All stories have a beginning.
All good stories start with an idea.
All good ideas usually come after a beer.
This one particular beer got me and my mate Leigh into what may have been the most epic run of our lives so far.
Here’s the story:
Leigh and I have a fair bit of running history between us. We’ve ran various Ultramarathons together, which usually involves us taking it in turns to have “moments” – usually either involving our legs giving up, or a quick dash into the nearest bush. Either way we’ve managed to encourage each other and push each other to the end.
Via FB messenger we started talking about a self supported run – 2018 had been a good year for both of us – we’d completed a fair few races, had some good results and ticked a few boxes off the old bucket lists. Being a Norfolk boy, Leigh suggested we go on a jolly along the Norfolk Coastal Path. Easily sign posted, local and going through areas of OSNB.
Me being me, I started taking it one step further and looking into the fastest times for the official route – perhaps unfortunately I found that there was no official time as of yet!
“Leigh mate, how about we try and set an FKT?!”
Knowing Leigh and knowing which buttons to press, we ended up agreeing that this would be slightly more serious than a “jolly” and that the 83 mile stretch of coastline from Hunstanton to Hopton on Sea would be a lot more pressured than we thought.
So we got in touch with Norfolk Trails and registered the attempt as well as getting some extremely useful info on tide times, and route diversions. Thanks to Jack Davidson for this!
We decided to keep everything under wraps until we set off, and chose 7pm on Tuesday 11th December as our start time in Hunstanton. I had some social posts for my personal account and Norfolk Trails FB/Instagram ready to go, and it was all starting to feel a bit real!
We had a lift to the start, and went to a local pub to grab a quick coffee before kick off. We were dressed for the cold, as the temperature was down to about 2 degrees, and although we knew for the first few hours our bodies would keep us warm, we would need the extra layers as tiredness set in, especially towards dawn.
The first couple of hours went by without hazard, passing through Holme, and reminiscing of the end of the Peddars Way Ultramarathon, before turning inland for a stretch at Thornham. For me this was probably the most tedious bit of the route, and I was glad to come back towards the coast. We had been pushing relatively hard considering the distance / terrain we had yet to cover, and we were feeling good.
As is standard for my bowels, I needed to get rid of some extra baggage at the traditional 30km mark so I dipped off the track for a much needed toilet break. That done, we carried onto the boardwalks at Brancaster, and into the coastal section through Burnham deepdale on the way towards Wells Next to the Sea. I felt like we could see the lights from Wells for a long time before we reached it, but it eventually came and we took the opportunity to top up with water and have a brief warm up in a local pub. We were soon shoved out as it turns out it was a private function!
As we left for the run towards Stiffkey, Leigh started to struggle with his left knee. Either the cold or the terrain had gotten to it, and he was struggling to run at this point. We decided to powerwalk for a few minutes at a time, and although this helped ease the pain, we started to get concerned about finding a boat to spend the night in, if Leigh couldn’t carry on.
Leigh soldiered on through Morston, and strapped the knee with a spare Buff he had – the compression seemed to work, and we made full use of an open public toilet at Blakeney Point to give it a good warming up, and top up water again.
The warmth was much needed as the temperature was now 0/1 degrees with frost on the ground, and we both knew that the dreaded start of the shingle beach was coming. From here on the NCP dipped in and out of beaches all the way back to Hopton, but this 4 mile section of shingle was utterly horrendous, and seriously slowed us down. We pushed on, knowing that Cromer, and the halfway point would soon be upon us, and as we left the shingle and beach behind we got through Sherringham, tackled the Beeston Bump (what a view, even at Night) and eventually made our way into the coastal town of Cromer.
Mentally this was a great turning point in the run, over half way, and daylight would soon rear it’s beautiful head! Our next target was Sea Palling, some 19 miles of coastal trails and cliff paths away. We had both wanted to reach the Mundesley area in time for dawn as we were now on the East coast and knew that we would be in for a right treat – the dawn breaking over the waves and sand made for an emotional moment, and renewed our energy.
The beach stretches started to get longer, and by the time we arrived into Sea Palling, we were both pretty bereft of energy. We were around 100km into the run and needed a pick me up. There was a penny arcade that had just opened, so we grabbed a milky cappuccino, a bacon roll and double checked the remainder of the route. We had what turned out to be a lovely stretch next, that ran through Horsey Gap, and we had the pleasure of seeing hundreds of seals as we rolled our way up and down the coastal trails on our final push towards Great Yarmouth, and beyond to Hopton.
The stretch between Winterton and Caister turned out to be a bit bleak – the path/cliffs here are degrading, and is made up of caravan sites which are slowly being deconstructed, with large rubbish piles and fires. We kept our heads down, and pushed on, until we reached the edge of Great Yarmouth. The tarmac stretch into the town centre was around 2km long, and we were glad to finally find some shops, grab a sausage roll and drink, before the last, magnificent push to Hopton on Sea and the finish.
The sunlight was starting to dip again, so we summed up our energy and left Great Yarmouth, running through a large industrial area until we got to Gorleston, and a vast stretch of lights all along the sea front. Hopton MUST be at the end of those lights, we thought…
We ran, and we ran hard, only to be greeted by another beach at the end of the deceptive lights and for another mile or so we trudged along, desperate to find the “Beach Road” that marked the end of our 83 mile journey. We trudged up through some holiday homes, eyes pinned on the GPS until we finally reached it.
We ran and ran until we almost collapsed in front the final sign from utter exhaustion and relief.
We had an hour or so until we needed to catch our train from GY so we went into the nearest pub, ordered four pints and sat. I can honestly say that those two glasses of glorious ale, were magical.
We were in a dazed state on the way home. Tiredness and disbelief overtook and we were mostly in silence, absorbing the last 22 hours.
So we did it. A shade over 22 hours to complete, a route that has stolen my heart and mind. A route that is vastly underestimated for its utter balance of beauty and brutality.
We won’t forget it in a hurry, and it’s now stamped in our memories as 22 hours of pain, joy, and pride.
By the way, we’re very normal guys, we just had an abnormal ambition. There was every chance we could have failed, but we cracked on, we didn’t die, and we got through.
A month on and it still makes me smile whenever I think about this little adventure. But mostly, I hope it inspires others to get out and find their own adventure.
A massive thanks to National Trails, especially Jack Davidson in his pre race support and also social media updates during the run. https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/peddars-way-and-norfolk-coast-path/trail-info/what-fastest-time-complete-trail