Lands End to John O’Groats – A Hobbits Journey, Part 2.

Day 8: Tintern Abbey to Hereford

This morning I got up ridiculously early. It was my naïve idea to pinch an extra few miles today by sleeping a bit less; a plan I would soon learn that does NOT work.

That morning’s run was amazing! Plodding up all of the country roads, plus there was more or less zero traffic to worry about.

Travelling up the border of England and Wales, the counties passed quickly. I entered Gloucestershire in the early hours, followed by Monmouthshire about 2 minutes later. Monmouthshire was a particularly scenic area and terrific to run through. I stopped in Monmouth for lunch; well I say lunch; it may well have been lunch time, but it didn’t really matter. I’d learnt by now to simply eat as often as possible. Meal times were now irrelevant.

Following on what I’m going to call a textbook diet of a full fruit loaf, a full pack of bananas and a pack of biscuits sat by the rowing club; I made the decision to stay on the main road from here up to Hereford.

Lunch sat by the river Wye. Yeah, Wye not?

Lunch sat by the river Wye. Yeah, Wye not?

As I mentioned earlier, I’d been pretty lucky in regards to injury. I had a mild tweak on my left ankle, which seemed to be easing itself out now. I had also felt a slight ache on my knees in Bristol that went away straight away with a couple of Ibuprofens.  Other than that, all that I felt was an ever-present ache on my feet, akin to the kind of dull ache you get after a hard day’s work on your feet. I just had that all the time now.

Blisters! Inevitable really, but they came from nowhere… I had so far been looking after my feet well; treating them constantly as my 10-20 minute rest stops were becoming much more efficient – Sit down, shoes and socks off, medical kit out, treat as appropriate, change of trainers. Like a robot! – Sadly the skin around my small toe had finally succumbed to the rigours of extreme training and started to bleed. This would be an uncomfortable couple of days now.

The trouble with blisters is not the pain from the blister itself; it’s what it does to your technique. I had fine-tuned my technique to a magnificently lazy art. I borderline shuffled now as I refused to lift my foot any higher than necessary as I ran. Now with a steady pain emanating from my small toe, I started to land carelessly over to the other side of my foot. This can be disastrous to the body if you’re not careful, creating injuries elsewhere. Vigilance and discipline were required at all times now.

I exhaustedly staggered into Hereford in the early evening. Remember when I mentioned earlier about trying to pinch a few miles by cutting sleep short? This is where I learnt the full extent of my foolishness. Here is where I met nice guy Rob and I got a nice lift in a car to Ludlow for a much needed chilled out evening (I was then dropped off the following morning at the same spot, to the inch!).

Day 9: Hereford to Ludlow

As a severely broken hobbit, desperately pretending to be fine, I was in dire need of an easier couple of days to recover some strength. That was exactly what I got here, staying with the incredibly generous Liz and Rob. I had met Liz (a very good runner herself) briefly at a marathon in Telford months ago, who very kindly offered me accommodation on my route. I wrestled for an age with the idea of accepting a lift to accommodation, even if it did include a lift back to the same spot the next morning. Then I remembered: It was my own event, my own rules. Sweet! The one thing I did stress was that I still carried my significantly heavy backpack back to Ludlow, despite the obvious option to leave it there for the day. That was where I drew my line.

Thanks guys!

Thanks guys!

Ludlow was a measly 24 miles from Hereford; my lowest daily mileage to this point. Despite this, I was still struggling by 2pm after a solid morning run at 10-11 minute miles.

Crawling up the hill into Ludlow at 4pm, I was looked after (spoilt rotten) once again for the evening. I can say now, writing this, that was the most relaxed I felt in the entire 27 days running. So once again, my sincerest thanks guys, if you’re reading this! Tomorrow would be a big day…

Day 10: Ludlow to Burlton

Today began with a 15 minute walk before I got running at 7:45am. I then ran in an uncharacteristically methodical mannor, taking 10 minute rest stops every hour, all the way through until 3pm when I hit Shrewsbury and took an hour’s coffee break. Eating had become a lot more habitual now on the move, and there were so many shops and local amenities along the way that I didn’t need to carry any extra. This was useful, as it reduced the weight of my rucksack to 16kg.

From Shrewsbury, due to lack of other obvious choices, I followed B-roads towards Ellesmere. The roads were tricky at times, due to the lack of footpaths and large lorries that continually went past, sometimes in an angry, aggressive manner. I have found that this country well and truly was not designed for people to run up it!

I think lorry drivers in this country get a bad name on the whole, particularly from cyclists and runners, when actually in my experience 99% of lorry drivers throughout the country were great; very patient and often encouraging. Obviously there’s always going to be the odd one that would act aggressively and give the others a bad name, but that was to be expected.

I was really spurred on at this point. My exhaustion leaving Bristol was finally behind me, I’d learnt a valuable lesson about getting plenty of sleep, and above all I was now travelling directly north. Don’t underestimate what a difference it makes when you consult the map and see a visible progression towards your finish line.

I reached Burlton in Shropshire by mid-evening, where I decided to stop for a pub meal in ‘The Burlton Inn’. This was fast becoming my favourite part of any day; meeting and chatting with locals. The instant I mention Sport Relief and what I was trying to do, everyone, anywhere in the country all seem to become the same: incredibly helpful and generous! The people here were unbelievably accommodating; explaining to me all the best places to go, to eat and sleep. My memories from Shropshire are very fond ones because of this. The owner of the ‘North Shropshire Rec’ even generously paid to put me up for the night there. I was actually getting a bit worried at this point I might get a bit used to all of these comfortable night’s sleep.

Day 11: Burlton to Helsby

Sometimes on this journey, the day would just sort of work itself out perfectly. The towns would appear as if my magic, at the exact moment of wanting a quick break. This was one of those days. I had a good, cooked breakfast at the inn, set off running and found myself in Ellesmere in no time. The weather had taken a bit of a turn however; now if it wasn’t raining, it was probably drizzling. Just generally pretty dreary. However, I had no real grounds to complain, as the weather was mostly heat-wave in my first week. Ignoring the miserable weather, I then pretty effortlessly passed through Ellesmere, Overton and Wrexham before passing into Cheshire and my main evening stop in Chester.

Passing into Cheshire felt like a big deal to me. Although I was aware the miles covered were not quite half way yet, it just felt like it was, with it being my home county. The really interesting thing for me, when running through Cheshire is just how quickly the scenery and general look to a place can change so drastically in the blink of an eye.

I met up with my friend Tom in Chester for a meal (Wetherspoons finest!). There was certainly nothing wrong with my appetite by this point. It had adapted to my new demands beautifully. It was a perfect system: I eat, I run, I get tired, I eat again and then I sleep and repeat. So simple. I was like a well oiled machine and I genuinely felt like I could keep this up forever!

I camped out that evening, which I had also had become a lot more efficient at. I could now go from putting my bag down, to lying in my tent in less than 20 minutes. That’s down from a little over half an hour at the beginning of my run. So not only is my body adapting to my more extreme demands, but could it be possible that even my brain was now starting to develop in some way? **Spoiler alert… No. No it didn’t**

Day 12: Helsby to St Helens

Today I ran mostly with company, which makes the running much easier, but the logistics a lot tougher than I expected. The plan was to meet my mum in Runcorn and run over to Warrington. Then I would meet up with my friend Pete somewhere there, and be running little while with him. Unfortunately, meeting someone in the centre of Runcorn proved unexpectedly tricky, as apparently there are two Runcorn centres, and naturally, we chose opposite from each other. Good start!

Now my mum would probably be the first to admit she’s not an experienced runner, stating early on that she probably wouldn’t manage more than 5k; that being the standard park-run distance. Setting off, we discovered that my 16+kg rucksack and nearly 500 of miles of running behind me turned out to be a great leveller, and when I say leveller, I mean I had to pick my pace up because I suddenly realised I was too slow to keep up. Without realising it, we covered over 13k before stopping in Widnes; a slight obliteration of that 5k distance PB. Result!

It just goes to show how many of our limitations are in the mind. If you successfully distract yourself from what you are doing, keeping the mind relaxed and positive, I promise you’ll be amazed at what you can do.

Running over the bridge in Runcorn

Running over the bridge in Runcorn

One meal, and several coffees later, I set off for my evening shift in a depressingly zig-zagging route back on myself towards St Helens. My friend Pete was pleasant company; the only problem with this arrangement was that the little cheat had brought his road bike. A tad unfair I felt.

No need to adjust your screen. I really am that short.

No need to adjust your screen. I really am that short.

We covered about 5 miles or so, before Pete got too tired and had to go home (that’s not what he said, but I read between the lines). I felt so good at this point, I confidently suggested a race to see who could make it to their next destination the fastest. He would have to cycle back home to Manchester, and I would have to get to my next stop in St Helens. ‘How can I lose when I feel this energized?’ I thought to myself

Roughly two minutes passed before I hit the wall again. All energy exhausted. I staggered into St Helens feeling like a drunk that’s lost the use of his limbs. Pretty standard procedure by now really. Same again tomorrow more than likely.

Sufficed to say, I lost the race with Pete.

Day 13: St Helens to Lancs Canal

Today started like any other; a bit of breakfast, a 10 mile run, a bit more breakfast. It was so built up now in the north-west, it was easy to get used to the convenience of shops everywhere. Yet strangely, I longed for getting back to the countryside, away from all the noise, traffic and buildings.

I stopped in Skelmersdale for one of my breakfasts, but wasn’t too disappointed to be leaving there if I’m honest. I found the whole place a bit odd. The next 20 miles went slowly and routinely all the way to Preston before surrendering to the lure of a cooked meal; a Wetherspoon’s finest sausage and mash as I’m not made of money.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself in Preston. It was the first obvious student area I’d been through to this point and it made me nostalgic of my own student days. It’s worth pointing out here that I looked like a complete prat! I sometimes forgot, but the combination of runners leggings and conspicuous shorts is not a look that goes unnoticed, but for some reason, the people I met in Preston loved it! I got such a lot of support here, it was great! Also big thanks and shout out to ‘Ste and Dave’, who’s house I went to for a well needed shower and a chill out, before heading off towards Lancaster.

My mind at this point was in a constant battle between the decision to run direct routes up the main roads, or scenic routes that adds miles to the journey. Here was one of the times where the inefficiently winding Lancaster Canal won over the busy main road, despite its sinuous extra mileage. I eventually stopped about 13-15 miles from Lancaster. I pitched my tent somewhere in the dark, quite possible illegally now I think about it, but I’d be leaving before it got light in the morning with no mess, so no harm done.

Day 14: Lancs Canal to Kendle

Earlier in the week, I spoke of that “perfect” system where I run, I get tired, I eat, then carry on running until sleep. Today my stomach decided that it didn’t want to play ball with that system anymore. Maybe it was the Wetherspoons finest yesterday? Maybe it was a bug? Maybe it was just my body rejecting the heavy miles? Whatever it was, my stomach had turned itself upside down and was cramping up badly.

I stuck to the main road now, in too much pain to really run for any length of time. I quickly became very self-pitying and depressive during what turned out to be a five and a half hour trudge up to Lancaster. Food wasn’t doing anything. I was tired, cold and just wanted to stop all the time.

My plan was to get to Lancaster early and explore a little as a tourist. When I finally did fall clumsily into the city centre, all I really wanted to do was sit down and feel sorry for myself for a while, which incidentally is pretty much what I did.

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I can’t explain why, but I decided what I needed was some greasy food in me, a bit like a bad hangover. Wetherspoon’s it is again! I think I might have fallen asleep in there for a bit without realising, as time seemed to do a bit of a jump. Either way the next thing I knew, my mate Dave Hunt, having 2 weeks ago just dropped me off in Lands End came up to visit. I’m not sure I was much fun to be around today, although I was feeling a lot better by this point and thrilled to have company. After a long while, some conversation, some medication and fuel, I felt recharged enough to crack on and I set off for Kendle.

I was set to stay in Kendle with a good friend, James who I’ve known since college. That knowledge always kept me going, knowing there was a roof over my head that evening. Meanwhile, the weather seemed keen to chip in to my increasing discomfort, and decided that now would be a pretty good time to rain. Not a pleasant, Spring kind of rain; a cold, blistering, treacherous kind of rain with icy wind. Excellent news.

James to his eternal credit, had seen my social media updates and came out in the car looking for me to see if I was alright. He found me running up the main road and we caught up in Milnthorpe for rest and food. Just a final eight miles to Kendal now as the rain picked up some real momentum and power.

I can’t begin to explain how uncomfortable this was here; plus a badly timed wrong turn added an extra couple of miles up and down rain-soaked hills.

I arrived at James’s flat at around 11pm, I’m not going to lie, I was in an absolute state at this point! I resolved to have the following morning off running, due to the lactic acid from additional hills making it pretty painful to run now anyway.

This was now the start of the Sport Relief weekend, so that helped immensely in reminding myself why I was doing this and to stay positive.

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Pt. 3 – Reminder of why I’m putting myself through this!

Thus ends my 2nd week of running up the country for Sport Relief. Part 3 right here!

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