Running 5000 Miles Around the Coast of the UK | #EverydayLifeOutdoors

On paper, Elise’s life was going well. She was living in London in her early twenties with a new flat, a degree and a promising job at a start-up. She was in the early stages of a relationship and had a brilliant social life in the buzzing capital. But something was missing, and it was making her miserable.

“I’m really not exaggerating when I say that I had absolutely no bloody clue what I was doing. I just had this strong feeling that I wanted to do something”

Looking back it is now obvious that Elise’s insatiable appetite for adventure wasn’t being satisfied. So she did what other bold adventurers had done before and took the brave step of uprooting her life in pursuit of fulfilment. She couldn’t get the idea of running around the coast of Britain out of her mind, despite her only running experience being in the form of running a marathon dressed as a Crayola crayon, during which she “cried for a solid eight miles and got heckled by a small child who called me The Crying Crayon”.

So how does a Crying Crayon, with no ultra-running or solo-adventuring experience, end up becoming the youngest person and first woman to run 5,000 miles self-supported around the coast of the UK? Elise tells us in her own words in our latest #EverydayLifeOutdoors feature.

What makes an adventurer?

In the 10 months that it took Elise to circumnavigate the coast of the UK, she learned a great deal about herself and about us humans in general. She rejects the idea that she’s an elite athlete and believes that an adventurer lies within all of us. “I read about all these people who’d go off and just do a casual 20-mile run on a Saturday and I was like, I want to be that person, but I absolutely wasn’t that person. It felt so far away”. Now a seasoned ultra-runner, Elise expands “You don’t have to be the best runner to do these things, you just have to be the person who is brave enough to have a go”. She’s adamant that mental toughness and thorough planning will always prevail over natural fitness – an inspirational message for all of us who have dreams of a big adventure.

“You don’t have to be the best runner to do these things, you just have to be the person who is brave enough to have a go”

The highs and lows

It’s safe to say there were some ups and downs along the way, and we’re not talking about the height above sea level. Elise battled for the first 1,000 miles. She recalls thinking “I’m only 20% of the way through and I’ve got so much more to go. It had just been this really wet, wild winter and I remember thinking I can’t have wet feet for another seven months!”.

Things eventually looked up. “As I went into the summer, it got more enjoyable. I could run distances I never thought I would be able to”. She talks fondly about the individuals she met along the way and insists she couldn’t have done it without them. Building a following as she went around the coast, people began to reach out to Elise and offer her a warm place to stay when she passed their local area. “The people I met were the best part of the adventure for sure. I just couldn’t quite believe how people welcomed me into their homes. It just become like a domino effect of kindness”.

Elise downing in The lake District

What kit did she use?

“it was quite a sparse setup”, reveals Elise as she talks through the basic kit that got her through the challenge. Considering that she had to carry it on her back for 5,000 miles, it’s no surprise! She had a tent, a sleeping bag and an air mat along with her clothing. “ I basically had what I call the dry kit and the wet kit. So the kit I was running in day to day and then what I’d put on in the evening”. Her best piece of advice? “The best kit I had was the kit that was dry. You have to make sure it stays dry”.

How much did it cost?

Elise budgeted about £10 a day, planning that she would wild camp or stay with friendly strangers along the way. She feels privileged to have had such an experience but feels that the UK is the perfect place for an accessible adventure. “If you go and do an adventure and you’re climbing Everest or rowing across an ocean, that’s hugely expensive and can cost like a hundred thousand pounds. But what I did didn’t cost any more than going travelling for that period of time. I was really lucky to be able to go and do it, but I feel it’s a much more accessible adventure and probably more affordable than people would think”.

Elise Downing’s Top 5 Coastal Trails in the UK

South West Coastal Path

South West Coastal Path

“I think that the South West Coastal Path is real national treasure and one of our best outdoor assets here in the UK. Well-signposted and maintained, for most of its 630 miles, the SWCP hugs the coast tightly, meaning constant views over rugged cliffs, chances to spot seals and sea birds and access to amazing secret coves. I ran it in the middle of winter which made the scenery even more dramatic and meant I had the trail to myself a lot of the time. It runs from Dorset to Somerset but pick any section and I don't think you'll be disappointed!”

The Northumberland Coast Path

South West Coastal Path

“I'd never been to Northumberland before running around its coast and I was really pleasantly surprised. There's only about 1000m of elevation over the whole 63 miles and it was a nice relief to have all the fun of coastal running but on some slightly gentler trails. Definitely one for the history lovers with the opportunity to visit ancient castles along the way. Make sure you stop for a famous Craster kipper too if you're feeling fishy.”

The Moray Coast Trail

South West Coastal Path

“Scotland has some incredible coastline but I found there wasn't always a coast path to accompany it, meaning I was over running inland or on roads. The Moray Coast Trail was a definite exception to this. I especially loved the sections where you had the forest to one side, and the sea to the other - the best of both worlds! And if you're really lucky, this is a great area to see bottlenose dolphins.”

Pembrokeshire Coast Path

South West Coastal Path

“I ran around Pembrokeshire during the spring and after months of wet feet, the weather improved and longer days just made everything feel like a dream. Sometimes described as the South West Coast Path in miniature, Pembrokeshire offers just as much amazing scenery and fantastic trails, but lots of sections are fairly remote and as a result much quieter. I can also highly recommend a day trip to Skomer island to see the puffins - one of the best days out of my life!”

Isle of Arran Coastal Path

South West Coastal Path

“I just think there's something really satisfying about running a full lap of an island, and Arran gives you the opportunity to do that over a few days. Coast paths with mountain backdrops, whiskey distilleries to visit along the way, tidal boulderfields to clamber over, tons of wildlife... visiting Arran felt like a real adventure in itself.”

Visit our #EverydayLifeOutdoors hub using the button below to read more inspiring stories of individuals who prove that outdoor adventure is for everyone. To keep up with Elise’s future adventures, visit her website.

Adam is a lover of the outdoors who’s recently moved back to rural Lancashire after living in the urban confines of Leeds for the past few years. His favourite pastimes include cooking, playing countless sports to a barely acceptable standard and exploring the local countryside with his dog, Chip.

When the weather gets in the way, Adam can be found at home watching films & TV and listening to music. If he’s not there, he’ll be in the pub down the road.  

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