South West Coast Path

Breaking the self-supported record for the SWCP by running it in aid of the Cornwall & Devon Air Ambulances


668 miles


13 days, 13 hours, 43 minutes


35,000 m


August 2023

I have to admit, I was both excited and scared-to-death in equal measure of the challenge I had set myself. My goal was to complete the entire SWCP in under two weeks, carrying all the gear I needed (tarp, sleeping bag, mat, food, etc.), without the need of a support crew. To make it round in this time required me to cover a minimum of 45 miles each day, and that’s before you factor in the elevation gains, which some days would surpass 10,000ft. Luckily for me, I grew up and still live on the windswept cliffs of Morwenstow, North Cornwall (one of the few sections graded as ‘severe’ by the SWCPA) so I had a fairly good idea of what I was in for. That’s also why I was so scared.

Why on earth would you want to do that?”
That’s the universal and entirely reasonable response I got from people when they found out about my little run. The answer is fairly simple: because I can, and because I wanted to set a difficult challenge in order to raise money for the Cornwall & Devon Air Ambulances. Ten years ago, the Devon Air Ambulance had rescued my dad from Clovelly after suffering a heart attack, and I’d wanted to do a fundraiser ever since. Being a long-distance adventure junkie and not being good for much else apart from staggering around in the wilderness with a backpack, I figured the SWCP would fit the bill nicely.
And why in a fortnight specifically? Mainly because it is a satisfyingly rounded amount of time, and childishly I thought it would be fun to see if I could beat some previous SWCP record holders who had full support crews at their disposal. Realistically, I could have done the whole path in 18 days without any preparation or too much effort. 35 miles-a-day is my standard daily thru-hiking distance, but I deliberately chose to make it 45-50 miles this time, as it would force me to run the distance. Running all day is a lot more intense than walking, and as it’s a fundraising challenge, I figured people would probably want to see me suffer a bit. So, I reckoned with few weeks of training, not going to the pub too much, and couple of flapjacks in my bag I’d be fine. Wouldn’t I?

Pasty planning
Thankfully, for my sake, I’m much wiser these days than to be so blasé about such a trip. Treating it lightly would likely end in me needing a rescue from the Air Ambulance myself! This would not just be highly embarrassing, but would inevitably render the whole fundraiser completely pointless as the rescue missions’ cost dwarfed the amount I had fundraised. Hence, I soon got to work figuring out the logistics of a self-supported run. Firstly, I needed to get fit, so I found a 5-month training plan for a 50-mile race online and jumped in with 7 weeks to go. In between running 90 miles a week and working, I got my head around the rest. The main headaches involved how to get enough calories in me each day, how to fit a full sleeping setup, water, food and everything else I needed into a 12-litre running vest, timing the estuary crossings right, and most importantly, where to find the best pasties on the way (spoiler alert! It’s Wembury Beach Café).
On a worryingly chaotic planning map I put dots along the route in 45-mile increments and sent packages out to the nearest pubs to them (I figured they would be open late, and I might have time for swift pint while I was there). Inside the packages was my food for the next day (running gels, energy drink mix and some bars) and I would pick them up at the end of each day. The set timings for each of the twelve ferry crossings gave me extra impetus to keep up with my ridiculous schedule. Seven weeks later, with 2kg of gear crammed into my tiny running vest and a few potential pasty shops pencilled onto the map it was time to get going.

All a blur
Standing on the sandy shores of Shell Bay at the start of the SWCP my dad was possibly cursing the Air Ambulance for saving his life all those years ago. At least he wouldn’t have been dragged out of bed at 2am to take me to the start, and be standing there bleary-eyed in the pitch dark, in a wet, windy drizzle, watching patiently as I wrestled with my tracking device. But here we were, and after I took those first few steps it’s genuinely quite hard to recall with much detail what happened in the next 13 days, 13 hours and 43 minutes, before I would see my long-suffering father again to collect what was left of me in Minehead. It’s all a bit of a blur to be honest – a whirlwind of coast, villages, gates, stiles, way markers and horizontal rain.
It was an incredibly challenging and humbling experience, full of literal and emotional highs and lows. I was definitely pushing my limits during this trip, but it was amazing to experience what the human body can do when you put your mind to it. I never knew I could run 60 miles one day, followed by 50 miles for 12 days in a row straight after, often on 4 or 5 hours sleep a night. Some of the more challenging aspects were sleep deprivation, nausea, and being so out of it I didn’t know how to operate a self-check-out machine or remember which side of the road cars drove on in this country (my apologies to the motorists and Tesco’s staff of Falmouth). On the other hand, the many highs were unbelievable and put me in an out-of-body state where I couldn’t differentiate between myself and the ground I was running on. In these moments, I was totally in my element, floating effortlessly on as a spectator while the stunning coastal scenery flew by me. The weather was, shall we say, interesting, and I had some stormy days battling to stay upright and restless nights sleeping outside, but it all added to the experience. There were definitely times where I was cursing myself at doing this self-supported, like waking up and putting on wet socks and shorts for the fifth day running (that’s right folks, no room for spare clothes!) and waiting in line with hordes of tourists at public toilets just so I could refill my water bottles. But ultimately these were fleeting moments and I immensely enjoyed the feeling of freedom of a self-supported mission.

Reasons to be thankful
Would I recommend doing the coast path in under two weeks? Probably not. Well, maybe if you are slightly unhinged. Would I do it again next year? No chance. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely! It was one of the most intense journeys I have undertaken, but also the most rewarding. I’m delighted as I set a new self-supported record, but most importantly raised nearly £6000 for the Devon & Cornwall Air Ambulances, who would come to the rescue for anyone in trouble on the coast path. I was incredibly touched by all the people who I spoke to along the way, their stories of how the Air Ambulance and the coast path have affected their lives.