Women’s Running Podcast Episode 59: Elise Downing, the youngest person to run the coast of Britain - Women's Running

Women’s Running Podcast Episode 59: Elise Downing, the youngest person to run the coast of Britain

Author: Holly Taylor

Read Time:   |  October 20, 2021

Prefer reading Women's Running content? Check out Esther's full interview with Elise Downing from the podcast here...

Welcome to Episode 59 of the Women’s Running Podcast. In this episode, I speak to Elise Downing. I first heard of Elise when her brilliant book Coasting landed on my doormat. Elise is the youngest person ever to run the coast of Britain. And she has written a masterful memoir of that experience, detailing the literal and figurative ups and downs in the kind of voice that makes you want to go for a pint with her. What makes that feat even more remarkable, as I discovered during this discussion, is that she set out with very little preparation and absolutely no idea about what such a thing would entail. She tells me about that, about the enthusiasm of her mentor Anna McNuff, but also her horror at how little planning Elise had done beforehand, how she trained on the job, on becoming a fully paid up member of the Yes Tribe… and the problem with cows.

Esther: I was going through your Instagram and just realised I think you’re based near me, I’m in Bath.

Elise: I’m in Bristol, that’s really close!

Esther: I saw that you’d be running on the Portishead coastal bit. And I did that a couple of weeks ago.

Elise: I literally love it. It really feels like you’re on the coast path and I like the Severn Channel. How long have you lived in Bath?

Esther: I’m from London. But I’ve lived in Bath for most of my life now. What about you? Have you always been in Bristol?

Elise: No, I moved here about 18 months ago. I’m from Northampton, middle of the Midlands, but I lived in London for seven eight years got remember and then moved to Bristol. Yeah, just before, just pre pandemic. I think I expected to go back to London or that was like oh it’s not very far I’ll end up going back to London all the time, and then went full cold turkey on my old life.

Esther: Yeah, it’s lovely to escape isn’t it once you’ve done it.

Elise: I knew I wanted to leave London for a few years and I cried wolf a few times; my friends wouldn’t let me have a leaving party when I eventually left because I talked about leaving so many times. I think I definitely know wanted to leave, but once I left I have not had a single moment of wishing I lived there again, and whenever I do go back for a weekend I’m so glad I don’t live here.

Esther: I wanted to talk about your book, if I can just launch straight into it. It’s absolutely lovely. I really really enjoyed it. I love the fact that it just feels like it’s written by a mate – you know, you’ve got a really nice voice in it. It’s really kind of friendly and comforting, even though you’re going through all this all this stuff.

Elise: I wrote it in my living room and it feels a bit mad the idea that people are actually reading it!

Esther: So it’s called Coasting, and it details your run around the coast of Britain, like the whole coast, all of it, right. I think that what immediately struck me is I mean, you’re young, you’re like, really young. And when I hear about people doing challenges, like FKTs and stuff like that, it does tend to be people who are a little bit older, you know, 30s or 40s. But you’re really young, and you decided to take on this massive, massive challenge. Why did you do that?

Elise: Yeah, I mean, sometimes it feels like a bit of a weird dream. And I’m like, oh my gosh, like I honestly I think a large part was ignorance is bliss. I really didn’t know what I was thinking. I think so when I set off I was 23. And I think I just always liked the idea of like, doing something but I always liked the idea of like, I don’t know going on a big adventure or whatever. I’d never thought in any detail about what that might actually involve or be and I wasn’t the sporty kid. I hadn’t done lots of running as a child I’d like kind of really just started running. But I started following all these people online doing all these huge adventures, people like Anna McNuff who was running the length of New Zealand at the time. And I just I think I just finished university I was working in London during my first graduate job, and I just had that feeling which it feels like such a cliche to say but just a bit of like, this is not all it’s cracked up to be. I was basically spending my whole life commuting, working really long hours, and I was just like, this can’t be it. And just the thought of sitting behind that desk for another 40 or 50 years just felt like mind blowing. And then I kind of just had the idea of running around the country. I was actually sitting at work one day and I worked for a food company and we delivered things to customers and I was working out if we could deliver something to someone in the highlands and the idea just popped right fully formed really into my mind, like oh, and yeah, I do I think yeah, it was just fun.

So I just kind of had this idea and it just seemed like a I don’t know, obviously, like a bit more of like an acceptable way to sort of like quit my whole life because I kind of like been to university, I’ve done a little bit of travelling and stuff and I can’t just like quit my job, but if I’ve got a big adventure that’s like a really plausible reason to quit my whole life. So that was kind of it.

Esther: Were you a big runner?

Elise: No. The idea popped into my mind in about March 2015. And I’d started running in January of 2013, so two years before that, but my training was poor. I really liked the idea of running and I spent a lot of time reading running blogs and reading about all these people doing running and it seemed like they all got so much out of it and it seemed like this magical thing, and I think I wanted to be that person. But at the time it wasn’t like I hadn’t got into the habit of doing it kind of day to day and it wasn’t a big part of my life. But then I did a few half marathons and an absolutely disastrous marathon where I really hadn’t done enough training – I was dressed as a Crayola crayon to raise money for charity. And I just spent like eight miles crying, and small child called me The Crying Crayon. And yeah, it stuck with me. And so then that I haven’t done any ultra running so yeah, that was my running career really. So isn’t it I think I always say I wasn’t a runner at all, I definitely wasn’t an experienced ultra runner. I hadn’t done multi day races, I didn’t know a lot of this stuff existed. I think if I knew how much there was to the whole world of ultra running, I probably would have realised how out of my depth I was but I just didn’t know.

Esther: How were your family when you when you spoke to them about it? Are they particularly sporty with encouraging?

Elise: Yes, my family are definitely. My brother’s always been a runner. He coaches a running group, he runs fast and does like track running and stuff. My brother, and my mum and dad are both runners. My mum started when I think she was about 40, but she’s pretty rapid. She’s quite good. And my dad kind of ran a bit to kind of keep fit and I’d roped him into doing a couple of races. For instance, I made him dress in fairy wings for the race that I was dressed as a Crayola crayon. My family were all runners [but] I wasn’t a sporty kid at all. But equally, we did do a lot of walking up mountains and stuff when I was a kid, but I think I sort of probably underestimated how much that like plants a seed in my mind about it the whole time, and my dad thinks it’s hilarious. So when I told them, I think they were just a bit bemused. Like, I just don’t think they really thought it would happen. Like my brother especially was just like, you would what? So I think there was surprise, but I don’t think it was really till I got to the start line that any of my friends and family really thought I was serious about this. I think they just thought it was a bit of a joke.

Esther: And there were other people that you were speaking to. You’ve mentioned Anna McNuff. And she ended up kind of, like almost mentoring you in a little way. How did you arrange that?

Elise: So Anna, basically, she was a friend of a friend. And when I said I was going to do this thing, my friend said, oh, you should get in touch with my friend Anna. So I sent her this email, I think I’ve put a snippet of it in the book, like Hi, I’m thinking about doing this thing. And I’m terrible at emails at the best of times, but Anna was literally in the New Zealand bush at the time and emailed me back almost instantly [saying] yes, this is a great idea! And I think probably because unlike my friends and family, I guess like random people in the adventure community probably didn’t realise maybe quite how unprepared I was. So she was just so enthusiastic and was like, go and do it. And then when she got to Wellington, the next city, she Skyped me from New Zealand and she was just amazing. And then when she got back to London we met up a few times. And I think mostly because she was a bit horrified by how little planning I’ve done when it got to about a month before we went to Leon one day and had some sort of salad for dinner and she got her laptop out and made a spreadsheet for me of the first week. If it wasn’t for the support of people like that… I mean every single person I spoke to was just like, this is so exciting. Do it! Which was amazing really.

Esther: Yeah, my experience is that crazy ultra runners are among the friendliest, nicest people I think I’ve ever met in my life.

Elise: I’ve thought about this a little bit more recently, probably because I’ve spent more time talking about it because of the book and I don’t know if it’s because when you kind of chat to more people doing these kind of things, you realise especially a lot of ultra runners don’t necessarily come from a super sporty background. And I think it’s made that thing of them realising that they haven’t always done it, so like anybody can. I genuinely believed I could run around the country. Anyone could basically, and I think lots of ultra runners do kind of have that attitude, like they know it’s just something anyone could do and it’s actually a lot more accessible than you might think, I think maybe that’s part of it.

Esther: Yeah, well sort of accessible! I mean, like, you’re running some like incredible mileage on some of those days; how did you train for doing all that kind of back to back running?

Elise: I very much trained on the job. I had all these grand plans of training before I went and it just didn’t really happen as was the story of my life at the time. So but I think the good thing is if you’re obviously going to do like a single day race or a week long challenge you need to like hit the ground running those distances from the outset, whereas I had 10 months to play with and so I really just started really slowly, like a lot of the days at the beginning I was doing like less than 10 miles sometimes, especially on the south west coast path where it was super hilly and in the middle of winter very muddy – like a lot of it wasn’t really runnable, so doing a lot of walking up hills and sliding down them, although it was quite an extreme way to do it. I think in a lot of ways I was almost training and I was building up the distances quite gradually over the course, like my pace was really slow, I was having a lot of breaks eating a lot. So yeah, it was quite a gradual increase and yeah, I physically like I really didn’t start from like a good starting point. So I somehow managed to get to the big distances at the end.

Esther: Yeah, I was really interested in that too. You don’t necessarily think that the coast is really uppey-downey but it really, really is, isn’t it, and plus you have a camber as well to cope with I mean what was that like? Did you expect that? Did you know that that was going to happen?

Elise: I went to university in Plymouth and that was when I started running, so I’ve done a little bit of running on the coast path around there. I kind of knew it wasn’t just going to be like a flat prom the whole way around. I think I definitely didn’t realise quite how hilly it would be, and I remember there was one bit where my dad came to stay with me somewhere in Cornwall and he was marathon training at the time and like desperate to run a sub-three, and he went out to do a four mile easy training run [and he said] I’ll be back in half an hour, and then about an hour later he arrived back – he was like, it’s not flat out there! I think the South West Coast path, which goes from Dorset to Somerset, you cover that elevation of Everest four times or something, and it was super muddy – I mean I fell over about five times a day, I slid around most of it.

Esther: I’m so envious of it. I’m just envious of the time that you had in order to do it and the places that you must have seen as well. I mean you must have seen some absolutely beautiful places – were there parts of the UK that you know surprised you in terms of how beautiful they were?

Elise: Yeah definitely. I definitely feel very lucky to have spent literally 10 months of my life like running around the coast Britain. It didn’t seem like anything to take 10 months out of my life in a way that even like six years later I’m not sure I’d be that up for. I think the my favourite part I’ve already mentioned it a few times by far was the Southwest Coast Path it’s beautiful, and I think the thing that’s really special about it is that there are lots of other places like in Scotland for instance where the coast is stunning but you’re not necessarily always right on it – like there’s not that infrastructure of trails and paths so you might be having to run on a road a bit more inland or whatever, but [with the Southwest Coast Path] you’re literally for the most part the path cut into the cliff and you’re like there and the sea’s on your left and the lands’ on your right, and I think it’s one of the most special things we’ve got the UK it’s so well maintained, it’s such a fantastic resource. Even the not so good bits were still quite nice!

Esther: I did wonder though, I mean you know this is 10 months, this is lots of you running – and I know that some people did occasionally join you on route – but that must have been a lot of time on your own. Did you get lonely?

Elise: Yeah. Running around the country and writing a book very similar in that you spend a lot of time on your own in your own head, talking to yourself. I think actually almost the opposite – [I felt quite a lot of] pressure when people came to join me, which was ridiculous because they definitely didn’t expect this – but in my head I had to give them almost like this amazing tour guide experience of being on an adventure ,and then often people came and ran and it would be rubbish weather and we’d get a bit lost and I just I found it… I felt like people I don’t know turned up like in their ultra packs looking like real runners, I was like I’m just going to let you down. I found it I made a lot of pressure for myself sometimes when people tend to run with me, so actually sometimes I find it easier when I was on my own because I think I got to the point a few months in where I was like, I’m doing this – I clearly can do it, and I had like my little routines and I knew like how fast to go and when to stop for snack and stuff. I sometimes felt like people would come in expecting me to be this like ultra explorer which I don’t think they were but in my head they were.

Esther: Was there anything else that surprised you about you or about the landscape as you were running it?

Elise: I think the main thing that surprised me about me was well just that I could do it I guess. I felt like I had this idea and then when I first started saying I was going to do it and planning it I kind of it was just that like quite far even it was only six months before it just felt like this thing I didn’t really think through. I don’t think like the practicalities of doing it and then it was quite nice moment like a few months in, like I’m actually doing this, I’m running this, and I guess I can do it. So yeah, I think that was quite nice. And I think just the sort of knowledge that you can have a bit of a mad idea and it doesn’t matter if you’re completely unqualified for it to go.

But I think the main thing that surprised me was just how nice people were to me. And it was I think it was Anna, again, actually who I feel like my whole book is basically like an ode to every person I mentioned, before I went, she did lots of travelling in the states and New Zealand and various other places. She’s like, you’ll be blown away by how kind people are. And I was like, that won’t happen in the UK, don’t be silly. And then I started posting videos on my Facebook page, mostly just my friends or family, and my brother spammed every running forum on Facebook with my page. He was my biggest hype man. And people started to follow it and stuff. And through that, and friends of friends, I ended up staying with hundreds of strangers and pitching my tent less than a third at the time. I was just overwhelmed by how welcoming and kind people were when I was doing this thing. And I didn’t know what I was doing. And it was just very heartwarming how nice people were to me, basically.

Esther: And to zoom you right back to the other side of that feeling, what were the very worst bits about doing it? Because I’m sure there were a few.

Elise: I think quite the worst thing really is just the monotony of it. Like I think on big adventures and I’ve kind of spoken to other people have done different things, whether it’s like walking, cycling, running an ocean, whatever it is, a lot of it is not that exciting, but I think you think about someone being adventure and you think every moment will be packed with action and a lot of it’s just like plodding along one foot in front of the other like often in rubbish weather and, and I think it was just that like sort of endlessness of it. And now I remember, there was the moment where I was about 1000 miles in and a couple of months in and I just remember thinking like, if I told people I was going on a 1000 mile run, everyone would be just as impressed. I’d be just as impressed! Why did I bite off something quite so huge? And it just felt like I was gonna be running forever. And I think that was the hard bit. And then there was a kind of a real turning point. Somewhere in Scotland where the weather became incredible. And I suddenly I was over halfway, I had less to do than I had done and that like endlessness of it stopped, like went away, and that’s when I think I started to really enjoy it. It did sort of feel like being on the home straight. At the beginning it was just like staring down the barrel of this endless road. And at the time because I’d like built up quite slowly in terms of mileage, I didn’t know at that point that I would get to the point where I could quite easily do sort of like 20 or 30 miles most days. I was like, if I’m still going 10 miles a day this is going to take me forever!

Esther: So… why? Why did you choose that massive thing other than you know, over something like 1000 miles? Was it your gap year? Was it your… Did you find yourself in some way?

Elise: Yeah, I think that’s what it was! It was just the idea I had, like I it wasn’t like I was like, I’m gonna go into running adventure and sat down and made a big list of ideas. The idea of running around the British coast was the first thing I came up with really. I don’t know what it was really; it was there’s one thing that really appealed to me about particularly doing that journey. And also I think in terms of like it is quite like a frivolous thing to do I guess, and I was like if I quit my job and move out of my flat to go away for a month that feels a bit extreme whereas it felt like a kind of plausible reason to quit my whole life basically to go away for 10 months almost. So I think yeah, it made it seem like a more sensible decision. I don’t know if it was honestly, it was just the idea I had and I was like yeah, I’m gonna do that.

Esther: Did you have any rest days?

Elise: Yeah, somost weeks I think I had a rest day and then two or three times I had like a few days off to get like a few more days, usually when like my parents or a couple of times two friends came to visit and then I took take a week off with them, but yeah, most weeks I had at least one rest day. I generally planned that because I stayed with so many amazing people and sometimes especially if it was like a friend of a friend or something [they’d say] you’re like welcome stay for two nights. Especially in the winter when it was obviously a bit grim just sitting in your tent literally all day for a rest day. I would kind of time it for when there was somewhere to be because I think that was one of the hardest things about it: even on days when I was running quite long distances, there’s still a lot of day left and it was working out what to do with myself with the rest of those hours in the day that was kind of especially in the winter was difficult.

I think that’s why I ended up spending more money than I thought I would because I spent a lot more time sitting in cafes drinking coffee charging my phone than I expected to, because you have to go somewhere. A lot of time walking our supermarkets as well. My mum always jokes that she dreaded it when I found out when I was in a supermarket because she was, “I don’t want a description on everything!” – she said it was so boring

Esther: I was reading something in your book where you were talking about the dread of like the first night that you’re going to pitch your tent – I really felt that, what did that feel like? Was that horrible?

Elise: Yeah, so I think I guess I just kind of thought that because I’ve done a bit of camping with my family and with friends, I think I just had in my head that I would set foot on this adventure and I’d suddenly become really brave and adventurous and I’d be happy to put my tent up in a ditch anywhere. Surprise surprise, that didn’t happen! And I think I just and especially because people were just so kind to me and especially in the winter when it was kind of off peak season everywhere, quite a few like hostels and B&Bs let me have room while they were empty, and I put off pitching my tent so much that it just became this like thing in my head. And the first night I eventually did it I booked into a campsite so I didn’t have to do it just like on the side of the road. And it was actually a bit of a relief when it came because it’s like I think I kind of beat myself up a bit about not being adventurous and not camping over the winter but I had some like really great night camping but it definitely just became a bit of a mental block almost because I think there’s this thing when you and obviously sometimes on a big adventure like it’s necessary to go places, or obviously often it is like a budget thing because there was not a plan to camp, because there was no way I could afford to stay somewhere every night for 10 months but I always think it’s fine to want to go for a long run but want to like stay places in between and especially on shorter things but that’s not such a huge cost ,so I think I probably like didn’t need to beat myself up about it too much, but in my head I wasn’t doing the adventure properly because I wasn’t camping.

Esther: I think you were! I think another thing that crops up in the book quite a bit is the Yes Tribe. What is that?

Elise: The Yes Tribe is basically… so there’s Dave Cornthwaite, he’s an adventurer and he was I think he’s still doing his basically his thing, he was trying to do 25 journeys of 1000 miles or more under human power. He’s done like a swimming one, cycling and he’s done some like really mad modes of transport like weird bikes that you’ve had along the water and loads of random things, and he had this kind of almost like initiative to say yes more, trying to encourage people to go on adventures. And that summer, just before I set off in 2015, he was spending summer in the UK and he decided to just invite people on his Facebook page to go camping for the night with the idea to like get a bit of a community together, and even though it was only kind of five or six years ago there really wasn’t didn’t tend to be like quite as much at least not that I know of quite as many of like kind of communities like that in London especially. There weren’t so many running tribes and communities all around place, at least they’re not that I know of, they didn’t seem to be quite as many then and I saw this post on his Facebook page and at the time again my friends just weren’t really into adventurous stuff but I didn’t know as many people doing that kind of thing and I thought I’d already try just a condensed form and I thought it’d be nice just to kind of meet some people who didn’t think it was completely ridiculous idea. And honestly it was quite fundamental to the whole thing in the end because we went on a Friday night, we went camping in the woods and I just remember thinking this is how horror film starts!

And they said everyone has to say something about yourself going around the circle, so I said, I’m gonna run around the country. And I just expected them to like heckle me, but everyone was like, “great!” It’s just like Anna had been there – it was amazing. They thought it was a great idea. And I met some people on that night who are today my closest friends, we’ve always kept in touch and by the time I got to actually set off a few months later, the Facebook group for the Yes Tribe had really grown and it was really becoming this community around the country, and as I ran around just so many people from it came around with me stayed with me and hung out with me a few times when I was having a bit of a meltdown I called Dave who had obviously done all these adventures and really got what I was going through and it was just so amazing to have this support of people who were genuinely excited and didn’t think, oh you don’t know what you’re doing, and if anything kind of found that more exciting – like you don’t know what you’re doing – great! Go and find out! And I it was so nice to have that support. Yeah, and it was like when I was writing the book it I kind of hadn’t realised quite how many of the people who I ended up staying with and meeting came from that Yes Tribe until I sat down to write a book and I felt like I was mentioning them in every other paragraph.

Esther: Oh, that’s lovely. Like you basically found your tribe, this is your tribe.

The other thing I wanted to bring up because this is also mentioned throughout the book, is I’m sorry about this. Cows.

Elise: Yeah. So I don’t think I realised how scared I was of cows before I set off, I didn’t even know if I was that scared of them. But it became like a bit of a mental block the whole way through that I just was terrified of them, and I’d do anything to avoid them. I’d go like over barbed wire fences, electric fences, through ditches. I did quite a bit of trespassing – I’m sorry, farmers – to avoid cows, and I still am terrified of them. Last week I was I was walking to Cumbria away with a friend, and we got to a field of cows and I just like stood still. It wasn’t till a whole group of other walkers came and sort of escorted me through that I got through. And Tana my friend said that I almost got like a new personality in a field of cows. She’s like, you’re one of the most adventurous people I know, but as soon as we see a cow you can just become pathetic.

Esther: It’s a real cow phobia?

Elise: Yeah, it’s called bovinophobiaI know that cows obviously can be a bit erratic. And especially with people or dogs, they do hurt people a bit. But no one has ever tried to hurt me.
Esther: Yeah, I think it’s understandable. They’re big.
Elise: And yeah, and everywhere.

Esther: I mean, did this phobia exist before you went on your run?

Elise: I don’t remember it existing. But then also, I just hadn’t spent a lot of time going through fields of cows on my own before that. So I don’t know really. Um, but yeah, just the fear is still out of hand to this day, although I did stroke one on the other side of the barbed wire fence last week. It was like a lot of protection between us. And it seemed quite friendly. So I don’t know. But I don’t have tips for anyone else, get the cows because I’m still terrified.

Esther: Let’s talk about tips. I mean, because you were saying that Anna helped you. And I know that you mentioned in here that you chose your kit and stuff basically based on a list of kit that she put down. Did you make any mistakes with your kit? Is there anything that you would have changed? Or would you tell anyone to do differently than you did?

Elise: Yeah, I think the main mistake I made was the backpack. So I used that I used a pack, which really is meant to be a hiking bag, so no offence to the pack itself, but I just got the worst chafing. But also, when I was kind of looking there didn’t seem to be as many like now – obviously you could get like a hydration vest, but they didn’t seem to be quite as many – like now there’s some really great like specific running packs for thing that people who do things like Marathon des Sables and whatever. And then when I looked at the time I just yeah, I just followed on this kit list. And I couldn’t find like tonnes of great options, even though it really wasn’t that long ago. So I definitely wouldn’t use the pack I used because it ripped my back to shreds. Now I do get a lot of rubbing still, but that pack was the worst. I wouldn’t run with that again.

Esther: Okay. Yeah. Fair enough. It’d be interesting to talk about the process of writing the book. And I know that you were writing it while I think you were writing it in lockdown. Is that right?

Elise: Yeah, it feels like the biggest lockdown cliche to say but I it was about it was April of last year, and I got put on furlough from my job and I kind of liked the idea. I’ve wanted to write a book for much longer than I wanted to run around the country. And I kind of always thought I’d write a book about it and I’d been in touch a bit with a publishing company who ended up publishing the book. And then when I got put on furlough, and I was literally stuck at home, but getting paid, I was like, if I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it. I’ve literally got no excuse. So yeah, I had to go putting pen to paper. And then so yeah, that was kind of last year, and then eventually sent off a proposal. I emailed and I was like, Hey, is there any chance you’d still be interested in the book? And luckily they were.

Esther: Oh, cool. And kind of going through it. I know it’s a memoir of your experience, but it does feel very, very personal in places – did it feel quite cathartic to write? Were you worried about putting so much of yourself out there?

Elise: Yeah, I’d say I’m definitely more worried about that. Now I realise that in two weeks people are going to be reading it, but I think I think I didn’t want to write it unless I felt kind of ready to be quite honest about the whole experience. I didn’t just want to write this really sugarcoated adventure book and also, I wanted to write something I think like you kind of said quite often people doing these big adventures and stuff are kind of a bit older and are in a different place in their life, and I kind of wanted to write something that might appeal a bit more to somebody else kind of in their early 20s, feeling a bit lost, thinking about doing something like this. I didn’t want to write the book unless I could be quite honest about it, but it’s still… every time I remember bits of it or anytime anyone reads it and they’re like it’s really honest, I’m like, Oh gosh! I feel a bit scared about that. But I think I don’t know that when I read other people’s books, I think they’ll think it’s a good book when it is really honest and I didn’t want to only tell half the story.

Esther: I thoroughly agree, like it feels way more real than lots of other running books I’ve read. This felt you know, like a diary with kind of hints and tips kind of thing, but I loved the personal stuff it just it felt really real.

Elise: We were kind of having conversations about like the book cover and marketing the book and stuff I think I was quite I was adamant that I didn’t want to kind of market it as a real running book, because I think people will be disappointed. There’ll be some people who will read it expecting a manual of how to run around country they’ll be really disappointed, and then the people who might actually want to read it for the other bits won’t pick it up because they’ll think oh, it’s just a running book. So I think I’m to strike that balance was something we talked about a lot basically.

Esther: Yeah. And this is the question I’ve been wanting to ask right from the minute that I found out about you. How did you get Sir Ranulph Fiennes to quote on the cover?

Elise: I literally don’t know! it’s basically Debbie my editor asked me to write a list of anyone I might want to do an endorsement for and she was like you can say like as big as you want. Like we can always email they might say no, but you know worth a shot. So I put some like quite big people down on there. I had a dream that Dawn French did an endorsement ,so I was like, I’m gonna put Dawn French down. She obviously didn’t email us back! So first of all, like some fairly safe bets, a few people I knew and then yeah, some quite some big names. Our publishers do quite a lot of adventure books. I think they might have been in touch with him before and he came back and said he was happy to put his name to some words. So yeah, that was like the best day ever. He knows who I am! So yeah, I was very excited about that.

Esther: Ranulph Fiennes knows who you are!

Elise: Yeah, I wasn’t playing it cool at all…

Esther: That’s amazing. And you’ve been back for many years now. But you’re still running and I think I might have this wrong, but are you being coached by Carla Molinaro?

Elise: I was – I did a 60k ultra, so a group of us got coached by Carla and she is great. I keep meaning to email and Carla like, well, you have me back. She is just 10 out of 10.

Esther: Well, that’s nice to hear. And so what have you done since you’ve come back, and what you’re going to be doing next?

Elise: I think it took me when I finished it, kind of… I think everyone talks about like the post adventure blues, and I think the thing I struggled with when I finished was all I had done for 10 months is do this run. I didn’t really have anything else going on in my life but I didn’t have anything else to talk about. That was just all a downer. Normally you like I don’t know, you go to work and you have hobbies and friends and relationships whatever, and I’m just running. So when I finished I was a bit like lost because like that focus was kind of taken away and I just didn’t really want to like talk about it. So I basically spent a year not really running. I’d like moved back to London so I just spent that time going to the pub with my friends not really doing much, and then eventually when I got an injury and my leg really hurt, so I did a few sessions with a running coach and he would like teach me to do strength enough to not get injured again.

And he started writing me a running plan and we really like started from basics again. This would be about 18 months after I finished. Like running 5Ks and then I think by virtue of the fact I was paying him, I went religiously on every run. He told me to even when it was like I had a really busy day and I’d like to have to get up at 4.30 in the morning to do it. I became obsessed with ticking off the runs and my plan, and this was about three years ago now. I think as part of that it really does kind of cement running to be a bit more of an actual habit in my day to day life in a way that it hadn’t really been before. I’d been doing this huge adventure and skiving off, but since then really like I just I just love running like more and more every time I go out. I think I like running so much more now than I did when I was running around the country, and it’s a huge but it’s like the backbone of my whole social life. When I moved to Bristol I was like it’s fine I’ll be fine moving to a new city because I’ve just joined a running club. And like literally have made all my friends that way. I’ve done a few several day things and smaller adventures and the whole time I’ve had like a nine to five Monday to Friday job, and been trying to fit adventures in around for five weeks of holiday. Yeah, and I do feel really strongly that you can do a lot with your holidays and your weekends, and you don’t have to quit your job and take 10 months off to go on adventures. And I think I’m finally at the point where I feel ready to maybe I don’t know go on a longer run again. I definitely don’t want to go on a 10 month thing, but I don’t know I’d like the idea of doing sort of like a few weeks or I don’t know a month. So I think I’m gonna go on a long run again at some point but I don’t know what it is or when.

Esther: Fair enough I won’t hold you to any of that. Do you have any races in the diary? When I say races I mean you know kind of ultras or anything like that.

Elise: Yeah, I’ve actually got, I’m doing the Ultra X Mexico race which is five days through the copper canyons in November, which I’m so excited because I read Born to Run before I went, like a lot of people have and that’s obviously also the Copper Canyons in Mexico and I’m so excited to go and run through them, so fingers crossed that will happen. And then next May I’m doing the Cape Wrath ultra which feels really scary – it’s 400K over eight days from Fort William RAF and it was meant to be in 2020, then it was meant to be this year, and now it’s going to be next year so I really need to get training for that because it’s quite a lot of long distances each day so I’m abit nervous but I think I get through during the run around the country it’s sort of like I know that I’m alright just like plodding along and keeping going and not giving up, I haven’t really done if it involves doing like super long distances each day.

Esther: Are you doing both of those on your own? Is there anyone running with you?

Elise: I’ve got a friend that I’m going to Mexico with, but she’s way faster than me and we probably won’t run a single step together she’ll be ahead immediately, and yeah Cape Wrath is an organised race, but I don’t know anyone else doing it, so I’m sure I’ll meet some people there.

Esther: Yeah, well as yeah as we said, I mean ultra runners are lovely people so I think you’ll be okay and they tend to share their snacks as well.

Elise: Yeah, definitely. Like quite a small community. I feel like you turn up to these things and there’s always someone you vaguely know or have stalked on Instagram.

Esther: Oh, that’s just so exciting. It’s so exciting. So can you just before we say goodbye I want to know what your the rest of your training gonna look like in the next week.

Elise: I’m actually going home at the weekend. So my dad’s roped me into a 16 mile trail run on Saturday, so I’ll do that with him. Fingers crossed and feeling all right.

Esther: Oh, that’s absolutely perfect. Is that around Bristol?

Elise: No, my parents are in Northampton and my dad’s done a route that he’s quite excited to show me and the best thing about running with my dad as he always carries all the snacks.

Esther: Oh, that sounds lovely. I hope you have fun.

Pick up your copy of Elise’s book here.

Written by

Holly Taylor

Holly Taylor

Holly Taylor is the digital editor of Women’s Running and co-host of the Women’s Running podcast, where she shares her running journey as well as the inspiring stories of women runners all over the country. She’s never been the sporty type, but running is the first time she’s felt real joy in getting active. She loves talking about running with a community of inclusive and supportive runners, and Women's Running is the perfect space for this. She's currently aiming for a half marathon PB!

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