The 7 important things I learnt during Week One of The Great Rugger Run
1. STRANGERS CAN BE SO KIND
In truth, I’m a bit of a loner. Strongly independent at best. If I can, my preference is to get things done on my own. I’m not inclined to ask for help very often and, as such, I haven’t opened myself up to see how kind and generous people can be.
I didn’t have any support crew. The Great Rugger Run was me, just me. But I needed help. I needed accommodation and people to drive my bag between stops. I would have to figure all that stuff out on the way. I had faith in the rugby community to step up, and step up they did. But I found the constant need for assistance difficult. It didn’t sit well with me.
It would have been a lot more difficult too if the people I met during Week One hadn’t been such complete legends. They made me feel completely welcome and even more importantly, they appeared to take great pleasure in being able to play their part in the whole adventure.
I’ve already thanked everyone involved in person, but I was actually staggered at how mutually rewarding the whole experience was. The human connection was palpable and it felt special. I’m not sure how much time I spent smiling in that first week, but I’d wager it was more than usual.
2. MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES ARE RIFE
I’ve never had so many conversations about mental health. Doing this challenge for mental health charities opened the door for a lot of great chats. Some were captured during the videos I recorded but many more were conducted in private.
The range of conversations was vast. Some sad, and even tragic. Plenty full of hope and understanding. And lots in between. My biggest takeaway was that everyone has either suffered from a mental health issue or knows someone that has.
My other takeaway was that rugby clubs provide fantastic support systems. They always have to a degree, but now people are more aware of mental health issues, and people are more likely to open up and ask for help. The stigma is gradually being eroded and the more conversations that occur, the quicker we will be in a better place.
3. CORNWALL IS HILLY
Duh! I mean, I did know this, but I didn’t quite realise the extent of Cornwall’s hills. I was almost never on a flat surface. Even the rugby pitches were slopey.
Running uphill is obviously hard, but too much time on downhill sections can be equally taxing. I’d covered 120 miles in the first 6 days and apart from the Camel Trail along the estuary near Wadebridge virtually none of it had been flat.
I’d never run 120 miles in 6 days before. This was a personal record. When adding the effects of the hills and some very hot days, this gave me a huge amount of confidence. I knew that the terrain and weather were both likely to be more favourable in the coming weeks. However, the Cornish countryside and coastline were stunning and I’d miss them.
4. TIME IS HARD TO FIND
I had thought through what my average day would be like. I wanted to ensure I would have enough time to run, rest and enjoy visiting clubs and people. I figured I would spend around 4hrs a day on the road and that would leave me plenty of time to do everything else.
I was wrong.
Everything took longer than expected; saying goodbye to my wonderful hosts in the morning, the visits to rugby clubs, the running itself, organising visits to clubs, arranging places to stay and meeting and socialising with my new host in the evening. I anticipated having lazy afternoons on my laptop getting everything arranged for the coming weeks and days, the reality was that I barely opened my laptop during the first week.
This was a happy surprise. It meant that every moment of every day was being utilised. It meant that there was always something engaging and important to do. It felt great. However, it also meant that my organisation of Week Two was sorely lacking.
I had organised most of Week One before setting off. I decided that it would be prudent to see how things were going before trying to get things arranged for Week Two. No point in making arrangements that might not be realistic. I figured I would always try to stay one week ahead with my arrangements – that seemed reasonable. I hadn’t anticipated how little usable time I would have and with Week Two imminent, I had almost nothing arranged.
5. CONTACTING RUGBY CLUBS ISN’T ALWAYS EASY
I had to contact a lot of clubs. I was hoping to visit over 100 which, in reality, meant attempting to contact at least 20% more. To say I had underestimated this task would be a major understatement. I figured I would just send a few emails, people would respond and we’d arrange a visit.
Firstly, finding email addresses was virtually impossible as most clubs use a proprietary website system that only allows you to contact clubs via a web form. This means a punt into the ether. Your email may get sent, it may not. The person it’s aimed at may read it, they may not. This also means that if you wanted to try to contact five people from the same club you needed to send five separate messages. A number of people told me that they don’t really check their email as there is so much SPAM.
I became aware of the above issue halfway through Week One and started to try social media instead. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. A lot of clubs had more than one Twitter account. It took time to figure out which one was most active. Then I had to, again, send individual messages. Not too bad, assuming the person in charge of the club Twitter account reads and responds to messages. Sadly, this was often not the case.
So I tried the above for both Facebook and Instagram as well – a real scattergun approach and just hoped for the best. Some clubs never got back to me. Some clubs got back to me after I had passed by. And the last and rarest scenario was that I got a reply in time to get things organised. This was then further complicated by the fact I had to remember which platform I’d made contact with each club on (sometimes this got transferred to a WhatApp conversation) and as a result, I spent so much time scrolling through various messaging apps that I feared my head would explode.
This, along with lesson No.4 above, meant that I was badly behind in my planning.
6. ENCOUNTERS TURNED ME EXTROVERT
My biggest apprehension leading up to The Great Rugger Run wasn’t the running. It wasn’t finding accommodation or help to move my bag. It was the very real concern that I might run out of social energy. I’m an introvert and I can be quite a deep one if I spend too much time in company – especially new company.
This was a genuine concern and I talked about it on my podcast. How would I react if I was expected to be somewhere to meet people and I just didn’t feel up to it? What if I just wanted to retreat to my cave? I didn’t really have any answers to these questions except that I probably would just have to do the best I could.
However, six days into the run (plus two prep days in Penzance) and I hadn’t experienced a single urge to retreat. Usually, I can feel it coming. I start shutting down and I’ll disappear to enjoy a social hibernation. But that feeling just wasn’t there. I felt great and every interaction was giving me energy not taking it away.
At that point, a week in, I couldn’t really explain it. I just knew I liked it.
7. THE RUNNING WAS THE EASY BIT
Who would have thought running 120 hot, hilly miles in 6 days would have been the easy bit? But it was. I had trained for running, I’d prepared well and in spite of picking up an injury during training, I was in good shape.
I hadn’t prepared to organise a multi-faceted, complicated expedition with hundreds of stakeholders. I hadn’t even realised that that was what it was!
It was a shock and it was taking up every spare minute that I could find. It was challenging, but it was a challenge I was completely up for. Y’see, I was absolutely loving The Great Rugger Run and I would do anything it took to keep it on the road.