Every race I have ever ran – and there haven’t been that many – has been a bit of a misery, and an entirely self inflicted misery at that. I always sign up and pay my entry fee and grandly imagine myself ticking off all the training runs and taking it all very seriously. That never happens though. I have real admiration for those who can dedicate themselves to race training because I have always found it almost impossible to ever make myself run laps around the park or sprint up and down hills. A few months after registering, I always find myself standing on the start line, unprepared and wondering why on earth I’ve done this to myself again. I guess I liked the idea of running more than I actually liked running.
It wasn’t until I realised that running could get you from A to B that I started to be a bit more interested in it. I loved running to work instead of standing packed in a tube carriage with hundreds of clammy strangers. I started running to the supermarket, to brunch, home from my Grandma’s. Suddenly, my brain and my legs began to cooperate via a mutual understanding that running could be a mode of transport, and a pretty fun mode at that, one that warrants a second breakfast and an extra afternoon snack.
And when I first thought about this adventure, I just wanted to go around the coast of Great Britain and I needed a way to get there. I wanted a slower journey than cycling could offer but walking seemed tedious (although, actually, I do end up walking quite large chunks because I’m too petrified to move at any speed past farm animals in case it provokes them and I end up the subject of a Runner Trampled By Bovine headline). At the time of deciding, I hadn’t yet met enough crazy people to consider scooters or pogo sticks or swan pedalos (yes, really) to be viable modes of transport but I had done a little bit of running and so it seemed like that might be a good way to travel.
I didn’t set off fuelled by some burning desire to find out if I could run 5000 miles though. Somewhat whimsically, I guess the idea of being able to run all day did appeal to me and I was excited to explore that but if I had just wanted a purely physical challenge challenge, I would have signed up for an Ironman or taken up ultra running. If I had just wanted to push my body, I’d have chosen something horrendously challenging but where, at the end of the day, you go home with a medal around your neck to put the kettle on and have a cup of tea. I wouldn’t have chosen to circumnavigate a country.
Yet, despite it not being the purpose of the journey, there’s no denying that there’s a heck of a lot of running involved in running around a country. I keep telling people that enjoying this adventure is a bigger priority to me than finishing it, and that’s true. The prospect of running 5000 miles – or, being able to say that I am a person who has done that – is not my driving force, not even close. And because of this, I needed to learn to actually enjoy the running part. Crossing the finish line will never be enough if I don’t enjoy the miles it takes to get there.
It’s taken a while but, finally, we’re getting there. Last week, I ran from Barafundle Bay all the way around to Fishguard, covering 126 miles of Pembrokeshire coast, and at last it started to feel like it all made sense. I have stayed with a seemingly endlessly interconnected chain of people so far in Pembrokeshire and spending time with them, hearing stories about cycling to Tibet or windsurfing to work and befriending their pets, has reminded me of all the things that I always wanted this adventure to be about.
I have been getting up earlier and finishing my mileage by lunchtime, making every day feel like a day off. My shoulders don’t ache anymore and my thighs are becoming increasingly solid to prod. I feel stronger and fitter than I ever have and I would be lying if I said that didn’t make me happy. I love looking at the map and seeing London on one side and Wales on the other and knowing that I ran between the two. Some days the running is incredible and the sun shines and everything is great and I find myself crying some endorphin-induced tears of the good-grief-isn’t-life-great variety. And sometimes it isn’t so magical, sometimes you just have to press play and run on autopilot, but that’s okay too because rarely, very rarely, is the running itself the cause of a bad day.
I’ve stopped tracking miles, stopped even bothering to turn on my Garmin, having no interest whatsoever to watch the day go by in 0.1 mile increments. I plan my route by picking a place which is the appropriate distance around the coast and I no longer feel any need to know the amount of footsteps it takes to get there. All I need to do is keep on stepping forwards and I know I’ll get from A to B eventually.
If you enjoyed reading this and you’re feeling generous, it would make my day if you could consider sparing any money for my chosen charities Young Minds and Beyond Food. You can make a donation here – http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/runthecoast