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6 Lessons from Running 5,000 Miles with Elise Downing

Elise Downing

Deciding to run thousands of miles is an incredibly intimidating decision to make, especially when you haven’t done anything like it before. Elise Downing was brave enough to make that decision and become the first woman and the youngest person to run 5,000 miles around the British Coast.

Just two years after running her first half marathon, Elise was setting off for a grand running adventure. She made it through 301 days and proved to herself just what she’s capable of accomplishing. From this extraordinary experience, Elise learned important lessons that can be applied to any adventure.

1. Discover What You Really Love

Running had always appealed to Elise, but she’d never been motivated enough to do it. Finally, one year she set a strict list of new year’s resolutions that included running a half marathon. After conquering her internal obstacles and achieving the goal, Elise decided to run a marathon to raise money for a trek to Everest base camp.

Elise still struggled with wanting to enjoy running and find that happy place. After trying different things she realised that she loved running on trails instead of a typical road marathon. She had been doing the wrong type of running for her.

If you have a challenge that’s calling you, but your motivation and interest aren’t there, try it in a different way. You may find you’re a runner, paddler, hiker, or climber in a non-traditional sense.

2. Go with Your Gut Ideas

Many people ask Elise how she came up with the idea to run around the British Coast and she isn’t afraid to share that it came out of nowhere. She was sitting at her desk, looking at a map and wondered if anyone had walked or ran around the border of the British Coast. Just like that, she decided to get in touch with a woman she knew had embarked on similar journeys and found herself encouraged by Anna McNuff.

Once Elise knew her idea had to be possible, she started telling people. She joined a tribe where people were cheering her on and decided to prove any and all doubters wrong. Eight months after having an unexpected idea at work, Elise set off for her 5,000-mile run.

Even though she had no idea what to plan or if she was capable of running that far, Elise went with her gut idea and broke records. Your ideas for a challenge don’t have to be particularly meaningful or planned out for years. The best ideas sometimes come unexpectedly.

3. Connect with People

As Elise started blogging and sharing her journey, people would get in touch and offer places for her to stay along the way. Once decided to stay with one person, they’d put you in touch with another. When she was running during the offseason, some hostels and bed and breakfasts would give her a bed for free or cheap.

While the hot shower, nice meal, and comfortable bed were wonderful, connecting with people was the highlight. Elise discovered that everyone is really interesting when you sit and talk with them. Learning about their careers and lifestyle choices, especially in remote areas, became one of the best parts of Elise’s challenge. When you’re planning your adventures, remember to find ways to connect with people.

4. Set a Quitting Rule

Running thousands of miles certainly isn’t easy. Elise found the never-ending miles disheartening. After going home for the weekend, Elise almost couldn’t make herself get back on her route. She’d been running for four months and was cold, wet, and tired. Being home reminded her of what she was missing.

But with a little encouragement, Elise was able to keep going. Her dad told her that if she came home she’d be getting a job, paying rent, and doing all those necessary everyday things. This made Elise think, would quitting actually be that great?

Next, Elise turned her attention to enjoying the journey. She decided to create a two-week rule for herself. If she wanted to quit one day, she had to wait two weeks before she’d leave. Within that time, if she had a good day, the timer would have to restart. Elise found that something good always happened within two weeks and she later completed her journey.

5. Be Assertive

Undertaking a huge challenge like running thousands of miles always leads to important learning experiences. One that Elise found helpful was becoming more assertive about what she wanted.

At the beginning of her expedition, if someone wanted to run with her, she’d let them do it without a thought to what would be best for her that day. As the expedition progressed, Elise got better at saying thank you, but no.

While it’s easier to let people do what they want, it can be better for you and your adventure to politely decline. Elise says there’s no problem with getting protective of your adventure. You can be grateful for the support but still say no if it’s not quite the right fit.

6. Get Rid of Obstacles

If you’re having trouble getting out on an adventure, Elise recommends getting rid of as many obstacles as possible. When expenses are keeping you from setting off, find something equally as interesting but much more achievable.

Elise shared that running around the country wasn’t as expensive as you’d think. There are a number of grants to apply for and other options to do something incredible. Elise pointed out that you don’t have to go out for months to have an adventure, some of the best times can be only a weekend long.

One of Elise’s greatest takeaways was the knowledge that she could do something really difficult. That self-confidence is a powerful thing she’ll take with her into each new day.


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