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.
The last two months have been full of highs and lows. I’ve had times where I’ve felt like I was ready tostart the Africa run right there and then, and there have been times where I have doubted that I’ll be able to start at all.
April began on a massive high with the completion of our beautiful logo. One of my best friends in the world designed it for us. She isn’t a graphic designer but obviously she has massive talent in that department and really should be doing this type of work. I gave her a very complicated spec and she made a logo which completely matched what I had asked for. Fortunately for us she has more of an eye for these things than I do as what I had asked for didn’t really look as good as I had envisioned. She then put her own twist on what I had requested and made what has turned out to be a vibrant, creative representation of what our trip is about. Big thank you Alison Mouncey, you are absolutely incredible!
The next big high came from completing a 107 mile run along the Cotswold Way. I won’t go into too much detail about this again as you can read accounts by each member of the team in our previous blogs. This was a massive success for the team and we learnt a lot about how we need to work together and what kit we need to get sorted before we leave.
The completion of the Cotswold Way came with a massive low for me. The first part of it being the emptiness that I always seem to feel when something I have been planning for a while comes to an end. But the more worrying thing was that in the last mile and a half of the run my left knee started to hurt. I had been worried about this knee as I suffered with some tendon problems throughout my Freedom Run. Since this happened I have been seeing my physio, Michelle Pennell, and she has been treating me for cartilage damage. Hopefully, with treatment and the exercises I have been working on I should still be able to complete my Africa run. So for most of April, my training became mostly based on short slow runs and lots of time spent stretching, icing, exercising, sitting with a hot water bottle on my butt etc, and not the longer distances I was hoping for.
Motivation was improved when I got invited to the Berghaus Trail Running Team weekend in the Lake District. Again, the there is a separate blog you can read about this event. It was great to meet a group of people who also love to run in the outdoors, and hear about their stories, adventures and goals.
April total mileage: 217.5 miles
April longest run: 40 miles
At the beginning of May I had just started to try to increase my mileage after learning to deal with my knee problems. When along comes another injury, I pulled my right calf quite badly. I don’t know how I managed to do this, whether I had done something in my clumsiness, or if it might be due to overcompensating on one leg due to the knee injury. Anyway, however it happened, it wasn’t pleasant and I ended up having most of a week off of training. And again spending a lot of time resting, icing, stretching etc.
Thankfully, my calf repaired itself just in time for the Mow Cop Killer mile. Which lead to the next ‘high’. Me and Mike were first male and first female in our race that we entered. If anyone fancies a gruelling hard slog up a steep hill, I would definitely recommend this race!
May has been a weird month for weather as well. I don’t know if everyone else is the same but my motivation completely disappears when its cold and rainy. There have been a few days where the weather has been fantastic but typically those are the days where I have been working long hours or had other jobs that I need to get done so can’t run. The days where I am able to get long runs in have been dismal. I suppose I need to get used to this and man-up as the summer doesn’t look very positive this year. Its going to be a shock when I get to Africa!
As I write this I am feeling in control of the injuries that I have and they aren’t causing me too much grief. As long as I keep up with all the instructions I have been given by Michelle I am feeling pretty positive about things. Me and Mike have entered our first marathon at the end of June so fingers crossed I don’t injure myself again and my fitness improves before then. Bring on the summer!
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.
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 every 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.
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!
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!
So, 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.
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’ve 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.
My 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.
So 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!
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.
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.