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Running round Britain – Torquay


Jazz joined me to run the 20 miles from Dawlish Warren to Paignton. She had never run more than a half marathon before.

I always worried that I didn’t look like a real runner, let alone an ultrarunner. I wasn’t lean and strong-looking like the runners who won races. If anything, I had probably put on weight with the endless cakes I was being brought by people who ran with me, and all the home-cooked dinners made by the people I stayed with, and then the extra snacks in cafes just so I could sit somewhere dry. I had committed to fuelling with passion, despite the fact that on lots of days I covered less distance than I do now in my normal day-to-day life. I just happened to be joining those miles up in a long chain, which made it seem more impressive.

Maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t look like an elite athlete though, that I wasn’t running sub-8-minute miles all day every day. If I had been, I doubt as many people would have been inclined to say yes to coming with me and running further than they ever had before. Maybe the fact that I had no idea what I was doing made other people feel more comfortable to give it a go – like Jazz, on that Sunday in December.

Jazz has since become one of my closest friends. I admire her skills and competence in many, many areas. Hopefully, then, she can forgive me for saying that, at that time at least, trail running perhaps wasn’t one of them.

Jazz’s mum packed us up with lunch for our expedition – cheese rolls, crisps and cereal bars – and her stepdad dropped us back to Dawlish Warren. They were collecting Jazz from Paignton at the end of the day and had offered to take some of the contents of my backpack with them. Throughout the whole ten months, there was nothing that brightened a day more than the opportunity to lighten my load for a while. My back still hadn’t got used to running with the heavy pack.

We settled into an easy pace, walking the uphills and jogging the flats and the downs. Heading towards Torquay, the coast path comes away from the cliff edge and takes you through some woods. The floor was claggy where it had been so wet in the days before. I lost my footing on a slick patch and slipped backward, landing in a puddle of orangey-red, clay-like mud which, in the process of standing up again, I managed to smear all over me.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got some wipes in my bag,” Jazz said. I stood very still and tried not to touch anything else while she looked for them.

“Oh no!” Jazz exclaimed. I looked over to where she was crouched over her backpack, looking slightly more shimmery than she had earlier. “My glitter has exploded!”

From her bag, along with the promised wipes, Jazz pulled an empty pot of pink glitter, the contents of which was now all over Jazz’s hands, legs, shorts, hat, sandwiches… well, everything she owned really. The inside of her pack would probably never look the same again. We looked quite the pair running beside one another, me coated in mud and Jazz covered head to toe in glitter.

How to safely contain your pink glitter is an age-old concern for serious explorers all over the world. I’m sure that these are the same kind of hazards that Shackleton and Scott faced.

We stopped in Torquay for an ice cream to recover from the incident before running the final few miles to Paignton, Jazz sparkling in the sunlight.

Extracted from ElizeDowner’s brand-new book, Coasting. Available on Amazon, of course, or direct from the publisher here.

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