Shoes Optional – A barefoot runner’s journey along the length of Britain – Prologue

This is the part of books that I seldom read.  I skip them and get right down to the business of getting my head in to the story, but I guess some will want to know about the training, the mental preparation and how it all ended up coming together in the end, despite the relaxed approach.  If you don’t want to be bored by details like training methodology, how I managed to get sponsors and the journey to Land’s End, I suggest you stop reading after the word ‘starts’, because here is where that information starts.

It’s 12:30am and I feel like death.  Food won’t go down, I feel like I have eaten far too much and not drank enough, but I have more hill reps to complete.  Why the hell, did I chose to run up and down the same small section of hill repeatedly?  Why on earth did I not check the distance of the loop before I started so that I could actually get the distance right?

After 2 days I managed to raise £182 and all because people thought it was a ridiculous idea!

After 2 days I managed to raise £182 and all because people thought it was a ridiculous idea!

And the ticket I ended on because I was told to stop. If I was on my own I would have carried on!!!

And the ticket I ended on because I was told to stop. If I was on my own I would have carried on!!!

You’re wandering what the hell I’m on about… Well, at some point I asked friends how I could raise some money for a charitable school trip and one friend suggested hill reps at a cost of one rep per £1.  What I didn’t comprehend was that the hill reps should be done on a daily basis and not all in one go, so I collected £1 per hill rep and in less than 2 weeks managed to sell 752 rep tickets.  That equated to 75.2 miles or so I thought.  More money did get donated and in the end £2100 was raised for a good cause.  The problem was that the loop I was running wasn’t 0.1 miles in length.  It was 0.2 and after 40 miles of running my soul got squashed as I found out that I’d only done 200 reps!  There are lots of choice words I could use to describe how I felt but I had made the decision to complete this ridiculous challenge and my mind was set.

At some point I recall saying to one of the people who had joined me that next time, I’m running form one place to another.  The whole hill reps idea felt like an utter farce and what was worse was that I had people there counting reps as I slowly ran round in circles.  This is where decision two came in…  I would do it on my own if I did a charity run again.  No one to annoy or have tagging along wasting their time.  I could only think of one thing to do and that was to run form Land’s End to john O’Groats.  Now, in hindsight, I should have done it earlier in my life.  The lessons I learnt about myself would have saved lots of disappointment, annoyance and heart break, but this is all with hind sight.  In other words, a waste of words.

One of those pensive moments where I stopped and thought

One of those pensive moments where I stopped and thought “why didn’t I get here years ago?”

This whole ridiculous task ended, 652 laps completed, 75 miles ran and the same amount of ascent as Mount Fuji in under 23 hours.  But I wasn’t happy.  There was something important missing and I felt like I’d wasted peoples time in what was no more than a one man, run around show!

The next thing was the consideration of being barefoot, which for me was really a case of thinking to myself whether its possible to do such a long trip without proper shoes and then realising that it makes the run special and so attracts more potential donations.  It would be a waste to carryout such a selfish challenge without allowing it to do some good along the way, and having lost my grandfather not too long ago, the decision to support Stroke Association was a no brainer.  All I had to do was train without really making a big deal, announce what I was planning near the time and then work on trying to get people to get involved.  The latter was the most time consuming thing ever.  It’s not good enough to say ‘I’m going to do X and no one has done it before” if you are a ‘nobody’, and without the help of Peter Ambrose, a running friend who happened to know Bob Cartwright from backpackinglight, this wouldn’t have ever been possible.  With this spot of good fortune I ended up cutting my pack weight down by around 4kg!  It made the trip a definite possibly in the 6 week time constraints placed on me by my job.

In that small backpack was everything you need to survive. Amazing what we don't need in life really.

In that small backpack was everything you need to survive. Amazing what we don’t need in life really.

Im not sure I can truly call the training I did training.  I had fun, ran up mountains, took photos, completed some ultras and generally did things that were stupid, like running 30 miles with full gear before taking part in a 5k trail relay with my running club, Buxton AC.  I was amazed at how well my body was adapting and repairing itself after tough sessions.  The fact that I finished a 21 miles fell race, in sub-zero conditions without any shoes on filled me with confidence, and the whole barefoot or sandalled running seemed to leave me in a state that allowed my to run the day after an ultra!!  Now, don’t band me with runners who extol the virtues of their techniques.

Edale Skyline completed barefoot. Harsh conditions and 7 MRT call outs yet without shoes I managed to finish the race.

Edale Skyline completed barefoot. Harsh conditions and 7 MRT call outs yet without shoes I managed to finish the race.

I’m not interested in what others run in or not run in.  I simply enjoy getting out, running on the gnarliest terrain I can find and finding routes that no one else will run or everyone else calls ‘unrunnable’.

Somehow, despite my reputation for being disorganised, despite having no more than £400 to use on food and potential spare equipment on the run, I seem to have started and finished.  So I guess next is the point where I tell the story of the run and fill in the gaps between the lines of the various blog posts I made along the way.

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