OBJECTIVE: Go to Wales – Let the public decide your route – See where you end up at the end of the weekend. Simple.
One of the best things about running is that in theory, you only need a pair of half decent trainers to go out and do it, and with the rise of the concept of ‘barefoot’ running, it could be argued that we don’t even need that.
How come then, that as the years have gone on (I’m in my 4th year of running now), my running expenses seem to have gone up and up? Haven’t I got everything I need now?
The problem is, it’s not just running trainers anymore. As I’ve got fitter; confident of more and more miles; and more and more races; the demand for better kit and technology rises significantly.
I’m just going to throw this out there; I don’t make a lot of money. I don’t run a car or anything, yet I’m still normally broke by about the 2nd of every month. It’s just I have a comically low income and a high percentage of the money I do earn goes on running. In 2014, on race entry fees alone I have spent well over £400 taking me through to the end of September.
I’ve become interested this year in taking it back a bit, and running on a minimalist budget in an effort to show people that you don’t necessarily need the £80 ultra-marathon vest, or the £120 latest motion control trainers to run just as well, and get just as much enjoyment. Alright, if you’ve got the money, and that’s what you enjoy spending it on, great! These foreign, multi-day events and expensive, modern kit all look utterly amazing, and I’d love to be able to afford it all, but what I’m saying is it isn’t ESSENTIAL for the enjoyment of running long distance over multiple days.
In March this year, I ran from Lands End to John O’Groats. There are plenty of people who have already done this in the modern day, and plenty more who are planning to. I reckon my unique selling point is that I quite possibly did it on the least money.
I’m not bragging about that at all. In fact, upon researching other people doing, or done it already; I learnt just how much better it could be done. Almost every single piece of kit or equipment I carried COULD have been about 10x lighter AND better.
Well you live, you learn, and I now wanted to try it again! Only this time I wouldn’t go as far, and I wouldn’t bog myself down with prescheduled destinations and targets. I would just “run“, Forest Gump style, to wherever looked good.
Whilst I was running LEJOG, the main thing that hit me was the knowledge that people had of their local area, and would often give me great routes for running up. The only problem was that I had targets to meet, and an end destination. So if these routes weren’t ‘on my way’ then I couldn’t run them. So my rules for Wales would be: There will be no planned route; the public will decide it as I go, AND I am not allowed to say “no” to any local route suggestion.
My idea for a challenge in Wales came from the fact that I am already quite lucky in where I live; I have plenty of hills, trees and picturesque areas all around me and the fitter I get, the further I can go and experience. Plus it costs me nothing, having now got all the basic equipment I need. It has long been a concept in my mind; just how much further can you get for a small amount of money, if you add just a little bit of public transport to this mix?
Now I realize that public transport is not often cheap, so I did set aside a total budget of £80 for the weekend, which is not a lot when you compare it to the average person’s holiday, which is what this was for me. Here is a breakdown of all the kit I carried with me, which I have slowly paid for over the year:Broadmeadow Runs race) #7 – Head torch (£4 ebay) #8 – Basic toiletries (£2) #9 – Phone #10 – Mafeking Biltong (Local company; kindly sponsored) #11 – MP3 player (£20 amazon) #12 – Sunglasses (£2 primark) #13 – Solar charger (birthday gift from parents, worth £40) #14 – England flag (just in case I need to claim anywhere)
Less than £200, but paid for over the last couple of years, so hardly noticed the cost. Next up, was a train ticket to Chester, which cost me £17.80. That stung a bit if I’m honest.
Off to Wales…
I got off the train in Chester at 11am and ambled slowly through town, before asking people how to get to Wales. Alarmingly, no one seemed to know how to do it on foot; they all explained to me it would be too far and I should probably go by car.
Through luck more than judgement, I stumbled across a riverside trail route that followed the River Dee. Using my basic understanding of how rivers work, I deduced that this would be a good path to follow for the coast.
At 11:30am I found myself in Wales. It was a scorching day and I was glad of my decision to bring sunglasses, in what was a pure act of English optimism. I managed to run all the way through to Flint by 1-2pm before I really spoke to anyone. The route I was advised, no surprise, was to follow the coastal paths all the way through Flintshire; this was fine by me.
It was so warm, that when I drank water, I drank it by the litre. I did get caught out at one point on the route across to Prestatyn where I had no water left, and all the pubs and shops seemed to be shut. Feeling so dehydrated; when I did finally come across a restaurant that was open, I purchased a can of coke after first drinking about 2 litres of water from the bathroom tap. In my own simple mind, I assumed that this would then last me all day. Sadly, we humans don’t work like camels.
Eating was a casual affair during the day of mostly ice-cream and biltong; not too much nutritional thought yet. The biltong doesn’t provide that much energy; it’s more for a recovery benefit later on; and ice-cream just tastes nice.
By evening, I recognised like a true pro, that I needed to eat something with fuel in it, as I’d covered 35+ miles already. This consisted of a trip to Aldi: malt loaf, bananas, two snickers bars and a sugary fruit drink pretty much covered all the basics. I then ploughed on through Rhyl and the holiday areas, to an area of trees where I could camp for free, or at least I hoped I could camp for free. Nobody saw me anyway, so no harm done if I happened to break the law a bit at all.
For anyone who thinks I might have had a comfortable night’s sleep here probably ought to know that I didn’t bring any kind of camping mat. Comfort was not high on my agenda. Nevertheless, I actually felt really fresh in the morning as I set off running at around 7am in a hunt for breakfast. My hunt ended, when in an act of Bear Grylls standard of survival; I found a Tesco’s. One sandwich, a yoghurt and a pint of milk later, I set off running again.
There were not many people about at this time in the morning, so I made the decision to just stick to the trail and cycle routes across the coast up to Llandudno. Here in a café, I spoke to a few people, who unfortunately I can’t remember their names (sorry). They all concurred that Betws-y-Coed should be my next destination, which took me inland a bit and through a few more hills.
The natural route took me through Conway, and once again the weather was scorching!! I considered the option of going for a quick swim, which I regret not taking.
My route from then was predominantly country roads and the odd trail path all the way down to a place called Trefriw. I had a hard time explaining to people where I was heading for two good reasons; one, I didn’t precisely know, and two, I couldn’t pronounce ANYTHING. I met a lady called Lucy in Trefriw, who somehow managed to translate my toddler-esque efforts at saying the place names, and advised me of a much nicer route than the road. This took me through the hills and out towards a great swimming lake. I didn’t refuse the option of going for a swim this time.
Leaving the lake, ‘Llyn Geirionydd’, I got utterly lost. When I say lost; I mean I had no idea where I was. That didn’t really matter for the point of this weekend; I’d just run and see where I ended up. However, I eventually found a map and worked out roughly how to point myself in the direction of Betws-y-Coed again. It was around here, I met a walker named David, who told me it would be much nicer to go via a place called ‘Lynwryst’. We walked and chatted for a little while, before I noticed the time, and got my head down and ran to Betws-y-Coed for a fish and chips evening meal, and trek to the nearest forest area to camp out for the night.
Sunday morning, I woke up by the river, which was useful as it was very warm (and I stank). After a quick wash, I wondered around the forest as if I knew where I was going, until I accidently came back to the main road.
I came to a place called ‘Cobdens Hotel & Restaurant’ five miles down the road. I had in mind I wanted to climb the mountain I’d been looking at all of yesterday, but didn’t know what it was called. With that in mind, a good breakfast was in order!
I got in, and the lady at reception said they were just about to close the kitchen, but would make an exception for me, I guess because of my dazzling charm and personality… I found out here that the mountain was called ‘Moel Siobod’ and I should DEFINITELY not leave the area without first climbing it. I explained that it was my rule that I couldn’t ignore any local route suggestions, so now, even though I wanted to anyway, I now had to!
Unfortunately my plan to GPS my entire weekend had to be re-evaluated today, as it was clear that my solar battery charger couldn’t sustain it any longer and I had no other means to charge up my phone. Oh well, I’ll put my phone into airport mode to save remaining charge and just use it sparingly as a camera from now on.
There were loads of people out walking this Sunday morning, and everyone very pleasant to talk to. I decided that I would try to run what I could of the ascent, particularly where it flattened out and a few lakes had formed along route. After a bit of a scramble to the finish, I made it to the summit in about an hour, at precisely midday. I brought food with me, so this seemed like a good time to chill for a while, admiring the view, which includes 13 of the 14 highest peaks of Snowdonia.
Along the descent, I spoke to a couple of guys; Martin and Avion, who showed me maps of the area and helped me plan a rough route to the bottom and which roads to head for. I headed south from the top until I hit the main road; then I would head back up north, to arrive back at Betws-y-Coed from the other side.
It was sweltering heat once again, and an unexpected, really long fence impeded my initial line down the hill, resulting in me running a long way round, as I aimed for a clump of trees I could see in the distance. Getting enough water was easy enough; there were small, fast flowing streams everywhere and the water ran particularly clear for some reason. This made for a much more pleasant run to the forest at the bottom.
As I entered the forest by yet another small lake, I realised that once again, I had no clue where I was. I ran down various footpaths through the forest for what felt like 4-5 miles before hitting the main road again. It was only by 3pm that I really knew where I was. Forest pathways tend to wind a lot while you are surrounded by tall trees; it’s as if they are designed single-mindedly to throw your sense of direction into disarray. As I ran past a train station (Roman Bridge if that means anything to anyone). I was tempted to get on the train to Llandudno here, as it was clear that my adventure was now over, but in the end I decided to run out the day; finishing back at Betws-y-Coed again. I made a couple of small stops along the way, but I eventually arrived back at 5pm, thoroughly satisfied with a great weekend and having no way near spent my entire budget.
A lot of people ask me why I do these things. Why do I run around all over the place instead of going on holidays? The answer is that I genuinely consider this kind of thing a holiday. I enjoy running and I enjoy visiting new places, so why not combine the two? I consider it to be like really fast hiking, where you normally meet a lot of great people on the way.
Also, for someone like me, who has always been a bit short on money, it’s nice to know that money isn’t the ‘be all and end all’ of enjoying yourself. I would also like to think that I have proven that long distance running does not NEED to be an expensive hobby. A lot of people have also asked me why I have never done the London marathon, or considering entering New York this year. My answer has always been “well it’s all so corporate now, I’d rather enter the smaller, low key events”, whereas the truth has really been “can’t afford it. Sorry”. I surely can’t be the only one who thinks like this. By doing these sort of extreme running adventures on next to zero money (not including train travel, I spent less than £20 for the entire weekend, including a £7.50 breakfast on Sunday), it shows that even if you don’t have much money like me, you can still enjoy running for what it is.