Wow! The Running Granny team actually did it. Supported by an amazing crew I ran, walked and hobbled my way on foot from John O’ Groats to Land’s End in 18 days, 10 hours and 3 minutes.
I can only provide an overview of my JOGLE in this blog but I hope the following will give a flavour of it.
Despite it being three months since I finished, it still doesn’t seem real. Nineteen consecutive ultramarathons covering 875 miles, 45,575 feet of ascent and descent, using 52,608 calories and taking over 1.8 million steps to traverse the UK from north to south, I can acknowledge the stats although it is as if it related to someone else and not to me.
Whichever way I look at it I still can’t believe I actually achieved it. I know I did as the evidence is there in social media. I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of people who tracked me and took time out of their days to come and say hello or to walk or run with me. Some folks even spent a whole day with me.
I set myself this challenge for two main reasons: the first to raise awareness of the association between poor health and ageing and hence the need to take steps to adopt a healthy lifestyle; the second to change perceptions of ageing and expectation of older age. I’m not an elite runner and only took up the sport at the age of 53 and at the time I decided to take on the JOGLE I had less than five years’ experience.
While there are various manuals advising on taking up running or training for a marathon, I am not aware of any providing in-depth guidance on preparing for a challenge such as the JOGLE. There’s also very little written about endurance sport for females aged 60, so it’s very much a case of make it up as you go along. My training was based on my own observations of my gradual adaptation to running increasingly long distances and the experience I had gained along the way. I set myself a target start date and worked back eighteen months in the belief that I needed lots of time to train, but that this would be the maximum time I could stick at it. I determined a list of items that would enable or constrain a favourable outcome. These included the ability to recover well each day so as to run again the next, mitigating the risk of shin splints from road running, and being able to eat and drink well enough on the move to sustain the activity. I then worked my training around these.
The bulk of my running had been off road and transferring my attention to the tarmac was paramount. Of the 3919 miles I ran during the eighteen months of training, more than 80% was on road. I raced four times including the 190 mile Northern traverse and three 24 hours events. The purpose of the latter races was to ascertain how far I could go in 24 hours and what my pace profile looked like over that time. This information was helpful in considering what might be possible on the event itself. I also did a number of long, 40 mile plus supported and unsupported runs. I discussed with some high profile coaches (who were kind enough to give me their time) what distance I needed to cover regularly. Their view was that doing more than 40 mile days would put me into a recovery state and adversely impact on training; hence I would be best served by being able to run 40 miles, eat, sleep and repeat. I was able to do this by the end of my eighteen months training.
Working out the route and planning the logistics occupied a lot of time during the training period. Learning to use social media and developing the running granny website was an additional burden. Fortunately, a fantastic bunch of friends with much more experience than I’m ever likely to have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to assist with these things.
Arriving in John O’Groats two days before the start felt surreal, and standing by the iconic signpost, I was acutely aware of my vulnerability in the face of the task ahead. Having no experience of such an undertaking I could only speculate on what might transpire. One thing I did know was that it was going to be a mind game, although I could never have anticipated to what extent.
I had hired a motorhome which would be my home for the duration, driven by my partner who was the lynchpin of the crew. Tuesday 10th September and I was awake and up before the alarm, dressed, put my head outside the door and quickly went back for some more layers. The cold wind from the day before had not abated. My initial crew joined me at the John O’Groats signpost. A few minutes before 6am a car pulled up and Mike who runs the tourist shop there and his brother alighted; they had kindly come to bear independent witness to my starting the challenge. Photos and video taken and I was off, lots of thoughts in my head but the main one to keep my eyes on the ground and not twist an ankle on a bit of gravel. The first day passed well enough with the crew and myself getting used to working out what I needed and when. There was a fierce headwind and it was hard work making progress. I altered my running gait to accommodate it but this was to turn out to be my early undoing. Crews swapped duty in the afternoon and Kath ran with me along the coast and through Berridale Braes. After a brief stop for supper I continued, but by now the rain had started and continued through to the end of the night at The Mound. The next day Ros accompanied me from the start but something wasn’t right with me and 20 miles in near Allness, I took a break to examine my left leg which had become quite painful. Anterior tibial tendonitis or shin splints. I spent about 30 seconds contemplating the injury and deciding how best to deal with it. Fortunately, I was well prepared with kit and medicines. That injury set the tone for the remainder of the event. The right leg joined suit on day 4.
Pain featured large in the event. Additional injuries included an infected toe and, after a fall during the dark down a large pothole in the road, an unstable knee, but also the continuous pounding of the tarmac affected my feet. Anticipating things that might go wrong meant, for the most part, I had what was needed to deal with these eventualities physically. However, the serendipitous appearance of friendly physician Chris G in Gretna, and again in Somerset, who provided some hands on treatment, was extremely welcome and helpful.
Each morning the alarm would sound prompting my first thoughts which were that it was time to ‘get into the pain cave and see how I was today’. I spent a lot of my time practicing techniques to summon mind over matter to contain the pain and the crew did an amazing job of keeping me fuelled, watered, warm, dry and distracted. However, there would come a point when my mental strength collapsed and the pain would just spiral rapidly out of control in seconds. That often marked the end of that day and sleep was needed to refocus.
The crew comprised twelve family and friends who kindly gave what time they could to support the challenge, handing over to new people as I passed down the country. In the main, there was the motorhome plus one other vehicle on support although on some parts of some days there was just one vehicle and one crew member. Somehow, as if by magic, they were always in the right place at the right time with just what was needed to keep me going. They all worked just as hard as I did, if not more so.
On the subject of food, it was as if I grazed my way down the country. I over-ate the first three days putting on three pounds but that dropped off a few days later. Porridge, bacon and egg sandwiches, salmon and pasta, fish and cheese pies, Joe F’s restorative carrot and coriander soup, Chris G’s humungous Danish pastries – you name it, I ate it. I finished the event exactly the same weight as I started it.
The weather wasn’t helpful: six days of wind, cold and rain in Scotland followed by unseasonably hot weather through Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire and Shropshire. Then the bad weather returned and the final day was spent racing a North Atlantic storm to Land’s End. It arrived two hours earlier than expected and consequently, I and my fellow runners were borderline hypothermic at the finish.
The most unexpected and delightful bonus of the whole event was the support I received from so many members of the public who tracked me and came out to greet me. Some brought along treats for me or the crew, others ran or walked with me and I heard many of their own inspiring stories. Throughout the event I was raising money to develop Going for Old CIC, the social enterprise I have set up to encourage and motivate people to take small steps to adopt healthy lifestyle choices. Your generosity raised over £11,000, a massive boost to help the team get it off the ground. The Running Granny will continue to promote those same values and has a few ideas up her sleeve so please keep following.
Ten years ago I was overweight, unfit and unhappy when I embarked on what I now see as my series of small steps to change aspects of my lifestyle. Three years into these steps I started running. If anyone had told me that I would become an ultra-runner, let alone that I would attempt a World Record by running from John O’Groats to Land’s End, I would have thought it laughable. Embarking on the whole JOGLE project, I was never confident of completing it. What I do know and what I can now take confidence from, is that by setting small goals (including breaking a big project into small goals) and working steadily towards them brings its own rewards. Whatever the outcome, it is the journey that is important and treating every small success along the way as a big achievement. Through my running I have discovered something I really enjoy, that I can do alone or with friends and family. I have made many friends of all ages and shared many adventures with them. Participating in events is great but it’s just as much fun and often more so to volunteer and help others to achieve their goals. I’m in better physical shape than I was ten years ago and have a much better sense of mental wellbeing. I am looking forward to many more adventures in the next decade. You’re never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream. If you think you can do it that’s half the battle, there’ll always be someone to help you.
Thank you everyone for your support in very many ways. The Running Granny is taking time to recover slowly and steadily from her ordeal. Painful feet and other injuries are resolving slowly and these recovery months have afforded time to catch up with family and friends I have neglected during the training. Happy New Year everyone!
Never let others put limits on what you can achieve