Welcome to John O Groats

Sunday 11th October 2020 3.51pm

Back in April during the early days of lockdown, I felt that I needed a challenge. As the world around us was changing each day and uncertainty loomed with how, when, and if normality would return, I knew I had to engage in what was normal to me. My MRI scan to determine how knee operation number 14 would be approached was postponed so I knew I had time to still do something crazy in the meantime. 

I had seen on Facebook that friends had joined a virtual challenge to run / walk the 874 miles from Lands End to John O Groats in 6 months. Thinking at the time that this was completely ludicrous and commending them on such a challenge, I began to think about what it would entail. Some quick calculation of covering 5 miles a day, or 35 miles per week put me off. I knew I had the level of fitness to cover the ground, but would these knees sustain that level of running? This is where my head came into play and this is what usually overrules any physical boundary or barrier and wins out. It was not long after that I found myself signing up and looking forward to starting on Monday 4th May, 42 days into lockdown. 

I had already run 397 miles during the first 4 months of the year so considered this as a warm up to what would follow. Those who have followed my journey will know that I have to move, and putting one foot in front of the other is what drives me, but more importantly is what keeps me going mentally. Running is not the all out solution for mental illness, yet it is an important cog that has turn for me to function on the level that I do. There are other cogs which turn alongside this which acting together provide me with the propulsion to get me moving. Being used to spinning plates, I was still working on my Post Graduate Diploma / MSc in Sports Medicine, and also decided to move house at the end of May. Other shite still spun around my head, but the busyness of everything ensured that I kept focused on what I was doing. I spent May painting every interior wall of my new 3 bedroom house, working on research papers, walking Olly, loading up my apartment in preparation to move, and also, somehow managing to run 162.9 miles, hitting 44 miles in the first week of the challenge. As I write this, I have no idea how I managed to do what I did as I left Lands End up the A30.

During the early stages of this challenge, lockdown prevented me running with friends or my run club. Parkrun had been put on hold, we were restricted to locality and there was a quietness and stillness about being out. I ran up and down what would have been busy streets, the rush hour traffic was non existent and with freedom I made the most of open roads. Prior to moving I found new routes, explored different areas and would often end my run at the local shop or Tesco so I didn’t have to venture out again that day, apart from with Olly. I will always remember this time, not only because of the devastating affects of COVID-19 but how it became a turning point for me mentally. Many people talk about lockdown having a detrimental impact on their mental wellbeing but for me, I found quite the opposite. The challenge I was undertaking, the running I was doing to achieve this and how academic study saw me flourish in different directions. 

Up until recently, I have always been a lone runner; whilst I still am, I very much enjoy going out with my friends and joining up with run club. As lockdown restrictions eased, it felt good to be around people again and feel part of the community or group running. Just seeing people out running again from a distance kept me motivated as each day I ate away at the miles.

I had no set structure or plan for this challenge. I kept the figure of 35 miles per week in the back of my head, and if I was hitting this then there was no concern. I did not run everyday, some days I simply could not be bothered, or more likely it was raining. My motivation wavered, and over the last 6-8 weeks I hit injury and illness, both of which sidelined me. When I could not run, I walked to make up the miles. Olly dog became a big part of this, as we walked along beaches, in the woods and through the park. Thankfully, he loves a coffee shop stop as much as me and when seating areas opened back up, then there was no stopping us.

Today, we finished our challenge, I say ‘we’ as Olly deserves a medal too. I ran alone this morning adding over 5 miles to the pot, then this afternoon, Olly joined my for the last couple of miles as we crossed the virtual finish line together (after a coffee shop stop).

I would like to tell Olly to rest up now we are in John O Groats, but as we are in the virtual world I still have another virtual challenge to complete. In June I signed up to run 870 miles around the Welsh Costal Path. Only another 317 miles to go.

Then it is a matter of Ironman and Ironpup training. I won’t tell Olly this just yet.

5 mile run out this morning
Coffee shop stop for hot chocolate, water and treats – Almost there Olly. Just up the hill to the end

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