The thing that people seem to wonder about most is why on earth I chose to begin a British adventure in November, just as winter was setting in. Given the length of the challenge though, it was always going to involve some inclement weather and I was simply too impatient to wait until Spring to begin. Beyond my top priority of not hitting Northern Scotland during the coldest months, I just didn’t really see the winter as much of a problem. Especially considering that I first took up running in January whilst living in Sweden, where the temperature hovered between and -10°C and -20°C right through until April, I guess you can forgive me for thinking that I could handle a dusting of Cornish frost. There have been certain challenges posed by the season though, as well as a few surprising perks.
These experiences are, of course, all based on the UK and, specifically, the coast path.
Your feet are going to be wet.
Let’s just get this out of the way first of all. There’s no beating around the bush – if you’re in Britain, or anywhere else with a similar climate, and you’re running through winter and you’re choosing trails, then you’re going to get wet feet. Even on dry days, the ankle deep mud and lingering puddles will soak your trainers. I’m currently wearing liner socks under my Sealskinz and this combination seems to keep my feet reasonably warm even when drenched. Beyond that though, it’s a case of just trying your best to dry things over night. My top tip is that, no matter how unpleasant it feels, if you have to put your shoes back on post-run, then put the wet socks back on too, otherwise your dry socks just become wet socks too. There’s a strong chance that I’ll cry happy tears the next time my feet stay dry for a whole day.
Mud is unavoidable – as is falling in it, landing in it and sinking in it.
The coast path is hella muddy at the moment. A large portion of the footpaths have become temporary streams due to the heavy rainfall over the past month or so and the patches where cattle have been trampling are full on swamps. You do start to get a feel for the mud, becoming able to preempt which is a sturdy patch that will hold your weight and where you’re going to sink. Inevitably though, several times a day you’ll get it wrong and find yourself calf deep in mud (or plunge thigh deep into sewage as unfortunately happened to one of my running companions last week…). You’ll also regularly go flying and end up face down in the brown stuff. It’s kind of gross and kind of fun. Avoid white socks and wear gloves.
Lack of daylight is the biggest problem.
Sure, being cold and wet and battered by wind isn’t always the most fun, but it’s the sun setting at 4pm that has caused me the most issues so far. Donning a head torch and some reflective gear is an option for lots of routes but, frankly, it seems to me like pure idiocy to be alone on the slippery cliff paths after dark. It’s slow going at the moment though, between the hills and the mud baths and the cow dodging, and trying to fit the miles in before sunset isn’t always easy. Allow much more time than you think you need. The extra thirty minutes in bed isn’t worth the stress of the end of day rush, when the sun starts to disappear and your mind starts exploring all of the gruesome ends that you might meet.
Hot food is more delicious than you ever thought it could be.
Food is pretty great in general, as is eating it. It’s especially delightful when you’re tired and you’ve burnt thousands of calories and you’ve got that deep ache in your legs. Add being cold into the mix, with wet feet, having spent the day outside with the wind on your cheeks, and food becomes so much better than it ever has been before. When I arrived in St Ives last Tuesday, somebody asked if I wanted a baked potato. I tried to play it cool and be all nonchalant but inside I was screaming. It was one of the most joyous offers I’ve ever had. Who knew a potato – a simple, humble, baked potato – could make somebody so happy? By Jove it did though.
Think seriously about camping.
I wrote this post a while back about how I hadn’t pitched my tent yet, and I have to admit that I still haven’t. I love camping and I’m excited to start enjoying the British wilds from under canvas, pitching my tent each night and lighting my stove and being alone and away from everything and everyone. Right now though, I’m just not sure how much fun this would be if I was camping. Perhaps I’m just not a very hardy soul but I would urge you to think very hard about extended winter camping. How will you dry things out during rainy periods? How much extra water weight are you going to end up carrying when your tent – and everything else – gets wet? How will you approach wild camping when it’s dark at 4pm? I’m by no means saying don’t camp but it is something that needs real consideration.
You get the world to yourself.
The most magical thing of all about exploring out of season is that you get the whole damn world to yourself. On August Bank Holiday weekend last year, I walked the Seven Sisters in Sussex for the first time. It was a bright, beautiful day and I had a lovely walk – as did hundreds of other people. When I returned in November though, those hills were all mine. I didn’t see another soul. Storm Barney was raging at the time and rather than just a lovely walk, it proved an almost cathartic experience. I’ve grown to cherish those days when I barely see another person, regardless of how hostile the weather is at the time.
Ignore my warnings of wet feet and pungent mud and angry cows though. Please just ignore all of that. Consider it somewhere in the periphery of the sensible part of your brain perhaps, but then bury it and just go outside and explore. This country is beautiful, it’s so bloody beautiful. I ran my longest day so far yesterday, 24 miles from Newquay to Padstow, and I didn’t stop smiling. I ran across cliffs and over beaches and through streams and I loved every single footstep. Ignore the voice in your head telling you you’d rather stay inside with a cup of tea and go outside and get sweaty and make your legs ache. Seriously. Please. Now – go now. Have the cup of tea later and enjoy it all the more.
If you enjoyed reading this and you’re feeling generous, it would make my day if you could 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