THE FRONTIER RUN
Coast to Coast - 100 Miles - One Day, One Night
29.25 hours on September 12th 2020
"One man's mission to help fund research into cures for cancer by running 100 miles across the UK
in less than 30 hours"
"Hadrian's Wall and a Bit More"
Unfortunately, my original plan to run Hadrian's Wall followed by the Great North Run was scuppered by the Great North Run's cancellation for 2020, due to the Coronavirus restrictions.
However, I was not to be defeated by something so awkward, and decided to change my route slightly so that I effectively ran home to my new home village of Tynemouth, on the north east coast.
With Hadrian's Wall spanning 84 miles from Bowness-on-Solway on England's west coast to Wallsend in Newcastle, I figured that it was so close to giving a coast-to-coast route that it would seem rude not to extend it a little at each end.
As such, I ran from the remains of one of the Romans' Mile Fortlets on the coast just west of Bowness-on-Solway, all the way along the old Roman frontier, through Wallsend and on to the Priory in Tynemouth, where evidence exists of further Roman settlements.
Although I didn't manage to complete the Hadrian's Wall section in my original hope of 24 hours or less, I did manage a total of a nice, round 100 miles in less than 30 hours.
I ran to raise money for Cancer Research UK, with cancer affecting millions of people in the UK alone, but for a very personal reason, which you can read about below.
"Why Would You Do That?!"
In October 2018 my big brother was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. He's young(ish), fit and otherwise very healthy, with a lovely wife and two young kids.
At 43, this seemed way too young to be told that you have a disease which the doctors don't believe they can cure.
And why should anyone be told that?
Why should we be OK with the thought that there is a whole family of diseases which we can't always get rid of?
How can it be OK that a man who lives well, eats well, exercises and takes care of himself can be told that his life plans will be cut short?
And why should a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old have to hear that their dad has an illness which doctors don't think they can get rid of and that it might eventually take him away from them?
Although he and his family have been through a huge amount in the time since his diagnosis, with various treatments alongside the overall process of coming to terms with his diagnosis, so far those treatments are actually doing fairly well and he's been fighting the cancer cells better than anyone expected.
But the fight is still very much on, the cancer isn't letting go and I wanted to help keep my big brother motivated as his treatment continues.
I also wanted to help prevent other families from having to go through the same torment.
These reasons were why I ran to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Their ongoing work to seek cures for all forms of cancer is so incredibly important, and only by finding a way of getting rid of this disease once and for all will be able to stop others from hearing that terrible news that they have a cancer which cannot be cured.
The fact that a little bit of my suffering and perseverance helped raise over £8,000 to help fund scientists in their research is a huge source of pride for me and if that can stop just one person from having to go through the suffering - both mental and physical - and having to show the perseverance that my big brother is currently showing, then that felt like the very least I feel I could do.
"Yeah, thanks for that, COVID-19!"
Needless to say, you don't just rock up at the start of a 100 mile run without doing some serious training (well, not if you hope to succeed, anyway), so I originally had a fairly extensive training plan in place for 2020, leading up to the big day.
I had found from previous runs that the best way to motivate myself to keep heading out to run was to have other events included in my training plan, so I had 3 booked - in March, May and July, stretching from 26.5 miles up to 62 miles.
Unfortunately, all of those plans were very much scuppered by the arrival of COVID-19 in the UK and the cancellation of all of these races (amongst all of the others around the country).
However, I wasn't prepared to let a little thing like that stand in my way, so gradually increased my mileage throughout lockdown and over the weeks afterwards, such that I was still in pretty good shape in time for the run itself - even if not in quite the shape I'd originally planned!
"Not the traditional coast to coast run"
I mainly followed the undulating, but beautiful Hadrian's Wall Path over the Pennines for the first 84 miles of my journey, from Bowness-on-Solway to Segedunum in Wallsend, Newcastle.
However, Bowness-on-Solway isn't really coastal enough to make a proper coast-to-coast run, so I started a bit further out, where the Romans used to have fortlets protecting the empire from attacks on the west coast of England.
From there I followed the wall across to Newcastle. At times this was relatively flat and ran alongside rivers, but the middle section over the Pennines was very hilly, so took a lot out of my legs.
Upon finishing the Hadrian's Wall Path route, I then made my way, largely continuing alongside the River Tyne, out to Tynemouth and the Priory, where evidence has been found of a Roman settlement (ok, it probably wasn't part of the defences, but it was near my house, has a beach for me to dip my aching legs in the cold North Sea, and was a nice, round 100 miles to get to!)
Clicking the map below will take you to a GPS plot of my full route.
"What Kit Do You Use to Complete Something Like This?"
In order to get me across the country, I had some truly brilliant equipment in my arsenal. Although this is a fairly niche pursuit, the number of ultra-runners in the UK is growing by the minute and the past decade has seen an enormous growth in the sport.
As such, I've included some very high level reviews of the equipment I used on the run.
It's worth noting that I have had no sponsorship, discounts or anything else similar from these companies, so my views are entirely unbiased and my own.
Inov8 TerraUltra G 270
I’ve had these shoes since they first came out and have put a couple of hundred miles into them now. So far they are everything their predecessor was (covered below) and more.
Given that the Hadrian’s Centurion route included a mixture of underfoot surfaces and terrain ranging from extremely flat and low-lying to steep rocky tracks, which I was crossing in the dark, I needed to trust my shoes entirely.
These shoes were grippy on all the surfaces I used them on and the level of cushioning helped massively on the tarmac sections, while the overall low profile and zero drop design meant I always felt connected to what I was running on.
The width of the toe box is brilliant on them, giving space for the inevitable spread of your feet on an ultra, while the thin tongue design allows you to set the tightness really securely to whatever works for you without them slipping or rubbing.
Unfortunately, just after it went dark the rain started to fall pretty heavily so, when running through long grass, my feet got pretty wet. This combined with a little diversion via a pretty full ditch meant that by midnight my socks were soaked through.
Because I wasn’t sensible enough to do something about it early doors, I ended up with the shoes carrying a bit of water in the insole for a bit too long and decided to change them for the final 5 miles after my feet took a turn for the worse along the Quayside in Newcastle (more on that in the ‘first aid’ section below!) but I wouldn’t hesitate to choose these shoes for any long run in the future.
Inov8 TerraUltra G 260
Although these are a couple of years old and have done around 300 miles, I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of them before the run and I’m now very glad I didn’t. When I needed a change of shoes for the final few miles, these were excellent - nice and roomy toebox for my swollen feet and enough life left in the soles to keep me going over the last miles of tarmac and down onto the beach into the sea... only to get as wet as the ones I’d just taken off!
Joluvi Trail Running - Klamp System - aluminium 7075
Other than the incredible support I received along the way from amazing runners and the electrolyte drinks that kept me from cramping all the way round, I credit these poles the most for me making it through the 100 miles.
I bought these as a relatively cheap pair of poles a couple of years back as I’d never tried running with them before and didn’t know how I’d get in with them.
I am so glad I bought them, and these ones in particular because they’re sturdy, super-light and really comfortable to use for hours on end. There is no doubt in my mind that these poles saved my legs and made the whole thing doable, helping me to pace myself while running and to keep pushing forward while walking.
If you’re a distance runner who’s not super-fast and you’ve not tried running with poles yet, I would very strongly recommend them. At £100 for a pair, they’re definitely not cheap, but were 100% worth it for me.
More Mile London
More Mile Trail
I’ve waxed lyrical about More Mile’s socks in the past and, while I’m not sure they’re quite the same as they were back when I first started running, they’re still my “go to” sock for all of my running.
Being fairly cheap, you can afford to have multiple changes in your bag / drop bags to change whenever you get wet feet and the padding and fit of them is really good.
I managed the 100 miles with a couple of tiny blisters on my toes, which I’m 99% sure were due to them being so wet for the night (I wasn’t sensible and didn’t change my socks often enough) and a couple of splits in the skin on the balls of my feet, which I know 100% were just from the wet.
Salomon Agile Twinskin Short
Unlike a lot of Salomon’s Twinskin shorts, the lace in these doesn’t appear to be made of cheese wire and the waist band is relatively padded.
On a long run like Hadrian’s Centurion, those two design factors were essential.
I would love to write loads about how amazing these shorts were on the day, but to be honest the fact that I simply didn’t notice them of think about them is probably the biggest compliment I could pay them!
Force Sportswear Custom Compression Top
Well this was the biggest risk of the weekend. When I set out to do this challenge, I really wanted to be able to run in a custom-made top for the event. Unfortunately, with all of the disruption that COVID caused, all the re-planning required once the Great North Run was cancelled and then the necessary design work to come up with something which I liked and was printable, I was left with very little time to get it made.
Fortunately, the team at Force Sportswear were amazing in turning around the production of sublimation-printed compression tops with my design of Roman Armour in the time required.
However, they only arrived two days before the run, so I had no chance to test them and no idea whether they would rub, ride up or simply fall apart.
Again, very fortunately, none of these things happened and I actually wore just one top from the beginning all the way through the 100 miles to Tynemouth.
The compression level of the top was perfect to stop it moving around under my pack, which meant I got no chafing at all. It was a brilliant fit (exactly as described on the website) and it felt genuinely special to be running in something I’d designed just for this.
The tops weren’t cheap, but I’ve paid a lot more for running clothes before and they were happy to print and manufacture a very small number, which other manufacturers wouldn’t.
If you’re looking for any form of custom printed sports clothing, I would very highly recommend dropping these guys a message.
Salomon Xa Plus Cap
I bought this cap for a summer ultra about 5 years ago, after having suffered in the heat the previous year. It has a detachable neck protector, which I left at home this time, but the key is that it has a lot of perforations to help keep you cool. It’s my go-to hat for pretty much any run outside of mid-winter snow!
Inov8 Race Elite 260 Thermoshell
I should say right now that I’ve not found a single piece of Inov8 gear that I haven’t loved and, having owned this for about 5 years, this mid-layer / outer layer is not the exception. It is incredibly light and packs down nice and small to keep with you in your pack.
Being reversible with a wind-blocking side and a softer insulated side means you can switch it around to whatever you need. On this run, I slipped it on not long after dark when the temperature dropped and I needed to keep warm at a checkpoint. I then kept it on after I took my waterproof jacket off when it had stopped raining - I didn’t need anything waterproof anymore, but I definitely wasn’t ready to be in just my short-sleeved compression top yet!
It was absolutely perfect for both of these situations and saw me through to the point when the day started to warm up again for the finish.
The only disadvantage of this jacket is that it also fits my wife, who has been known to purloin it from time to time for outdoor netball tournaments etc!
Montane Minimus Stretch
I’ve seen some pretty mixed reviews about the longevity of the Minimus Stretch, but personally I’ve got nothing but praise for it. Mine has been used for a couple of ultras and a number of walking trips, generally under a pack of some description, and still seems to be going strong.
It’s incredibly light weight, packs down small, and yet it keeps absolutely everything out, has a great storm hood, Velcro adjustable cuffs and a stretchy, flexible material.
In my view it’s the perfect running jacket, even if I have now got to re-waterproof it as it so desperately needed a wash after me running in it for about 8 hours!
Ultimate Direction PB Walsh Vest
This is my second ultra in this vest and I really like it for the big ones. I have a couple of the Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin vests which I must say I much prefer for shorter stuff, as you hardly notice you’re wearing them, but this one is brilliant when you have a lot of stuff to carry.
It’s got multiple pockets, lots of which are accessible from the front, has a water-resistant outer and has a stretchy bungee cord to both compress it down if it’s not full and to hold a jacket or similar if the pockets are all packed full.
I did end up with pretty tired shoulders after the run and I wish I’d moved the tracker from the shoulder strap to the main pouch earlier (it was rubbing in the position I’d originally taped it), but all in all, it was the perfect pack for the event.
Anker Power Bank
Given that I had my iPhone with me (which no longer has the best battery power retention) and I knew I would be using my watch at all times, I decided to bring a power bank with me to allow me to charge my gadgets while I was still on the move.
This little one is a 10,000mAh unit so had easily enough power for a few recharges but wasn’t too heavy. Hardly the sexiest piece of running kit ever, but it proved useful when my phone was running low and it was reassuring to have with me.
Garmin Fenix 6X Sapphire
What can I say about this watch? It is literally the best piece of electronic kit I’ve ever owned. It’s my everyday watch as well as my running watch and I absolutely love its design and functionality.
On the run, I used it in full mapping mode, with my route pre-loaded and navigation activated so that it provided me with turn-by-turn navigation throughout.
The battery lasted the full distance across the country in this mode and it never missed a beat in terms of knowing where I was or where I should be going next.
I should point out that this is not at all a cheap watch, but if someone offered to buy it from me for the original price now, I would refuse - it really is that incredible.
GoPro Hero 8 Black
I only got this a few weeks before my run, as a reward to myself for getting a new job recently.
Whilst I didn’t have time to play with it much, I have been incredibly impressed by the footage it captures, the quality of sound it captures even in windy conditions and how light and easy to use it is.
Events Tracking Tracker
This was an absolute game-changer for me on this event. I have worn a tracker on ultra races before, but hadn’t considered hiring one for myself before this challenge.
The accuracy of the tracker and the service provided by the Events Tracking team was superb, making it brilliant value for the weekend.
My support crews and fellow runners used it to track my progress and ensure they met me in the right places and my friends and family back at home also used it to check how I was doing and drop me motivational messages.
The quality of signal from it meant I felt safe throughout the run - I would recommend this to absolutely anyone doing a big challenge where they may be alone for periods of time.
LED Lenser H8r Head Torch
I bought this head torch on the recommendation of a few fellow runners from this group. It was great value and provides a truly incredible beam of light. It felt comfortable on my head throughout the night and didn’t even get close to running low on power, in spite of there being 11 hours of darkness.
For the money, I can’t imagine you could get a much better running head torch anywhere.
This wasn’t in my little first aid kit with me, but it’s safe to say it always will be on ultras from now on.
After a night of being very wet and then a morning pounding onto the tarmac, the balls of my feet finally gave in and cracked pretty heavily as we entered Newcastle.
The skin was shrivelled and fraying and I simply couldn’t get any blister plasters to stick.
Fortunately, my friend and support runners for this section, Paul, has had a lot of experience patching up feet, having previously walked barefoot along Wainwright’s Coast to Coast route in 10 days. He liberally doused my foot in iodine from his first aid kit and in minutes the skin had dried out, hardened up a bit and I was able to continue with pretty much the same feelings as before the skin had cracked.
This is now a must for any long runs!
Technically this isn’t really “first aid”, it’s more “pre aid” but it is a huge injury saver and deserves huge credit for me getting across the country unscathed.
I put on a fairly liberal application of this to all of the areas I’ve previously suffered with chafing just before I set out on Saturday morning and didn’t re-apply at all before the finish line at midday on Sunday. I had absolutely no chafing anywhere on my body, in spite of rain, sweat and obviously a huge amount of movement.
Being blunt, this stuff is the best running lube I have ever seen!
Precision Hydration Drinks Sachets
I used both the PH1500 and PH1000 sachets mixed with 500ml of water each on my run. I’m a heavy, salty sweater so I knew I would need these to help get essential minerals back into my body. I’ve found PH products to be the best for me by a long way and I never tire of drinking them, unlike most others I’ve tried.
Over the 100 miles I drank 4.5 litres of PH1000 and 2 litres of PH1500, along with a few slurps of flat Coke, 3 cups of tea and a big bottle of apple juice.
I felt great throughout the run and didn’t suffer any of my previous dehydration issues, so cannot recommend these highly enough.
I’m not a fan of gels at all; I never have been. However, somehow Veloforte have created two gels which I not only like when they’re cool from the cupboard, but I also love when they’re warm from being next to a sweaty body!
The two flavours are basically coffee flavour (tastes a lot like a coffee cream chocolate, which is actually better than I’m making it sound there) and ginger (which tastes almost exactly like steamed ginger pudding).
I didn’t have loads of these on the run, but I had a couple at times when I didn’t feel like eating proper food but knew I needed to get some energy inside me.
I’m a big fan of Veloforte and their nutrition, they use all natural ingredients and make really tasty products that are high in energy but also easy to eat.
Most of my solid foods on this run were just “what I fancied”, but having these in the tubs meant I knew I could get a really good hit of calories and carbs easily to stop me from bonking.
Ration-X Self-Heating Pasta & Meatballs
Ok, so if you’re ex-forces, you’re probably now gagging at the thought of eating self-heating rations by choice, but I was determined to have some hot food and didn’t want to burden my support crews with needing a stove.
These packs self-heat just through the addition of cold water to a gel pack which then heats the meal.
Maybe it was because I’d not had a hot meal in 24 hours, but this was absolutely delicious and was packed with the sort of energy I needed as I entered the night section of the run. On a long run again I would 100% have one of these available.
During the run I had absolutely incredible support. The running community really came together and helped me across the country.
In the end, I ran only 8 miles of the route on my own, with support runners coming along with me for every other step of the way.
My support runners, all of whom have my eternal gratitude now also have a non-expiring offer of my help for them whenever they need anything in the future.
I also had brilliant support from my parents, who came out and crewed checkpoints for me on the Saturday, my wife who popped out to encourage me along, John Kynaston who not only ran with me but also recorded my journey for his podcast (video in gallery above) and Gareth Lawson, who not only crewed my checkpoints through the night, but also ran the final 30 miles with me.
I'm also hugely grateful to everyone who has donated to my JustGiving page, which has raised over £8,000 to date. If you would like to do the same, please use the link below: