Thoughts on finishing my first marathon

Well, to say I was desperately under-prepared is to put it mildly. I hadn’t trained properly due to two hospital stays in the five weeks leading up to it. This meant that at a best guess, I have probably run about four times in the past month. Not what you’d call ‘training runs’ either, between nine and thirteen miles each time. This may initially sound like a lot but when you consider that a marathon requires you to run thirteen miles twice, it adds up to a rather forlorn picture.

There I was this morning, at Beachy Head, feeling pretty chilled cause I had no illusions that I was going to do well. I was simply interested to see what my little legs would do, at what point they would give out and send me shame-faced, back to get my bag, having dropped out from sheer despair. I had downloaded an array of audiobooks so that I would have anything my brain could want to keep me going. I was wearing a completely inadequate bra for running in because I had forgotten to pack a sports one. Everyone around me had Camelpaks and belt things which looked like they should have guns in but actually had bottles of water and snack bars and gels. They were fiddling with GPS watches and Ipods and advising each other which hills to walk and which to run and talking about how they wanted to aim for ‘sub four hours’. In short, everyone looked prepared and raring to go. In comparison I had a raincoat tied around my waist, my ‘barefoot’ shoes on and nothing in my hands. Nothing. I wasn’t even wearing a watch. I was amused at my own audacity at even having arrived at the start line.

Before too long, we were counted down and off we went. The first thing that happened was the steepest hill I’ve maybe ever climbed in my life.

After our flurry of activity leaving the start, we all accepted the inevitable and slowed to a walk, even the speedy Gonzales’ up front. Once we had crested that hill, I expected we’d be able to get running but the incline continued steadily and I was determined not to go until it evened out or I would end up using all my energy in the first mile.

Finally we were able to pick up speed and the sight-seeing began. It really is a beautiful part of the world and we were running on the South Downs for the majority of the route. When I reached the 4 mile marker and had some water, I was genuinely surprised that I was making ok time. Considering the large amount of walking that I had done, I expected it to be the afternoon already.

The path leading away from the water station was steep and rocky so again we filed up the hillside at walking pace. The stony pathways were starting to bug me as, with my minimalist shoes, I felt every annoyingly spiky stone, stabbing the soles of my feet. I had it easy, however, as I found a real barefooter at this stage.

“O god, these stones must be so annoying for you!”

“Yeh, I didn’t realise it would be this stony.”

“Me neither,” I said, then revealed conspiratorially, “I didn’t read up about the route or anything. I’m so unprepared.”

I don’t imagine I needed to tell him this, given my general look of having brought nothing and prepared nothing.

When I reached the 8.8 mile marker I was again surprised that it was not nightfall yet and that I seemed to be making alright time. Most surprisingly, however, is that I was genuinely enjoying the views and being outside surrounded by such beauty. I kept looking around, grinning and stopping to take photos.

I was able to appreciate things external to myself. I had expected to have withdrawn into my head by this point and be fighting a losing battle to persuade myself to keep going and that the end was getting nearer the whole time. But I didn’t need to. I felt fine. My legs felt fine. My mind felt fine. So on I went, rather pleased with myself.

At the mile 12.2 marker, we went through a little village and loads of people had come out to cheer us on and clap and say encouraging things like, “Come on 1142! Keep going, looking good! You’re doing well!” Suddenly I got all puffy-chested and picked my feet up a little more and lifted my head up and smiled at my adoring fans like I was Mo Farah. I powered on through that village, eager to show them my sporting prowess. I heard whisperings of hot cross buns up ahead and that was all I needed to speed things up even more, arriving at what felt like a million miles an hour and filling both hands with hot cross buns before heading off to chomp en route.

We passed the white horse in the distance and I photographed it to show you all but I can’t remember what the story is behind it. Anyone who knows is welcome to inform me. I just know that it’s carved into the side of the hill and it’s famous. You’ll have to really squint to see it. It’s just left of centre.

At mile 16.7, a lady said, “Oo, look at those,” about my shoes and asked me about them. I had a good old chat with her about how I feel I run better in them, how my legs felt totally fine and I felt on top of things. She said, “Yeh, you look amazing. You realise you’ve run 16 miles?!” I hadn’t and I got a bit puffy-chested again from the compliment. Only ten miles to go and I still hadn’t collapsed in a shivering wreck of nerves and broken limbs. Something was going right, strangely enough.

There were no more markers after this but somewhere before I overheard talk of 19 miles, we had two stair climbs – a fairly small one and then a huge one. I could hear people saying, “O, is this the 204 steps?” and I thought to myself, “Should have read the race info.” I had no idea there was a 204 stair climb. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be actually. Lots of people were hanging onto the railing for dear life and panting heavily but I just looked down and stepped and stepped til it was done.

Thus began, the Seven Sisters. Yes, another point at which everyone else seemed to know what was going on (“How many have we done? Three?”) while I powered down hills and crawled up hills and wondered when it would end. It was about hill six when I heard someone say, “Almost finished the Seven Sisters,” and realised, again, that I should have read the race info beforehand. At the last hill, a man passed me by in the other direction and said encouragingly that it was the last of the Seven Sisters. I stopped to chat (any excuse!) and he explained the rest of the route to me, saying it wasn’t far to the finish. He appeared again, miraculously, about ten minutes later as I approached a food station and walked with me. He said he also runs in minimalist shoes and had done the 10k that morning. I mentioned how stony paths ruined any illusions of running as you just can’t get up any speed when you are feeling every stone. He kindly offered me a banana and said encouraging things about how I’d finish the marathon, no problem. Feeling buoyed up by this, I pottered off to the food station (“O god, there are people around, I should run in case they’re watching.”) and immediately located the cake supply. Two hands full, quick drink of water, on I went.

Something happened at this stage. Because I knew I was so close to the end, only four miles or so, and was still feeling fine, I got all complacent and started to treat it like a stroll in the countryside.

I strode purposefully but feeling no great need to actually turn it into running. I was winning at life and I did not have to prove myself to anybody. Plus, it was my first ever marathon. If I got a slow time, it would make it more easily beatable at my next marathon. It was a strategic move, you see? Not laziness.

Seeing a photographer up ahead when I was a few miles from finishing, I said to the lady next to me, “Come on, we’d better run, he’s taking pictures!” Laughing as we noticed the people behind us doing the same thing, we ran and kept up the momentum for the next long slow uphill. Fortunately I was actually moving with a little speed when I saw the man from earlier clapping and shouting, “Come on, Vibrams!” (I was wearing Vibrams.)

Finally, some marshals directing us around a corner said, “Only one mile to go,” and I couldn’t believe it. Without feeling like I’d put myself through any great difficulty, I’d pottered a distance of 25.2 miles at an alright time. I checked with my mind and I was feeling pretty good, not despairing or desperate for it to be over. I checked with my legs and they were good too, no big aches or pains at all. I checked with my feet and ankles and, while they were feeling a little weary, they were by no means about to go on strike. It was all really rather surprising.

As I rounded another corner, I saw the mammoth hill we had walked up at the very beginning and the red finish line and scampered down, eager to finish. As it levelled out, I sped up, faster than I think I’ve ever run in my life, and shot like a bullet to the finish line, claps and cheers accompanying me as I overtook the other runners. I barrelled into the finish area and a waiting medal giver-outer called me back, saying that if I went off without my medal, I’d have to go all the way round again in order to get one!

It all felt quite surreal afterward. I located my bag and went to change out of my running clothes then, with a few hours until my train, I went back to the finish line to clap the other runners in. For some reason, seeing the others finish kept reminding me of my own finish and I started to feel a bit emotional, turning to make my way to the station with tears in my eyes (I always cry after running long distances, it seems).

So there you have it. A surprisingly ok marathon after nowhere near enough training, the wrong bra and not reading any of the race info.

A Farewell To Facebook

It’s hard to know where to start with this. Like a break-up, there’s so much that needs to be said. Like a relationship that has soured, I am becoming someone I don’t want to be when I am with you, Facebook. I am unable to distinguish whether I am proud of myself because of certain achievements or I only become proud when I have shown the world the achievement and the world has given me a thumbs-up. Do I feel real pride in myself if there are no ‘likes’? I’m not sure any more. I’m starting to fear that the things I don’t like in the world around me are creeping into my own behaviour. Selfie sticks, statuses that let everyone know I just got home from work and am knackered, a need to photographically record significant moments, a resulting inability to assess what are significant moments and what are simply moments. Moments that probably don’t need sharing.

Because they’re not interesting to anyone else apart from me?

Because they don’t accurately represent my real life?

Because some things should be private?

Because privacy is an alien concept?

I worry about the version of my life that people see if they look at my Facebook. It’s not my real life and I don’t want people to think it is. Although, I don’t necessarily want people to know what my real life does consist of. I feel that in this age of recording obsessively, privacy and reality will be the last vestiges of sanity. In years to come, we will wonder why we needed to tell hundreds of people when we felt ill or excited. It will seem odd, embarrassing. Those momentary bursts of anger that we shared will now exist in the ether forever. Long after we would have moved on, the words we wrote sit there for everyone to see. When we have such an open view into each other’s homes, relationships, children, the space we spend away from Facebook will become the space we most treasure.

Even this post is a puzzle to me. Am I writing it because I really want to leave Facebook or am I writing it because I want people to see me doing it and, thus, in some strange way, admire it, giving me my required dose of outside approval? If I really wanted to leave Facebook, would I be doing it so publicly? I don’t know anymore. Simply being self-aware doesn’t make one immune to the forces that pull us all toward the desire to share.

Is the desire to share a bad thing in itself? I don’t know that either. I only know that something about it doesn’t sit right with my soul. I feel down in my bones that, while I love keeping up with what friends are doing, I sometimes find myself losing vast amounts of hours scrolling down my news feed and this is not a good thing. I’m just scrolling down…. down… down…. Looking…. And I’m not sure what I’m looking for. I never find it. I’m just killing time.

What a ridiculous concept, that I would need to kill time. I’m at a point in my life when I have finally decided to embrace the thing I have always wanted to do, since I can remember ever thinking about it. I am writing. I would like to be a full time writer. For my job.

There. It’s out.

It may go nowhere. You may never hear of my name connected to something that is successful. That’s not really why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because of the need to be honest about who I am and what I want to do.

To become a writer, I need to write. I have things in my head that I am constantly contemplating. I read lots of different books at the same time, to fill my head with as many styles and ideas and words as possible, to develop as a writer. My spare time is spent reading, writing, running, thinking. Or rather, it should be spent doing that.

What am I doing instead? Facebook. I can feel myself wasting my valuable time and I wonder when I’ll realise that the trade-off is no longer worth it. I am distracting myself from the thing I most want in life because I’ve deemed it necessary to share the 17 mile run I just did. The 17 mile run exists, regardless of whether I share it or not. I’m not sure that I truly appreciate this fact.

A holiday is still enjoyable even if I don’t tell anyone it happened. A relationship is still full of love even if I don’t change my status to ‘in a relationship’ online. It is still possible create and leave something behind in the world without the relentless pursuit of an online persona. And if my writing is good, it will still find an audience even if I don’t post a link on my Facebook account.

And so, I have made a decision… I think. I have decided to suspend my relationship with Facebook. We’re taking a break from each other until I have finished what I’m working on. I can no longer justify the Facebook hours while my half-baked ideas go undeveloped and unwritten. If I can think reasonably about you after this break, we might get back together but it might be that we’re better off apart. Let’s see, Facebook. Let’s just see.


Why it’s not just about the fun

It’s a strange concept, taking time off work (very unusual for me) and spending money and effort for something that, ultimately, I wouldn’t say was ‘fun.’

My Wellington Run has taken a while to digest but I’ve finally arrived with a solid understanding that it was a very very good thing to have done. Although a part of my brain knew this when I finished, I couldn’t really embrace it because of how much I wanted to sit down and eat cake. Some days it wasn’t really fun, day 2 for example. Day 2 was rough. I just had this overwhelming need to stop. The miles yawned out in front and I couldn’t seem to cover much ground. I ate a huge portion of my supplies and wondered about quitting. That day alone was not fun.

The next day was different. I smiled at horses in fields. There was much less stopping and my end point for the day was a beautiful farmhouse in the countryside. But again, that wasn’t really ‘fun’. Fun is the wrong word. I was doing well and I felt good. It’s different to fun, which is weird because I’ve identified with ‘fun’ for so long now. I don’t have children, I don’t have any big expenses like a house or a car that have forced me to do office jobs I don’t like in order to have money to pay for expensive things. I live a surprisingly selfish life. I only really do things I want to. And the things I choose to do tend to be things that I find ‘fun.’ Hence, ‘fun’ is my first check when I’m doing something.

‘Is this fun?’ If the answer is no, I generally stop.

Running has kind of broken the rules here though. When you first run, ‘fun’ probably isn’t how you’d describe it. It’s achievement, rather than fun.

When I think about my Wellington Run, it’s easier for me to view it as a whole now, as a thing I thought about then did. A thing that nobody else has ever done. No-one has chosen those roads and paths or started and finished in those locations or sat in that field and cried, trying to complete the mission. I invented the mission. And then I completed it.

It’s bigger than fun. It’s also more important than fun. It’s the knowledge of yourself. It’s knowing that you can power yourself to the coast of England, with no help, just your own little legs. I think we all know that any of us could do what I did. I’m not particularly special in my abilities, only in that I was brave/stupid enough to test those abilities in the way I did.

As a journey that I undertook from start to finish, I now view it as one hazy green forward motion. The fact that day 2 was really hard is meaningless in the overarching whole that was the 90 mile run to Walmer Castle. That’s why I got a bit overexcited the other day and signed myself up to a few (yes, a FEW!) marathons. I imagine it’s like the memory loss about childbirth that people get when they decide to have a second child, even though having the first was crazy painful.

My lasting impressions are of having spent four and a half days immersed in greens and blues, of seeing step by step the best that England has to offer. To run is to be part of your environment in the best way possible. It is to really love, really really love, the outdoors, with a craving that lingers down in your bones. It is as far from the associations I have with the word ‘exercise’ as you can get. It’s more primal, I think. It just kicks in and once you understand it, there is a basic need to run in order to repeat it, again and again.

So the next twelve months are about marathons (crazy, I know!) and during that time, I think I will plan another solo adventure. (I’m open to suggestions, by the way.) Here’s to more non-fun! Try it.

What it’s like to run almost 90 miles (AKA sometimes you just do things)

Last week, some of you might remember that I gave you a helpful 10 point guide to planning a long run. Using it, you’ve probably got your own long runs planned, right? I thought so.

My run began on Sunday June 14th and, thankfully on time, I reached Walmer Castle on Thursday 18th. (Sorry, should have said ‘spoiler alert’ there, to let you know that I did actually make it. There was no guarantee of this, you see.)

So what is it like to run almost 90 miles?

Erm. It’s hard to know, really. Mentally, I’m one of the feeblest runners I know. When I cheat at doing press-ups at Project Awesome, I can hear a little voice inside my head going, “You’re only cheating yourself,” and then another one, which goes, “Yes. And I’m fine with that.” I’ve made my peace with my cheating complaining ways because surely if no-one sees you, it’s like it didn’t happen, right? Surely by simply attending Project Awesome sessions, my arms will get stronger?

Given that this is my general state, what on earth did I think I was doing, attempting to run 90 miles by myself to a castle on the coast?! I’m not sure really, other than a quote I’m about to steal from ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, “Sometimes you just do things.”

My levels of preparedness were despairingly low prior to leaving. As mentioned in my last post, I used the bag once and cut my back to pieces so I stopped using it, in order to heal, so that when I hauled it’s heavy bulk onto my back on Sunday 14th, it was the second time that it and I had ever touched. I had not prepared my mind, other than expecting there to be some serious ‘deep thinking’ en route, and perhaps even some ‘midlife crisis’-ing. I had known there would be about 20 miles per day to cover, which would take me about 4 hours, and that there would be all the other daylight hours to fill with my inevitable musings on life. Here’s what actually happened.

Day 1

The big day had arrived! There was no getting away from it now. Shit.

I went to Apsley House, my starting point, where I happened to know that the staff there have bacon sandwiches every Sunday morning before work begins. A bacon sandwich seemed like the very worst way to start a long run as I’d be thirsty as soon as I started running and I knew I had to smash through 23 miles my first day. So of course, I delayed my intended start time by an hour and ate a bacon sandwich.

I got on my way by 10am and ran into town, to Waterloo station for the photo opportunity.


Then I headed out of town towards Eltham to meet a work colleague for a coffee. I was half an hour later than we had originally arranged because bacon. He understood. I had been thinking to myself, on the run there, “I’ll get some water first, cause I’ll be thirsty then. And maybe a coffee to perk me up.” It was harder going than I had thought it would be, with the pack weighing quite a lot, causing me to crash into the ground more forcefully than usual on every step and resemble some kind of unstable human train crash about to happen. You know what I mean, you’ve all seen those runners.

When I got there, I obviously ordered a huge strawberry milkshake thing that was full of sugary crap. Good choices you’re making today, Laura. Good choices.

I remember optimistically telling my colleague over milkshake that I only had another 13 miles to do that day, which I could split into two.

“I’ll do six miles from here, which will take just over an hour, then I can stop for a good hour or so then do seven miles when I get going again.”

Haha, the happy naivete of day 1! I chuckle just thinking about it!

The hard lesson that day 1 taught me is that progress with a big heavy pack and legs that have already run double figures is not like running a half marathon with hundreds of other people and carrying only a water bottle! I didn’t actually realise this lesson until I finished my entire run. I continued, for four and a half days, to be baffled by my drearily slow progress across the map. See what I mean, about not having mentally prepared?

My watch recently broke and the pocket on my bag which held my phone was too far around to easily reach so I just stumbled on forwards until I felt like I really must sit down. There was a small grassy bank next to the road so I trotted over and sank down in a heap on the floor, not bothering to take the bag off. I bloody couldn’t anyway! I had strapped it on so tight, to avoid it moving around that the whole procedure of getting it off started to be more trouble than it was worth. I just had to get used to it being there, it was my home, like a snail. There was one pocket on the side that I could reach, the pocket which held the chocolate coffee beans. I would squidge my arm around until it felt like it would surely break, wiggle my fingers slightly in the pocket and, if lucky, dislodge a bean or two which would usually roll onto the floor. I would snatch it up like naughty child and stuff it in my face. I don’t ever remember feeling any effects after eating the beans. I just used needing one as an excuse to stop and sit down. (As though I would need an excuse!)

I remember the place names running through my head. Swanley, I need to head toward Swanley, then Eynsford. Look for signs to Eynsford. From Eynsford, it’s only 4 miles to Otford. At Otford, we stop. I can’t wait to stop. I should stop for a break now. No, go a little further. There are still 9 more miles in this day before we finish. It’s 3pm….! Wait, what?! It’s 3pm! Am I moving forwards or backwards? I left Eltham two hours ago. How have I only moved 4 miles?! O god. Am I lost? What if I’m lost? No, I’m not lost. I know I’m not. I should probably stop to check though. 

And thus, the habit of stopping at any available opportunity was thoroughly embedded into my days. Mentally, I never tackled that, that need to stop all the time. If I had to make it somewhere with a deadline, I wouldn’t. But if I was left to my own devices? Bloody useless. (But I NEEEEEEED some chocolate coffee beans!)

When I finally chugged into Eynsford, I yelped unexpectedly and felt the odd kind of liberation that comes from making loud noises when you’ve mainly spent the day inside your own head chanting town names and mileages to yourself over and over. This feeling would see me through many a long mile the next few days. There was a little canal and some children with rolled up trousers playing in it and I immediately went over, stripped off my shoes and socks and sunk my little red feet in, ankle deep. It was divine.

It was getting on for 5pm and, in the general spirit of the trip, I hadn’t booked a place to stay in Otford. Obviously I hadn’t. As I ran into Otford, I felt totally elated. 23 miles! Aaaaamazing! I rule the world. I RULE THE WORLD!

I saw a country pub and, counting my blessings, went inside to inquire about how much rooms cost.

“We don’t have rooms, love. I’m sorry.”

“Ok, no problem. Where’s the nearest place?”

“Oo…. um….” the barman looked at the men standing at the bar and they all looked a little bit puzzled. “A lot of places have stopped doing accommodation recently. O, there is a little place called Michael’s Diner. It’s about three miles up the road.”

That’s when another thing which seemed to happen a lot on the run happened for the first time. My little eyes welled up and I croaked out, “Whereabouts is that, please?”

He proceeded to tell me the directions to the place which was three miles in the wrong direction from where I wanted to be the next day so I thanked him, went outside, sat down on a wall and cried while googling towns in the right direction for tomorrow’s run. The next town along was called Kemsing so, for lack of other options, I headed in that direction, adding another two miles on to my day and wondering if my body might just give up and I might die of exhaustion halfway between the two, in someone’s front garden.

On the way, I called the only B&B in Kemsing that I could find on Google. Obviously they were full so I couldn’t stay with them. So now I’m running down a country lane as the light is fading, I’m crying (quite audibly) and I’m thoroughly exhausted. I just want someone to FEED ME and let me SLEEP. Surely there’s SOMEONE who can rescue me, sniffle sniffle, loud gulps and gasps. That’s when I remember that the full up B&B had mentioned another place in Kemsing called…. what was it called? I was too busy trying to get off the phone so that I could indulge in some hardcore crying that I forgot to listen. From somewhere deep in my brain I remembered. Park Lane B&B.

Google gave me the phone number and a woman told me that yes, I could stay with her for the night.

Cue violin playing and angels flying down and bright rays of sunlight as I float along to her house and arrive at the doorstep. I was much more composed by the time I got there and just couldn’t wait to sit down. Sonja opened the door, said hi, asked me if I wanted a cup of tea and suddenly…. lump, throat, gone again.

She put the kettle on and I sloped into my room for the night to try and hurry on the tears. After a cup of tea and a good long natter about my day, in which I made myself sound a lot more heroic than I was, I headed to the nearby country pub to grab something to eat and read my book. Thus ended day 1.

Day 2

Day 2 was different to day 1. Very different. Despite the many stops and my confusion at my slowness on day 1, there was still a kind of underlying knowledge that I would actually get there if I kept moving. Day 2 contained none of those assurances.

After a cooked breakfast, loads of cereal and toast and four cups of tea, I set out on what was to be my planned route, following the North Downs Way for the next 65 miles. It didn’t take me long to realise that although the countryside is very pretty, extra mileage is not. So I scrimped. I ditched the North Downs Way and opted for more direct roads where I risked nettle stings every time I jumped aside to let a car past but didn’t have to deal with foot-level brambley nonsense the whole time. It was a payoff I was ok with, because it meant less mileage.

Day 2 was really one long moanfest, if I’m honest. Everything made me feel like moaning.

Shut up, cars! Shut up. Can’t you see I’m trying to listen to an audiobook here? I can’t hear a thing cause you’re all driving and shit. Cars should be banned. Or made quieter. It should be the law that all cars can only be a certain volume so that runners can hear their audiobooks while they’re out running. And what’s with there being no pavement? Who decided that? At least don’t have two steep inclines on the no-pavement sections. I’m too LAZY to climb them to get out the way when cars come. Bloody fence thing, why isn’t it made with bigger sections so that people with backpacks can climb through it easier? Don’t they realise that I need to illegally enter this field in order to cut this corner off and save myself fifty steps?! And what’s with this bloody backpack anyway, hey?! Bloody backpack thing. It’s just like the most heavy thing anyone has ever carried ever. What’s that about? And my collarbones! Why does this bag not allow for people to have collarbones? I’m sure there’s actually less padding there than all the other places on the strap. Who designed this? Who designed this BLOODY backpack? They’ve given me collarbone bruises. I’m going to write to them. I’m going to bloody write to them. Yeh. That’ll learn them. And the ‘air flow’ mesh section on the back which is supposed to keep my back cool? Useless. There is NO airflow to my back, no air flow, people! None. The only thing on my back is a ton of sweat and bruises from this back pack! Bloody…. grr…. grumble… 

And so passed day 2. I remember thinking that if I didn’t get out of the way of a car in time and it hit me so that I had to go to hospital, I would at least have a valid excuse to not finish the run. Yep. That was where my brain was at on day 2.

I arrived in Maidstone eventually, after only a 14 mile day but feeling rougher than the previous day. As was fast becoming tradition at the end of the day, I found a place to sit down and cried. Once that task was completed, I stood up, saw a Travelodge nearby and headed straight there. After checking in, I headed to the room and, unexpectedly, sat down and cried again. And thus ended day 2.

(Running makes me emotionally unstable, is that what you’re getting from the story so far?)

Day 3

Day 3 was a good day in my brain. I had 18 miles to cover to get to a cutesy little farm I had found on Google the night before (Google rocks my world, clearly). My legs felt fine and I had made a formal decision to stop hating on the backpack. The backpack was my life, my freedom. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to do the run. It contained everything I needed. Don’t hate, embrace, Laura. Embrace the backpack. So off we went, backpack and I, to find Hollingbourne. Hollingbourne was four miles away and the first place in my never-ending mental list of the places I had to pass through to reach my evening destination.


Hollingbourne was essentially three pubs so took me two seconds to pass through. Then I was aiming for Doddington. I was feeling so jolly that I took up greeting horses and sheep aloud. “Hello horse!” I’d yell across a field and the horse would run over and I’d get a bit scared and scurry off. “Hello sheep!” I also took up singing at this point. My biggest ‘hit’ of the trip was the song I made up at this point on day 3. The lyrics go like this:

“I’m looking for Doddington. It’s the next on my right.” *repeat in time to your steps for the next two hours ish*

I sung this aloud until my throat was sore and it kept my thoughts from being too loud. At some point on the way to Doddington, I had a rash situation on my lower back/bum area from the bag that needed dealing with so I ran into some foresty thickety bit, whipped my pants down, slathered the Vaseline on and went on.

Remembering this is how I know that day 3 was not the best, bodywise, and so the explanation for my mind feeling better can’t be that my body was doing well cause it kind of wasn’t. The more I ran, the stinkier I got, even when I rinsed my clothes out overnight. My left boob was dealing with some serious boob rash issues and my second toe on my right foot was getting steadily more swollen each day. My knees were kind of stiff in the evening and morning unless I walked an awful lot after stopping running and let’s face it, I didn’t want to move even an inch once I’d finished running. So I mainly didn’t.

Whenever I decided to stop under a tree and eat some chocolate coffee beans, getting going again was kind of embarrassing cause my knees would’ve stiffened up so when I started moving again, it would look like I was doing the robot dance for the first ten steps, a kind of jerky uncomfortable straight-legged stumble thing. Then my legs would remember what running was and off we’d go. But always the robot dance first.

At about 4pm, a friend who has recently moved to Kent sent a text that she would meet me after my day’s running. It was unexpected and totally exciting so I text back I’d be in Faversham in an hour and got my run on…. in the wrong direction. The only time I ever went the wrong way was on this one day, when I actually needed to be somewhere. I blame the town of Eastling for having a road named after it which does not actually head towards it. After having a little fuck-up on Eastling Road, I got my groove on and sped up so that I was moving at least as fast as a tortoise and arrived much later than my friend.

This did kind of interrupt the flow of my evenings, which consisted of having a good cry before doing anything else so I was a bit put out. But I showered, put on unflattering shorts and compression socks and my friend and I wandered about the farm looking at the ducks and horses and talking the face off the other poor innocent holidaymakers who couldn’t give two hoots about my nonsensical run to a castle they’d never heard of.

My friend promised to come and meet me the following day as well then left me to my own devices, at which point I put on some music and stomped around the room in time to it, in what I think was supposed to be dancing but I can’t be sure. Once that strange episode finished, day 3 was done.

Day 4

Day 4 started with uncertainty. Having a time constraint (I had told my friend I would be in Eastry about 5pm) and coming off the back of a good day, mentally, I worried that I would have another day 2. I needn’t have worried. Although I didn’t feel as strong, I cut back on the breaks, in order not to be late, and found myself somehow making excellent time. Instead of collapsing down onto grass verges every twenty minutes cause I just neeeeeeded another of the chocolate coffee beans, I instead swung my bag round onto my front and took walking breaks, giving myself sixty seconds to swig some water, munch something, then get going again. It worked a treat.

Midday on day 4, Canterbury taught me an important lesson on the road. It taught me about the necessity of wearing black t-shirts if you will be around people. I had unwisely chosen to wear a turquoise coloured t-shirt. When I went into a Subway to use their toilet and buy some water, I took my backpack off to get money to pay and looked down to see that backpack was still on me…. in sweat marks. And the section between the two across-body straps was just a solid block of sweat because of the lack of air to that section. People looked. They were shocked. I acted cool and calm despite the disgust in their eyes. And then I fled back to the hills and fields where the horses and sheep did not judge me.

By 2pm, I was well within sight of Eastry so started taking the piss, stopping under every tree, eating almost all of the supplies in my bag, finishing my water (o, the confidence!) and taking an actual nap in a field. I arrived at the country pub where I was spending the night at 3.30pm, showered and swaggered about the place like I was a million dollars, with my sunburn, nettle stings, rashy bum, toe blister and ridiculous compression socks.

A lovely evening with my friend completed day 4 and I only had 6 miles to go!

Day 5

Day 5 was a bit of a nothing day really. It was only 6 miles so I didn’t have to gear my brain up or anything. I just turned on my audiobook, put on my least stinky running clothes and did it. One amusing highlight was that I passed a place called Great Mongeham but essentially I just chanted place names through my mind again until, instead of being in front of me, they were behind me and, as I rounded a corner and the audiobook I had been listening to since day 1 finished exactly on time, I saw the sign for Walmer Castle and sank to my knees in front of it.

I had made it. From some madcap idea in January that I told people to impress them, I had actually really done it.

First thing was to post a photo on Facebook because, as we all know, real life is only validated when it is posted on Facebook.

The residual glory which resulted made the whole bumbling affair seem like something quite fantastical and, as I waited for Danda to arrive to pick me up, I basked in the glow. I did go inside the castle to look around and, on introducing myself to the man behind the till, I did my usual crying thing then went and got some lemonade and cake.

Looking out from the windows in the castle, I realised I was on the beach and so went down to the water’s edge and dipped my tired feet into the freezing cold water. When Danda got there, we wandered about the town for a while then walked out onto the pier to eat fish and chips before driving back.

So there you go. That’s what it’s like to run almost 90 miles. It only took me a day of being back and thinking I’d ‘never do anything like it ever again’ before I was stewing over where my next run can go. I think that means that in some odd peripheral way, in among all the ranting and raving and rashes, I enjoyed it, sort of.

Sometimes you just do things.

My 10 point plan for preparing a long run

On Sunday, I am going on a long run. A very long run. About 90 miles actually. It will take me about four days, I reckon. The reason behind it is that I thought I’d give it a go to see if I can.

I quite like a good theme too. I like to theme things. So this run is Wellington themed. My starting point is Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s London residence, and my end point is Walmer Castle, the residence on the coast where he held the position of Lord Warden of the Cinque Points and where he later died.

Now having never done anything of the sort, I’m clearly well placed to share my preparation plan with others, in case you want to pick up any little tips for adventures of your own.

Ok, listen up. This advice is like golddust.

1. Make a plan for a 90 mile run after you have been running for a mere six weeks.
I took up running in mid November. By January I had invented the Wellington run and given myself five months to be ready, the idea being that I finish on the day of the 200 year anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo (18 June).
The naive confidence that you have at this stage leads you to believe it is a brilliant plan and to hurtle on ahead with the idea.

2. Do a few organised races
After running for just six weeks, I then went to my first 5k Parkrun. A month later I did my first 10k. Then I ran a half marathon the following month.
This is a good way to build your stamina and the race situation of the day means you’ll really test yourself. 

3. Proceed to work every waking hour without a single day off for an entire month
This is a good way to prepare as it means the time until your run arrives before you’ve really had chance to comprehend what on earth you’ve signed yourself up for and therefore a heightened feeling of unpreparedness and idiocy surround everything and you get quite distracted and clumsy.

4. Plan long runs but do shorter ones then nap in the garden
When eventually you get a day off to do a long run, it is a good idea to plan two shorter runs with a break at home in the middle. That means that when you had planned to go out for your second run, you can instead sleep through the afternoon, resulting in some mild sunburn and a cold cup of tea with small bugs in it. By doing this, you can realise that you haven’t yet attempted to hit the mileage you’ll be doing on your run and so become quite nervous about the run’s chances of success.

5. Do something to get you in the mood
When you find a few hours spare to get some running in, my advice is instead to go along to a historical reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo with horses and cannons and military bands and sit grinning and cheering like a teenager seeing One Direction.


Here’s the first band playing Uptown Funk. Aaaamazing.


German military band leaving while horses enter. They were so so good, even doing a little running dance thing. Fab.


Highland dancers and people dressed like they were at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball the night before the battle.


CANNONS! Very nearly wet myself, they were so loud.

6. Run to and from work one day
A week before you are due to leave, run to and from work, if it is far enough, to help you realise what the running will be like. Make sure you do this without the bag you’ll be taking on your adventure and include fighting through some foliage to find a place to go for a wee.

7. Buy the bag you’ll be using, four days before your leaving date
Yeh, I reckon it’s better to do it right before you leave, to give you almost no chance to get used to running with it on. Then do a 10k run and notice that it gives you huge red welts across your back, meaning you don’t use the bag for three days, to give them time to heal. This adds to the whole haphazard feel of the preparations and really puts you on edge, which is fab.

8. Do an intense yoga class after your first run with the new bag
Just to make your legs feel even more broken and unable to take on the long run, do a leg-intensive yoga class that makes you feel thoroughly mashed in.

9. Bash your legs on bike pedals then drop a metal cash box on your foot
This is the best advice on here actually as it has been the icing on the cake of my well-thought-out plan. Because of the heightened awareness of one’s own idiocy, a new level of clumsiness may start to appear in your life in the week leading up to departure. Hopefully you can channel this clumsiness to cause some real damage to your body and cast major doubt over the success of your trip.
Crashing your shins into bike pedals is most effective in this respect. As is misplacing a heavy cash box on the edge of a table so that it plummets down and lands exactly on the part of your foot where your big toe connects in. You know, the part that will be constantly moving while you run. The resulting blueish bruise is a sight to behold, with only 30 hours until you start your big run and no hope that it will have gone in time.

10. And finally, have a broken phone
I find that this is really helpful as it adds the element of uncertainty about whether you’ll be able to use the MapApp if lost, whether the battery will drain after 20 minutes or whether the sound will work so you can listen to audiobooks, which may be the only thing that can keep you going.

And so, my lovelies, go forth into the world and create your own adventures! I have MORE than equipped you for them so you have no excuses.

Tune back in next week to see if I made it or if I broke all my legs and arms on the way instead.


Hanging out with Gracie Fields’ speedboat driver

Our last day on Capri was supposed to be mega relaxing as Danda was in charge and refused to do more walking. Of course I managed to sneak a bit of walking in anyway!

We woke late ish and ate breakfast, during which I poured some coffee into my espresso cup and put a mini croissant next to it and felt like a giant.


Breakfast of champions

While walking around Anacapri a bit, we decided to go and see the Chiesa san Michele, as we’d seen signs to it a few times. We totally weren’t prepared for the awesomeness of this place. Check it out.



Amazing painted floor!

After looking around the church for a while, we then pottered off to Capri town (by bus!) then headed out of the main square in search of a 14th century monastery which is hidden down a side street among the gardens and gardenia. There was about twenty minutes of walking to get there. Just twenty minutes this time.




I was all over walking out to the Arco Naturale but Danda vetoed more walking so we got on the funicolare down to the Marina Grande to take a boat trip but we had missed the one we had our eye on by fifteen minutes. While standing bemoaning our misfortune, a small and very tanned older man approached us and asked if we wanted to go on a boat trip. After a bit of chitchat, he told us the price, at which we recoiled a little and said we wanted to go and get coffee and think about it.

As we sat, wondering what to do, we saw the man and I had this feeling that I wanted to make friends with him, that I wanted him to take us to his house to eat homegrown tomatoes and homemade foccaccia with olive oil. And so we threw caution to the wind, finished our coffees and went to find him, which we almost couldn’t!

So off we went for a sunny blue dreamy boat trip where we zipped in and out of caves and grottos and listened to Gerry’s stories about the years he spent working for Gracie Fields.


At the top of this photo, slightly to the left, you can see the Arco Naturale. Nearby is a cave and built inside it is a Roman villa.


The Green Grotto


The Villa Malaparte


Looking out from another little grotto we’ve squeezed into!


Danda enjoying the boat ride


Me enjoying the boat ride

After Gerry had dropped us off at the Grotta Azzura (the infamous Blue Grotto), we got the bus back to Anacapri and decided to take another trip up to the Monte Solara on the chair lift, as we had had good coffee the first time we went up.



Unbelievable views over Capri from my little chair in the sky

After a leisurely espresso and gelato, we hurried onto the chair lift as it was almost closing time and headed back to our hotel.

At this point, I took my last run on the island, hatching a plan as I ran of how to live on Capri permanently. I also made a little video while running but I don’t seem to be able to put it on here. Never mind.

To finish our last evening on the island, we went to a restaurant recommended to us by Gerry, our boatman.  It was called Virginiello and seemed to be very popular with locals. I ate linguine with seafood, which had an amazingly tasty sauce on it.


And thus, we ended our fabulous trip to Capri. The next morning is not worth reporting as we simply woke up and left on a boat to Naples and were sad. I’m still a bit sad. I’m keeping it at bay by cooking Italian food, learning to speak Italian and reading about Capri.


So, basically, pretending I’m still there!

Napoleonic forts and being “walked to death”

Yesterday it was my birthday, people! I am now 30! Ta daaaaaa! Goodbye 20s. I enjoyed you but I can honestly say I’m looking forward to whatever my 30s will bring.

To commemorate entering a new decade, Danda and I had wanted to spend the day on Ischia but for various reasons, it wouldn’t really have worked so we went for a walk instead. A really really long walk. Danda actually said he thought I was trying to “walk him to death”.

We headed down to the lighthouse where we had watched the sunset on our first day and found the beginning of the Sentiero dei Fortini, the walk of the old forts. The walk stops at five of the Roman forts that were rebuilt during the Napoleonic wars and finishes at the Grotta Azzura, the infamous Blue Grotto.

Before heading out, we had a coffee and it’s probably the prettiest place I’ve ever had a coffee!


The views on the walk were literally amazing. I was loving every second of being out under the huge sky, no-one else around, the wild rock faces and vegetation refusing to bow to the human desire to tame it. The carved steps and paths were the most the island would allow.


The majority of the walk was just steps up and down! At this point, Danda described it as an “endurance test” that was “not fun anymore.”


Napoleonic forts en route




More steps…


Danda had resigned himself to his fate of being “walked to death” and was resolutely marching on ahead by this point.


Steps to nowhere


Taking a break in the last fort

A few hours later, we reached the Grotta Azzura and decided to do the tourist thing and look inside. It was quite pretty, I’ll admit, but why it is the most famous sight on the island, I’m not sure.


Distinctly knackered after all the walking, we then headed back to Anacapri and changed for dinner at my favourite restaurant from our last visit, Aurora.


A little pre-dinner nibble of a kind of parmigiana bite


Danda’s tomato soup and my parmigiana


Danda’s shrimp three ways


My linguine with lobster and asparagus

My dessert at Aurora was an absolute triumph. It was described as a “sphere of chocolate” which I immediately ordered because it said chocolate but I had no actual idea what was about to happen.

The waitress arrived and told me to get my camera ready. Obediently I watched and waited while this happened.


She poured chocolate sauce over a gold and white ball….


…and I realised that the sauce was warm and it was melting the gold ball! It. Was. Amazing. Inside was a hazelnut ice cream and soft meringue and chocolate crunchy balls. It was fabulous. I stuffed it in my face faster than I thought possible!

Bursting at the seams, we made our way back up to Anacapri and collapsed into a long-trek-and-chocolate-dessert induced coma.

Pretty good birthday, as birthdays go.


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