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Lessons from the Wild: Reflections on a 180km Running Adventure

Get ready for an adventure in the wild as we take on the Devon Coast to Coast, a 180km path through the southwest of England. Along the way, we'll face challenges, push our limits, and experience the beauty of the outdoors. Join me on this journey as we discover what the wild can teach us about ourselves and the world around us.

Day 1 - Wembury to Ponsworthy - 53km

As I stand on Wembury Beach, I can feel the excitement building inside me as I prepare to embark on the Devon Coast to Coast Ultra in just one month. The anticipation is high as this ultra running race is notorious for its difficulty, with only 22 finishers in 2022.

The first day of our journey goes smoothly, and our bodies are well rested. We set off at a good pace, taking care not to push ourselves too hard. Our bags are filled with food and spare clothing, preparing us for any weather that may come our way. However, we quickly discover that the route is not without its challenges. The trail leads through private lands, where farmers allow hikers and runners to pass through. These lands are home to a variety of animals, such as sheep, horses, and cows, which means that there are gates to open and ladders to climb. It can be disconcerting for a beginner like me, but I'm delighted to have discovered this new aspect of the trail.

The day continues to unfold as we venture deeper into the Dartmoor National Park, greeting other walkers, runners, and cyclists along the way. We remain positive and upbeat, understanding the importance of keeping each other motivated and energised. We set out to cover 50km, but due to a small miscalculation on my part, we end up walking an extra 3km before finally arriving at our guest house at nightfall. We're thrilled to have completed the first day of our journey.

Day 2 - Ponsworthy to Yeoford - 45km

As we fueled up with a hearty breakfast served right in our bedroom, we embarked on our second day, filled with confidence and determination. We anticipated that today would be easier than the previous day, but our expectations were quickly thwarted as we encountered the muddiest section of the route, only 300 meters after starting. We lost a good 30 minutes trying to navigate through the sludge, but even then, we only partially succeeded in keeping our feet dry. Despite the setback, we pushed on and tackled a steep climb up to Hookney Tor, which stood tall at 497 meters. The sun was on our side, but the biting wind still made its presence known. As we journeyed through the stunning landscapes, we were able to connect with nature and immerse ourselves in the environment where British food is produced. It was an incredible opportunity to see and interact with the hardworking farmers who cultivate the land. Everyone we encountered along the way was incredibly friendly and careful, making the journey all the more enjoyable.

For a few days, we had the opportunity to live outside of the hustle and bustle of the city. There's something deeply satisfying about being disconnected from the chaos of the world around us, the constant noise, and the rush of daily life. It's a chance to take a deep breath, disconnect from the urban and industrial world, and rediscover what it means to be present in the moment. We found ourselves in a world of peace and tranquility, where the air was cleaner and fresher, and the only sounds were the natural ones of birds chirping, leaves rustling under our feet and the wind in the trees. We could take the time to appreciate the beauty of the world around us without any distractions. A good reminder that life can be simpler and more peaceful. Something I believe we all need to experience from time to time.

After 8 hours of moving, we were relieved to have finally arrived at Yeoford, exhausted, covered in dirt, and eager to refuel with a hearty meal. Luckily, our farmer host for the evening, Winnie, had prepared a delicious feast that made us feel right at home. We couldn't have asked for a more welcoming place to stay.

Day 3 - Yeoford to Withypool - 60km

Even after indulging in an impressive full English breakfast, it's tough to get moving this morning. After covering nearly 100km in just two days, our bodies naturally start to tire and we feel a bit rusty. Today is the biggest day of our journey, with 60km ahead and 1500m of elevation gain. The first hour is a real struggle, our joints and muscles taking longer than usual to warm up. But we keep moving forward, knowing and hoping that this temporary discomfort will pass. As the sun rises, we continue on our path and start to fully awaken and enjoy ourselves. It's another beautiful day in Devon, and we feel grateful for it.

This journey was a good opportunity for us to learn how to ignore the pains and scratches that come with covering long distances day after day. When you push your body to its limits, it's inevitable that you will feel pain. But with a tight schedule and specific daily goals, we couldn't afford to stop and rest. As we kept moving forward, we began to realise that the pain we felt would go away, either temporarily or permanently. It is simply a signal from our bodies that we can choose to ignore. Indeed, we’re capable of much more than we think, and pushing through the pain to accomplish something like ultra running can be a powerful reminder of our own strength and resilience. It's a lesson that can be applied not just to physical challenges, but to any area of life where we may be tempted to give up or settle for less than we should.

After 11 hours of running and walking, we finally arrived at our accommodation in Withypool. We had just 30 minutes to spare before the last order at the local pub, enough to order a substantial three-course meal, with a range of starters, burgers, and desserts (cheesecake, chocolate brownie, and creme brulee were involved). The perfect reward for our efforts and a great way to refuel for the next day's adventure.

Day 4 - Whithypool to Lynmouth - 26km

As we start the final day, we can feel the exhaustion weighing on our bodies. It's been a challenging journey so far, but now, with only 26km left to go, we are determined to push through and cover that distance as fast as we can. The weather is not on our side, the rain is pouring down and the cold is seeping into our bones. Every step is a struggle, my left ankle is stiff and painful, and Beth's Achilles heels are screaming for mercy. We must look like wobbly zombies to anyone who passes by.

After 3 pleasant days, we knew that harder times would likely come, and we were ready to face them. It's all part of the experience. It's moments like this that remind us to enjoy the highs and appreciate the beauty of the present moment. Often, we get so caught up in our worries about the future or regrets about the past that we forget to live in the present, to appreciate the simple things in life - the feeling of the sun on our face, the taste of a delicious meal, the time spent with a loved one. Life is unpredictable, and we never truly know what's coming next. So, let's take a moment to enjoy the good times because they won’t be everlasting. And when the lows inevitably come, let's remember that they too shall pass, and that brighter days are always ahead.

We keep moving forward, step by step, minute by minute, hour by hour. We push through the hills and the tough terrain, finding moments of peace and flow along the way. And then, suddenly, the finish line is in sight. The sense of accomplishment washes over us, and all the pain and aches dissipate as the dopamine floods our bodies. We did it!


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