I shuffled along the seafront at the tiny Welsh seaside resort of Amroth. My wife Elvira , following me in her beat up old Vauxhall, wound down the window and shouted that it wasn’t much further to reach the large plaque that marked the end of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, West Wales. I hobbled into a run and smiled with quiet satisfaction as I reached the finish. A couple of bemused locals looked at Elvira and I inquisitively as they were asked to take photos of us both by the plaque.
My calm exterior belied the incredible struggle over the previous 7 days. Nearly 300 kilometres, the elevation of Everest, gale force winds that all but blew me off the cliff tops, 3 days of endless torrential rain in the wild, remote north, dodging adders, fending off crazed dogs, accosted by demented cows blocking my path, it felt like I had crammed 5 years of living into one week. It never felt so good to be alive!
Now that the ultimate goal had been reached, a strange sense of anti-climax came over me. Blisters covered the entire heel of my right foot as they had done for the last few days, every day getting steadily worse. Bandaged and rebandaged many times, it had been agony to put the heel on the ground throughout the final day. Furthermore, the calf of this leg had locked up completely in sympathy, which made hauling myself up the steep woodland between Tenby and Saundersfoot a massive effort of mind over matter.
Yet now that it was over I was sorry and wanted there to be more. Truly the journey is more important than the arrival and in this there is a clear lesson for life. We all labour to get to our destination but, caught up the struggle, miss out on much of the scenery of the journey. True fulfilment is to be found in the quality of the journey, not the destination, and nobody understands this better than the ultra runner. Trail running is the freedom to just be, away from all the cares and pettiness of everyday life, the thousands of distractions that interfere with connecting with anything meaningfully. The mentality of the ultra runner puts you in a never ending present – the past matters not and the future is usually too distant to contemplate, for your own well-being and sanity. In this present you become part of the natural landscape, no longer a social being. You gain the power to create yourself from moment to moment and to be who you truly can be – heroic in your own world. This is, for me, the ultimate liberation – the road to freedom.
This is the true story of my passage from a 42 kilo wasted alcoholic chain smoking wreck in a psychiatric day hospital with two failed suicide attempts to his name, to ironman distance triathlete and completing a 300 kilometre run along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path at the age of 59. None of us remain the same throughout our lives – life is a continuous succession of ups and downs, but my story proves that change is ALWAYS possible.
This book is dedicated to all those who refuse to be ordinary, who understand that you have a very limited time on this Earth, that there are no guarantees, those who live for today and don’t accept ‘impossible’. Apart from the fact that I find writing extremely cathartic, the purpose of this book is not self-publicity, but to inspire others to keep pushing the limits of what is possible, to believe in themselves and to follow your own road to freedom.