The 5th and final part to my unassisted run from Lands End to John O’Groats. I had made it to Inverness the night before at around 10pm, and now out of the hostel at 9am and ready for a bit more running…
Day 24: Inverness to Tain
It felt good getting to Inverness right on schedule last night. It had been slow progress all the way from Perth, so finally having signs for Inverness pointing BEHIND me now was a big mental boost.
I crossed the bridge out of Inverness into the Black Isle, where my plan was to be as direct as possible for a while, unfortuntely, this happened to be straight up the A9 (or the A-stupid-9, as I had affectionately nicknamed it). All morning, the running was mentally and physically tough. There were very few footpaths to run on, and a cacophony of articulated lorries passing in both directions to contend with. By 2pm I was finally able to move away from the main road and onto the cycle route, where I made my first stop for the day in a place called Evanton.
It is a spectacularly nice part of the country round here. I much preferred it around here to Inverness, which is a lot more built up (a bit like Manchester, but with Scotland weather). My pace always picked up as well when I got to these areas. I think it has something to do with concentrating a lot more on the things around you, as opposed to the introspective thoughts of pain and discomfort that otherwise take front seat in the brain.
I followed the cycle route through Evanton, Alness and Invergordon. Running for the most part, albeit ridiculously slowly. If I ever hit 12 minute miles now, I felt like Captain Speedy!
After eating in Invergordon that evening, the road eventually joined up with the A-stupid-9 again, and such was my determination to stay off this god-forsaken road, I opted for heading into the forest to try out my navigational skills in the pitch black towards Tain (anybody who knows of my navigational skills would probably advise me against this). I got away with it just about.
Considering I was in the middle of a forest here, it took me ages to find somewhere to put up my tent. Pitch black with only a head torch for vision. I stumbled and fumbled into marshes, thorn bushes and a stream, until I eventually found a hobbit-sized space between these pesky obstacles to get a tent up; barely.
Day 25: Tain to Helmsdale
I placed a lot of importance now on getting plenty of sleep. I aimed for 9 hours if I could; this seemed to be about optimum. The trouble I had now, was that my sleep had turned very restless in the past few days. I woke up in panic attacks quite often; vividly thinking I was still moving and not able to go fast enough. Such a strange sensation, and as I walked for the first hour of the day, I reflected on whether this might be a serious problem or not. Either way, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I just hoped it would fix itself and sleep would return to normal soon.
I soon returned to the A-stupid-9 where my thoughts quickly returned to the ardour and boredom of running. Fortunately, after the next bridge, the road significantly quietened and became a lot more pleasant to run on.
I made steady progress to Golspie for a food and rest stop. Locals around here were all a bit more aware of the “end to enders” and the struggle it entailed. The encouragement I got from everyone here was invigorating; especially said encouragement that was delivered with a sound of disbelief on sight of my rucksack. That was just delicious!
The next 17 miles to Helmsdale took an absolute age to get through. Or as my watch probably more accurately put it; about five hours. It just felt like 600 years.
I was advised (ordered) by the people I met in Golspie to make sure I had the fish and chips in Helmsdale, as it was famous (or something). I obliged quite willingly whatever the case. There were also several perfectly good hotels I could have stayed at around here, but I still felt like I had a few extra miles running left in me. This is where I was most happy with my decision to carry a tent and sleeping bag with me. This way I wasn’t restricted by where the hotels were; my focus was simply on running as far as I could.
The road became much more undulating again here, and the hill out of Helmsdale was particularly vertical. Nevertheless, I soldiered on for another eight miles or so before the lure of sleep caught up with me.
Day 26: Helmsdale to Wick
Enamoured with the coastal landscape, and amused at every single village’s signs for “award winning beach” when it was clearly all the same beach; I suffered the extreme hills in relative comfort. That is, until I got to a small place called Berriedale. There I was greeted with a gargantuan hill with a hair-pin, winding road climbing all the way up it. The kind of hill you don’t really want to see at 10am. I laboured to the top, feeling like a corpse, then continued up along the coast; death personified.
I made a quick stop in an amazing little café here in Dunbeath called ‘The Bay Owl’, situated right by the coast, overlooking the cliffs. I stopped in here for a rejuvenating cup of tea and biscuits (donated by the kind owners) before heading out again for my very deliberate target destination of Wick.
The miles and hours passed slowly this afternoon, like time had malfunctioned and deliberately mocked me. After passing through 6,000 miles of farm, fields and nothing; I ran for about eight years in the space of that afternoon. I seriously started to think that Wick was a made up place that didn’t really exist.
It was all uphill at this point, so the visible horizon was only ever a mile or two ahead. I ran over this horizon many, many times; each time expecting Wick to appear in the distance. It never did. The vastness of nothing simply went on indefinitely. Until suddenly, in an act or pure landscape witchcraft, I was in Wick all at once. Busy roads, buildings and everything in the blink of an eye! I had to rub my eyes just to make sure… Yep, that’s 6,000 million miles of nothing just behind me and now I am in the middle of Wick without ever seeing it coming. How on Earth did that happen?
That evening I was so tired my brain didn’t function properly (insert predictable joke here). I remember being on the phone in the hotel to someone (can’t even remember who), and being asked where I was and I honestly couldn’t remember. All this running was clearly affecting my state of mind… Well either that, or I’m just quite thick… No, I’m sure it’s the first one.
Tomorrow would be my last day!
Day 27: Wick to John O’Groats
After yet another restless sleep, I woke up feeling all excited for some reason. Obviously I couldn’t be certain, but it may have had something to do with the fact that everything I’d been doing ALL year came down to this day. All the planning, training and conditioning I’d put myself through was all for this; providing I could make the last 17 miles.
I toyed with the idea of playing it safe and just walking to the finish today… An idea I maybe toyed with for about three or four seconds before concluding that walking would feel stupid. So I ran as fast I could manage, which happened to be at 14 minute mile pace. Four minutes a mile slower than my average pace in Cornwall.
17 miles is a distance I would describe as “just long enough to drag”; especially when tiredness catches up, and you desperately just want to finish. Once I left Wick, the scenery moved steadily from farmland, to what I would describe as “absolutely nothing”. For miles and miles I ran slowly up a derelict hill through moorland and fog.
It’s crazy the things the mind can do to you sometimes. I would have normally considered 17 miles to be a fairly light mileage for a morning’s running. Today however, 17 miles seemed to be like a never-ending target; probably I’m guessing, because it was the LAST 17 miles.
As I approached John O’Groats, true to form, I had no idea where I was. It was only seeing the big sign in the distance that snapped me out of my irritation trance.
Oh, I guess I should probably explain that… I called it an “irritation trance” every time my head lost the capability to concentrate on anything that wasn’t how irritating things were:
“These cars are annoying! How are there more cars here than people?! And WHY are all these pebbles getting in my way?!” – That sort of thing. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah…
I saw the sign for John O’Groats. That meant I’d finished… Cool.
The strange thing about this was a blasé type of response was actually pretty similar to how I reacted at the time. I didn’t really know what to think. There was an overwhelming feeling of relief, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. I had visualized myself finishing many times over the month, and it wasn’t like this at all.
I was actually starting to feel a little bit bad for my lack of reaction. I honestly thought I’d be more excited and possibly a little louder, but no, here I was, the biggest accomplishment of my life and I was just stood there in a dazed stupor.
Immediately by the sign for John O’Groats, there was a guest house where I spent a couple of hours talking to the family that had recently bought it out. It still hadn’t really sunk in yet what I’d done, so I guess I must have appeared quite casual, but they were all really great with me there, and I’m very grateful for the reception they gave me.
I spent the remainder of the day as a tourist around John O’Groats. This doesn’t really take very long, as it’s really not all that big and not all that busy either. I was told most of the cyclists start arriving about a month or so later when the weather is less harsh.
At the hotel that evening is where I had my first beer in 35 days. This was a great feeling, but still somehow felt wrong; I clearly still hadn’t come to terms with finishing yet. I acknowledged it a bit more later that evening, sat in bed and realising that there was no immediate agenda to get up again. So I stayed up late, watching ‘The Fresh Prince of Belair’ on TV just because I could. That night was probably the best night’s sleep I have ever had in my life.
Frodo’s Final Thoughts:
March 8th, 12:30pm to April 4th, 1:30pm. 27 days precisely if you take into account the clocks going forward at the end of March.
I’m under no delusions that what I did here was ground-breaking in any way. People have run from Lands End to John O’Groats before (most don’t run unsupported, carrying a 16+kg rucksack, but still…). I think that considering I only tried running (badly) for the first time 3 years ago, this was a pretty big deal for me. I could also think back to precisely this time a year ago; when I was just about to run in my 2nd ever full marathon and was really nervous about it. Amazing really, what you can do in a year when you put your mind to it.
There were definitely highs and lows during these 27 days of running up the UK, but overall this has been a fantastic, eye-opening experience for me. I have met some amazing people, visited some great places and learnt such a lot about how my own body works and functions.
I think the best thing however to come out of this for me, is just how many people are now telling me of their own improved running and fitness goals. Whether these goals have anything to do with me or not, I never tire in hearing about it. It’s always inspiring to me to hear of people challenging themselves and testing their own perceived limits.
Plus, there is the significant matter of raising £3,000 (and counting) for some VERY worthy causes: Sport Relief, Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and the East Cheshire Hospice. Thank you to EVERYONE who has donated! You ALL kept me going…
… Also, for those wondering, I’m not done with running yet. I’m not fed up of it and not broken yet. I have a feeling that I am probably going to carry doing these things until I do end up broken in some way… Then I will probably take up something else.
My next event will be at Liverpool for the Rock and Roll Marathon on the 25th of May, where I will be “attempting” to beat my last time and get under three hours. Wishful thinking perhaps, but if I don’t at least try for it, I’ve got no chance. If anyone is there, don’t forget to say hello.
Thanks for reading (or at least idly skimming through) my extremely long write-up of my hobbit excursion, 1,000 miles up England, Wales and Scotland. Happy running everyone! (… Oh dear, that sounded way cooler in my head)