During my running career I’ve been beaten by a pillar box, all four tellytubbies, the Eiffel Tower, a man with one leg and countless small children, but never a ferry. I therefore decided to join the Viewtube Runners for their race against the ferry.
The Woolwich Ferry opened in 1889 and transports 2 million passengers each year across the Thames, between Silvertown and Woolwich. A boat leaves every ten minutes and the crossing itself takes approximately five minutes, with another five-ish minutes to load cars and passengers. The Woolwich Foot tunnel (opened in 1912), meanwhile, is 500 metres long and 20 metres deep, reached by a spiral staircase at either end, and the distance to and from the ferry terminal at either end adds on another 500 metres. So basically, to beat the ferry, one needs to run a kilometre and conquer both staircases within ten minutes. According to Garmin, the fastest I have ever run a kilometre was 5 minutes and 52 seconds. This, of course, was not in a tunnel, but on a running track on a chilly day and realistically it takes me between 7 and 8 minutes to run a normal kilometre at a comfortable pace. It was going to be tight. I knew all the other runners would have no problem crossing the tunnel and getting on the ferry before it embarked on its return journey and I didn’t want to be left behind.
As the ferry gates opened on the north bank, we pelted off round the corner towards the tunnel. There was some cobbles here, just like those at Victoria Dock, so I was very careful where I was putting my feet. (I am nearly recovered from my fall now, save for a very pink, itchy shoulder where the scab is nearly completely off). Then we went into the tunnel. I hadn’t really considered the downward spiral staircase until it was right in front of me. I do not like staircases and went down very slowly and gingerly because if I fell I would probably roll all the way to the bottom and take out the entire running club and never be invited back. I have googled extensively to try to find the number of steps but cannot find this information anywhere. I can only assume this is because there are at least a million steps and no one has successfully managed to count them. By the time I got to the bottom everyone else was long gone and all I could hear was the thud of feet somewhere deep inside the tunnel. Fortunately, the tunnel isn’t completely flat, and the next bit was a downward slope which gave me a bit of momentum to get some luminous green tops back in eyeshot.
I got a few strange looks from people coming the other way down the tunnel and the sound of my feet echoing around the walls was quite eerie, but other than that the tunnel bit itself was quite uneventful. I was thinking the steps at the other end would go on forever too, but actually they were relatively painless and there only seemed to be about half as many of them. (Google is also uninformed as to whether this is actually the case or if it just felt like that because I hate going down stairs more than I hate going up them.
Because this was not parkrun and there are no arrows, I promptly took a wrong turn as I came out of the tunnel and had to be corrected by a nice old man who informed me “They went that way, love, I think they’re running for the ferry!”
As I rounded the corner I saw the ferry pulling into the terminal and the other runners getting on which Mike rounded me and any other stragglers up and made sure we got on it without further calamity. So, as predicted, I didn’t beat the ferry, but it was a close run thing and at least I didn’t miss the return journey get stuck in Woolwich for the rest of my life. It had taken me ten minutes and thirty seconds.
Immediately upon finishing, I got a phone call from my mother who was very concerned as she had seen my running map and had for some reason presumed that I was open water swimming in the Thames. (This is strictly not allowed and is liable to result in dysentry or getting mauled by a Thames Clipper). I have come to regret adding her on Strava.