Inspired by Banff film festival and after a touch of tequila, Emma and I thought she should run from the west coast of Africa to the east. This is our story of dreaming up the idea, researching it, planning, training and running the distance.
Emma had a planned a day off in Tete, which is lucky as she has had no sleep. In addition, her shorts soaked in oil from her daily massages, are frying her legs in the sun. We take the opportunity to wash them as well as possible. Mike and Woocash are not able to support Emma, so Robert will become her companion and guard. Robert has not ridden a bicycle for years but he steps up to the challenge admirably.
At dawn, I drive Emma and Robert the mile or so to where she stopped 36 hours before. As they are about to set off a policeman arrives demanding to see I.D. and saying there will be a fine if we cannot produce them. It causes a slight delay whilst I zip back to fetch their passports. Later in the afternoon, I pick them up 60km down the road and bring them back to sleep in Tete. At 2.30am, the next morning, we drive for 1.5 hrs out the silent dark city and through the dark countryside. The sun is sending its first rays as we arrive where Emma and Robert will start their day.
Emma and I in matching oufits!
Emma and Robert set off into the heat whilst Woocash and I head back to collect Mike. In the afternoon, there are some steep hills on the route and we are all wondering how Robert has coped. (We know that Emma will be fine, although I still think the hills are pretty big). Robert is exhausted when we find them and Mike discovers he has done 55km up and down hills with one of the brakes on! Mike says Alfredo, the bicycle, is misbehaving with out him. Robert and Emma are both an inspiration today.
How many seats on your bike?
Sunsetting and we still haven’t found Emma and Robert!
We are surrounded by tilled fields and wondering where to put up camp when a local man, kindly, says that it is fine to park on his field and sleep there.
Day 69 distance run: 60.57 km, 37.63 miles Day 70 distance run: 55.52 km, 34.49 miles
Number of Days: 70
Total distance run by Emma: 2912 km, 1809 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.6 km, 25.8 miles
Mark is a big character warm hearted and fierce. I like him but then he is inviting us to stay, telling incredible stories and not shouting at us. These details might make all the difference. He is concerned by our route and advises we must be beyond a certain point by nightfall.
However, during the day we have another team meeting to resolve problems. Well, really it is about valuing the role that each person does and showing our appreciation for each other. So everyone knows how fantastic we think they are – there are tears. And we all feel wonderful but, then it turns out it hasn’t worked (which is a good lesson I will remember).
That there are problems is not that surprising. Sometimes it feels as if we are living in a submarine, cut off from friends and family AND Emma is running a marathon everyday, a phenomenal endeavour in the dust, heat, in pain and without privacy. Throw in other details such as some of the team barely knew each other before we started and that we are from 3 different cultures and I think everyone did pretty well. Emma ran 37 marathons before any hint of serious issues arose.
However, we are at this point now (54 days of marathon running): Emma and Mike will travel alone, whilst the rest of us will push publicity, sort out visas, and other logistical issues. We will meet Emma and Mike regularly to refuel with food and water. Mike will need to carry food and camping equipment on the bike. The increased weight means a change of route: off sandy tracks and onto firm asphalt. Instead of travelling straight across to Mozambique, they will head south to Harare. We will avoid the path Mark was worried about and miss out the most remote and dangerous part of the journey. Perhaps the change of plan was a good thing.
We all camp at Mark’s beautiful farm that night.
Early in the morning, Emma sets off running with only Mike on the bike beside her.
Number of Days: 54
Total distance run by Emma: 2217 km, 1378 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.1km, 25.5 miles
Distance run today: 12.84 km, 7.98 miles
Thank you Mark for welcoming us in and letting us stay at your gorgeous farm.
We are not meant to be here already. Emotions have swirled us up and now we have transported here to take a break and discuss ourselves, or rather each other.
With perfect metaphorical timing there is a huge storm in the night, puddles form inside the extension tent. Across Zimbabwe there are power cuts and flooding. I am struck by how fortunate we are to have not been camping in the bush as, when rain comes in the tent, Emma and Mike can swiftly put up another tent under shelter on a dry surface. In addition, the next day we are able to lay our wet things out flat in the sun.
Karoi, itself is a lovely town. The market sells the most delicious honey any of us had ever tasted. And we make someone’s day when we buy lots of our fresh food supplies from them. We find an electrician who helps to fix our inverter which we are using to charge all our phones, cameras and other electrical items. At night, there are no lights along the streets, our torches pick out a snake crossing our path, gliding along focused on its business. I’m glad we didn’t step on it that would have been bad for it and us.
We sleep, eat, and take a break from each other before we meet for some honest discussion. I contact two wise people in my life for assistance. After two days, we think we have solved the issues. The team is in good spirits and singing songs as Woocash, drives rollercoaster style, back to where Emma finished running 2 days before. Stopping only when we come across a bus crash to donate food and water to the shocked passengers on the side of the road – they had been there for hours. We arrive just before the sundown, in time for us to set up camp.
Number of Days: 47
Total distance run by Emma: 2056 km, 1277 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.7km, 27.2 miles
Distance run today: 33.48 km, 20.80 miles
On days 48,49 and 50 Emma did not run, her daily average distance on day 50 was: 41.11 km, 25.54 miles
Ah, morning. Late morning. Victoria Falls Town is small, one main road with several side streets and a market. For one wonderful hour I potter around the tourist shops. I spot a fresh fruit and vegetable store and establish that the seller will be there on the day we leave. There are no tarpaulins, a request from Mike, but there are rechargeable batteries. Victoria Falls is very expensive for tourists but Robert and Woocash go adventuring; they twist and turn through streets to end up at a real local market where prices are cheap. I kind of wish they had told me about it. With unerring skills, Robert also discovers the best place to buy chicken and sadza. Its in the petrol station.
The Internet remains a flirtatious tease for both Emma and I. Eventually, I manage to update the blog and put money on my post office card whilst watching elephants and vultures. I like vultures. They keep the place tidy, aren’t picky about their food and look glorious gliding in the sky.
With excellent timing, my driving licence has expired. It’s a small logistical issue, I can renew it through the World Wide Web, which is awesome. (Being able to do this from Zimbabwe is somehow more amazing than from a laptop in the UK). And we will have to detour to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, to collect it from Robert’s house, providing it arrives in time. Woocash is the only legal driver in the meantime.
Whilst emptying and cleaning the car thoroughly, this cheeky monkey ended up in the driving seat holding the steering wheel! He admires Cleopatra as much as I do. But retreated to the tree when he saw me.
After that, Woocash went to make friends with him. I don’t think he was so keen.
I did the biggest shop of the whole trip, as we won’t be passing any towns for 2 weeks or more. Way to much to fit in the storage trays, the extra food has to be stashed behind and under seats as if it is contraband. What are you smuggling? Tinned tuna, pilchards and tomatoes. Yummy. My speedy shopping style is destroyed at the till, after 45 minutes trying every card machine in the shop, bless the cashier. I ended up running to the nearest cash point.
We have two fantastically touristy indulgent wonderful evenings.
If you are hungry this is the best experience. There is dressing up and dances and food and face painting and more food and dessert and more desserts and drumming. Happiness glows around our table as we munch our way through all the different flavours.
Apologies to the vegetarians reading this
And this fantastic looking bug outside
Booze cruise and elephants
The next afternoon, we are floating on the Zambezi before the falls and we can have as much alcohol as we want. Woocash doesn’t usually drink but it’s an offer he can’t refuse, he turns out to be adorably smiley after a couple of glasses of gin. I highly recommend the cruise if you are drinker and love animals. The captain points out rare birds and we search the shores for crocodiles.
Woocash & I
Afterwards we head out for dinner with an amazing view of a waterhole. Suddenly, there are gasps from the diners as people realise a large tribe of elephants are present. One walks right below our deck for a snack on the tree below us. Silently they appeared and then, slowly, their grey outlines dissolve into the night.
And then far far too soon it’s over and it’s the next day and we are leaving and I feel like I hardly rested or saw the town. Emma is not happy as she starts the run and it is difficult to know what to do.
Number of Days: 39
Total distance run by Emma: 1641 km, 1019 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42 km, 26.1 miles
1641 km! I can’t believe that we have made it this far: That we bought and fixed up a car, shipped it to Namibia, sourced kit and connections, Emma started the run and is still running and we are still all alive. A lot of me never thought this would happen. Really, truly, but I have a fear of failing and that fear drove me to make it possible. You don’t have to believe to succeed but you do have to work hard. I am not sure what is motivating Emma.
Emma runs, Mike cycles and the rest of us drive into tourist town. A kaleidoscope of colour, noise, little shops, glamorous tourists and backpackers, touts and cars. For the next 3 nights we shall be sleeping in beds, beds I tell you, with mattresses. We are all exhausted and could do with time apart. Emma is obviously much more tired than the rest of us and happy to be off her feet. I am giddy at the thought of not thinking about the rest of the team or cooking.
First, however, is the goodie bag Mum has brought from the UK. We unpack presents and letters for Emma. Emma is overwhelmed as she hears all the words of love and admiration from her friends. She’s not the only one.
There are also shiny new shoes kindly donated from family and friends, which were hugely appreciated. Then it is time for each of us to take turns soaking in the tub and getting as clean as we can, dirt has become ground into our skin. Emma and I have a lovely relaxing dinner with my Mum and leave the guys to their own devices.
Number of Days: 37
Total distance run by Emma: 1641 km, 1019 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 44.3 km, 27.6 miles
To be honest, I just love this moment and wanted to share it with you. I don’t even know why I like it so much. Possibly, I like that we are helping people out, or may be it’s the whole male only moment of men working together with boys to resolve a mechanical problem and all from different countries – the boys from Zambia, Robert from Zimbabwe and Woocash from Poland. I think that must be it.
Did you notice the wooden pump? And the yellow containers are to be filled with water at the bore hole and then they cycle home with them. Many people don’t have bicycles and walk several kilometres a day to fill up. We often fill our water from the boreholes and don’t even need to purify it, which I find amazing as it wasn’t like that when I visited 20 years ago. But we rarely carry it more than a few yards to the car. Living as we do now, longing to be clean, makes me appreciate the easy availability of fresh clean water in the UK.
The scorched scenery in the first photo will be from fires that are set deliberately.
Emma continues her incredible achievement in a lot of pain. We are almost at the border and almost time for a rest. She keeps pushing herself to get there sooner. Mike is always by her side.
Number of Days: 36
Total distance run by Emma: 1591 km, 988.5 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 44.2 km, 27.5 miles
It’s a bit late for an introduction. I’ve been part of the team for over a month. …
Anyway, I am 21 years old, which officially makes me the youngest member of the team, although the way my mini person drives me, you’d think I was 80. Maybe she’s 80, I don’t know. Too old to tell the truth about her age, that’s for sure.
How did I get involved? Against my will. I was happily living a gentle life in Norfolk, trips to the seaside, taking the dog for a walk, when this mini person came along and drove me to Manchester. I feel ridiculous, I am not a city girl, I don’t have the figure for it.
I was swiftly taken to the GP for a once over. Whatever. It did make me laugh though, when my mini person had to change my tyre:
The Cotswold way [Editor’s note: Emma’s practice run of 107 miles] was a blast. I love blatting round the country roads. It got a lot more fun after the specialist doctor, Julian, said I was indestructible. He had a proper poke and prod and called me, “Sluggish!” I’d like to see him carry four people up a hill. But, apparently, I’m to have some surgery and given new toys. Sounds good to me. I would like to be a bit speedier.
Tell you what though, that mini person has no sense of direction. I shall have to have my compass fixed or we’ll end up in Kenya. She’d get lost walking round a corner. And she doesn’t half fuss. So I dribbled a bit of green and puffed smoke on the hills. Get over it. I’m fine!
The team, are alright. I didn’t appreciate Emma saying I was “too fat”. Skinny thing. She needs more fuel, than is in her right now, to power her across Africa. Too fat! After I’ve been nice and kept the wind off her.
That Mike, had a proper skive too, I carried him and his bike up the hill. Who’s the fatty now, eh?
They’re all fussing about wrong turns, border crossings, baddies, lions, snakes and heat. The only thing I’m really worrying about is being poked in the side by an angry elephant or if they’re dopey enough to put the wrong fuel in me. As for the rocky roads, mud and sand. I say: “Bring it on!”
A huge thank you to Julian at Overland Cruisers for checking over Cleopatra, free of charge, and telling us everything we need to do to get her in shape.
A massive thank you to Tony for letting us buy her off you. She’s perfect.
And Mini-Max … I would not be able to do this without you.
We spent the first night in the company of Emma’s friend Hayley’s in her terraced house in Bristol where she cooked us an amazing meal.
Cotswold way day 1:
We arrived in Bath and found the information centre where the trail started, got the camera out and set off through the streets. After about half an hour we were in the fields of the Cotswolds National Park. Up and down rolling hills of bright green spring grass. Towards the end of the day there was some big hills to go up and down, keeping up with Emma is extremely hard work on these. So, I took a detour on the road to meet her at the other side. When she arrived, I could tell she was tired but, thankfully, we were almost at the end of the run for day one. We arrived at the road where we were picked up and taken to the campsite. Emma was tired and cold, she lay in the tent for about half an hour wrapped in down jackets and blankets. Aysha cooked steaks for tea and we sat under the stars chatting for a while before bed.
Cotswold way day 2:
After breakfast and some yoga, Emma and I were dropped back on The Cotswold way. After about 10 minutes, we discovered we had gone the wrong way. After getting back on route and feeling frustrated, I thought to myself this is a good lesson for the future: to check and make sure we are on route. The miles went by and we met Aysha for lunch. The afternoon was spent mostly in woodland, which is just coming to life after the wet cold winter, on dried up muddy 4×4 off-road tracks. Thank goodness it was dry, as it would have been a nightmare, if it was wet.
Cotswold way day 3:
We were up an hour earlier with the intention of reaching the end of the Cotswold way by nightfall. The morning’s route went along almost the top of a rolling ridgeline. After a short pit stop, Emma and I split with the intention of meeting about 10 minutes further along the trail. It took me just over ten minutes to get to the checkpoint and thoughts were racing through my head, has she already passed the checkpoint? Is she going to be waiting on me? Eventually, I got to the path junctions where I was meeting Emma. I waited for 15 minutes asking people, who were walking the path, if they had seen a woman running in a white top go past, “no sorry” they said.
I checked my map, making sure I’m in the right place. From here the Cotswold way did a massive loop of about 2.5miles, which would take Emma about 45 minutes to get round. We had decided the night before I would cut the loop out and meet her at the other side. I decided to leave the first checkpoint and go to the next one. I got there worried and confused, I was annoyed that I had no way of communicating with Emma to find out if she was ok and where she was.
I rode around asking dog walkers and runners if I was in the right place and if this was the Cotswold way path I was on, they all said yes. I sat next to a post with the little green acorn symbol on it, which marked the Cotswold way.
About an hour had past now and I looked at my phone to see a text from Aysha: “just met Emma on Cleeve’s Hill and she’s on her way to your check point now.” Another half an hour went past, getting more and more worried, then a little Emma shaped figure appeared on the next hill along, it was Emma, thank God! It turns out that the Cotswold way had changed and the map we had was a old one. Communication is very important and I am happy we made this mistake there and not in Africa.
The next few hours went smoothly. We met Aysha’s mum for lunch and she had made chocolate brownies for us, which were amazing. The afternoon was more ups and downs, which would have been hard for the bike, so I went on road, while Emma stormed up and down the hills. Our spirits went through the roof when we discovered we had one page left of the map till the end, a huge smile came onto Emma’s face. It was mostly down hill to the end now. We arrived in Chipping Campden. It was over. Massive well done to Emma running 107 miles in three days. Day three was over and the run complete, well done team!
Top ten tips for riding a bike and supporting a woman running on the Cotswold way:
1. Watch out for bad smells coming from your runner.
2. Be prepared to shit anywhere, just watch out for nettles.
3. 2 pairs of cycle shots makes riding more comfortable
4. Make sure your bike is the right size for you.
5. Keep your mouth shut in the evening or it will be full of insects.
6. Practice lifting your bike above your head for the hundreds of gates and styles.
7. Make sure you wait long enough at the meeting check points.
8. Carry energy shots.
9. Charge your phone at any opportunity.
10. Power naps should be no longer than 20 minutes and make sure you have sun cream on.
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. 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!
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!!
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.
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.
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.
As part of our preparation for Emma to run across Africa, Emma suggested that we did a practice run of 100 miles! Its really hard to take someone seriously when they are utterly casual about a huge endurance event. On Wednesday 26th March we met up, looked at the Cotswold way, thought about things we needed and that was it. Thursday, I travelled to Norfolk and bought the 21 year old car we are taking to Africa and named her Cleopatra. Two weeks later we drove to Bristol to stay the night with a friend of Emma’s and start the trail in the morning. Emma’s running, Mike’s on a bike as support, and I’m in the car.
Friday (35 miles)
As soon as the 6.30am alarm goes off, I’m up making porridge and tea. Emma’s a sleepy bug in the morning which gives me a chance to get everything ready. Mike eats all of his and some of Emma’s too, I think, which is satisfying for me as the cook. When we get to Cleopatra, we notice a small green oily/viscous puddle under the front nearside wheel. I’m worried. I take some photos and send them to Lukas for a diagnosis. Its 7.30am so we get going whilst we wait for a reply.
Bath is beautiful but it feels odd. Emma’s about to do something epic and there’s no-one to see except Mike and I. I guess that happens a lot in the world. Emma, wanders off to the fudge shop.
Emma and Mike set off appearing very relaxed and I skedaddle to get things we need and chat to Lukas over the phone about Cleo. He diagnoses the fluid is grease from the front axle air vent and tells me where to look. I love poking around under the bonnet. It’s a giant toy. Lukas tells me I should be fine until I get it back, he’s a little concerned when I tell him I’ve got 500 miles to go. I’m a little worried by his concern and drive more carefully.
Cleo’s cigarette lighter doesn’t work, which means we can’t charge the sat nav (or phones) and her compass always points north. I navigate my way out of Bath by using the sun – seriously – I head east and then when I feel roughly out of Bath I head North looking for signs for villages near the first check point. And I make it! However, its way past the time so I hazard a guess that Emma and Mike have carried on and head on into the higgledy piggledy land of the Cotswolds and get lost. Well and truly.
Me “Excuse me, could you tell me where I am and where I’m going?”
Them “You’re off the map, about here, take the next left, its signposted Nowhere [or some place like that]”
The next left didn’t have a signpost.
This becomes a general theme of the trip. Fortunately, Emma and Mike are two of the most easy going people you can meet and are just happy to see me, even when I get to check points after them. They never complain about anything. Not once. Mike is a bit concerned about the amount we’re spending on food at one point. I like my food. And Emma, on Saturday night, gets serious about starting early in the morning. That’s as demanding as they get.
Happily, this time, I am early for lunch. Its a gorgeous sunny day and the birds are nattering away. A few minutes later, Emma and Mike appear trundling down across the field and Hayley (our guest for the day) pulls up in a car. It’s idyllic. I feel there should be more drama on a 100 mile run, not chilling in the sun. Lunch is delicious. Chicken, avocado, basil, tomato, salt and pepper – I made it myself. Mike falls asleep and Hayley and Emma are busy catching up and laughing.
After lunch Hayley and I head to the campsite and arrive at around 6pm at what looks like a stately home, (after an unquantifiable several mile road works detour, inability to find the campsite, food shop and a panic over Cleo puffing out smoke).
Not long after, Emma and Mike arrive both looking shattered. Emma wraps herself in her sleeping bag in the tent and is still cold. This worries me. She’s run 35 miles and the food isn’t ready yet. Eventually, Emma goes for a shower to warm up. Mike gets busy helping us get the fire going. I’ve splashed out on the first meal, and using the gas canister and the Kelly Kettle, Hayley and I manage to cook: mashed potatoes and broccoli, followed by steak and mushrooms. That’s better than I cook at home. But I believe food is important for this kind of thing. Emma is a lot better after food and a shower. The trickiest thing is persuading her that she doesn’t have to do anything, she’s running 100 miles. Kindly, North Nibley campsite lets us off £4 as a donation.
Saturday (33 miles)
I’ve forgotten how slow, cooking is, on a gas stove. The porridge is not boiling and the 8am start is not happening. There’s a general sleepy, happy, feeling. Emma is stretching and Mike gets a brew going.
Once we’re all off, I am swiftly lost and take up talking to myself. We get on remarkably well but an extra set of eyes to look at the map and road signs would be more useful than a split personality. “Uley” I shout with joy for no-one to hear (it’s a village that means I’m going in the right direction). And am 5 minutes late for mid-morning break. Emma and Mike are both quiet. They went in the wrong direction and its dampened both their spirits a bit. Emma’s cold again and I worry whether she’s getting enough food in her. I shouldn’t really though, when I next see them, they are both chipper. Its an odd relationship, me dipping in and out of their experience. After lunch, Emma wants to push on as far as she can and gives me 5 options where she might want to be picked up from. I get busy with finding accommodation nearby. Happily, I find some out the back of a friendly pub. Emma and Mike call me to come and collect them. I’m there first (woohoo!) and surprised when they both come bounding up to me – turns out they’re both rushing on CLIF gels.
Sunday (39 miles)
Emma wants a quick, early start. We’ve no fuel for cooking so that’s easy. After the mid-morning break I have 3 hours until lunch. In my head, I plan a yoga session at the meeting point. But, decide I can’t miss Cleeve’s hill, the highest point on the Cotswold way, and there’s a chance I’ll see Emma and Mike and can cheer them on. I have a little faff parking the car, pick up my water, and not my phone, then set off upwards. Near the top, 1 metre above me, Emma runs by. That’s uncanny timing.
She looks worried, “I can’t find Mike. He wasn’t at the checkpoint.”
I pass her my waterbottle as Mike was carrying her water for her. She hasn’t had water for an hour. But, she’s much more worried about Mike. I promise I’ll call him and go back and look for him. I’ll be honest, I don’t think anything has happened to him, he wasn’t on a tricky part of the route. I’m expecting him to have moved on to the next check point. But Emma’s running a 100 miles and run about 80 miles at this point and I’m only going to do the thing that puts her mind at ease fastest. It takes me 40 minutes to get back to where Mike should be – no, I wasn’t lost, it was fiddly. I’m literally 2 minutes away (sigh!) when he calls to say Emma hasn’t arrived and he’s moved on to the next check point. I explain where I saw her, turn the car around and head for lunch. 30 minutes later Mike calls again. She’s not arrived. This is concerning. Have they missed each other again? Is she lost on the Cotswold way? Is she hurt? She hasn’t got water or communications, as her phone isn’t working. I go to the furthest point I think she could be, park the car and start walking back. I agree to meet Mike at a monument on the way but, he decides to wait a little longer. I’m asking everyone if they’ve seen a thirsty looking woman, with red curly hair, running the Cotswold way.
Then, they are both coming towards me on the path. And there’s just a bit of an atmosphere.
Apparently, they were waiting for each other in different places. Emma’s frustrated,
“I don’t know, I don’t know if I can make it up the hill.”
I figure annoyance will power her to the second option (but, obviously, don’t say that). We make some quick decisions and I join them on the run back to the car. Its gorgeous and I’m bounding with joy at being out in the fresh air and having found Emma. The tension quickly lifts. But don’t mistake me, that is not happening in Africa. I get back in the car and muddle around in single track lanes before arriving for lunch 2 minutes after Emma and Mike, who are both cheery when I meet up with them (I reckon they’ve been on the gels again).
My mum arrives with chocolate brownies, which makes everyone happy. Emma and Mike go for ice cream at the farm shop.
After lunch, dinner and campsite are sorted quickly, I’m half an hour early in idyllic quiet Broadway, reading the manual for Cleopatra. Emma and Mike come companionably up the road. I join Emma and run to the start of a hill. Then, Mike and I scoot back to the car, load up the bike and drive to the top (cheeky). We’re all getting giddy, the end is so close.
Unpacking the bike. I wait to film Emma as the sun begins to set.
The fields are a gorgeous colour of yellow flowers, set against green, on one side of me is a fading pink sky and on the other an almost full moon. Cars are rare and, mostly, all I can hear is the wind and the birds. I stop for a film shot, as I realise Emma will run right past me and then, race her the last 2 miles to the finish. Parking up the car in quiet and serene Chipping Campden, I head back down the Cotswold way with the camera.
Dusk, and Emma comes round the corner, friendly and smiling as normal. Jogging and filming is ridiculous. Emma’s more worried about me falling over whilst filming than the fact she’s run 40 miles in one day. You’d think she had run only a mile or maybe two. I run with her the last 100 yards. We can’t find where it officially finishes and wander around a bit confused. To be safe, Emma taps the War Memorial and Tourist Information. (The official point is the War Memorial.) 107 miles run in 3 days. Total running time: 23 hours and 38 minutes including detours and waiting.
To celebrate we opt for beers and wine in the tent and, a lie in in the morning.
Special Thank yous to:
Hayley for putting us up and feeding us on Thursday night, helping me set up camp and cook, and bringing lots of laughter.
Lukas and Jay (Mini-Max Garage) for advising me on what to do with Cleopatra.
Hayles Fruit Farm for letting us snooze in their car park and charging my phone.
Things I learnt:
Emma is never allowed off on her own, I know she’s done it before in South Africa but its a risk I’m not willing to take.
Emma needs a better water system so she can run and carry her own water.
I need a warmer sleeping bag and coat.
Mike needs regular brews.
We need bigger cooking pots.
We need a way to keep everything charged.
The best map we can find is essential and don’t rely on electrical equipment.
We’re a great team already. There will always be hiccups and annoyances but Emma and Mike are two of the nicest people you can meet. And Emma will always find a reason to laugh. They’re both pretty handy too.
I need a friend in the car before this talking to myself or the car gets out of hand.