Race Review: The Ultra Challenge Thames Path Bridges 20K

Two weeks to go to Berlin Marathon….or

The Ultra Challenge Thames Path Bridges 20K…. or

My GPS says 24!

Saturday, yesterday, I had signed up for something a little different: a 20K fast trek along the Thames from Putney Bridge to Tower Bridge (that is a total of 16 separate bridges if you count the Jubilee bridge at Embankment either side of the Hungerfood rail bridge as 2). It was an event organised by Ultra Challenges, and was part of the Thames Path Challenge where some were walking 100K as part of it. I got one of the paid for places late to make up the numbers, thinking that this would be me walking anything up to 4 hours, based on my Shine half marathon walk last September, which would be a good test mentally for Berlin. Running is one thing, being stuck in my head with the rabbit at the controls is another.


The 16 Bridges and 20km ….

1. Putney – The current bridge was opened in 1886 replacing the 1729 timber bridge – it is 700 ft long and made of Cornish Granite and is just downstream from the start of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.
2. Fulham Railway – The District Line runs over this bridge. Opened in 1889 pedestrians can also cross here – and was designed by Brunel’s former assistant William Jacomb.
3. Wandsworth – Known as the least notable bridge in London and opened in 1940 the original blue paint colour was used in the Blitz as camouflage – and replaced the 1873 bridge.
4. Battersea – The old bridge (opened in 1771) was painted by Turner, Whistler and Cotman. This was demolished and replaced by the current bridge which is the narrowest road bridge in London.
5. Albert – Famed for being in the titles to made in Chelsea this grade II listed structure is also known as the Trembling lady.
6. Chelsea – was opened in 1937 and it is a self-anchored suspension bridge. During construction large quantities of early Roman and Celtic artefacts which has led historians to believe it to be Caesar’s crossing point.
7. Vauxhall – Opened in 1906 it is near a bridge-like structure found in the silt which is presumed to be from circa 55BC. It has been in many James bond movies as it’s next to MI6.
8. Lambeth – It was opened in 1932, The bridge’s paint scheme matches the House of Lords, which is at the southern end of the Palace of Westminster nearest the bridge.
9. Westminster – A favourite haunt of tourists the bridge is painted in the colours of the House of Commons. Opened in 1862 it replaced a bridge from the 1750s.
10. Golden Jubilee – Opened in 2002 to commemorate 50 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign the builders had  to be careful to avoid unexploded bombs and the Bakerloo line.
11. Waterloo – The current bridge was opened in 1945. It’s predecessor was dismantled and it’s stone sent around the world. It’s name comes from Wellington’s Victory over Napoleon in 1815.
12. Blackfriars – The present bridge was built in 1869 to coincide with the rebuilding of the embankment by Sir Joseph Bazalgette. If you look closely you can see the river Fleet emptying under the north end of the bridge.
13. Millennium – Opened for the millennium the bridge still retains the nickname ‘the wobbly bridge’ due to oscillations which have since been fixed.
14. Southwark – Featured heavily in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels the bridge was opened in 1921.
15. London – The current box girder bridge opened in 1973 replaced a 19th Century stone bridge which itself replaced the medieval bridge which the nursery song is based upon due to its rickety nature.
16. Tower – Built in 1886 as a solution to the demand for river crossings east of London bridge the innovative design is able to open for the tall ships which used to be unloaded in central London. 
I know most of this route well and have crossed a vast majority of these bridges in my time, just not one after the other. I also knew that I felt dreadful after Shine as the muscles needed to fast walk a half marathon are different to those needed to run it, and the constant pounding on the joints and feet was a a killer. This would be a test.
My wave started last, at noon, after an hour of watching 854 others start in 15 min waves from 11. It was a little demoralising listening to the same warmup, and a great MC job from journalist and presenter Mark Dolan.
Still I did have a bacon and egg roll to keep me entertained, and my phone (although using it before the race meant that I was without it for the last few bridges). And before too long I was standing in the start pen being advised by a rather vigorous warmer upper to “booty bounce.” Now those that know me know that I do not take part in the forced warm ups on proper races, so I was gonna be damned if I was going to “booty bounce” along with the charity walkers.
And then, after Mark Dolan walked around, talking to people about the charities they were walking for after reading it from their vests/shirts, when I was desperately hiding the fact that I was wearing a Hogwarts Running Club shirt, we were off…
The Route…
It only took a few corners to lose 90% of the wave and was off marching along behind three women who seemed to know what they were doing.
One of these broke away from the other two, as we all crossed the Fulham Railway bridge and I followed as she was going at a great pace (like she meant it).
Music kept me going at the pace I wanted in my old Adidas Pure Boosts, the ones that I set a couple of PBs at Eton Dorney in before I worked out all that shoe business. And I was soon ticking off the West London bridges as I caught up with and passed the 11:45 walkers, including one girl who, and I am not making this up, threw a stone at me as I reached Battersea bridge and hit me on the arm!
That put me in a bit of a mood for a bit, as I didn’t realise people would be so mean if you pass them on a trek. But I soon put it behind me (literally) and either following or being followed by the girl from the breakaway group I kept going.
I did learn something. I learned that what I thought was Battersea bridge was actually Chelsea bridge. I had always assumed that as I take it to get to Battesea Park. Aw, we live and learn.
And then, disaster struck (or relief finally if you were sick of my photos of the bridges in Twitter) my phone did that thing where it has low battery so goes dark and I can’t read the screen or take photos. So I kept going, relying on my Nike+ watch (that had very little battery too) to get me through the insane crowds from Embankment to Tower Bridge.
Mark Dolan, star as he was, and making everyone feel like they were rockstars taking photos with them and of them and giving them encouragement met us at the Dixie Queen paddle steamer, a unique finish line if ever there was one for medals, t-shirt and free food and drink. 
I did swear off walks/treks after Shine but am glad I did this. It is bling #82 on the rack (I think) although I am owed 2 for the two Hogwarts Running Club races last week.
And I was even more glad when I looked at the official results and saw this! 3rd Male and 7th Overall out of 854. Not bad for a second half marthon distance on the feet in 4 days!
In Summary:
Would I do it again? NO. I am done with walks/treks. They do me more damage than a run.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely. It is great way to see London.
Run the River 10K (Across the damned bridges again!)

3 Comments Add yours

  1. YouKnowWho says:

    Would you suggest that this makes a good running route? If you were doing it by your self


  2. I would not recommend the route in it's entirety. The Jubilee Walk bridges by Embankment and Tower Bridge are a nightmare, the former especially. I would run it, but miss out those if possible. Also, between Southwark and London bridge run on the north side of the river, as the Globe area, Borough Market and the cobbles can be a pain.


  3. YouKnowWho says:

    Thank you for that. Ironically I did a 5k Over Tower bridge, Borough market, globe, and London bridge the other day 🙂

    I like running over the bridges so was thinking of splitting it into two 10k routes with a tube/bus back


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