In 2014 Sean Conway ran the length of Britain. As he'd already cycled it on road he used detailed OS maps to find a route the length of the country that avoided them
It’s November 2013 and I’ve just finished swimming the length of Britain and want nothing more than to sit in a dry warm room for the rest eternity, nowhere near anything wet or physically difficult. 4.5 months swimming at sea has done, well, I don’t know because no one has ever done that, but I’m guessing a good chunk of recovery is on the menu. It was then quite annoying when I met all my mates in the pub and there seemed to be a unanimous decision that I now needed to complete the ultimate British triathlon by doing the run. (I’d already cycled it too) If I’m honest, I hadn’t really thought about it and beside cross country as school I hadn’t ever done any sort of organised run, not even a 5k, in my life.
It took another 9 months before I had recovered from the swim and summoned enough courage to take on another big challenge and set off from John O’Groats, completely self supported to run 1000 miles down to Lands End. As some of you may know, this first attempt didn’t go well and I was forced to abandon after 200 miles due to a knee injury caused by tripping while taking a selfie. True story. It’s on YouTube. Anyway, never give up and all that, I recovered and on the 21 March I started all over again from John O’Groats.
"There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes"
Over the following 44 days I zigzagged 1011 miles down Britain taking in the best of what this amazing island has to offer. My cycle was all about the roads, the swim was the sea, and I wanted the run to be all about the trails, and what amazing trails did I find. Navigation is always a interesting part of any adventure, especially when you’re self supported. When I cycled Britain I had every OS map I needed all in a pile and would post them home once I had finished with them. (can’t bear to throw paper maps away, usually covered with notes, spilt pasta and coffee stains - stories) Unfortunately a self supported run meant I couldn’t take paper maps due to weight so my next option was to look at digital maps. When it comes to mobile maps there was only one option for me, the OS Maps App. The big draw for me was the fact I could download all the maps too my phone and then not need to rely on having an internet connection to use them. I could put my phone on flight mode, (tip to save battery) use the maps all day and still not run out of power.
"Searching for the little green dotted lines became an obsession, a goal and a benchmark for my days enjoyment."
Sean Conway on finding off-road trails
There were the obvious big trails I wanted to do, The West Highland Way, Great Glen Way and Southwest Coastal Path, but I found so many more hidden paths on the maps. Trails I’d never have found without the OS App. Searching for the little green dotted lines became an obsession, a goal and a benchmark for my days enjoyment. Just how much of Britain could I run staying off the main roads? The answer was, a lot of it. Between trails, canal paths and cycle ways I successfully managed to avoid getting run over on the main roads and also saw a completely different side of Britain I had never seen before.
West Highland Way near Arlehaven by Lairich Rig (Creative Commons via Geograph)
Never underestimate how much good navigation can influence your adventure. Without the proper maps I’d most definitely have had a very different adventure, a lot less adventurous and not nearly as fun.
Banner image: Lands End Sign by Steve Fareham. Creativd Commons from Geograph.