT” (fastest known time) run stuff on the actual FASTEST KNOWN TIME website and STRAVA; and soon to be an article on Ultramarathon Magazine, this one is going to go super off-grid for you….
Over ten years ago, Daz and I used to run an annual ultra organised by Rory Coleman. It was 50 km of the Capital Ring and was aptly called the ‘London Ultra’. Back in those days 50 km was a big deal and we often took around 6 hours. If you could have seen us back then it was proper comedy stuff - wrong trainers, poor nutrition, no run strategy and poor execution.
A few years later we were preparing for our first 100 miler and decided to tackle the full 75 mile+ London “Capital Ring”, albeit in two 40 mile stages over a weekend. I fondly remember the fatigue of starting the second day (maybe something to do with a skinful of beers in Balham) and the sheer exhaustion at the finish of Day 2.
Daz and I have now completed and "FKT’d" the Capital Ring on several occasions and a few weeks ago we went back to try and reclaim the FKT from Jonathan Burnham’s (Russ Tannen and now Dom Jones has since crushed the FKT). We lucked-out on picking a 30+ degree day and with no crew or available shops (Covid-19) our attempt just melted away.
I mention all of this because (to help with the Why do you do these 100+ mile runs question) Daz and I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to do a 150+ mile run - we did the London Ultra, then we did a longer one, then we did another and made a right mess of it, then we did it again and it was marginally better. We read a lot, we listened to other runners (who were and still are better than us), we joined ultra communities online, we prepared better for bigger runs, we did bigger runs, we won 24 hour runs, we massively messed up 24 hour runs and all the time (secret source) we loved every second of it.
Why the “LONDON Loop” and Why now?
When lock-down restrictions on exercise were lifted I signed up to Nathan/Tori Flear's superb LEJOG (Land's End to John O'Groats) 874 mile virtual race and set a target of approx 100 miles a week. Cheekily I wondered if this level of mileage would win the race but two guys went head to head and averaged over 200 mile weeks to finish inside of 30 days.
During my "virtual mile" weeks I picked off a few new FKTs. Somewhere amid the madness I just thought about closing off the LEJOG with one of the few UK 100+ mile FKTs and the London Loop really appealed. Why? Well it was near home in London and it was big :)
Running any big distance with no-one to help you is a pretty daunting prospect. I love running alone, the peacefulness and escapism but I'm not a massive fan of spending hours figuring out navigation and nutrition on my jack jones. For one, that level of narcissism is a stretch too far, even for me and any running enjoyment would just get sucked out by all the non-run logistics.
Ultra Legend James Poole supported Bone through sections 5 + 6 +7 including Happy Valley and Mayfield Lavender farm - so beautiful (James and the landscape)
One thing you need to know about the London Loop is that it is a much loved way for walkers to complete small A-to-B routes but it's not on many runners radar. After hours of internet research I could only find evidence of a successful 4 day finish by Colin Dear. I spent a few days in front of a spreadsheet compiling a breakdown of the Loop's 24 sections as per the TFL website and calculated a set of 10 mile points. With the idea of an attempt now devilishly in my head, I dipped my toe into the WhatsApp blue sea to speculatively find out if any of my close ultra buddies would be willing and available to run or crew me. The response was beautiful. All my buds were in for either running or helping.
Over the summer I've had the immense pleasure of coaching one of my closest friend’s (Simon) son Ed. He's a budding middle distance runner and we've run a few 10 milers. When Simon offered to help it felt a great idea to propose the idea of Ed starting the run.
Close friend (Masters short and multi 24 hour distance finisher) Bryn and I succeeded in a recent FKT on the Tunbridge wells Circular and he was eager to help on one of the South London legs. Equally Anna (in training for MdS debut) who lives near Putney had researched that a start near Ewell would help her get a 20 mile run into her training block. Anna had done some studious research and worked out that there is a major underpass at Hatton Cross that you can only reach by a serious long detour (if you follow the GPX) but that there is “another route in”. This kind of detail is incredibly exciting and ridiculously nerve-wracking in equal measures. Thankfully Anna pulled off a master-stroke and if you follow our new GPX you need to say ‘arigato’ to Anna!
Friend and ultra superstar (she won’t like me saying this) Anna paced a superb set of sections including the ugly Hatton Cross and quite frankly heart-wrenchingly stunning Bushy Park
Local to me are friends and ultra-gods - Alison, Paula and Stephen. We've run loads of crazy made-up ultras including plenty of Night Runs and they were my obvious choice to pick off this logistically frightening section.
NIGHT FEVER NIGHT FEVER
Who you gonna call for a NIght-Run - the WALKER!!!! She will beast you and make you eat three gels in 45 minutes!
One of things daznbone have been pretty awesome at in recent years is the volume of night runs and the advantage that you get from becoming more familiar with running at night and the strange ways that your body and especially your mind goes when you mess with the rhythms of sleep. The no.1 daznbone night-run supporter has been Malaysia’s second best ultra-runner (she is going to go absolute apoplectic when she reads this bad gag) Alison Walker. Seriously Alison is a very dear friend and an absolutely brilliant ultra-runner (destined to smash many races/records in the future). When you ask for Alison’s help you get 110%. How many people do you reckon you could get to cover a 10 hour night section support run-buddy role with the possibility that it could a) not happen at last minute b) end before you have begun c) end somewhere in the middle of the night leaving you both stranded. How many people would genuinely love to sign-up for that? One :)
The first (of two) major crew stops was orchestrated by the incredible Paula Bedford. She kindly volunteered to drive her camper over to an industrial estate in West London (picking up Alison and another ultra friend Stephen Macintosh on route) and at around 21:00 pm I was lucky enough to be sat down and fed a fantastic noodle dish, served a sugary tea, given some savoury snacks, dressed in some night-time clothes and sent on my way with some Orbital tunes. Now that is world-class crewing right there. It’s important that I offer you as much honest and candid narrative as possible - so one thing I wasn’t that aware of but which could have had a major impact on this entire #fkt is that the crew team actually first parked up in the car-park of a “strip pub” (they called it a Gentleman’s parlour) - the fact that it was actually open in Covid times and that a burly bouncer actually came out to scare them away is priceless. Did I say that I needed a massage.
The incredible Spencer Milberry who came out in the dead of night to help with some valuable water refills and the spendour of Watermelon x
The route (attempted clockwise) would take me back around to Enfield Lock on the morning of Day 2 and here loads of friends from my club Victoria Park Harriers came out to support. The king of all friendly faces was Antonio, a much loved runner in the club. After 24 hours of gels and sports brand bars (all lovingly organised by our friends from KOMfuel ) my body was beginning to reject these fellas and thankfully angel Antonio came with some sensational sourdough bread peanut butter sandwiches and a milk choc drink to wash it all down with. It tasted fantastic but I think my body went into a food coma. I really struggled during this next phase. Thankfully it was time for “Crew Stop II” and a meet-up with Gaby (Mrs B). All the benefits of a morning crew came out - toothbrush, wet-wipes, new clothes and generally repositioning of the race-vest and its contents. Gaby was going to stay with us right until the very end - the thought of finishing in Purfleet with no-one to take me home might have been something else to kill off this dream.
Second Major Crew Stop organised by Gaby - great opportunity to have a good scrub and get refreshed before the last marathon of miles
At this time we were also met by VPH Coach Steve Hobbs and you know that feeling when you are desperate to look good in front of someone you respect - well it all failed miserably. When Steve was around my Duracell batteries were barely on one bar. I huffed and I puffed but I could barely get out of first. Don’t tell him but it was so good when he left! London Loop I Love You…..apart from….Deepest Darkest ESSEX
I cannot tell you just how stunningly beautiful almost the entire length of the London Loop is. I wasn’t totally unprepared by this. I spoke to my Dad and he reminded me that he was born in a street that joins near the Loop in Old Coulsdon. I spent ages on Google Maps researching where I would be so that I could imagine my Dad (in his words) cycling in wartime bombed holes learning to ride a bike. The entire research was based on an elaborate series of roads to follow near Coulsdon Common. The amazing thing is that 10 miles past this point I hadn’t actually seen any roads at all. You are almost entirely in forests, parks, woodland, golf courses (bloody hell there are a crazy amount of golf courses that you run right through on the Loop).
BUT and its a big butt - when you get past Chingford you get the darkside. A totally unloved section of the Loop - where the Loop signs (which are incredible for most of it) suddenly disappear (probably melted down for scrap) and all the trails routes are totally overgrown. My run-buddies for this section were the Two Martins (my long-time amigo Mr Denham and his close friend and fellow ultra-runner Mr Longhurst). Born and bred Essex boys, even they were shocked to the core when a farmer chased us in his field and told us to “get the $%&£ off his land” - We plea-bargained that we were only lost and looking for the London Loop - he proceeded to tell us we could stick that Loop where the sun don’t shine. When we eventually pushed out way through thick bushes off his field we could see buried deep an unloved Loop sign!
Essex Squad - Two Martins, Photo king Gigi and Senor Aukett - thanks boys - you were AMAZING
After (approx) 245 km we eventually found ourselves facing the industrial face of the River Thames (and Erith on the other side - remember that this Loop isn’t complete!!!) and after what had felt like one heck of a slog for the past few hours was replaced with a healthy free-flowing run pace all the way to the finish in Purfleet.
STATS: 249.6 km in 34 HOURS and 23 minutes - Why not do a lap around the Purfleet carpark for 250 km ? Totally valid and unanswerable!
One of the mysteries of the challenge was whether the Coros Apex would be the first watch ever owned that would actually keep its battery life going (over 34 hours in this case) to record the run without having to break it into two parts. Result - Coros smashed it! Massively recommend this watch to everyone.
Seriously so WHY??? Summary This weekend just gone I met up with a gang of my London buddies in the park for a sunshine picnic and everyone had the same question - Why? Why do these long runs? Why do this one? Why do it Solo? Why do it the way you did it? Ultimately it always comes back to the question of why would anyone “in their right mind” want to do something for over 24 hours when it’s perfectly fine (and normal) to do it for one hour.
It’s the Monday after the run and I woke up feeling pretty spaced. My feet are still throbbing. I’ve been here plenty of times before. I have a few close run buddies who “don’t” do the really long stuff because they don’t want that “cliff edge” feeling where you feel like your body and mind need several weeks off before running again. If you love running you want to protect yourself so that you can always run and putting it all out there risks that. I’m sort of caught here. I want to bathe a little in some sort of glory of having achieved something that has a bit of gravitas. I know that there are a handful of runners (friends!) who could smash my 34 hour Loop time but equally I know that most can’t. However the world has already moved on (it always does and I really cherish that) and no-one cares so much (yesterday’s fish and chip news - remember!). I want to move on as well. I want to run today and I want to feel normal and do a small park run but I know from experience that this old body needs more time. It’s a subtle waiting game and I need to play it shrewdly. So there goes. For sure there’s more - much more. There’s the M25 for starters!!
PEACE and LOVE to all the DAZNBONE running world x FUNDRAISER FOR ST JOSEPH HOSPICE - https://www.facebook.com/donate/753831458485749/
Final big Thank you to everyone who has supported us with highlighting and raising much needed funds for our local hospice here in Hackney - St Joseph’s. It is not too late to donate!!! THANK YOU :)
I never pose or just hang around when there is the serious business of an #FKT………….(facepalm). Photo courtesy of Sir James Poole
What MORE Why? I may have lost you by now but here are some more musings!!!
I love the challenge and the impossible being faced-off from a running perspective. I see this as a sort of Monty Python pivot. I talk to folk who don’t really run and they are like “I couldn’t even stay awake for 24 hours” and then I turn 180 degrees and I chat to #goat Dan Lawson (who is prepping for another beautiful attempt at Land’s End to John O’Groats August 2020) or Mimi Anderson (who famously completed “double” ultra-marathons where she would go back to the start having already achieved most runners impossible) and from these legends I think to myself “well if they can do that mind-blowing run, then I can ‘at least’ try and do a bit of what they do”. It’s what I consider the “Touching the Void” approach to life - one guy is crawling off Everest - totally abandoned - almost certain to die - has almost no working muscles and bones - no support - no way of repair - just has to crawl using what he has left to try and get anywhere near survival… and I am in South Oxhey forest - at any point 1 hours Uber away from a bed and a fridge full of gorgeous food - with a world-class set of ultra-running buddies feeding me electrolyte drinks and feeding me energy bars…. and I touch every muscle and bone in my body and guess what they are all there…. everything works…. yes there is some onset fatigue but come on - am I crawling on the floor covered in blood wheezing against an altitude battle or just deciding whether I can run 9 minute miles or 11 minute miles…. hardship = no…. should I ever give in versus the guy on that mountain - never.
So there is a Why? before even considering doing a 24 hour + run because there is inconvenience for the world and others. When you are inside the arena the Why? just goes down the pecking order and it’s full focus on the How? and you get it done by using all the beautiful experience gathered up from times you’ve been here and done it before.
Maybe a “Why Not?” - You may know that Daz and I have been creating these “Legends of Spartathlon” podcasts during lockdown. In one of the episodes we interviewed the most amazing Kurumi Wakiki and she said “Last year, immediately after the (Spartathlon) finish I was transported to the hospital by ambulance and was hospitalized for one day! I had a very dry throat, but since I was dehydrated, they forbidden me drinking water. I was gradually given salt water soaked in cotton. I was eager to drink a water anyway, even if I die.”
This is a thought that goes through my head. When you’ve been on a drip at the end of a Spartathlon type 150 mile run you do question what you would do at the end of a run “with no-one around to pick up the pieces”…. #ponder
Some advice for someone wanting to do something like the London Loop for the first time.
Break it down. If you have never done more than a marathon then look at doing a beauty 50 km ultra-marathon to begin with and when that’s done pick-off a 50 miler and once 50 milers are done with some swagger then get set for your first 100 miler. Be aware that there are easier and brutal 100 milers. So if you want to think about doing 150 milers (or stage races or tough terrains - jungle - ice…) then make the 50s and 100s as tough as you can find them. Experiment with all the variables and find your karma - solo vs crewed, sports nutrition vs real food, hot climates vs arctic….