Running the coast
Back in November 2015 Elise Downing set off to run 5,000 miles around the coast of the UK over a period of about 10 months, carrying everything she needs with her. Run the Coast is her attempt to uncover something more; to scratch the surface of both the country and her own capabilities.That's some run and what's more we also found out she'd pinched her dads Alpkit headtorch to help her light the way during the darker times. Well she's just passed half distance so we thought it'd be good to check up on how she was getting on.
AK. Hi Elise. You are currently running around the coast of the UK. Whereabout's are you now?
ED. I am indeed! I'm currently in Wigtown, Scotland's National Book Town, which is seriously great. It's a tiny town that has about 14 independent book shops and over a quarter of a million books. I kind of want to just stay here for a while now...
AK. How much running had you done before you started. Was there an intensive period of training leading up to it, or were you just hoping to get fit on the way!?
ED. Definitely the latter! I started running in 2013 and have completed a few very slow races of varying distances since then, including a horrendous marathon which I hadn't trained for enough. I was dressed as a crayon and cried for about eight miles. Before I set off to run around the coast, I was running reasonably regularly but mostly I just planned to start slow and build up from there. I did do quite a bit of cycling over the summer prior though and I think this was good for some practice at carrying on moving when you really, really want to stop moving. (I also learnt a lot about stealing Nutella sachets from breakfast buffets and how not to wash my hair for ages.)
Things got hella windy again today and I was a little concerned about my lunch blowing away - then I stumbled across writer Ronald Duncan's hut.
AK. Did you set off with the aim to do it as fast as you could, or simply to experience the journey.
ED. It was never about going fast. The idea to go around the British coast came first and then I had to decide on a way to do it. I chose running because I don't particularly love walking (although, inevitably I have ended up walking a fair chunk anyway) and cycling was too fast. I gave myself 10 months to complete it which means running 15 to 20 miles most days. I felt that was enough to pose a big physical challenge but not so much that I wouldn't be able to actually enjoy it.
AK. You've passed the half way mark, how did that feel? That it's going to be down hill now all the way to the finish?
ED. Haha, actually, it felt exactly like that! I got to Scotland and I thought, this is it, I'm nearly home. That isn't really true - I have the whole of the highlands to content with first, after all - but I think there's something very reassuring about knowing you've done more than you have left.
AK. What's the closest you've felt to pulling out?
ED. I had one major wobble in early March where I really, really, really wanted to quit. I think I was finding it difficult because it was no longer the beginning but it was also absolutely nowhere near the end and I guess the novelty of it had worn off. I was no longer excited about the running and I really hated feeling like it was almost a bit tedious. I told myself, just two more weeks and then that fortnight morphed into a month and then two and here we are, still going, so I guess I got through it.
This probably sounds horrendously arrogant but now I've got this far, I feel reasonably confident that unless I actually break my leg or there's a major catastrophe, I will finish it. Al Humphreys interviewed someone for his Grand Adventures book (I can't remember who, sorry!) who said something like "it would take a braver man than me to quit" and that's so true. I don't know if I could deal with the life time of self loathing of giving up now!
AK. Have you so far managed to avoid injury?
ED. Pretty much, which I think is probably because I haven't been trying to push it too hard physically. If I feel truly exhausted or something hurts more than it should, then I just take a rest day. I don't want to break myself!
Dear Pair Two... We've trodden over 700 hard, hilly, glorious miles together since we first met in early December.
AK. How many rest days have you had, I mean have you just sat with your feet up thinking this is the life?
ED. I planned to have about one rest day each week, which I mostly did during the first couple of months. Now though, I'm tending to just split a day's mileage over two days instead, so having a couple of easier days each week instead. I find I just go a bit stir crazy otherwise! I would also rather save a whole day off for when there is something interesting to see or do, rather than having one for the sake of it.
AK. You've been encouraging people to join you for the run. What's been the most company you've had on a day?
ED. Probably the first day, when about twenty people coming to run with me. It's great running with people but something I have found is that it's quite difficult to actually coordinate running with people because I never really know where I'll be and find it hard to stick to a schedule, which I underestimated before I set off.
Today, I celebrated reaching St David's, Britain's smallest city (population <2000), by treating myself to what was probably Britain's largest ice cream.
AK. What's been your longest and shortest days?
ED. My longest day so far has been 29 but I will hit the 30 mark over the next couple of weeks I think. There was one day in the first couple of weeks where I only did 5k so that must be the shortest. I find about 20 is my optimum. Enough to feel like I've achieved something but not so much that it's impossible to get going the next day.
AK. The biggest thing you've learn't so far from undertaking this challenge?
ED. Probably the biggest thing I've learnt is to accept help from people. It's hard to describe without sounding incredible cheesy but people really are just great. I haven't really pitched my tent very often at all because I have been invited to stay with so many people and, especially given what a wet and windy winter we had, I'm so grateful for that. At first though, I felt guilty accepting help and didn't want to be a burden but I've learnt that people don't offer to do things unless they genuinely want to. As long as you're giving back and passing that kindness on at some point, just be open to other people, it makes the world a lot nicer!
Running the coast of Great Britain; an adventure on home turf.