Almost all of my running miles used to be enjoyed alone; stolen moments for myself when I would tear down the woods or plod across the fields. Music would be blaring and my heart rate would rise until it beat in unison with whatever uptempo racket I'd selected from Spotify. Without fail, I'd always feel better afterwards. I'd imagine that my worries would be littered along the trails behind me and walkers would have to traipse around them, grumbling to themselves as they did so.
My first experience of running with company came in the form of a leggy ginger: Murphy dog. I loved showing him my repertoire of trail routes and he definitely seemed to share my enthusiasm. He was everything I'd envisaged in a running partner: speedy, fun and quiet.
Fast forward a few years and Luke and I are scrutinizing yet another plan for my next upcoming running adventure: the Wainwright's Coast to Coast. We'd become accustomed to the routine by now; one of us would split the route up into sections whilst the other diligently worked on the schedule - making a note of the place names and the mileage. This time we followed this up by adding grid references and What Three Words locations which proved useful.
We had added one more column to our standard template this time 'support runners'. The thought of this made me nervous; up until now we'd pretty much been a two-man band. We'd tagged along on a couple of successful Lakes rounds now and had learnt from the best in terms of how the logistics of a supported run works. We'd decided that this was the best option for us as although I'd done the route in April, this time I wanted to do it as quickly as possible. It seemed as though the best way to do that would be to have pacers, an extra hand with the navigation when I'm tired & the option of sticking a water bottle and a couple of Chia Charge bars in someone elses bag and running bag-free.
I'd describe myself as an intro-extravert. In some ways as more and more runners' names appeared on the support list I felt a surge of excitement - yey they could come to my running party! The other side of me squirmed at the thought of asking people to come along just to help me. What if they didn't want to but didn't feel they could say no? It all felt very self-indulgent.
Despite any reservations, before long we had a star-studded team of runners and more importantly, road support to help ensure that Luke got a rest from crewing duties too. Sometimes we joke that he gets the hard job. Don't tell him but it is definitely the least enjoyable option, I'd always prefer to do the running. All the same, reliable road support is without a doubt the most important part of a supported run. If they know how you take your coffee and are accurate when guessing your wants and needs - they're priceless.
In the weeks that led up to my FKT attempt, Luke worked tirelessly to ensure that everything went to plan: he dealt with runners' questions, problem-solved and quickly filled in any newly available support runner vacancy spots with the best candidates. 'Never again,' I heard him exclaim a couple of times. 'Yeah right,' I giggled to myself.
Although we fretted about timings, transport & truanters, on the day, only one runner didn't show up due to the adverse weather. He was probably having an outfit dilemma: were wellington boots or a wetsuit more appropriate to aid navigating through the flooded lanes? We couldn't have created a better team. Everything flowed with ease and people moulded around me (of course I was fashionably late from time to time). Nothing was too much trouble and between them they filled in gaps and problem-solved effectively.
In some ways, I would have loved to capture all of those little moments that everyone in the van didn't experience : the copious amounts of water, the risky river crossings, the vivacious wind as well as the ripples of laughter. In other ways it's irrelevant, we were there, we have the memories and the tales to tell.
Our diverse team brought a range of different qualities to the table; some of which proved to be invaluable. My one take-home tip is that experience doesn't necessarily guarantee a great support runner. Nevertheless, a mix of personalities usually complement each other in the best way. Your strong, experienced runners could still be useful for pacing and navigation. Your inexperienced runners could be the most in tune with how you feel and what you might need.
On reflection, those that turned up weren't bag carriers, pacers or navigators. They were mood-lifters, hug-givers & even river-crossing supporters. Those lovely people, some who'd given up a whole weekend to watch me running (at, quite frankly, a shockingly slow pace) had played a part in helping me achieve something that felt very special because we'd done it together as a team. Some of the team dealt with horrific weather, others ran painfully slow miles with no complaints and a handful stayed up all night - plodding for hours in the dark is not everyone's idea of the perfect Saturday night.
By the time I touched the sea on the East Coast I had spent time with twenty-two special people whom I now call friends. What are friends if not people that you can call up to come for a run somewhere random at a ridiculous time? I look forward to returning the favor twenty-two times over and I look forward to the next time we have reason to plan another running party.
PS - It's officially a FKT!