Walking

Elise Downing is a walker, runner and writer. The first woman and youngest person to run a lap of Great Britain self-supported, she knows the power of putting one foot in front of the other.

Elise’s debut book, ‘Coasting’, charting her adventures is out now. Find out about Elise and read an extract from the book below. 

Elise Downing

Giveaway - *now closed*

Deadline for entries was midnight on Sunday 11 July, 2021. Congratulations to our winner, Zak. 

I started running in 2013 on the back of a new year’s resolution. At the time, I couldn’t run for more than a few minutes. The first time I ran a whole mile without stopping felt like a kind of magic. I was immediately hooked on the way that something completely and utterly impossible could so tangibly become something possible. Running around the coast of Great Britain only compounded this theory and it’s something I love talking about, warts and all.

The decision to run 5,000 miles around the coast of Great Britain, carrying my kit on my back, came as quite a surprise to everybody, including myself. I wasn’t an ultrarunner and I’d never done any solo-adventuring before. I’m really not exaggerating when I say that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I just had this strong feeling that I wanted to do something.

By some miracle it all worked out okay (well, mostly, there was quite a lot of crying on grass verges along the way) and in August 2016, ten months after setting out, I became the first woman and youngest person to run a lap of Great Britain self-supported.

Running around the coast of the UK was the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’m endlessly proud of 23-year-old me for giving it a go. You can read more about that whole ridiculous adventure in Coasting.

Extract from Coasting

I made it to John o’ Groats on 22 June, the second longest day of the year. I ran 20 miles from Thurso under stormy Scottish skies to get there – plus the nearly 4,000 more miles preceding that.

I snatched a glimpse of sunshine between rain showers to have my picture taken by the famous signpost. It’s free to have your picture taken in John o’ Groats, unlike Land’s End where you have to pay £10 for the privilege. At the signpost I started chatting to an Australian couple who were touring around Europe, and a man around my age who was starting his length-of-Britain cycle down to Land’s End from there. They commented on my tan and asked what I was doing there.

“Well, you’ve stolen my thunder a bit then haven’t you,” the man on the bike complained. “Before you arrived these guys were well impressed with my challenge!”

We stood there laughing for a while and it all felt very surreal. The man cycled off to start his own adventure and I said goodbye to the couple and went to find an ice cream and a beer to celebrate.

Whilst drinking that beer, cheers-ing myself because there was nobody else around, I looked at the pictures that the Australian woman had taken of me by the sign. My legs looked strong, I noticed for maybe the first time. I had muscles – who knew? I looked healthy and happy, like somebody who had spent a lot of time outside in the sun.

It still felt fairly unbelievable that my legs had carried me that far. I had another two months left and 1,000 or so miles to run before I finished. In any other circumstance, that in itself would be a fair old feat. But sitting there in John o’ Groats it really did feel like I was on the home straight, just as I had hoped it would.