Day 19: Dalgety Bay to Perth
Following yesterday’s excursions, I decided it best to start the day in the afternoon, with a chilled morning. Plus I’d not really caught up with my mate Ric Barnett properly since he first moved to Scotland, and like everyone else, had been a perfect host.
Last night I was a hobbling wreck (as I think Ric kindly put it); today I was just a regular wreck, so improvement there. There was also significantly less of me now than the swaggering idiot that left Lands End two weeks ago. I had lost a good 4kg in weight; I could see my ribs quite clearly and my arms were considerably thinner. The biggest issue was that my stomach didn’t really know how to handle food anymore. It had been in starvation mode for days, which meant I could no longer eat as much in one go, and when I did eat something, my body expected me to burn it right away.
I ran through Kinross with my stomach making all sorts of strange noises; I think it was rejecting a lot of the food I ate at breakfast. I got through the day, eating exclusively sugary foods (not a great idea) until I made my first real stop at Milnathorp. I mentioned earlier how I most enjoyed a lot of the smaller places I’d never heard of before; this was one of those places. The people here were amazing and the staff at the café I stopped at were so generous as well. It was here I discovered that my body could handle soup without issue, but not just handle it, I found I was actually more energised from it than I would be from a full meal.
It was a long afternoon getting to Perth. My stomach seemed to be demanding food, but every time I ate anything, I felt sick. This inability to take in energy was becoming demoralising; not to mention tiring. Maybe a good night’s sleep would sort things out?
Obviously I couldn’t sleep that night.
Day 20: Perth to Balinluig
Today’s objective was to get within 200 miles of John O’Groats. An objective that would have been a lot easier if I could run. I couldn’t.
I was tired, hungry and my stomach was offering me nothing but crippling pain every time I tried to do something that involved moving. I walked, and every 20 minutes I had to stop. To make matters worse, the only route available to me here was alongside the busy A9 up to Inverness. All of the noise and traffic fumes made this one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. I tried walking on the left of the road and found myself getting irritated uncontrollably at the traffic zooming past me. So I then tried walking on the right for a bit. The effect of this was very similar, but now the traffic noise was just louder and faster to go past.
I was stopping every couple of miles for agonising rest; occasionally I would accidently fall asleep for 20 minutes, which made me feel a little better. I ultimately did not progress nearly as far as I had intended to. I had no idea where I was; I didn’t care. I put a tent up in a location I would describe as “dark and tree adjacent”. I fell asleep feeling depressed, in pain, and unmotivated.
Day 21: Balinluig to Bruar
I felt a lot better this morning. I slept solidly from 7pm to 7am. Sleep! who knew? I was still in a lot of pain, but my mind felt refreshed and I was better able to deal with it. I still couldn’t run. I tried, it hurt, I stopped.
As I trudged along, not paying the slightest bit of attention to my surroundings, I suddenly realised I had meandered off the main road and had hit a dead end. “Where am I?” I thought. Turns out I had witlessly wandered into the ground of the “Nae Limits Adventure Centre”. Here I met Louise arriving for work, who kindly offered me a coffee inside. Here is where things started to go a bit weird…
I was genuinely not used to everybody being so nice to me everywhere I went. It confused me. I said hello to a lot of the staff and talked a little while of my challenge for Sport Relief and how it was going; the next thing that happened I wasn’t expecting was suddenly being offered a free trip out white water rafting.
I weighed this up in my head fairly quickly:
“I’m on a tight schedule; a schedule that I’m falling further behind on a daily basis. There is now a real danger that I won’t even finish within my deadline of four weeks. Plus I’m not well. I’ve had a stomach bug that I’m only just coming out the other side of. Everything here in this situation is pointing to the conclusion that going white water rafting would be a silly, irrational, irresponsible thing to do.” So obviously I didn’t go….
I went canyoning instead.
“Canyoning” for those who don’t know, is basically like rock climbing along through freezing cold streams, pools and waterfalls. The instructor Stuart guided us through it, using deceptive language like the “acclimatization” pool. This I soon learnt meant “lung-shrinking ice bath!”. Spurred on by the change of pace and good company, I threw myself into this whole-heartedly. I had a fantastic time here! I didn’t even care how mind-chillingly cold it was (the nerve endings in my fingertips are still dead two weeks on). The time passed quickly and the 80ft waterfall we descended was a particular highlight. I returned to the centre, got warm and dry and set off again by 2:30pm.
I was able to just about run the five miles to Pitlochry, where I tried my hand at eating again. Halleluiah! The food was sticking, which was useful, as I desperately needed the energy.
I didn’t make fantastic progress that afternoon. I made it back as far as where we went canyoning by the falls of Bruar and set up camp. I felt like I needed another 12 hour sleep; turns out I wasn’t wrong.
Day 22: Bruar to Newtonmore
Operation: Get back on track!
I had fallen several days off my early target of finishing on the 2nd of April, and was actually in danger of not finishing within four weeks if I didn’t get my act together. The enormity of the task (that I had up to this point being successfully ignoring) had hit me like a kick in the teeth by a tonne of bricks.
Banishing these negative thoughts and carrying on like there was no problem here is honestly the toughest thing I have ever done, mentally and physically. I remember one point where I attempted to throw pinecone across the road to see how far I could get it. I couldn’t even get it half way across the narrow road. I had basically lost the use of ALL my fast-twitch muscles. My running pace was now no quicker than a fast walk, and I was still well over 150 miles to John O’Groats.
Using a knowledge of my pace, allowance for rest and food stops, I mentally mapped out a time-management plan to get within striking range of Inverness by the end of the day. Inverness was like a mental roadblock. It was the next big landmark, but represented being still no way near John O’Groats. The sooner I got there, the better!
I arrived in Newtonmore at around 7 in the evening, ready for a LOT of food. Newtonmore was my minimum target for the day, so getting there with time to spare was nothing short of miraculous for my frame of mind. I was able to appreciate the area again and it was amazing; some of the nicest areas in the whole of my journey!
Day 23: Newtonmore to Inverness
Motivation had returned to me today. This was entirely down to the support I was getting from back home; everyone wanted me to make it. The messages of support I was getting on social media and from all of the people I met along the way were overwhelming.
My pace may be a LOT slower than it was two weeks ago, but my resolve to keep going was stronger than it ever had been. Inverness was 40 miles away and that was where I was getting to!
My first stop was 10 miles up the road (everything was at least 10 miles up the road this end of the country) in Aviemore. Aviemore is a terrific, sporty place. I could have stopped anywhere, it all looked amazing. I stopped at a café called “Active Cafaidh”, which was a sports shop with a café upstairs. Here I met Craig and Rosie; really great people working there, who helped me invaluably in readying myself for a 30 mile afternoon slog to Inverness. I left feeling fuelled up and in a great mood (nothing aids running more than being in a good mood).
My immaculate plan was to get to Inverness by 10pm and head to the Youth Hostel. Using my newfound skill of pace and time-management, plus a completely unplanned, but necessary 20 minute sleep by the busy, loud main road at 6:40pm, I made it to Inverness at a few minutes past 10pm. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? This was unheard of for me; ask anyone!