It’s been over five weeks since I crossed the finish line and I feel like it might be time to start wrapping things up, before life completely moves on. I spent a large portion of the time I was running writing blog posts in my head but somehow they never quite made it to paper (or to screen) and it’s too late to play catch up now. The moment has passed and the whole experience feels too big to cut up into neat little 500 word chunks. I am currently embarking on an adventure of the literary kind though, so here’s a little pre-emptive self plug for you.
Adventures are weird things. They take over your brain – your life, your soul, your entire being – in a way that you don’t quite expect them to. I was nervous about crossing the finish line because I wasn’t sure who I would be now, without the coast. Perhaps that sounds silly. Perhaps it is silly. But when something totally all consuming comes to an end – what happens then? I half expected to disappear into a pile of dust when there was no more coast left to run. It was all I had thought about for such a long time.
I ran the first 10 miles of the last day by myself, retracing the same section of the Thames Path that I’d taken on the very first day. There was less fog and more blackberries this time, as I headed in the opposite direction. I went through the Woolwich tunnel and then ran a couple more miles along the north bank of the river to Pontoon Dock, where some friends were joining me for the final five miles. I arrived horrendously early, in a desperate bid to not be late, expecting there to be a coffee shop or something, anything, where I could wait it out until our allotted meeting time of 1pm. No such luck. It turns out that Pontoon Dock is pretty much the only place in Greater London without even a Starbucks.
I hunted down a soulless chain hotel nearby, where I bought a cold can of coke and refilled my water bottle from the lukewarm tap in the toilets, before taking a seat on a cold concrete step outside the station where I waited for the others. After all of the dramatic scenery and natural wonder of the past year, it felt a strange place to be ending things. Eventually my running companions arrived and, after joking about the bleakness of Pontoon Dock and jogging on until we found a corner shop where I unwittingly bought (and then wittingly drank) a gone off carton of chocolate coconut milk, we finally set off towards Greenwich. I prayed that any ailments from the milkshake would hold off for at least the next 5k – I didn’t want my whole adventure to be thwarted by 500ml of sour dairy alternative.
After a lot of tourist dodging and another hop across the Thames, we reached Greenwich Park, where my finish line was waiting. I ran up the hill – whose idea was it to put the finish line at the top of the hill?! – and through a tunnel of friends and families. Some photos were taken, I ate a slice of cake, getting more icing in my hair than my mouth in the process, and my dad handed me a warm can of Fosters. (Fun fact: he also bought me a pint of Stella at graduation. Terrible lager seems to be a recurring theme for all my major life events.)
And that was it. It was over and that felt… fine.
A month on and I’m still standing. I didn’t evaporate into dust after all. I think that perhaps I was ready for it to be over really. There were so many moments of euphoria along the way, of being so happy I might burst. An unexpected glorious sunset at the top of a hard hill in Cornwall. Stumbling across a hostel with one spare bed and an open fire after 30 miles of rain in the Highlands. Finishing the South West Coast Path. Reaching John O’ Groats. That August day when Norfolk was so perfect I nearly cried. Yet the finish line wasn’t one of those moments. It was perhaps the only day of the whole thing when I didn’t want to cry.
I stayed in London for a couple of days after finishing to catch up with some friends and celebrate and just do normal things again, things that didn’t involve Lycra. Then I came home and faced the monumental task of nursing the post-celebration hangover, which was far more painful than the run had been, and since then I’ve been keeping busy. I’ve been working, mostly freelancing in a bid to repair my dilapidated post-adventure bank balance but also some more fun things, like speaking at various adventure festivals. Oh, and I’m slowly attempting to write that book I mentioned. Very slowly.
I’m still running too, which seems to surprise people. When your body gets used to moving so much, and all of the endorphins and adrenaline and fresh air that comes with that, reverting to full couch potato mode isn’t actually all that appealing. Just being in once place and not having to worry about where I’m going to sleep each night feels like enough of a rest in itself, and running without a heavy pack attacking my back like a small, angry child is just such a joy. I was even lucky enough to escape to the Alps for a few days of running with Mizuno, which was a ridiculous amount of fun and now all I want to do is learn to run up mountains better.
So that’s where we’re at right now. People ask about what’s next a lot and, whilst there are so many different things I want to pursue, I’m not 100% sure yet. For all of the Facebook highlights there’s a lot of time spent unglamorously working away at my laptop and that’s the phase I’m in at the moment. But to answer the question that I know you’re all dying to ask: don’t worry, I’m still eating cake. Perhaps a little too much of it.
An awful lot of thank you’s to say
Running the coast was technically solo challenge but it wouldn’t have been possible – or, at least, it would have been nowhere near as special – without the many, many people who were involved. I have a long list of huge, never-going-to-quite-cut-it, formal thank you’s to say, and I guess this is a good a time as any to get them out there. (Is this what making an Oscar speech feels like?)
Firstly to everybody who kept me company, fed me dinner and gave me a warm bed and a hot shower. I thought that I would be camping almost every single night but that ended up not being true at all, which is what made it so incredible. Being granted a glimpse into so many people’s lives was truly incredible. I really do feel like I have a lot of friends around the coast now.
To the online army who always cheered me up. Sharing your life online is a weird thing to do but I’m forever glad that I pushed my ego aside and ignored how mortifying I found talking on camera at first. Following my adventure really was a feat. of endurance in itself but I can’t tell you how much all of the kind words and moral support meant to me. A special shout out to The Yes Tribe.
To my mum for not complaining too much when I called her thirty times a day to talk about nothing, to my dad for his endless visits and for rescuing me from that wobble in Wales and to my brother for being my biggest online supporter and sharing my exploits all over the internet when I was too shy to do it myself.
To everybody who donated to Young Minds and Beyond Food. This whole run was centered around the idea that the world needs more happy people and those two charities are doing an incredible job to make that happen. We’ve raised over £10 000 now and it’s not too late to donate. You can do so here if you want to make me even happier!
To Tim and the other backers of the 2015 Next Challenge Adventure Grant. Winning the grant was a great financial help but, so more than that, it was just reassuring to know that some other people really believed in my adventure idea.
To the many amazing companies who generously sent me kit and treats as I made my way around the coast. You burn through an awful lot of socks running 5000 miles! In no particular order: Newton Running, La Sportiva, Bounce Ball, BAM, Alpkit, Lyon Equipment, Berghaus, Rude Health, Crosstown Doughnuts, Trail Cook, Oi Fiti, Panache Sport, Om Bar and Water to Go.