I started May by running to Scotland. The last week of April had been full of weather warnings, threatening heavy snow and ice, which worried me so much that I bailed on my shorts and bought a new pair of running tights. Luckily there wasn’t any of the white stuff on the Cumbrian coast but temperatures dipped and rain fell. I shivered as I looked at the snow capped peaks looming in the distance. I spent my last night in England in a bunk house by the sea where, even inside, I had to wear a coat to bed. I was glad not to be under canvas that night.
The journey up to Gretna was uninspiring. I ran on footpaths alongside dual carriage ways and then crossed the metal bridge into Scotland on a B road that runs parallel to the M6. I turned around at one point just to double check that I hadn’t accidentally strayed onto the motorway – it was that noisy with the sound of passing lorries – and I saw a little wooden door. A door to the M6, like an industrial Alice in Wonderland. I was thirsty by this point but no Drink Me appeared, sadly.
I ran on a grass verge for a while and past a hotel then, up ahead, was the Welcome to Scotland sign. As I stepped over the border – literally the second my foot crossed it – it started raining and I began to worry that the rumours about Scottish weather were going to be true. I stood in the drizzle for a while taking photos with and of the welcome sign, musing that this run was mostly turning into a find-a-sign-to-take-a-selfie-with tour of Britain.
Satisfied that I had enough photos of my head and the sign together to prove to the world that I had actually ran to Scotland, I ducked into the Old Toll Bar café to find a toilet, as my A road/door to the motorway route had thus far been lacking in facilities. At least, I thought that the Old Toll Bar was just a café. Actually, as I discovered upon exiting, it was Gretna Green’s historic wedding venue and for the small price of £310 I could invite ten friends to witness my legally binding nuptials. I peered through the fog but no suitable candidates presented themselves to say “I do” so I trotted on up the road instead.
A good decision as it turns out because, a couple of hundred metres later, I found the Gretna Grateway Outlet Village. On an adventure where both funds and backpack space are limited, shopping outlets aren’t generally something to seek out but this one contained both a Cadbury discount store and a Thornton’s outlet. Why on earth you would choose a shotgun wedding when you could go home with £310 of misshapen chocolate instead, I’m just not sure.
Over the next seven days, Scotland transformed. As I moved along the coast, bleak midwinter morphed into a tropical paradise. My shorts were back on and my stripy tan deepened. It was wonderful. I ran through woods full of bluebells singing Bonnie Tyler horrifyingly loudly. I visited an ice cream factory, (probably) broke world records in tattie scone consumption and enjoyed flopping down on grass verges for a rest without immediately turning to ice.
On my 9th day in the land of haggis and whiskey, I decided that it was time for a challenge. It was always going to be quite a long day, running from Whithorn to a campsite near Sandhead, and then Casey messaged me with a wonderful invitation to sleep in a real bed near Ardwell, a few miles further into the Rhins of Galloway peninsula. Her mum offered to come and pick me up from Sandhead and return me the next morning, so that I could keep to my original schedule, but by that point I had already decided that I was going to do a thing and that ‘thing’ was running 33 miles.
I had all the best intentions of rising with the sun and getting an early start. Unfortunately, like most of my good intentions, this didn’t quite happen. I got distracted chatting over breakfast and it wasn’t until 9.30 that I eventually set off into the furnace of southwest Scotland. My legs felt heavy from the previous days efforts but I put in place a strict movement schedule. Run 30 minutes, drink water. Run another 30 minutes, drink water and eat a snack. Repeat.
Things were going well. It was oppressively hot but I was having a lot of fun nonetheless. I alternated between a playlist of all my favourite terrible music and some highly educational podcasts (ahem). The 30 minute structure seemed to work well because, no matter how hot and tired you are, you can always run for another half an hour, right? 30 minutes is just 2% of the day. Legs always have another 2% in them.
And so I continued, moving forwards slowly but steadily. By mid afternoon, I had made it to Glenluce. 22 miles down, 11 to go. I sat on a bench outside a corner shop, downed a bottle of Lucozade, ate some nuts and strawberry laces and realised that it was going to happen, I was going to finish my impromptu ultra marathon. It was the furthest I had ever ran, on the hottest day of the year, in a beautiful place I had never been before. I was pretty excited by that.
At mile 28 I had an almost-catastrophe when I turned around to see if a lorry was about to mow me down, lost my balance, rolled my ankle in a ditch and then staggered around blind with sweat for a few minutes. Eventually I found a patch of shade, established that my ankle was fine and so were my eyes, had one last snack (because, really, there is no situation that a snack can’t make better) and pushed on towards the finish line.
There was a moment of doubt when I ran through Sandhead and passed the campsite I was originally meant to be staying at and I thought, I could finish here. I could pitch my tent. I could stop running. Word on the street was that the campsite café did great pizza too which, let’s be honest, was the main swaying factor. Something held me back though; mostly the fact I had already made that day’s video blog in which I very explicitly outlined my intentions to run 33 miles. I couldn’t quite bring myself to re-record it pretending to be chipper about having ran 29 miles, when deep down I would know that wasn’t telling the whole story.
And so, instead, I carried on running and I made it. Sweaty, sunburnt and rather tired, I made it – and it felt great. Sometimes you need a challenge-within-a-challenge to keep up the momentum and stay excited. With that in mind, I’m heading towards the Highlands with a few mini adventure ideas up my sleeve, ready to whip out whenever things need spicing up again. Stay tuned for more sunshine and suffering.
If you enjoyed reading this, it would make my day if you would consider donating to my chosen charities Young Minds and Beyond Food. You can do so here – http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/runthecoast