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.
I absolutely couldn’t believe it when I received an email saying that I had been shortlisted for the Berghaus Trail Running Team. I had actually only entered on a whim as I genuinely had absolutely no expectation of getting shortlisted. But I did, so… yeah!!!
I was super lucky to be able get a lift up to the Lakes with Rebecca Dent, not only is she a wealth of knowledge about sports nutrition, but she is also the loveliest person ever (and a trail runner). And along with us was the cheeky chappy Barnaby.
After tackling the motorway we arrived at Helvellyn Youth Hostel (YHA) bright and early. Once registered and armed with our sticky name tags we all bundled into the conference room. We were individually called outside to have a portrait photo taken. With the wind behind me I have no doubt that mine will look similar to a ball of red candifloss with two eyes lurking within.
After photos, we then had the opportunity to hear all about Berghaus and their involvement with the team. We learned how they design their clothing and equipment around specific disciplines, we even had the chance to have a little play with some of their new products. Then the same with Torq, who gave us a really insightful talk about fuelling for long distance running, and gave us freebies!!! This was followed the amazing Steve Birkinshaw. He is one of the UK’s best ultra distance runners. The best thing that I learned from him is that you can be an amazing runner and still enjoy the odd pint in the pub after! Helene Whitaker was the final person we heard from. She was such a delight to listen to, so inspiring. She has completed the Dragons Back race, twice, and twenty years apart. She is truly an inspiration to me.
From listening to all of these speakers, the main tip that I went away with was that it’s really important that you refuel your body within 30minutes of completing your days run/exercise. It doesn’t matter what it is that you are putting in but you need to be getting some fuel in.
Sadly the day had to end at some point, but it ended on a high with a group run up the fells. We only had 45minutes to run so we didn’t go very far but it was a brilliant opportunity to chat with all the other entrants and to hear their individual stories. Thankfully, as you see from the photo, the sun came out so everybody was smiling. When we reached the top, a few crazy folk decided to pop into the lake for a paddle (looked a tad too chilly for my liking!). After cooling off we headed back down to the YHA. I was one of the last to get back. I just don’t know how people seem to gallop downhill so easily!
Back at the YHA, I sat down briefly and chatted with a few other runners, before saying goodbye. I also had a look through the new magazine ‘Like the Wind’, with stories from other incredible and inspiring runners its definitely worth a read. Unfortunately that was the end for me, Rebecca and Barnaby, and we slowly made our way back down the motorway to Manchester.
Thank you to everybody that put the day together and everybody that I met. I have come away from the day even more motivated and with a greater love for running.
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.