Megan Al-Ghailani: youngest woman to run across Britain

 

“If you want to run a marathon, an ultra, or across a country then do whatever it takes to do that. Think of it this way, that idea in your head has chosen you to fulfil it. Don’t disappoint that idea, if you don’t fulfil it then someone else will and you’ll think, I could have done that.” 

run across Britain

Just over a week ago 23-year old Megan became the youngest woman to run across Britain unsupported. Megan ran from John O’Groats (the most northerly point in Britain) to Land’s End (at the very bottom of Britain) in 40 days. Over that time she covered almost 1000 miles on roads, trails and coastal paths across the UK. Megan decided to set off on this (very) long run to challenge herself, to discover her limits, to explore her own country and also to raise money for the charity School In A Bag.

In this interview I got to ask Megan some questions about her journey, her motivations, her preparation and her advice regarding multi-day running challenges. I hope you find it useful! And if you are inspired by Megan’s journey, you can head over to her fundraising page to show her your support.

What was your main motivation for taking on the huge challenge of running across Britain unsupported?

Last year my friends and I completed the Three Peaks Challenge. I realised when we were completing that challenge that I had hardly seen any of the UK. I had done a fair bit of travelling but I had never really considered exploring the wonderful and magical parts of my own country. As I plodded up Ben Nevis (the first of the three mountains) I had already decided in my head that I was going to commit to exploring the UK sometimes soon. The main question was how exactly to do it.

I was familiar with the John O’Groats to Land’s End idea and thought it would be the perfect way. But I didn’t want to cycle it because that’s too fast for me and I didn’t want to walk it because that wasn’t challenging enough for me personally. At the time I was training for a marathon and loved the movement of running so it just made sense to run from the top of the country to the bottom. After doing some research I realised that not many women had completed this run across Britain. That’s when I decided that I would try to become the youngest woman to run from John O’Groats to Land’s End completely unsupported.

Aside the personal challenge, my second motivation was to complete a challenge to raise money for the amazing charity School In A Bag. I have been passionate about education ever since I visited a school in the Mathare slum in Kenya with my family so when I first heard about School In A Bag and their commitment towards giving children access to education I knew this was the charity I wanted to support.

What were your biggest fears before you set off and did they materialise?

The idea of being alone and the thought of not being able to complete what I had set out to do were the two main fears growing in my mind as the start date approached.

Loneliness was a really difficult element for me. There were days when I wouldn’t see a soul. My way of overcoming it was blaring out music, singing songs, talking to animals (I had many conversations with cows) and just taking the time to listen to my head and figure out some of the stuff in it. I tried to look at it as a positive thing really.

In terms of my fear not to complete the challenge, I quickly learnt that to get to the finish line I would have to listen to my body. There would be days when my feet would be screaming, my muscles cramping and my mind swirling in negative thoughts. I would have to walk or hitchhike a lift to my bed for the night. At first I found this really difficult to accept. But then I realised that I was being kind to myself; I was listening to my body, I was pushing it to its absolute max capability and then accepting its limit.

What type of training did you do to get ready for such a long run? In retrospect, would you do anything differently in terms of physical preparation?

When I decided I would run across the country unsupported I was actually training for my first marathon. So my body was getting used to the long distances and the feeling of running day after day. After I had done the marathon I started running with my weighted backpack and just ran as much as I could really. I think in hindsight I would have done a lot more practice with the backpack to get myself used to the weight.

This was more of a mental challenge than anything and what I dedicated time to as well as physical training was mental training. If you’re going to run or cycle or even walk a ridiculous distance in so many days, its your mind that will make or break you. I saved lots of positive quotes, poems and even prayers (I’m not a religious person) to my phone and whenever doubt or negativity clouded my mind I would always resort back to them.

How did you plan your route? Are there any good running route planning resources you would recommend?

Originally I was going I camp but that was just too much. I wanted to have my accommodation sorted in advance so I worked out my route by planning where I was going to sleep each night. I planned my route to include a combination of roads and trails and I tried to avoid as many challenging hills as possible. I used Google Map to plan the road sections. Each day I would talk to local people and tell them my route, sometimes they’d suggest better alternative routes. For the trail sections I followed marked long-distance trails like the Pennine Way and the Cotswold Way. The A-Z guides were useful for some of the trail sections.

What did you do in terms of recovery to avoid getting injured despite the huge amount of miles you were logging each day?

I was extremely lucky in the fact that I didn’t get an injury and I blame this entirely on my excessive stretching. Every morning and evening and even throughout the day I would stretch. But not just these casual running stretches, I would do a full body stretch for a good half an hour. It looked more like some sort of interpretive dance. People would pass me in the hostel corridors and raise an eyebrow at my peculiar yoga poses.

After each day I would down a pint of full fat milk, I believe that the protein, carbs and fat packed into that really helped with recovery. I would try and Bath my legs in ice or bio freeze whenever I could.

I also learned to listen to my body. After 100 miles the right arch of my foot started to play up and I knew straight away that I didn’t have enough support so I looked a getting insoles and quickly realised I needed new shoes. After that my arch didn’t bother me at all. If certain muscles started to hurt I would try to adjust the way I landed my feet to relieve the pain a bit. It might sound really bizarre but if there were certain muscles really hurting I would make myself believe that it would be better the next day. I would say everything will feel better tomorrow, all that pain will be gone, all I need is a good sleep. Most of the time everything was better the next day. It’s all in the mind.

So stretching, whole milk and listening to your body.

What would you say is the main thing you have learned from this adventure?

I have learnt so much, so much I didn’t expect.

I have learnt that I struggle being on my own. I have learnt that cows are really great to talk to. I have learnt that music is so brilliant to pump up your energy again. I have learnt the mighty magic of milk. I have learnt how powerful positivity is. I have learnt that everything really will be okay in the end. I have learnt what it is to push your body to the absolute max. I have learnt how to accept my limits and how to listen to my body. I have learnt that pain is only ever temporary. I have learnt that you should always have faith in people because there really aren’t that many unpleasant people about.

I have learnt a lot of practical things such as navigation and route planning. I have learnt how to plan for a big challenge. And I have learnt that this is something that I really want to carry on doing.

What top tips would you give to anyone who dreams about taking on a big running challenge but is afraid to take the leap?

Just do it, just take that step and keep going until you’ve reached the finish. If you want to run a marathon, an ultra, or across a country then do whatever it takes to do that. Think of it this way, that idea in your head has chosen you to fulfil it. Don’t disappoint that idea, if you don’t fulfil it then someone else will and you’ll think, I could have done that. Do it, you can do it if you have faith. Always be positive, have faith that everything will work out for the best. Listen to your body. Be realistic in your daily targets. Tell people, because this will really push you to the start line. Surround yourself with people that support you. Be bold and live with glittering eyes. Just keep going.

To learn more about Megan and her upcoming adventures:

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