Blackpool was cold and unbelievably grim that morning. I will never forget the smell, adrenaline, fear and overwhelming feeling of dread. What the heck was I doing? Who the hell did I think I was? I had never run a marathon, let alone 50 miles. I was about to run 2,500 miles around the UK mainland, 50 miles every day for 50 days. And why….why? I don’t think I have an answer to this, even now. Was it an escape from the life I had created? Was I trying to run away from the problems I had made at home? Was I really going to try and run all of these miles? Whatever the reason was, I was off. One foot in front of the other for 50 miles.
The run took me all around the UK mainland, places I had never seen. From Blackpool I pushed North to Carnforth and up the coast to Scotland. Scotland is beautiful, majestic, enchanting and amazingly unforgiving. People are rare in Scotland, there is more wildlife than people. At first this is great, freedom from the norm, after a while the solitude takes hold. It is the solitude that slowly starts to hurt your mind. Pain eats at you in a completely different way. The feeling of overcoming pain is a triumphant feeling, you feel like you have won. The mind, however, is a different beast entirely. It can bog you down for days, months or even years at a time. Trauma or change can make you a different person. Scotland changed me, it broke me down.
Blackpool Map Photo Gallery
A climb called ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ was one of the toughest days on the run. 7 miles of climbing, stretching out to the heavens, a never-ending path of pain. Much like with any vicious climb in Scotland the view at the top was breath-taking and (quite possibly) worth the tortuous ascent. Throughout Scotland, it has to be said, that I cursed myself for having never seen more of this amazing country. Beautiful lochs, peaceful and still, almost prehistoric, like each one has its own story to tell – it is an awe-inspiring place and one which I can only encourage people to go and visit.
I ran out of Fort William on one of the coldest days on the run. As I ran, it began to snow. The snow only made me fight harder to keep moving, another challenge for me to overcome. If I was to break it certainly wouldn’t be the weather that would do it. The snow accumulated on the brow of my hat, building up like a mini snow drift. I crested yet another climb, as I did I saw the monument to our fallen marines. I stood and stared at it for a while, a stark reminder of why I was running. “You run for those that can’t!” I told myself and with that I plodded onwards.
I arrived in Elgin, my most northerly point. A quaint little town where we were told we would be lucky to find a room It was a wet Wednesday in April, we found a room
Any time you turn a corner and head in a different direction on a run you feel some sense of accomplishment, as of now I would be heading South and back towards England. I began to descend Scotland, firstly through Aberdeen and then into Edinburgh. Much of the running in Edinburgh followed the path of the official Edinburgh marathon. I weaved my way through the narrow busy streets always working back towards England. Entering England on St George’s day was fantastic, a real sense of patriotism filled my veins and I plundered heartily through the miles down the North East coast.
All around the coast of Britain you see spectacular scenery and meet some wonderful people.
Running didn’t just teach me about what my body would take. It opened my eyes to how fantastic our tiny island is and also to how brilliant the people who inhabit it are. The saying goes ‘never judge a blog by its cover’. This was never truer for me than on one day in Newcastle. I had stopped for a quick bite to eat, weary and tired the weather had battered me all day. I was not looking for conversation. A young man walked towards me, wearing a baseball cap, and a hoodie – his hood pulled up over his hat, covering his face. Adidas tracksuit bottoms with bright white trainers and pearly white socks beaming out. Here stood a ‘chav’, in every understanding and definition of the word. His walk was typically more of a gangster shuffle than an actual walk – I was terrified. I could feel my body brace and tense up as he approached, expecting my phone or watch to be stolen. Instead, in a thick Geordie accent he said –
“You’re that bloke who is running?”
(My jaw must have nearly broken my toes. How the heck did he know what I was doing?)
“Yes, yes, I am,” I replied in complete shock.
“Here you are pal.”
He handed me some money. I was speechless.
He had just donated to ‘Help for Heroes’. Wow. I cursed myself for judging him I am still to this day astounded by his donation. This young man taught me a valuable lesson and made me see that people could be brought together over something that they believe in. I ran through some of the most deprived areas of Britain and all I saw was generosity and the kindness of strangers.
The East coast of England gave me some of the toughest weather conditions on the run. A bruising barrage of rain, sleet, wind and snow hammered against my body, unrelenting in its attempt to break me. Along the coast we went, Whitby, Bridlington, Filey, Skegness – we passed many seaside towns, some benefitting from recent investment, others in need of a great deal of help.
One of my favourite places on the trip down the East Coast was Cromer. A beautiful, elegant town where time seems to have stood still. The large buildings look to be from the 1920s. We stayed in a large country house in Cromer; there was no charge for the room, the owners just wanted to help. A free standing bath sat in the middle of the bedroom and I remember thinking how quiet it was. No hum of traffic or sirens blaring out, just complete tranquillity. When I set off the following day I ran passed the beach huts as I continued down the coast. All the huts were different colours, immaculately preserved, a real beach of British history and tradition.
It is strange how much of certain parts of the first run I still remember and the bits that I can’t remember, as well. Much of the East coast seems to blur into one or two days when in reality it took me over a week. Just like in Elgin when I turned and ran south my goal was now Dover and to turn and run West, a new wind direction, another coast.
I arrived in Dover on a typically British day. It had rained a little in the morning, the sun had come out for about 11 minutes and then it had rained again. Couldn’t get a much more British day? I had only ever come through Dover on a school trip to Euro Disney and so had never paid much attention to it. Dover is grim The only thought going through my head was, “Wow, when people seek asylum in Britain they must get here and think, oh God what have we done?” Years of weathering have taken its toll on Dover, it has been beaten to its knees and is struggling to get up. We looked around for places to stay in Dover but stayed towards the outside of the town. As much as possible, I wanted to see or do the iconic tourist things on our coastline. The White Cliffs of Dover are a huge part of British history. I stood on top of the cliffs for quite some time, looking out over the channel towards France.
It is just over 20 miles to France from Dover. I could be there and back in a day I thought. I knew I was close to France, as when I looked at my phone my service provider flicked from French to English and back again.
The south coast of England is a stunning place filled with dazzling beaches and charming towns. From the top to the bottom of the UK, there is a stark contrast. Each town, each place has its own way of selling itself, each destination a tiny bit different from the last. Scotland’s beaches are wild, untrodden and bleak. The south coast is more managed and tamed with houses sprinkled all along the cliff edges.
Running on the south coast saw some of the harder days on the run. I don’t know whether it was my mind or my terrible lack of knowledge of the south coast but some of the climbs down there were brutal. It was up and down every day. Lynmouth, still to this day, stands out as one of my toughest days, a 25% gradient heading into the town and a 25% gradient heading out. It was a climb that never seemed to end. Heading out of the town was soul destroying. It was painfully warm and even the support vehicle was straining under the pressure of the gradient. Every step I took, the camper van groaned and creaked its way forward, the boys in the support crew honking the horn and cheering just to try and keep me moving. On any climb I have the same philosophy, put your head down and count to 50, don’t look up – ever. On this climb it was impossible not to look up, at some points the gradient was so steep I could lean forward and touch the tarmac. My slow running pace had dropped even more; I was only just above a walk by this point. The hill climbed for two and a half miles, with the sun beating down on my back. Sweat poured from me, staining the road as I passed. Step by step, I was slowly edging my way up the hill. It is an awful feeling to seemingly be aware of the life draining out of you, to feel your body empty; with every drop of sweat more energy was leaving my body. My lungs heaved hard for more air, I just couldn’t take in enough air to satiate the amount of oxygen my body needed. Finally, and mercifully I reached the peak, brutal yet triumphant I stood at the top, a part of me left forever on the ascent.
The south coast not only saw the toughest climb but it also was the scene of my hardest, loneliest day. A massive amount of planning goes into any challenge. The Epic Run was particularly difficult logistically as I was dependent on a whole team of people to be in certain places at certain times. Some of these people I had never met or were people I barely knew. However, all of them played their own part in ensuring I finished the run.
While I was on the south coast one of my drivers had to return to work, the next driver would not arrive until the day afer, meaning I had one day with no driver at all. I remember sitting and pondering for a long time what I should do, who I should call. I had already been helped by one of my Twitter followers who had come to my aid after a mayday call across a multitude of social networks. This time I was struggling. My home town is a good 8 hour drive from the south coast and with many people already putting in a massive effort to help me get around, I needed to do something different, I also knew I couldn’t put anything on social media this time or I would panic my family.
The plan was very simple. I would wake up as early as I could in the morning (I was aiming for 4am). I would run the first stretch which would be about 15 miles and then somehow get back to the camper van and then I would drive myself the 15 miles I had just run. I would repeat this throughout the day, what a great plan I thought. The only problem with a 4am start is you force a lack of sleep on an already depleted body, not to mention it’s dark, damp and thoroughly unenjoyable. I ran the first 15 miles; it was hard, not hard like some other days where the gradient was hard, this was hard because
I was alone. I couldn’t stop and sit down; there was no chatting or horn beeping to keep me going. This was isolation, loneliness and a solitude worse than that I had experienced in Scotland. It made me appreciate enormously the people who had given up their time to come and drive for me, the sacrifices they had made to make sure I made it. And, so it went, like a caterpillar all day. 10 miles, 5 miles or 15 miles I would run in sections and then get the public bus back to where I had left the camper van with everyone at home completely oblivious to what I was doing. I still remember now getting the bus, I hadn’t shaved since the beginning of the run and I was now about 6 weeks in. It was quite cold so I was wearing my hat. I was dressed in running tights and a thick long sleeved top. I don’t imagine I was what most people expected on the first bus of the day. Thoroughly bedraggled, tired and lonely I sat on the bus and rested my head against the window, I stared at nothing, I couldn’t tell you anything I passed that day on the bus, a blur of colour. Each bus trip back all I could think to myself was, “I’ve just run this.” The bus journey seemed to be over in minutes whereas the run seemed to take forever. After 19 hours of moving, my day was done. I slept.
Arriving at Land’s End was a great feeling but also somewhat of an anti-climax. For many Land’s End is the end of their challenge or the start of one if they are going the other way. For me, it was a milestone, another little landmark ticked off my list. I remember being stood next to the sign at Land’s End; it has loads of different places pointed out with their mileage. The first thing I looked at was how far away John O’Groats was, the second one was how far away New York was. Both challenges I would undertake in the following years. After the obligatory pictures, I began running North, I remember thinking, I am running home.
For me, the north is home. It is different up north. If you are from the south and have never been north you should go and vice versa. There is something quite unique about the people in northern Britain. They are harder, not in a way that I mean they can beat everyone up. I mean they are weathered; they have what I call “Northern Grit”. We are used to the dank, horrible weather, we are used to the dark, cold nights, and we are used to be being the underdog. Northerners have a certain way, a way of getting things done. It’s the grit, steel and sheer bloody-mindedness of people from the north that enables me to do what I do.
I knew once I got into Wales it was the last push, the last bit of my journey. I was almost home. From the south coast I would push north up to Bristol and then across the Severn Bridge and into Cardiff. Just to give any readers a quick heads up you are not supposed to run across the Severn Bridge. Once they spot you running across it, they are pretty quick to let you know that it’s not allowed.
Wales was everything I hoped it would be and I can see why the Welsh are so proud of their country. I remember running with rolling hills on one side of me and the sea on the other side. I don’t think I have a favourite place in the world as there have been so many amazing places but I think Barmouth has to be very close. Barmouth sits on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park, south of Porthmadog and north of Aberystwyth. A more beautiful place you will struggle to see. I ran slowly through, trying my hardest to take everything in. A tiny piece of heaven on the coast of Wales, tucked away, completely untouched by the masses.
It had rained almost every day since departing from Blackpool but Wales gave me something else. It gave me sunshine, glorious, glorious sunshine. No matter where you are in the world if the weather is awful it makes enjoyment that little bit tougher, now the sun was out and the smile on my face was not going away. I was now running through Snowdonia National park, for the first time in 7 weeks I
had come away from the coast and was heading in land towards my home town of Skipton. The majestic scenery in Wales kept my mind busy as I bounced my way through the hills and homeward.
Blackpool Map Photo Gallery
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