October 6th – November 14th 2013
A year ago today, on the 24th October 2013, I was just over 2 weeks into a run from John O’ Groats to Land’s End. I had crossed the border into England, with 16 marathon distance runs/hobbles under my belt, 14 more than I had ever done in my lifetime. Two weeks prior to that day I was stood anxiously in front of the famous sign post at John O Groats, tired from a restless nights sleep, questioning my own sanity as I was about to embark on a 900 mile self-supported run to Land’s End. The plan was to run 35 marathons in 40 days – pushing all my kit in a baby jogger named Helga, looking quite ridiculous.
Rosie Swale-Pope was the lady who inspired me to take on this challenge, a lady who spent 5 years single handedly running around the world. So after speaking to her about approaching my own plans for a world run, she suggested running from John O’ Groats to Land’s End as a ‘warm up’ if you will. She asked me when I could do it, and then after realising the lease on my flat ended in 2 months, we decided that would be a good start date. So, much in the same way many people make relationships ‘official’ by confirming them on facebook, that night I set up a page letting people know what I was doing, setting the idea in stone.
This is the original route. I ended up changing it slightly whilst on the road after advice from a friend, suggesting I use cycle paths, which was much more enjoyable! In hind site I would have taken more back roads and cycle paths and completely missed out the A9!
There was a huge amount of support throughout the trip, especially on the first day, with people stopping to donate and others honking as they drove past. After a fairly collected start, my emotions were coming to the surface and with each honk of the horn, my eyes would wet with tears. 20 minutes in and already it felt very real! It was a rush and I felt free, just me, my surroundings and the road, with nothing more than some clothes, a tent, water and food. I was excited for the simplicity of this trip and what the next 40 days would bring.
The journey didn’t disappoint, and I saw more of the UK’s magnificent countrside and its people than I could have possibly hoped. I treasure every moment from the trip. From the Scottish landscapes of giant burnt brown maroon hills, forests of towering trees, bloated raging rivers, the most savage looking golf courses being played by weather- hardened, red faced old men in the most ridiculous brightly coloured chinos, quaint little houses and farm settlements, crumbling stone walls, a load of whisky distilleries, and field upon field of cows and sheep.To the looks of bewilderment shared with fishermen and ducks on the wettest day I have ever experienced, to the time when I got invited in by the Henderson family for a cup of tea, to the time one of my toe nails fell off and I got an infected blood blister. To camping wild in overgrown fields, sleeping in churches, re-planning my route last minute late at night with my friends dad to eating pizza, to the generosity of strangers for giving me a bed for the night, to ending up in thick wet, shin deep mud on the side of a canal. To the stunningly bleak natural landscape of Dartmoor national park, a blend of boggy marshland, uneven damp green fields and masses of rusty brown dying bracken dotted with sheep, cows and shaggy coated wild horses.
Whilst writing this I realised I was reminiscing dreamily through rose tinted glasses the best bits from the trip, forgetting the nitty gritty and the hardships. Generally I try not to dwell on these moments. However, there were occasions where the physical and mental struggle was pretty overwhelming. But, this is part of the adventure contract, seeing how you overcome those situations is part of the challenge and part of the fun. The hardest moments can often lead to the biggest highs or the funniest moments of the journey. The best way, I found to deal with them was to take a break, have a drink of water, eat some food, take a few deep breaths, and then crack on, putting one foot in front of the other. Because, you know in the end you’ll get through it and be alright on the other side.
The journey allowed me to connect with myself, the stunning country we live in and its people. Living on the road in these conditions was tough at times, but other than the physical hardships, it was such a beautifully simplistic life of sleeping, eating, running, drinking and a bit of map reading. With only the basic provisions and a relatively small amount of kit, it makes you realise how much we take for granted in our everyday lives, and how much we actually need to get by.
But what humbled me the most, was the generosity and kindness of strangers. Many nights during the trip I stayed at someone’s house or in their garden. The majority of these people I barely knew. They were so welcoming, inviting me into their homes and treating me as one of the family. The adventure would not have been the same without the help and kindness shown to me from these people.
Reaching Land’s End after 40 days on the road was a bittersweet concoction of emotions. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I was so pleased I finally made it, so pleased to see my girlfriend and my family, but also sad to leave behind my simple routine of running, eating and sleeping where ever I ended up. There was also a part of me that gave a cheeky middle finger to the several people who said I would never make it! The trip reinforced something within me, and even with 2 months of rushed planning and not nearly enough time to prepare physically for such an ordeal. It taught me that sometimes you just have to do things in life, jump in the deep end with a smile on your face, an optimistic view and just see what happens. Aim to do what you set out to, try to reach the end destination with all your might, but most important of all, enjoy the journey.
7 months after the run (June 2014), with the trip still fresh in my mind, I decided to quit my job as an architect with the aim of pursuing a career that felt more in tune with me. I am currently training as an International Wilderness Guide at Tredu College in Kuru, Finland.
Some Extra Information on the Run
If you want to read my daily posts whilst I was on the road, take a look at the posts from 2013 on my Facebook page.
For more information on the (original) route, click here to be taken to the google maps document, or scroll back up to see the embedded map. As said above, if I were to re do the run, I would have taken as many back roads and cycle paths as possible and completely missed out the A9! Almost all of the run was done with just maps, I only had to use the GPS on my phone several times, when lost in city centers or industrial estates!
I also raised a total of £5407.30 divided by 4 charities close to my heart. For more information on the charities head to my Just Giving page and click on the charity logos.