Every time I’ve called my dad over the past month or so, he’s said, “Elise, I had this awful dream last night that you aren’t coming home for Christmas…”. He joked about dressing in black throughout December and refused to put out Santa’s tray on Christmas Eve. This was the first year I celebrated Christmas without my family, you see.
Where I was spending Christmas was the thing that I got asked about most often during the first few weeks of my adventure. More than miles or maps, people wanted to know where I’d be eating my turkey this year – and for a long time I wasn’t really sure. Adventuring in the UK meant that it was very possible to head home for a few days. Part of the fun of an adventure is making your own rules though and I just somehow felt quite certainly, but for a reason I can’t quite explain, that going home for Christmas was breaking one of those self-made rules. This whole run is about weathering situations and experiencing ordinary things in extraordinary ways. Christmas was, in many ways, just another fight against the familiar.
Christmas with the Downings goes like this, in this order, without fail: stockings, salmon and Bucks Fizz, under-the-tree-presents, chocolate, Junior Choice, lunch (bread sauce!), more chocolate, children everywhere, mulled wine, Coronation Street, Eastenders, my sister steals my bed, Boxing Day walk, tea at Nan’s. After twenty three of those cookie cutter Christmases, it felt right to try something new.
I would be lying if I said I was completely okay with the idea of spending Christmas alone though. When Megan, who I fittingly met during a midnight run back in July, invited me to spend Christmas with her family ‘in the tiniest house in the tiniest village in Cornwall,’ I was more than a little relieved to be spared from a lonesome Christmas and a turkey dinner for one. It also meant I’d be able to carry on running over Christmas. Happy to be able to stop worrying about it, I pulled my elf hat back on, confirmed my non-attendance to my parents and embarked on the serious business of fuelling myself solely on mince pies for the rest of December.
Then, on December 23rd, I ran 200 yards down the road before my leg decided that it didn’t want to play anymore. I hobbled to a bench and sat looking over Looe Harbour to ponder the situation. I knew that I wasn’t seriously injured but I also knew that the pain in my right leg was a little more than just being stiff and tired. I made the not-easy decision to not run again until after Christmas. I ate an emergency pasty, made a last minute physio appointment in St Austell and took the bus there instead of using my legs.
In some ways I was relieved to have finally made a decision about the niggle that had been bothering me for a while but this then threw out a whole new dilemma. If I wasn’t going to be running anyway, why didn’t I just go home? I got as far as looking up train times but something stopped me. Megan picked me up on Christmas Eve and drove me to her village – which was as tiny as she’d described – where Christmas began.
And I had one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had. It was a lot quieter than Christmas at home, probably due to the absence of an army of rowdy under sixes, and I missed my family, of course I did, but I miss them the rest of the time too. Families aren’t just for Christmas, after all. It was lovely to spend time with Megan and meet her family though. Cornwall provided a rather more scenic backdrop for the Christmas morning walk than Northampton does and I even managed to come second in their annual family game of Spoons which I’m secretly very proud of.
The food was delicious, the games competitive and the wine flowing but more than that I was amazed, once again, by the strength of human kindness. Christmas is, beyond the presents, the decorations and the gluttony, a feeling, a gesture and an act of kindness in itself. Celebrating away from home really just demonstrated that more than ever before.
If you enjoyed reading this and you’re feeling generous, it would mean the world to me if you would consider sparing a few pennies for my chosen charities Young Minds and Beyond Food. You can do so by donating here – http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/runthecoast