Lands End to John O’Groats – A Hobbits Journey, Part 1.

There may not have been as many dragons, trolls or Nazgul to contend with on this journey. There were however a great many castles, misty mountains to pass through and I swear a couple of wizards I met on route. All in all, pretty similar to my last trip out; getting shut of that pesky ring.

So I have compiled a bit of a day to day summary of my unassisted run, spanning around 1,000 miles, which as you’ll see, began as a bit of a laugh and a joke; getting things wrong constantly and somehow getting away with it. To a progressively more serious, calculated and arduous ordeal; ultimately coming together as a great experience, meeting all different kinds of people along the way and seeing a lot of the country that most people never see.

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Day 1: Lands End to St Agnes

A lot of pratting around today. I was amused right off the bat when the lady in the Lands End gift shop asked me if I was starting or finishing. In my opinion, I did not look like someone who had just finished running 1,000 miles.

Then I set off; not even slightly concerned with pacing yet, I set off fast. And when I say fast, I mean too fast. I knew I was going too fast; I was showing off. I arrived at Penzance at world record pace before I got bored of main road and left for St Ives.

I wasn’t too concerned with my route at this point to the point where I don’t even remember exactly what it was; I just ran where I thought looked nice, then asked for directions that pointed me roughly back in the right direction. It was here I discovered that as nice as Cornish people were, they were very proud of their county, and did not let me get away with pronouncing all the towns wrong. I was corrected a lot.

I vaguely got my route back on track after my spell of aimless rambling. It was late afternoon before I realised I’d not eaten or drank anything all day. I’d been running with the attitude of there was no time; pasties on the move it is then. Panicking suddenly about dehydration (it was scorchingly hot) I purchased my own bodyweight in drinks from Lidl; drank what I could, then realised I now had about 5 litres to carry with me for the rest of the day.

Shops suddenly appeared in their hundreds as I ran through Hayle, Portreach and other such places, carrying all the drinks. This became disappointingly tiring. To add insult to injury, my feet were now hurting from my earlier pace to Penzance. As I found an area to put a tent up (badly) I considered the possibility of using my brain a little more for tomorrows running. A good plan.

Day 2: St Agnes to Bodmin

As I woke up excitedly for day 2, I realised the full extent of the comical job I made of putting the tent up in the dark. Put it this way, I was very lucky it didn’t rain.

I’m happy to report that I had learnt my lesson from the previous day and did not carry so much water this time. I hadn’t however learnt much from my nutritional inadequacies. I trekked the day not really eating much; I was too excited still, which led to forgetting.

The coastal paths were just awesome! All morning I laboured up and down the steep, rocky hills following the contour of the country. The only downside was that it was not the most economical run ever, which took me the most part of the morning to run the equivalent of 5 miles of the main road.

By afternoon I had settled on a beach in Perranporth. I was a tourist now; I’d forgotten what my job was. The plan was to meet with my friends Scott and Jonjo in Bodmin that evening, which I’d assessed from my phone that they were 26 miles away. That’s fine, that’s not even a marathon, I’ve got loads of time I thought…

I assessed it would only take me 5 hours at tops, due to my utter brilliance and marathon PB time of 3 hours. What hadn’t dawned on me was that I’d already trekked a surplus of 20 miles that morning, eaten like an impatient child and to continue to that, I then drank a 2 litre bottle of budget cola in a sudden consideration of hydration. And because I thought it was funny.

Propelled by the temporary sugar and caffeine high, I proceeded to run gormlessly ahead of schedule towards Bodmin, before getting very, very lethargic. A sensible person here would maybe stop for a bit, maybe accept it’s going to take longer than anticipated. A sensible person would maybe do that, but I’m not a sensible person. I’m an impatient, stubborn hobbit child. I ploughed on at 5 hour marathon pace, hoping I’d get away with it.

At 2 miles short of Bodmin, I lost the ability to run. At 1 mile from Bodmin I near enough lost the ability to walk; my legs refused.

Huge thanks to Scott and Jonjo for coming to find me and we had a really pleasant evening as it happened catching up from university antics back in the day. I finished the day very reflective and resolved to try not to be quite so stupid from this point on.

Day 3: Bodmin to Plymouth

What a difference a good night’s sleep can make. In an act of recovery nothing short of miraculous, I was able to run again by 9:30am; onwards to Liskeard and with a bit more of a route in my head this time.

It was this point that I first experienced the phenomenal power of runners mood swings. No doubt evoked by the previous day’s idiocy and discomforts, I spent a good portion of the day getting angry at things; really angry. I got angry and pebbles on the floor, lorries being loud, the perpetual uphill that Cornwall seems to provide in both directions, plus my left ankle was starting to get sore on one side and all of the footpaths seemed to all slope the same way, aggravating it further.

Then evening arrived and I realised I had 30 miles well behind me and I could walk if I wanted to. My mood very quickly escalated from bitter irritation, to a jovial contentness. As I walked across the Tamar bridge into Devon, blissfully unaware that I was on the wrong side for pedestrians; the woman operating one of the toll booths gave me a lot of attitude for this, and loudly informed me that I had broken the bridge. It was a nightmare! A man had to come over and press a button to fix it. I obviously could not possibly apologise enough for the difficulty and stress I placed on everybody involved.

Still laughing to myself, I found what I thought was a perfect place to camp just outside of Plymouth. It was out of the way in a wooded area. It was a little on a slope, but that wouldn’t be a problem; I’ll just have my feet at the higher end of the tent and it will be just be a bit like putting my feet up… Unfortunately, as I have now learnt, tents are very slidey. I spent the night curled up in a little ball at the bottom of the slope, and just to add real insult to injury once again, a fog descended, creating a temperature I’d refer to as “really bloody cold!”. Another lesson learnt; I’ll add it to the list.

Day 4: Plymouth to Exeter

Today began with a boring few hours up the main road, but I’d got my pace back now and was ploughing through the miles like nothing. I arrived in Yelverton for my first real break. I was now heading into Dartmoor.

Good news, bad news scenario. “Horray! I’m in Dartmoor! No more main road… I wonder if Dartmoor is flat?”. “No.” No, as it turns out is the answer to that question I’d just mindfully formulated so casually.

I was running well today, but my left ankle was very sore. This, on top of all the unexpected hills and the previous day’s ardour brings a bad mood.  Here is where I learnt another lesson in long distance running: A well timed cup of coffee is better than any other sports supplement I have found. It’s not just the caffeine I don’t think. I think there’s something else in coffee that fixes things. I only stopped for 20 minutes in a small café in Princetown, before setting off again in a better mood, more energy and somehow my ankle was giving me less discomfort. All hail to coffee! Or something.

It was early afternoon when right here, I had possibly my finest moment. I’d just received a text message from my friend Mark in Exeter, inquiring what time roughly I’d be arriving. I then did something unprecedented; I used my brain.

I worked out using a target of 4 miles an hour, including all rest stops it would take me until 9pm. And that is exactly what I did. In a sustained, calculated effort, the hours where I was running for all of it, I would cover maybe 5-6 miles, others might be 2-3; always working on 4 average. I arrived at my friend’s house at 9:11pm and I think my first words upon the door opening were “sorry I’m late”.

Day 5: Exeter to Wellington

Yesterday was a truly victorious day for me. I had finally learnt to use my head a bit, and cover the miles with a bit more thought attached for food and rest. A template I could use for the rest of the trip.

It was a victorious day, but it was also a long day. The miles had taken their toll and by the time I made it to Broadclyst, my running was a lot more laboured. By the time I got as far as Tiverton my legs had as good as given up and I elected to walk as far as Wellington to camp out.

Another utterly freezing night and my thin sleeping bag I was using to conserve space, I had concluded did not make it any easier. The farmers that owned the land near where I was camped did in fact come over and ask if I wanted to come in for a shower and cup of tea. A generous offer, but sadly my legs no longer worked. Soon as I sat down, they were done.

Day 6: Wellington to Bristol

Today I would learn a lot about running and how my body works. Must confess I didn’t think that would happen as I walked lazily into Taunton at ridiculous o’clock in the morning.

I met a fantastic organic baker in the town centre, who I got chatting with for ages about my run so far, and his hikes around the UK. All the while I was being fed with fruit loaves, and herbal tea. I was slowly becoming more and more energised without realising it.

I ran that morning feeling pretty strong. My body was slowly adapting to the workload and I’d been pretty lucky for not picking up injuries. The one thing that hadn’t adapted yet was my appetite. I just wasn’t hungry enough, so eating was always a real conscious effort. I was getting better at it, but it was so easy to forget.

I made it to Bridgwater comfortably, but my destination was in Bristol, and Bristol was 30 miles away. Learning from Bodmin, I ensured I didn’t set off too quickly. I ran incredibly well that afternoon, fuelled by organic fruit loaf and no shortage of caffeine. Unfortunately the long miles do eventually take their toll, and I ran out of energy; again. Always remember to eat before you get hungry in future I thought to myself meekly. I ate the remainder of the fruit cake and oat bar I’d been given. It felt a little like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted, but magically I felt energised again within minutes!

I would then learn just how long 30 miles is when you’ve been running all day, every day for nearly a week. I felt like death on legs; slow legs. As I approached the final 10 miles I decided to plug the post code for house I was staying at. To my absolute horror it was over 15 miles away at the other side of Bristol.

The following few hours were the longest of my life. I’ve hit a wall or 2 before; I’ve done running before. To this point however, I wasn’t really used to them being so close together.

I trudged through Bristol in the middle of the night, feeling very sorry for myself. I don’t recall ever being quite so exhausted. I knocked on at 1am at last to discover to my eternal gratefulness that Sofy who I’d only met briefly once before, had waited up for me kindly. I then proceeded to sleep like I was in a coma.

Quarter of the way. Good.

Day 7: Bristol to Tintern Abbey

The great thing about having run an extra few miles last night through Bristol meant that the mornings running was fairly relaxed, and when I say relaxed, I mean hideously tiring. I made my way slowly through the morning to around the coast of the Severn.

Here I met up with runner and fellow nutcase Ed Bolton, who plans to run John O’Groats to Lands End in September. Ed turned up and ran with me for moral support, we chatted as we went, which was great for me as it distracted my brain from all the tiredness, and I we ran right across into Wales, over the M49 bridge.

After Ed left, I continued steadily through Chepstow and into Tintern Abbey. A third of the way to John O’Groats I was told, where I was then really well looked after by the staff at a pub called “The Anchor”; treated with a free meal and I was simply able to vent how difficult it all was.

I then walked on a couple more hours, until sleep became a bit too enticing to go further. A kinder temperature this evening made camping a little more of a pleasant affair. 7 days into the run now; my body was slowly adapting and adjusting to the extreme workload. I felt optimistic about the following weeks; I’d made so many mistakes and seemingly got away with all of them. What could possibly go wrong….

With every day bringing a new moral not to be quite so stupid the next, what would my 2nd week of running the UK bring? You can find out by clicking on these words!

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