I’m going to tell you a secret. Back in March, when I was having that Grade A wobble in Swansea and I was millimetres from throwing in the towel, I hatched a plan to cycle around Scotland instead of running it, turning this adventure into a coastal duathlon of sorts. That meant I only had to run up to Gretna, around 800 miles from that point in Wales, and then eventually back down the east coast to London. I could just about wrap my head – and my legs – around the idea of running that far.
It seemed like a good compromise. Better to get on my bike and pedal 2000 miles than to quit altogether, right? I told my parents and a few friends about my marvellous new plan and nobody seemed too disgusted, at least not outwardly, and nobody heckled me with rotten tomatoes for being a complete and utter failure. I put together a convincing argument, for myself more than anybody else, about how I’d be able to explore more and see more on two wheels than two feet and I almost believed it.
With a renewed sense of purpose and a weight lifted, I stopped crying in Swansea and laced up my trainers to begin the slow plod towards the Scottish border, where my dad would be waiting with Dwayne the bike. It was the light at the end of the tunnel and it got me going again. I finished running around Wales as a wet winter turned into a bright spring and, somewhere along the way, I decided that I wasn’t completely incapable and perhaps I did quite like running after all.
On Sunday May 1st I ran over the border into Gretna Green and then I just kind of carried on running. It wasn’t so much that I had consciously changed my mind about the duathlon plan but more that it had just faded from memory and, tactfully, nobody really mentioned it again. Looking back, I’m not sure that I ever really planned to go ahead with it but having that idea there was my get out of jail free card. It was the escape route, the safety net, the plan b and I needed that to muster the faith to try.
Really, this fictitious cycle tour was just another mind game that I had to play to coax myself onwards. Running adventures are funny things. I’m not convinced that running is a mode of transport that I would particularly recommend – for all practical purposes it is completely pointless. Over longer journeys, you can cover the same distances walking as you can running, and you could travel considerably further for the same or less amount of effort if you were cycling.
But that pointlessness is where the magic lies. If running serves no practical purpose then I must be doing it solely because I want to, because I chose to, and there’s something endlessly satisfying about that. There are days I give in and walk – many, many days – and, really, it makes no difference. I still get to where I’m going and almost everybody I meet calls this my walk anyway, no matter how many times I correct them, so there’s certainly no public glory in it. I know how I feel at the end of those days though and it isn’t even a fraction of how good I feel after a good, hard, sweaty day’s running. It isn’t even comparable.
Tomorrow, I will run from Dunbar to Berwick-upon-Tweed and cross the border back into England. I was scared about Scotland for so long and it feels totally unfathomable that my adventures in haggis and Highlands are nearly over. Over the past three months I’ve learnt that I love macaroni cheese pies and the Isle of Skye but hate midges and stovies and, I’ll resist getting too soppy about it, but I guess that I am proud of making it through without swapping my trainers for cleats. The day I got to John O’ Groats, and it dawned on me that I had survived the remotest stretch of the British coast, was one of the happiest days I can ever remember having.
Five weeks today, providing I don’t break any legs and the east coast doesn’t experience a devastating tsunami between now and then, I’ll be running back into London and crossing the finish line. I’m sad to be leaving Scotland but I’m excited to be heading home, towards a life that involves my own bed, clean clothes, significantly less chafing and better coffee. The Highlands were beautiful but coffee shop menus consisting of coffee, milky coffee and Nescafe just aren’t something I can deal with long term.
If you enjoyed reading this, it would make my day if you would consider making a donation to my chosen charities Young Minds and Beyond Food. You can do so here – http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/runthecoast