Running the Cotswold Way – by Emma

I knew from the day that we planned this run that I wouldn’t be fit enough.  The point of it was more about practicing team logistics than proving any fitness.  The fitness part will come with time but its important early on that we figure out what kit we need or don’t need and how each of our roles come together etc.  So I knew it would test me.

Day 1:  Thankfully, we had the generous hospitality of my friend Hayley the night before in Bristol and we didn’t have too far to travel to the start point in Bath.  Even so, we were still behind schedule.  Probably because I don’t like mornings!!

The day started off with a frantic tour of Bath in search of a toilet.  I found one in a dungeon at the back end of a cafe and Aysha went to a posh hotel.  We eventually located the tourist information centre and began our journey from there after some time faffing around with cameras and deciding which direction we go.  The route wasn’t very well sign posted out of Bath but Mike did a fab job of map reading.  We passed the iconic semicircular row of houses, a few steep ups and downs and then we were into the countryside.  By the first hour of the trail we must have already gone through about five gates, Mike is definitely going to get strong arms from lifting the bike every time.  The weather was lovely, warm, sunny, perfect for running.

After 19.5 miles we had a picnic in Sodbury where Hayley and Aysha met us with some delicious food.  Mike proved his ability to sleep anywhere!

Break time over
Break time over

Break time over. More hills. Up, down, up, down, up, down…  This started to get really tiring on my quads and a real ball ache for the bike.  So, the next hill, I decided to go alone and Mike would take the road.  This seemed like a great idea until I got to the top and realised I was knackered, my brain was sending messages to my legs to move but they weren’t responding. I felt like crying alone at the top of a hill but, realising that wouldn’t get me anywhere, I shuffled along at snail pace.  I was so happy to see Mike at the bottom of the hill and I quickly raided the bag for an energy gel. I felt like it worked in seconds and I continued further.  We got to Wotton-under-Edge and had done 32 miles. This is a good enough distance for the day but, it was only another couple of miles to the campsite. I knew I was already pretty close to exhaustion but, I was still standing and talking so, with a bit of encouragement, decided to get my butt closer to the tent.  I got my head down and pushed through the pain to the top of the hill. At the top my legs were 100% jelly!!  I could see by the look on Mike’s face that he knew I was screwed.  This reassured me for future exhaustion!  I managed to wobble myself down the hill and, thankfully, that was it for me for the day.  I got to the campsite and collapsed in a shivering mess in the tent.  I can’t imagine this filled the team with confidence for Africa.

I ate steak!!! Then slept.

Day 2: I was woke up by the sun beaming into the tent. This must have been about 6 o’clock but I felt so cosy and warm that I snuggled further into my sleeping bag.  I eventually had to force myself out of bed before my bladder burst. Aysha cooked up some porridge with cinnamon and banana, amazing.  Incredibly, my body felt great. Hayley dropped us back at place she collected us yesterday. And this is where my sleepy brain proved its uselessness by sending us off one mile in the wrong direction.  Obviously, this could have been a lot worse but, running a mile the wrong way (downhill), first thing in the morning, dampened our spirits slightly. Once back on track, I tackled some hills by myself as it seemed ridiculous for Mike to struggle up hill with the mountain bike.  I ran over Cam Long Down which I think is the most picturesque place of the trail.  It is a small, grassy, rolling ridge which gives you views for miles in each direction. Stunning.

Aysha had done another great job of sourcing some delicious food and making us lunch.  We stopped to warm up and refuel at Haresfield Beacon. The weather was a bit chilly so I buried myself under blankets in Cleopatra. We had no plans for accommodation this evening so I marked five points, A to E, on the map so Aysha could collect us later once she has found somewhere to sleep.  I intended to get to point E.

Me and Mike stayed together for the rest of the day.  I made a plan to dose up on energy gels after about 25 miles to avoid crashing like I did yesterday.  We both had one and within minutes we had gone from slogging along the paths to bouncing around like children. The terrain was pretty tough going, undulating and muddy, so I had no chance of getting to E. There was a long woodland section to pass which once you were in you had no chance of knowing where you were. Disappointed, we rang Aysha to get her to collect us from point A or B.  I think she was quite shocked when we she saw us approaching B, prancing down the hill, a slight difference to yesterday.

Due to unfortunate accidents with cooking equipment we had to eat in a warm, cosy pub. Shame!

GPS day 2

Day 3:  We woke early which, I’m sure you can guess is a challenge for me, even though it was my idea. We worked really well as a team to swiftly pack up the tent and gear, and head off. Aysha dropped me and Mike back at point B and we were off running by about 8!!

8am start
8am start

Even though I was dazed and confused by the earliness, I felt super psyched to get the distance under my belt and aim to finish the run today. I really didn’t want to be getting up tomorrow to run a short distance. Mentally that doesn’t work well for me.  So off we went with a sleepy yet determined attitude.

For the first part of the morning Mike stayed beside me as the map looked as though we would be staying relatively flat.  We had arranged that Aysha would meet us in an hour and ten minutes at the Dowdeswell Resevoir to pick Mike up so I could get up the next hill alone.  We got to Leckhampton Hill with no problems until either we missed a sign or there wasn’t one and we continued on what we thought was our path down a hill.  We both felt that something wasn’t right, checked the compass, and we were again running in the wrong direction (again) down hill.  Annoyingly, we had to go back up hill and get back on track, Mike pushing the bike up a very steep rugged, muddy track.  35 minutes late, we met Aysha and as always she was looking fresh faced and energetic.  Off I trotted up the hill.  I think I had built it up in my head to be so hard that when it came to it, it was actually quite gentle and pleasant, and before I knew it I was at the top where I met Aysha and Mike for first break.

On the map, Cleeve hill/common area looked very confusing, and I had no idea what to expect.  I was thinking that it could possibly be rocky or bumpy, either way not suitable for the bike. Aysha had been told by someone that there could be an area that was boggy and the bike wouldn’t get through so me and Mike arranged two meeting points around here. One before just down the road, before the confusion, and one after.  The first would be where Mike would give me water and energy gel. The second would be where Mike would rejoin me.  Off I ran, 10/15 minutes later I was at the first check point.

Mike wasn’t there. I waited for a while. I then ran around looking for him and asking people if they had seen him, nothing.  I waited some more.   I started to worry.  I told myself not to worry. I worried more.  Maybe it was just a miscommunication.  Maybe Mike had got here too early and had left before I got here, thinking I had done the same.  My phone had died this morning so I was unable to contact him.   I drew a HOH sign in the dirt on the ground and continued on, hoping that everything would be ok, and I’d find him at the next check point.

Cleeve Hill views
Cleeve Hill views

At the end of Cleeve Hill, I was met by Aysha. I explained what had happened (probably in a quite frantic and stressed manner) and she decided to try and contact Mike or drive back to see where he was.  This put my mind at ease, and I continued on to the next checkpoint feeling calm.  When I arrived, Mike was nowhere to be seen.  This was not a good feeling!  I had come to the conclusion that something must have happened and that I should probably stay where I was, as they wouldn’t know where to find me if I wandered off.  So I sat under the Cotswold Way sign feeling very thirsty and worried that my team was broken before even getting on the plane to Africa.  Every person that walked past I asked if they had seen Mike but nobody had.  45 minutes later, after drawing a second HOH in the sand, I asked another walker if they had seen Mike.  Hooray!! There had been a sighting of a man with a bike under another Cotswold Way sign.  Ecstatic to have not lost my team mate but frustrated to have wasted so much time and energy, and being dehydrated, I ran back to where Mike was.  It turns out that the Cotswold Way has changed route since our map was made and we both thought we were at the meeting point.  This was a major lesson to learn about having communication devices on us at all times.  Lots of stress and lots of tension could have been very easily avoided.  This is the point of the practice run though.

Morale was boosted by a visit from Aysha’s mum at our lunch break.  She brought along smiles and laughter, and yummy treats.  Aysha made me the biggest sandwich in the world. We had a doze in the sun, refuelled, hydrated and got psyched to push through to the end.  I knew I had quite a distant to go to the end so I went up all the hills alone, this time armed with a walkie-talkie and energy gel!  There were three hills.  As I came down the second one I met Mike and asked how far we had to go till we were on the last piece of map, he looked at me confused, we were already on the last pice of map and I hadn’t realised.  This made me sooooo happy.  The end seemed easily reach-able now, but not without a toilet stop first.  And I’m sure any runners reading this know how it feels when you’re running and you NEED to go.  Anyhow, I found a very posh restaurant to pop into and use the facilities and then made a very quick exit.  As I met Mike at the top of the last hill, the sun had started to set and the temperature started to drop, perfect timing to pick up the pace.  There was a beautiful stretch, flat and straight, through the fields that lead into Chipping Campden.  At 20:23 on Sunday we finished the run in the centre of the town, not sure exactly which part is the official finish but we were there.  Very happy to have completed it, but even more, very happy to know I have the best team ever with me.

GPS day 3

Massive thank you to Clif Bar for your products, they are amazing and I probably couldn’t have completed the run without them! Thanks to Hayley for looking after us and keeping Aysha sane for a day. Thanks to Charlie Rowlands for letting me borrow your GPS watch, big help.  Thanks Luke for letting us borrow your tent.  Huge thank you to Aysha and Mike for supporting me so well.  And to all the others mentioned in Aysha’s blog, thank you.

Main learning points:

  • I need to carry my own water
  • Having comms saves drama
  • I need my own camera with me
  • I need my own GPS watch with longer battery life
  • Even without fancy equipment we can and will work well together.



So the beginning of the month was spent in Taiwan. I went there on holiday with my mum to visit my brother. Thankfully I did have some will power and managed to run almost IMG_0442every other day while there.  This was massively helped by having my mum there running too.  She has never been a runner but has recently, in her fifties, taken up the sport.  She is an absolute inspiration to me and should be to everybody.  Its hard enough to convince myself to run some days and I’ve been running for years.  My mum has never had any interest in running, so if she has the will power and motivation to put on her trainers and go out running in the sweaty, smoggy, streets of taiwan, there is no way I can be lazy and
sit on my backside!

We mostly ran around the university track that I used to run around when I lived in Taiwan.  It’s just under a kilometre around so can become quite tedious after a few laps but its better than getting run over by the millions of scooters on the roads.  One day we ventured further and went for a run along the beach front.  There are 200m markers along the footpath so I broke out into some sprints for the first time in many years. This isn’t particularly useful for my African training but is a nice way to break up the boredom of long slow runs.IMG_0454

Being on holiday for the first part of March slowed down training a tad but I don’t mind as it’s the only time I’ll be going away before Africa so I made the most of the break.  I managed to get over 100 miles in this month which I’m pretty happy about. Slowly increasing the mileage is how I would like things to go.  Something very exciting that has come from this month is that the Sports and Exercise department at Manchester Metropolitan University are very interested in talking to us about the run and hopefully letting us play in the environment chambers that they have.  Paula Radcliffe has used the very same chambers in her training. How cool is that!  Cant wait to go play!

March total distance: 118.7 miles

March longest run: 18 miles

Practice Run

With our team being almost complete now, we thought it might be a good idea to try and replicate each of our roles that we’ll have in Africa.  This way we will have plenty of time to iron out the problems we discover before we leave.  We had a look into trails that are already established in the UK to have a practice on.  The West Highland Way was looking like an exciting, wild and rugged trail to use but unfortunately the road doesn’t get very close to the trail often.  At a similar distance, we found the Cotswold Way (103 miles).  Apparently, the most sign posted trail in the UK, so fingers crossed the navigation should be super simple: follow the sign!

DSC00452So, on Wednesday we had our first team meeting, in which the main topic was the practice run (along with a million other things).  This was our first meeting that Mike has attended so there was lots to update him on.  We have probably completely overloaded him with information and tasks for him to get started on but he’s a good’un so I have no doubt he’ll get stuck in.  Aysha was particularly quiet for most of the meeting, this might have something to do with the snot running down her face and her lack of voice! (this is why she isn’t in the picture!) Bless her.  And I did a cracking job of supplying health snacks.

I think having a meeting, chatting about plans and throwing around ideas is always a great way to get motivated.  At least for me it is anyway.  I’ve come away from the meeting feeling overly excited just about the practice run.  I can barely contain myself when I actually think about Africa!  We’ve all got our own list of jobs that we each need to get ticked off, hopefully this has been shaped by our individual skills.  Doing this kind of challenge with a team is so incredible. I don’t know about the rest of the team but at the moment I am feeling really supported and a real sense of team spirit, which in turn makes me want to be better myself and not let them down.

Go Team Head Over Heels!!!!

By Emma

February (better late than never!!)

So, February wasn’t as productive as I would have hoped.  In the way of increasing mileage anyway. But I suppose I have started to lay the foundations for my training in a really a positive way.

I have started to see my physio again which is working on ironing out all of the problems I have.  Loosening up my muscles, strengthening my knees. All aspects of running which are easily neglected but play a vital role in remaining injury free, therefore helping me to complete my charity run.  I managed to go to circuit training at Sandbach Fit club a few times which is an amazing all round training session. Fantastic for building up strength.

run014I have gained a new running partner who is super keen for trail running which is great for me. He knows lots of places to run that I don’t know and also works shifts meaning we can run together in the week. I have managed a couple of long runs but not as many as I had hoped.  I’m not too concerned about this as there is still plenty of time, and I do worry about overloading my knees too early.  I have also had my only run in the snow this year, it was so pretty. What a shame the winter has been so mild!

Just as with January I have had lots of events going on this month so it’s been a case of IMG_0420slotting in training around other things. I turned 30 so there has been lots of celebrations to squeeze training around. At the beginning of the month I spent a few days in Scotland doing more winter mountaineering so there was no running then and at the end of the month I went out to Taiwan to visit my brother.  I can’t complain as these are all things that I want to be doing.  I am eager to start building up my mileage but I need to remember that its still at least six months before I leave.




February total mileage: 97.7miles

February longest run: 16miles

Physio – stage 1

So, along with my new theories on my training (inc cross training etc), I am also visiting my incredible physiotherapist regularly, and actually doing what she tells me! She nursed me through the tendonitis that I had in my knee on the lead up to my Freedom Run.  She is absolutely amazing, very thorough, very understanding and extremely strong.

I went to see her yesterday. I was pummelled, poked, prodded and caused some unpleasant pain, but it was all worth it.  Being a typical runner, all my muscles are tight. I do stretch every time I run but probably not enough, and definitely not enough to run a few thousand miles without getting injured.  I have been given a set of exercises that I need to do everyday. I am not very good at sticking to things like this so I thought I’d write a quick blog to show everyone the exercises and also to encourage me do them.

Here they are:

Firstly, a bit of this. Contract muscles, raise leg, hold, lower down. X10 on each leg.


Similar to the last one but after raising leg, tilt ankle to the side, hold, return, then lower.314

Next, hold pillow (or ball) between ankles and squeeze for a few seconds. X10.


Then, same but between knees.

And then with knees bent.

I have been faffing with the photos for hours and I cant get them to stay where I want them so they may be floating around in irrelevant places.

Michelle Pennell is my physio. I highly recommend her to anyone, of any age, with any problem. Check her out here: or email her


So, it’s the end of my first month of training towards Africa. In some ways I feel I have achieved quite a lot and in other ways perhaps not so much.  January has been a quite hectic month for me generally.  I’ve had some long days at work which have meant missing out on training altogether.  I’ve also had lots of events going on which has meant I haven’t really been at home a lot and I have been trying to squeeze in training wherever I’veDSC_0017 travelled to.  On the plus side, this has given me the opportunity to run Snowdonia, the Cairngorms and London all in the past few weeks.

My training has changed over the past month in the way that I haven’t managed as many sessions per week but I have increased the distance I run per session. I’m going to look positively on this and say its a good thing, it wasn’t deliberate, but its good.  I haven’t managed to get any yoga sessions in yet which I’m a little disappointed about but I just haven’t found time yet.  I have got a couple of circuits classes in and I’ve also been doing core workouts with my climbing partner.  Overall I’m feeling fighting fit and ready to crank things up a notch in February.

January total miles: 91.7 miles

January longest run: 14 miles

Introducing our newest team member…

mikeMy name is Mike, the ‘third wheel’ of the Head Over Heels team. I was lucky to meet Emma at the start of last summer whilst climbing at my local crag in the peak district and we started climbing together through the summer. Climbing quickly builds trust in a person and with our common passion for the sport we soon became good friends. When Emma mentioned she needed a support team for the challenge, I jumped at the chance!

I’m currently in the Austrian Alps and writing this blog after a good day snowboarding! I’m spending 2months here in the Alps with friends, exploring the mountains & pushing myself to progress with the sport. I suppose this sums me up pretty well; I love to be outside, whether it be climbing, snowboarding, surfing, running, biking…you name it, i’ll have a go at it. To explore new places with good friends and overcome the challenges that come with sport and travel, that’s what keeps me ticking.

Mike snowSo hopefully this stands me in good stead to be on the team. I have plenty to learn in the build up to Africa. As Emma’s main bike support I will be carrying supplies whilst she’s running and setting up camp. Fortunately for the others I brew a good coffee too, even if I say so! I will also be learning some new skills for the trip such as sports massage and using fancy filming equipment to document the journey!

Training out here in the Alps with snow underfoot is far from what awaits us in Africa but it’s good early preparation and I can’t wait to get stuck into some training with the rest of the team when I return to the UK!

Emma on training

People seem to be interested in how you train to do such a big run so I thought I’d give a little insight into my intentions and previous experience.

When I was training for the freedom run in 2011 I had a lot of other stuff going on in my life and had to squeeze in the mileage anywhere I could. That meant that most of my training was done on the canal right beside my house. A lot of the runs were pretty monotonous but pleasant at the same time as the canals are beautiful. The downfall to this was that there was little training on hills and it would appear that South Africa is not flat! The main concept behind my training was to gradually increase my distance on a daily and weekly basis until my final few weeks when I was running 100miles a week. This was pretty tough considering that six months before the start of the run I got tendinitis in my knee and had to start from running one mile at a time, if I could manage that. Overall this theory did the job and I managed to complete the run pretty unscathed. I do however feel that I overdid the training a bit and could have done less damage to my knees if I trained slightly differently. Which is what I hope to do this time.


My intentions…

This is my aim but it is only an aim. Of course I need to gradually increase my mileage as I did before but this time I hope to focus more on quality not quantity. I have less demands on my life this time so hope to get out to the Peak District more and do more full days running on trails and over hills. I’m going to try and replicate the lifestyle I will have in Africa at least once a week. I will still need to be doing my flat out and back runs along the canal which is good rough terrain training but hopefully not so much that I recognise every leaf on every tree!

Also my intentions are to try and get a yoga class in each week as I’m not so young and flexible anymore. Trying my best to look after my old body!! Also going to get more hours in on my bike. I suppose the aim overall is to not hammer the miles so much but to spend a lot of time being exposed to the elements while training.