In January of last year, my brother set a challenge for his running group to run 100 miles in January. I cheated and swapped January 1st for February 1st (too much gin, not enough sleep) but made it by the skin of my teeth, covering 100.3 miles. That was, by far, the furthest I had ever ran in one month either before or since. Until November, that is, when I ran around 350 miles. I realise I’ve not told you that much about the actual running so far though and this has largely been a conscious decision. This adventure is about the places and the people and, yes, the cake, so that’s what I’ve wanted to talk about. It was never about mile splits or Garmin stats.
I have been doing rather a lot of running though, no beating around the bush. I’ve had 3 rest days and 34 running days so far, the longest being 23 miles and the shortest about 3 miles, with most hovering somewhere between 10 and 18. I’ve already almost worn out one pair of trainers (and wading through endless boggy fields has left them smelling not too sweet at all…) and am eagerly awaiting delivery of a second, when I’ll be moving on to trail shoes in order to more adequately tackle the remainder of the South West Coast path.
And it’s not easy. It’s never easy. Some days it’s beautiful and wild and rugged and rewarding, but it’s still not easy. Other days it’s boring and flat and the weather’s bad and the paths are concrete, and then it’s even less easy. Some days my body feels as battered as my trainers and, regardless, the first couple of miles of every single day, my legs feel heavy and my backpack annoys me.
After these first few miles though, usually, my legs start to play ball. I see the miles tick by on my watch, neither slowly nor quickly, just time passing. Usually I’ve allowed enough time to arrive at the day’s destination plenty before dark so it’s just a case of trudging on for a while. The knowledge that at the end lies a hot shower, a warm bed and a clean(ish) set of clothes gets me through the first half of the run, then the endorphins kick in and the second half is spent on a high of oh-my-god-I’m-spending-my-Thursday-afternoon-galloping-around-Dorset.
Occasionally I don’t leave enough time though, and it becomes a race against the clock, like the day I ended up in the New Forest as dusk was approaching and I realised I didn’t have my head torch and the last bit of the route was on a dark country lane with fast cars and no footpaths. Or the day I got lost in Pagham harbour and there was seemingly no escape and for a moment or two my choices really did feel limited to either swimming across a river or clambering over barbed wire. Then I feel annoyed at myself for poor planning and stupid for taking on this challenge that I am so unqualified to be attempting.
I often argue with myself, endless battles between Miss You’re-So-Lucky who sits on my right shoulder and Mr Bloody-Hell-My-Foot-Hurts who sits on my left. The arguable pointlessness of this adventure is something that drew me to it, the sheer luxury of being in a position to do something just because I want to. This pointlessness is also at the centre of every internal argument though, when I want to stop and I’m tired and hungry and cold and I’m wondering why on Earth I didn’t just choose to run 10km on a Sunday then go and have dinner with my Grandma like a normal person.
What amazes me every single day though, good or bad, is how quickly your body adapts to what you’re asking it to do. We – me and my legs and Backpack Bob – have quadrupled our monthly mileage and we haven’t fallen apart yet. Backpack Bob had never even been running until November 1st when he took 17 miles like a champ. In fact, I went to see a sports therapist a few days ago and they seemed surprised by what good condition I’m still in, which was definitely reassuring.
I looked at the south coast on the map yesterday, and at the 400 or so miles I’ve ran so far, and it looked like quite a long way. Then I zoomed out to see the whole country and it felt like just a drop in the ocean compared to what lies ahead. Yet, the very fact I’m moaning now about running 20 miles in the same way I once moaned about running one or two or three has to count for something. When the extraordinary becomes the ordinary and the impossible becomes the commonplace, that’s a kind of magic in itself.