Real Run­ners

To hon­our his beloved sis­ter’s mem­ory, Wayne Rus­sell de­cided to run around Bri­tain

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

Why Wayne Rus­sell ran around Bri­tain, lit­er­ally

When Wayne Rus­sell lost his sis­ter Carmel to a rare heart and lung con­di­tion three years ago, he re­solved to do some­thing in her hon­our. ‘Al­though she’d been di­ag­nosed with the ter­mi­nal con­di­tion 10 years be­fore, it never stopped her work­ing cease­lessly for oth­ers, even when she was in a wheel­chair,’ says the 35-year-old from Glouces­ter. ‘She set up nu­mer­ous char­i­ties and com­mu­nity pro­jects in­clud­ing a grants scheme, a lunch club for se­nior cit­i­zens and a youth group.’

In the lead-up to Carmel’s fu­neral, Wayne started to per­form what he calls ‘ran­dom acts of kind­ness’ in her name. He set up a Face­book page, Carma, invit­ing peo­ple to do a good deed to cel­e­brate Carmel’s life. ‘Friends, fam­ily and strangers from all over the world took up the chal­lenge,’ he says. ‘It got me think­ing about some­thing big­ger.’

It needed to be some­thing that would chal­lenge Wayne as well as rais­ing money for a wor­thy cause in hon­our of Carmel. He de­cided he would run the Bri­tish coast­line. ‘I only took up run­ning four years

ago, but it changed ev­ery­thing for me,’ he ex­plains. ‘I’ve suf­fered from de­pres­sion all my adult life, but run­ning helps so much. I got a high on my very first run – five miles in Con­verse shoes and denim shorts.’

After al­most two years of plan­ning, he quit his IT job, gave up his flat and em­barked on the 5,000-mile jour­ney – solo, un­sup­ported and with £1,000 in his bank ac­count.

‘The day be­fore I was set­ting off I packed my ruck­sack and put it on,’ he re­mem­bers. ‘I could barely walk, let alone run and the whole trip went from ro­man­tic ideal to blind panic. I had to un­pack loads of stuff – a pil­low, hair wax, sur­plus cloth­ing…’

At first, Wayne ran alone each day, pitch­ing his tent where he could at night, though some­times he slept in bus shel­ters, door­ways or on church porches. Once, he woke up to a horde of chil­dren throw­ing stones at his tent and shout­ing ‘tramp!’

Wayne car­ried a small stove and had a food bud­get of £3 a day. ‘I ate a lot of tinned fish, in­stant noo­dles, nuts and cho­co­late,’ he says. ‘I also for­aged where I could, pick­ing berries and ap­ples.’ In some places, such as the far north of Scot­land, he’d run miles with­out com­ing across any­where to get food.

Such chal­lenges proved wear­ing. ‘I knew the run­ning would be tough, but what I hadn’t fac­tored in was things like how I’d dry out when ev­ery­thing was soaked, how I’d charge my phone, how not get­ting a good night’s sleep, night after night, would af­fect me…’ There were phys­i­cal woes, too – blis­ters and chaf­ing from wet clothes. (It rained for four solid weeks in Wales.)

There were times when he came close to giv­ing up. ‘I’d forked out for a B&B two nights run­ning in Corn­wall be­cause it was so cold and wet. But I just couldn’t af­ford to do it again and I ended up sleep­ing in a cave near Tin­tagel. I lay there at 2am wor­ry­ing how I would tell the char­ity I was stop­ping.’ The next day, he sim­ply car­ried on. ‘I be­gan to re­alise that I was strong enough to put one foot in front of the other. And I got braver about telling peo­ple what I was do­ing and ask­ing for help. By over­com­ing my shy­ness I’d of­ten be re­warded with some­where to pitch my tent or a bed for the night, con­ver­sa­tion, a do­na­tion – and best of all, a cup of tea in the morn­ing.’

With the help of so­cial me­dia, news spread of Wayne’s chal­lenge – mes­sages and of­fers of sup­port be­gan to trickle, then flood, in. ‘I hadn’t done much to pub­li­cise what I was do­ing – I ex­pected I’d just have a few friends and fam­ily and peo­ple as­so­ci­ated with the char­ity fol­low­ing my Face­book and Twit­ter pages,’ he says. ‘But the re­sponse was phe­nom­e­nal. I had peo­ple join me who ended up run­ning fur­ther than they’d ever run be­fore, I even had peo­ple who weren’t able to run turn up on bikes or to walk a sec­tion with me. Peo­ple re­ally opened up and shared their sto­ries and it en­abled me to be more open about my de­pres­sion and grief.’

In Fe­bru­ary, when Wayne had been run­ning for over five months, he was joined for two days by Pa­trick, a watch man­ager for the fire sta­tion in Black­pool, and a keen ul­tra run­ner. ‘ When we were part­ing, he asked me where I was sleep­ing that night. I said it would prob­a­bly be the bus shel­ter and he said “Nope!”.’ Pa­trick made con­tact with fire sta­tions fur­ther along Wayne’s route and for the rest of the trip, wher­ever there was a fire sta­tion, there would be some­where dry and warm to sleep.

‘It made all the dif­fer­ence,’ says Wayne. ‘I’d ar­rive in an un­fa­mil­iar place, some­one would let me in or have left a key for me and there’d al­ways be food and a note. One time I was left six cream cakes. I ate all of them! I say the run was un­sup­ported but I had so much un­ex­pected sup­port on the way.’

On July 9, 307 days, 5,058 miles and nine worn-out pairs of train­ers after set­ting off along the Thames from Green­wich, Wayne’s fi­nal run took him un­der the same river through the foot tun­nel; supporters waited on the other side to greet him. ‘Hav­ing set out de­ter­mined to do it but with no way of know­ing if I could, it was sur­real reach­ing the fin­ish,’ he says. ‘I’d put my whole life into it for two years. Part of me just wanted to keep go­ing.’

Wayne’s epic trip has raised £28,000 for the Su­per­hero Foun­da­tion, which sup­ports peo­ple through ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenges. He says it’s also given him more faith in hu­man­ity and taught him a lot about him­self. ‘It’s the hard­est thing I’ve ever done,’ he says.’ I keep think­ing – 5,000 miles? Me? Re­ally? But you know what the hard­est part was? After years of read­ing about other peo­ple’s ad­ven­tures and wish­ing I could do some­thing like that, it was say­ing, “I’m go­ing to do this” – and re­ally mean­ing it.’

‘I’d put my whole life into it for two years. Part of me just wanted to keep go­ing’

FULLY LOADED One man, one pack, one long jour­ney

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