WHAT. A. DAY!
The nerves were coursing through me as I eyed the running kit that I’d carefully laid out the previous evening. The running kit that I would be spending the majority of my waking hours wearing for the next five weeks. I’d been preparing for this day for nearly two years.
There were nerves, yes, but there was also excitement. Excitement to finally get to the start line of this mammoth project which combined several of my passions: running, rugby, travel and adventure. Lands End to London, 500 miles in 5 weeks, visiting as many rugby clubs as possible along the way.
The start time of 10 AM was quickly approaching. The wind was rampaging around the exposed point of Lands End as I got some last-minute photos with Phil and Sally Westren, who had kindly hosted me in Penzance and driven me out to the start line.
The start line
And that was a good point. The start line. Where should that even be? This challenge was entirely my creation, so I guess it was up to me. I consulted with Phil and Sally and we decided that out the front, with the big Lands End building entrance as a backdrop would be ideal.
And this turned out to be an excellent choice as it was there I found Kyle Poynter from St Just RFC who had kindly volunteered to run with me for the first leg. We got chatting with a group of happy cyclists who were intrigued about what was going on. They wished me well and I gave them some of my limited edition ‘The Great Rugger Run’ stickers as a thank you.
What had taken two years to prepare for now seemed to approach with alarming speed. Was I ready? I thought so, but really who could tell. Would my body hold up? This was probably the biggest question. However, it was too late now as Phil led the 10-second countdown ably assisted by Sally and the happy cyclists.
And we’re off!
We were away and as the cheers faded in the Cornish wind I felt completely elated. It had been a huge effort to even get to the start line and now I was doing it. I was running from Lands End to London. The success of the run at that point felt completely irrelevant. I felt alive!
The first leg was tricky; along the coastal path, twice onto the beaches of Sennen and Gwynver – sections that required nimble footwork across the rocks. Tough on the legs, but great for the spirit. Much of the route would be inland, so I wanted to make the most of the coastal paths here in Cornwall.
On to Cape Cornwall and then up into St Just where a small group of lads from the rugby club were waiting for us with sore heads and sore bodies – the first game of their season was the previous day! We all jogged down the hill to the beautiful St Just RFC.
St Just RFC
Bathed in sunshine and sheltered from the wind in a small valley, St Just RFC is seriously picturesque.
One of my goals was to champion rugby and rugby clubs across the country. I wanted to share my journey and hopefully inspire future generations, or even maybe, the current generations who might have fallen out of love with the game. It was with this in mind that I interviewed Ed Bolitho as we strolled around his club. Thanks, Ed for being a wonderful ambassador for St Just RFC and rugby in general.
It was a shame to leave such a beautiful club with friendly people, but at that point, I’d only run 7 out of the scheduled 23 miles I was due to complete that day. So, with the sun on my back, I headed inland along the A3071 towards Penzance.
This was an entirely different experience to the coastal path. The roads in Cornwall are typically quite narrow so I had to keep my wits about me to ensure I stayed safe. I was also very aware that I might be the cause of an accident if someone saw me late and swerved. So I was constantly jumping up into roadside verges to hopefully keep everyone on the road safe. It was killer on the thighs but essential.
I was a couple of miles along this leg, heading towards Newbridge when I spotted some cars approaching. As had already become routine, I jumped up onto the verge to let them pass safely. However, the first car slowed and stopped. I waved them on, not wanting to disrupt anyone else’s day, but they didn’t move. I waved again, but then they put their hazard lights on and other people started overtaking them. I looked closer…. It was Phil and Sally!
They had been for a hike after dropping me off and were hoping to catch me at St Just to wish me well. Just the loveliest of people. We had a brief chat by the side of the road and then I was on my way once more after grabbing this selfie.
It was hard-going, uphill and into a consistent head-wind. But before too long I had made it over the hump and the expanse of Penzance Bay appeared into view. What a boost of energy. Now running downhill, towards the sun and my next destination – Cornish Pirates RFC.
The Mennaye Field
I arrived at a very quiet Mennaye Field, a hectic morning of Minis and Juniors rugby was all but cleared up. As I was doing a bit of filming on the pitch a couple of kids who had been playing that morning enquired as to what I was up to. I explained, they made noises of wonderment and then ran back and told their folks who immediately made a donation to the cause – how kind! They got given TGRR stickers, too!
Check them out in this video I recorded which also includes some personal stories from my times playing in Penzance and a clubhouse tour with Sally Coram.
*Note to self: ask questions that require more than a yes/no answer! *
The prior warnings had been earnest and plentiful. I knew what was coming. At least, I thought I did. However, Quarry Hill, rising behind Penzance on the way to St Ives was truly brutal. I learnt long ago that attempting to run up hills this steep is both a waste of time and energy, so I switched to power-walking.
Yes it was tough, yes my thighs were screaming, but the reward at the top of the hill was another spectacular view of Penzance Bay. The hill continued upwards but at a much more agreeable gradient and I ploughed on towards St Ives.
It was during this leg that I started to get worried. Pain was increasing in various parts of my feet. This was new. I’d had plenty of injuries previously but never felt anything like this. I considered whether the rocky terrain of the first leg had caused undue stress? It certainly wasn’t bad enough to consider stopping at this point, but issues like this so early in the run gave me serious cause for concern.
As I rolled into the outskirts of St Ives I was very much looking forward to a rest and refuel. I’d found a route through some small lanes to save me a few hundred metres. As I entered the lane I saw a little old lady just ahead of me. She must have been in her 70’s. She hadn’t heard me coming. As I passed, she jumped in the air, squealed and held her heart.
Embarrassed at causing alarm, I apologised profusely and told her I didn’t mean to startle her. “Oh no”, she said, “I just thought it was my lucky day!” I was still laughing as I ran into St Ives RFC some 500 metres later.
I wandered into town to wait for my host for the evening, Joel Ninnes. He was due to meet me at the rugby club but had picked up a last-minute surf-lifesaving shift down on the south coast. I bought a pasty and sat on the harbour wall within earshot of a street musician. Completely exhausted but with a belly full of pasty, a dream-like state overcame me as I sang along to britpop classics and watched the sun go down over the hill.