Sarah: Hello and welcome to the Tough Girl Podcast.
A friend recently gave me some feedback, which was really useful. She mentioned that I've never actually introduced myself. I thought I would take a few minutes to do that now. My name's Sarah, also known as Willsy or Blondie, depending on how you know me!
Some things about me: I love traveling, I love the sun, I love fitness, especially weight lifting and yoga. I've run the London marathon 5 times. I've done Tough Guy. I've sky dived, bungee jumped, swam with sharks, and I love the color pink!
After graduating from university, I moved to London where I spent 8 years working in banking. Before deciding I'd had enough and that I wanted to change my life. I made some pretty big decisions and decided to pack in my job and take the following year off. I had an amazing time. I spent time in Australia. I headed to Africa to go and climb Kilimanjaro.
I ended up writing and self publishing a book about my experience on Amazon. I then bought myself a plane ticket to Lima in Peru and spent four months backpacking around south America, climbing volcanoes, cycling down Death Road in Bolivia, and visiting stunning remote places such as Easter Island, Machu Picchu, the Bolivian Salt Flats, and also spending far too much time on buses!
I made my way across South America via Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls, to Rio, where I eventually caught my flight home. At this point, I still didn't know what I wanted to do and couldn't decide if I wanted to go back to banking, or do something completely different. I headed off to Switzerland and spent the next 6 months working the mountains as a chalet host, which definitely improved my cooking and got my skiing to an okay level.
It was during that time I decided I wanted to work for myself and I wanted to do something I was passionate about, which was challenges, adventures, motivational speaking, writing books, and so on.
I started up my own company called Tough Girl Challenges, which has a mission to motivate and inspire women and girls. I didn't want it to be all about me. I wanted to create a platform from which I could build a community of women who support other women, that's why I started the Tough Girl Podcast.
I want to reach out to as many women as possible to help motivate and inspire them to tackle their own challenges, and to try new things, and to get out of their comfort zones.
Please check out the website, toughgirlchallenges.com. I'm also on social media, Facebook and Instagram, and my Twitter handle is @_TOUGH_GIRL, all in capital letters. I hope you enjoy the podcasts and are inspired by the stories you hear.
It would be fantastic if you could take a minute to leave a review and to share with your friends.
Hopefully that's given you a little bit more information about me. I won't go on any longer. That's one of my pet hates which is 3 or 4 minutes of bumf at the start before you get to the good stuff!
Let's get to the good stuff. Enjoy this episdoe.
Hello and welcome to the Tough Girl Podcast.
I'm delighted to be here today with Emma Timmis.
Emma is the winner of The National Adventurer of the Year Award 2015 for physical endeavor for running across Africa.
Emma welcome, and thank you so much for being on the show.
Emma: Thank you very much for inviting me.
Sarah: No, it's an absolute honor.
Now I know it's a little bit noisy where you are at the moment.
Do just want to explain to everybody where you are and what you're doing?
Emma: Yeah. This morning I've got up bright and early, cycled down to the port at Dover to catch a ferry to France because I'm part way through a cycle to Italy to go rock climbing.
Sarah: That is absolutely fantastic. You're going to cycle all the way from France through Italy?
Emma: Yes. Well, we're going to come back through France. We started in Manchester where I'm based, and we're going Manchester to France, but only going to have maybe 15 kilometers in France, then it's Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, and into Italy. That should take roughly 3 or 4 weeks. Then we're going to have 3 or 4 weeks in Italy rock climbing, and then coming back through France for about a month on the way back.
Sarah: That sounds fantastic. That sounds absolutely awesome.
I just want to take you back now back to the beginning. Where did all your adventurous spirit come from? How did you get involved in this lifestyle?
Emma: Well I think I've always been quite an outdoorsy person. When I was younger, my dad used to take us walking, and we've always lived near the Peak District. It's always been quite accessible to go out and go for a walk for the weekend. That's always been with me and I've always spent a lot of time on bikes. As children, me and my brother used to cycle around the neighborhood and just being outdoors generally has always been part of my life.
Then, in 2011, that's probably when all of these small kind of, I guess people would say, extreme adventures began, like more physical challenges. I was working for the RSPCA at the time and I wanted to raise some money for a local wildlife center that the RSPCA runs because the work they do's incredible, and a lot of it's done by volunteers, and they're really hard working. It's around the clock and I just don't think people were aware of it.
I wanted to raise some money for Stapeley Grange, the wildlife center. This was at the same time that Eddie Izzard was running something like 50 or 51 marathons in the same amount of days around the UK.
I was 27 at the time. I was thinking, he's about twice my age and he's not fit, and he's not really known for doing physical activity. I thought, you know what? If he can do that, I reckon I could do something similar. I've never tried. I've never run a marathon or I think I might've done one half marathon maybe 10 years before hand, but I just thought, if he can do it, and he's giving it a go, I reckon I can do something similar, and I'm really passionate about this wildlife center.
The two ideas combined in my head and I thought, I'll find a country that's approximately 1,000 across and I'm going to try and run from one side to the other. I thought, it's got to be somewhere that's cheaper than England because I didn't have the money. I couldn't afford to have accommodation and eat the food in England. I found south Africa, which obviously is much cheaper, but the people still speak English, and it's a warm country. I just thought, you know what? I'd better try and run across south Africa.
That's kind of where this whole thing began, but I ran across south Africa in 2011. Then, a friend of mine in 2013, I think it was, she found out that I'd done that and she was like, 'I can't believe people don't know about this. I can't believe you didn't get so much media attention, and I can't believe all these things about it.' She was just like, 'Would you be prepared to do something similar again, but perhaps on a larger scale?' I said I would do the running again because, you won't believe it, but actually the running bit is probably the easier part of it, but all the organizing and the fund raising, and everything else that goes on behind the scenes, I said I just don't have time for it working a full time job, as well. I don't have time to do all of that sort of stuff, but I'm happy to run across a country or something.
She said, 'Well, if I do all the organizing, or fund raising, et cetera, would you do the run?' I thought, well, yeah. Of course I would. She was involved with a charity called The Seed Project, which is based in Zimbabwe, and we came up with the idea that we'd run all the way across Africa. Well, I would run and she would organize this run all the way across Africa, but going through Zimbabwe so that we could try to raise money for The Seed Project.
That was kind of where it all came from and this whole conversation was just on a drunken night out. We both thought, she probably thought Emma's never going to do it, and probably thought she's never going to do it, but we just kept going along with it until actually it came about in the end. That was how it all started, really.
Sarah: What is The Seed Project that you were raising money for?
Emma: It's a very small charity. The people that run the charity are based in England, but all of the charity work happens in Zimbabwe. Basically the idea is that Robert, the main guy that works for the charity, goes to local villages that they've usually approached him first, and he'll find a solution to their problem; whether the problem is that disease is spreading amongst people and he educates them about hygiene, or perhaps they've got some erosion problems and he'll teach them which trees and plants they could put in the ground to stop the erosion problem. It's very, very specific to each community that approaches the charity, but it's a really, really powerful one.
All the advice is really good. He's studied. Not many people in Zimbabwe go to university, but he's done a degree and he's really educated, and really knows his stuff. He's going round teaching these communities how they can improve their lives, this wealth of knowledge and information that he can share people in their communities.
It's usually because the community has approached him and said that there's this problem. It's not just a British charity's going out there and throwing money at local communities. It's actually they've assessed it and said, 'We've got a problem. Can you help us?' He'll give them an answer that they can use themselves. It's not just throwing money into these small charities. They stay in small communities saying, 'This is the skills that you need. I'm going to train you how to do it and then you're going to be able to look after yourselves,' which is far more better. That's what the African people want and that's what they're doing. It's a great charity and I really believe in it.
Sarah: That's absolutely fantastic.
The run, it took you 89 days to do this run and it was 3,974 kilometers, which is just absolutely huge.
It's very difficult to even comprehend how you could even run that distance.
What were your feelings like on day one? How did you feel?
Emma: I think day one, because there's so much preparation that leads up to this, day one's always just really exciting. I'm always just quite keen to get my teeth into it. Yeah, on day one I felt great and I was ready to start running. I'd had about a week acclimatizing in Africa when I wasn't really doing any running. Considering that the training I did leading up to it, to do nothing, I kind of had itchy feet. I was desperate to get going. Day one was really exciting.
Sarah: What sort of training were you doing? How do you even prepare for a run like this?
Emma: It was just very simple really. I didn't put a great deal of planning into it. It was just increasing the mileage on a daily basis, and a weekly basis. I think I put about 6 months training into it. I didn't want to start to early because I felt that my south Africa run had started too early with the training, to the point where I was quite tired before I started. I was quite keen to not do that.
Just gradually increasing daily mileage, and increasing weekly mileage I was running, and for me, because I'd had some problems with my knees from the previous run I'd done, I was spending a lot of time at the physio. She was advising me on strengthening exercises and I was making sure that I did a lot of them.
Also, just spending time on your feet because obviously you're going to be running for so many hours in a day, it's just good to get used to being stood up, or on your feet for that length of time.
Sarah: What was the mental preparation like? Did you do anything particular to help you with that?
Emma: No, not really any training for that, but I was working quite hard so I was quite tired all the time leading up to it. I suppose that's kind of like mental preparation, isn't it? I think I do have quite strong will power anyway.
The way that the run was from A to B, I find mentally works quite well for me. I'm always quite motivated to get to the end of somewhere, or achieve that goal. Obviously starting at A, even when I'm only a few miles into it, I'm always focusing on getting to the end. Mentally, it didn't need too much preparation in that respect.
Sarah: Where you quite specific with how many miles that you would run each day? Was there average that you were going to do, like 20 miles a day, or was it varied depending on if you were coming across mountains or anything?
Emma: Yeah, definitely it did vary. Most of the time the aim would be to sleep at the end of the run. If I did, for example, 30 miles in one day, then I would want to sleep where I finished running, but that wasn't always practical. In some areas we were just told it's too dangerous for wildlife, or too dangerous because there's poachers so I might try and run a further distance that day so that I could get away from those areas, or I'd run a shorter distance because of that.
I'd also, every now and then, it's good to go through a town and stock up on your food and veg, and everything. We would try and fit that in around a day as well. The days did vary on that. My aim, overall, was to make sure that it averaged out that I was running at least a marathon a day, but I wanted to take days off. Generally it meant running more than a marathon each day, but yeah, like I said, it was kind of flexible. There would be some short days because there might be a town that we want to stop and do some shopping, or other jobs that need doing, or perhaps people wanted to interview me in the local area for their newspaper. It varied quite a bit.
Sarah: How did your body cope with running that type of mileage?
Did it just sort of adapt and did you get stronger as you went on, or was it really totally physically demanding?
Emma: Yeah, I would say that I probably did get stronger as I went on. The first two months I was just constantly injured, whether it was pulled muscles, or sore joints, or things being stiff. My whole body was just not happy the first two months, really. I was quite lucky that Mike was with me, who had been trained by my physio to give me massages. Everyday he was massaging my legs to try and keep the blood flowing, but then after 2 months, the last month I think my body just kind of realized, 'Oh, this is what she's doing. I'm kind of used to that now, it's okay. We'll stop making up injure.' Yes, the first 2 months I was feeling a lot of strain on the body, but after that was over it just kind of adapted to it, I think.
Sarah: That's fantastic. You mentioned Mike. You obviously had some sort of support while you're out there. What was your support?
Emma: I had Mike on the bike, who is also coming with me on this cycle trip to Italy. He's my climbing partner. There was Aisha and they were in the car, and Robert from The Seed Project. He came with us for most of the trip and he was in the car as well, except at one point when Mike got really ill and was at the doctor's. Robert would come on the bike with me, which was great because then I got to learn so much more about Zimbabwe, and more about the local culture, and about what the charity's doing. It was a five person team including myself.
Sarah: That's fantastic. How was it running through Africa? They must've thought this is quite strange! What's this woman doing?
Emma: Yeah, definitely. I remember at one point 2 young lads coming past, maybe in their 20s, and they were just like, 'Why are you running at this time of day? The local people don't even go out.' They were like, 'We just stay in the shade. We don't go running. We don't do anything at this time of day.' Well, I think my body just adapted to it because I've been doing it continuously. Yeah, I don't find it too much of a problem, but they thought I was completely insane.
Sarah: Was there ever a moment where you thought I just don't want to do this anymore? I want to quit? Did that ever happen to you?
Emma: Not necessarily that I want to quit because I don't think that ever really crosses my mind, but there was times where I was just like, 'What am I doing? Who thinks this is a good idea? Who decided to do this? What nonsense is this all about?' Yeah, I never really thought I want to quit because I don't think you can. Once people have donated money to the charities, it's there and it's stuck, and they're donating that money because they thing I'm going to get to the end. They probably think I'm going to go through hell getting to the end, but that's why they've put they're money there. It never crossed my mind that I would actually quit just because I'd feel so awful.
Sarah: 80 odd days running, you're coming up to the final day, can you try and describe what that was like for you?
Emma: I was just so excited that it was going to be over. I wasn't going to have to be on my feet anymore. I don't know if you've seen the videos, but on my website there's a link to some videos of my toenails coming off, and just the pain that you feel in your feet doing things like this, it just doesn't ever end. You get used to it, but it doesn't end. Coming up, approaching the final day, just the thought of finishing was just sheer elation. I was so excited about it.
The very final day I was so excited about reaching the end that I actually got up at 3 o'clock and we started running at 3:30 in the morning. It was still pitch black outside. I was running with a head torch on, and Mike had a head torch on on his bike. Watched the sun come up, which was just incredible, the sun coming up anyway is beautiful, but then sun coming up over Africa. It was just absolutely stunning.
When we started running the starts were in the sky and everything was just perfect. I kind of cruised down across these hills, and then towards the ocean. It was just absolutely amazing. Then to finish, we finished in the ocean so I literally ran from one side of Africa to the other, started in the ocean on one side, finished in the ocean on the other. That whole 3 months of not seeing the sea at all, when I saw it, I was just like, 'Oh my God. At last. At last it's here.' Then I got into the sea and it was just an amazing feeling, so glad.
Sarah: It's such an amazing achievement. Congratulations. I can't imagine how you would've felt doing it.
What was the first thing that you did when you didn't have to do anymore running? Was it a nice bath, or did you go and have a massage? How did you treat yourself?
Emma: Lying on the bed. I lay on a bed in a hotel for quite a few hours, because obviously we'd been camping, as well. We hadn't had a proper bed to lie on so I lay in the bed and that was great. Yeah, I had a proper shower because I could probably count on 2 hands the amount of showers I had in the 3 months I was running. Maybe even on 1 hand. Yeah, I had a proper shower for a long time. Washed my hair. Your hair just gets so full of bugs, and sand, and sweat. It was quite revolting, but yeah, a thorough clean was the first thing, and then just lying on the bed, and switched on a TV. That was quite alien, as well.
Sarah: Very strange, and not going running for a day, as well.
Emma: Yeah, yeah. I tried to stay off my feet as much as I could.
Sarah: Absolutely amazing achievement which is absolutely fantastic. Then I know that you've roller skated across the Netherlands, how did that all come about?
Emma: Yeah, this kind of came about from the preparation leading up to Africa. All the work was going into Africa. Lots of strenuous training and doing more, not fundraising things, but trying to get information out there for people. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and writing blogs, and things.
My housemate, Emily, she said, 'We should do a little trip together when you come back, that's not stressful. It's all based around fun and showing women that women can go out there, they don't have to do something ridiculously hectic like running across a continent. They don't have to do life threatening things just to go out and have an adventure.'
We wanted to put this across to other females that it's very accessible. You don't have to be an athlete. You can just go and enjoy yourself and be outdoors, and do something a bit funny.
I said about maybe cycling somewhere, but she's not got much experience cycling. I've got quite a lot of experience. We thought it's not really fair to do something that one person's got more experience than the other. I don't know where it came from, it just came from nowhere. Well, what about roller skating? Neither of us has roller skated since we were children. It was new to both of us, we were both starting from the same point.
We wanted to go from A to B across the country. We wanted to try and do it on a budget so where is close to home, that's not so hilly, was basically the main criteria. Somewhere close to home that's not very hilly and we just thought the Netherlands. Neither of us had been to the Netherlands. We didn't really know anything about it so that added more to the adventure. Something exciting, see a new place, explore a new culture, and that all just came from there.
It was supposed to be just fun and wacky, and just showing women that you can go out there and do something interesting and adventurous, and you don't need to spend a fortune, and you don't need to be super human athlete. I think we pretty much proved that because the whole trip really didn't cost us very much, maybe compared to what people would spend on a package holiday.
We learned so much about the country, and we stayed with local people. We used Couch Surfers the whole way so we didn't pay for any accommodation, which is even better because then you get to learn more and about the country. Yeah, and we managed to do it. We skated from one side of the country to the other. It's very possible.
Sarah: I think at the moment there are so many women, and especially girls that they stop themselves from doing physical activities because they don't want to get too manly, or too butch, or they don't want to get hot and sweaty. I just feel as though a lot of women are missing out on the amazing feeling of either doing a great adventure, or just having fun with a friend whether it's roller skating across a country, or going to a Zumba class, or going to do yoga, or something like that.
Emma: Yeah, definitely. I feel like when women do go out and do these activities, I feel it opens up so many more doors because I met Emily, my housemate, through going to a women's rock climbing club. Since meeting her, so many more doors have opened up. If I hadn't have gone to that women's rock climbing club and met Emily, then I would've never done this roller skate, and I also never would've met Aisha, the girl that I ran Africa with. I feel if you go out there and you get involved with an activity, you meet new people, you learn new skills, so much more comes from it, so many doors open in your life. I just couldn't recommend enough to get women and girls out there doing more activities.
Sarah: No, definitely. I completely agree. I think one of the things that I always, I think I took away with it, was the teamwork. Working with other people, whether it was playing hockey, or lacrosse. You just made these amazing friendships and obviously built a lot of internal self confidence in yourself and what you can do, what you can achieve. I think that's fantastic.
Emma: Yeah, I completely agree. Completely. Yeah, teamwork, and trust. When you're in some kind of sporting activity, you have to trust all the people around you. You learn very quickly to trust them and get to know them even more, like a deeper friendship evolves from that, I think.
Sarah: Absolutely. If you were speaking to younger women, or girls who wanted to get more involved in sports and sporting activities, I know you said you were 27 when you started doing your running. What advice would you give them?
Emma: I would say just don't have any hangups. Don't worry about how you look, or how you think you look. Actually how you think you look and how you look are very different, but don't worry about that at all. Think more about how you feel. If you find an activity, it doesn't matter what activity it is, but if you find an activity that makes you happy, puts a smile on your face, and you enjoy it, then stick with it and keep doing it.
Try everything as well, don't just do one activity and think oh I didn't like that. I'm not doing it again. Try it a few times, or try a different activity. There's so many things out there that you can do. Just try and experience as much as you can and you're probably going to find something that you really love.
Sarah: No, I definitely can agree with that. In terms of role models for you, did you have any role models, or do you have any role models that inspired you growing up, or of any women who sort of inspired you?
Emma: You know, I was trying to think about this before, whether I did as a youngster and actually I don't think I did. I don't know if that is because there aren't so many females in the media doing sports and activities, but I don't remember that as a child. I've always looked up to my parents for being the great people that they are, but there wasn't really any sporting context. I really hope now a days that there are more females in the media to try and be role models for the young girls growing up, and hopefully encourage them into sports because I don't really feel that there was that many when I was growing up.
Sarah: I think occasionally you get Jessica Ennis, you get Paula Radcliffe, and normally a few tennis stars, but apart from that even recently we've had the women's football. That wasn't really covered that much in the media. It's almost quite difficult. Whenever you gaze the back pages, it's always the male sports, there's never anything about the females unless it is a little bit on the athletic. It would be great to change that.
Emma: Yeah, because there are women out there doing all of these sports that men are doing, there are women doing them as well. The more coverage we can get, then the more we're inspiring younger women to get out there and do the same thing.
Sarah: Absolutely. Now I know that you've got a Facebook page and a website, do you just want to share those details with our listeners so they can go and check out what you've been doing, and read your blog?
Emma: Yeah, definitely. My website is emmatimmis.com and on Facebook, if you search for Emma Timmis, you should also find me there, and on Twitter I'm Run Emma.
Sarah: Run Emma. Absolutely fantastic.
Well thank you so much for being on the Tough Girl Podcast today.
All of your links to your websites, and to your challenges, running across Africa, will be in the show notes, so they will be able to go and find them.
Is there anything else? Any final comments, or words of advice that you want to leave with our listeners?
Emma: I think we've covered pretty much everything, but just get out there girls. Get out there and do stuff because we are equally as good as the men, they aren't any better than us, we aren't any better than them. We're all the same and we should all be out there enjoying ourselves and doing some stuff as a girl.
Sarah: Excellent, that's great advice. Emma, thank you so much for your time and best of luck with your cycling to the Dolomites.
Emma: Thank you very much.
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