I really enjoy experimenting with the daily distance I am capable of maintaining on a multi-day tour no matter if its walking, cycling or running. It is partly the usual curiosity of my limits, but also a preparation for a real, weeks or months long tour that I might have opportunity in the future to do. I’ve done several long distance weekend hikes, and last year I crossed both the Swiss Alps and Jura by bike, but the multi-day running was an itch that I couldn’t scratch so far. So given my first weekend alone in Cambridge I decided to do a careful test on the Norfolk Coastal Path.
The Norfolk Coastal Path is a 75 km (47 mi) long well-marked national trail in the UK. I’ve chosen to start from Cromer and proceed west, so I get closer to Cambridge as I walk, also at its western end in Hamlen the path crosses the Paddington Way, which is another national trail of similar length, so I would have plenty of panoramic and pleasant distance to carry out my experiment. It was also a long weekend of thee days, so I could either hike for three days or hike for two and have a day of rest, so my injuries can heal and I can run to work on Tuesday.
Since the trail crosses many inhabited areas, the plan was to rely on the services that I find on the route. However, I wanted to have a survival supply with me for any case, so my minimalistic package contained: – a long-sleeved shirt and a long running trousers for colder weather and also as pyjamas for a cold night, also a raincoat , a spare pair of socks (very precious) and a pipe scarf; – my wallet, phone, camera, GPS and head-torch, spare batteries and a swiss knife; – a litre of water and two energy bars; – a sleeping-bag liner and an emergency bivy bag. This fitted in my running backpack (the bivy roll was roped on its bottom) and weighted less tha 2 kg. All our pockets were empty and nothing was bouncing so I could run comfortably in my 3/4-long hiking trousers, technical T-shirt and trail running shoes.
I stated at 8am from Comberton, about 8 km (5 mi) from Cambridge, where I stay in a campsite, while I am trained for my Antarctic mission at the British Antarctic Survey. The plan was to run certain sections and walk others and I would see how it goes. This first section was time-sensitive as I had to reach the train, so I ran. It took about 50 minutes to get to the station including a quick cash withdrawal as I couldn’t be sure that I would be able to pay by card in the small towns I encountered on my way. It was a good start, the running felt good, the pack stayed at its place, I hardly felt its weight and drinking was possible even during running without spilling the water. I reached the train, that got me to Norwich and from there another to Cromer. I arrived at 11:30 and had a lunch in the mall next to the station. Since I had very little food in my backpack the plan was to have 3 proper meals a day, so I ate a big lunch and had a quick sightseeing in the town, where I discovered two main attractions: the large church (might even be a cathedral) and the seaside with the pier.
I started to walk on the coastal path at noon. I walked so I can make about a lot of photos about the long, sandy beaches and pretty villages along the path. It was a nice weather, warm with gentle breeze coming from the sea, where dozens of off-shore wind turbines converted it to electricity. Walking with that tiny backpack was very pleasant, my pace was over 6 km/h (4 mi/h) without making much effort. After about an hour I decided to switch to running as I only had to follow the coast line that also started to become monotonous, so I packed the GPS and the camera in my bag and started running. I chose a moderate pace around 10 km/h (6 mi/h) with small steps hardly lifting over the ground, so I could minimize the load on my legs. It was refreshing, the ground was soft and the steps were easy, I was happy that I proceeded faster, while I could still enjoy the landscape. I ran about 40 minutes stopping only once to make photos of the world war coastal defence line’s remaining. It was 2pm and I was already over 20 km (12 mi) that day.
The next section led through a marsh with flourishing wildlife and flora managed by the National Trust and favoured place of bird spotters. It was the warmest part of the day and I ran out of water so I walked into a village not far from the coast and filled by tank in a small restaurant’s toilet. I joined the track by walking a short section by the road as it was coming in from the coast to get around the marsh anyway. At 3 pm I stopped to have a break. I got out of my shoes and socks and cleaned both of sand, I also washed my feet and let it dry on the sun before I would get back into my shoes. Foot management is the most crucial part of my hikes. My trail shoes are quite good, they let my feet breath, but they also let the small dust particles in that joining with the unavoidable amount of sweat can quickly hurt the softened skin, which can be avoided or at least mitigated by stopping every 3 hours for a little foot care and changing socks every day.
I walked another 20 minutes after the break and then started to run again. I felt very well and easily maintained the same pace as I ran before. A bit longer than 40 minutes seemed enough, I didn’t really want to exhaust myself yet. So far I ran half of the total distance, which seemed to be a fair proportion, however this way I spent the two-third of the time by walking, so my 7 km/h (4 mi/h) average speed was mainly determined by my 5 km/h (3 mi/h) walking pace. But I didn’t mind it at all as I was still way ahead of my modest schedule. At 4pm clouds started to gather creating spectacular formations that kept me and my camera busy over my sandy-coastal walk on the next section very well. An even bigger attraction was a group of wild geese flying close by me in one large cloud of flapping wings that I never seen before. The weather got cooler and the nature got so intense I could feel it everywhere around me, in the water and sand, in the bushes and the air. I was relative far from the inhabited places and I enjoyed being alone on the coast very much.
A bit more than an hour of walk passed and I felt like running again. Maybe it was the closing end of the day or the returning monotony of the coast. But not just that. Running was also physically pleasant over walking sometimes, it meant a variety not only for my mind but also my muscles. I ran almost 50 minutes with a good pace and although it was over 45 km (28 mi) that day I still enjoyed moving forward. In fact that should have been the moment I start looking for a place to have dinner and spend the night, and honestly I knew that, but I was already a bit past Wells Near the Coast and the next town was only an hour walk from there, so I decided to move on to get a bit ahead of the schedule so the next day would be easier. I admit, this kind of thinking has caused me troubles already in the past, but it is not that easy to resist a bit overdoing the daily distance when you are there.
Well, I had it coming: in 30 minutes the spectacular clouds started for form a massive, dark spectacular storm with lightning as all. I hoped for a while that the coastal wind blowing from my back would move it away, but after another 15 minutes it started to rain. What rain? It was a shower. I quickly got into my raincoat but every single part of mine that was out of it got completely wet within seconds including my trousers, shoes and socks. I was not cold in general, but cold water around my ankles is just not good. My lower leg muscles got stiff after minutes so I didn’t want to walk much with those. Unfortunately the town that was nicely visible from the coast disappeared completely in the rain, more unfortunately I carefully packed my otherwise waterproof GPS in my backpack with all my other stuff, which was all under my raincoat, so I couldn’t access it without making everything wet inside, even more unfortunately I made a wrong decision at one of the crossings and I went forward towards where the sign indicated two towns instead of turning right, where the close-by town actually was. But I wouldn’t want to be negative about it. The fact that running backpack fitted inside the raincoat (not a poncho) meant that together with my upper body everything in it got perfectly dry even the sleeping-bag line and the emergency bivy bag made of isolation foil.
All in all, I ended up about 2 km (1,2 mi) off the track in a little village that had no accommodation in it, just as the next and the next, when I finally reached a small town. The rain more or less stopped and after asking some people in my way I found a bed and breakfast hostel, which was completely full. Unlucky I thought, so I asked if there is any other accomodation in town and they directed me to a hotel that was also full (and also absolutely and unimaginably expensive, and still full). It had nothing to do with luck in fact, it was a long weekend in August, and everybody was on a vacation. Damn me! I still had some options, but none of them was bivying in that weather. I could call a taxi or walk forward. I chose the second, not as any taxi driver would have let me in their car in that state of mine. So after another hour of walk and run I arrived to a campsite and backpacker’s hostel. I was jumping in my happiness, but only until I hear that it was also FULL! That was the point when I started to beg for the owner. He was nice, because finally he found a spot for me and even lent me a tent and a proper sleeping bag of his for a very favourable price. I even got into a nearby pub in time to have a dinner between some heavily drunk local fellows. I had a hot shower and a wonderful sleep. I was ready to continue my tour.
When you go asleep after a long walk or run you cannot really know which part of your all over aching legs will hurt the other day. Muscle pain tend to go away, joints can be more complicated and blisters tend to stay with you awhile. I didn’t have any bandage with me (I didn’t have when I started and I didn’t find any open pharmacies on Saturday), so I decided not to touch the huge blister on one of my smallest fingers. The others were not that bad and the inflammation that I felt the day before did not seem bad, so I started walking at 7am looking for a place to have breakfast. The weather was cloudy but not very cold, the landscape was nice, mostly fields and small forests. The road went a bit further from the coast on this section, but I didn’t really mind as I was still looking for a place to have breakfast in village after village, but everything was either closed or never existed, so after an hour I started running on the path leading towards the uninhabited coast with the knowledge that I wouldn’t have a proper breakfast any time soon.
The running felt alright, not as fresh as the day before, but it did not hurt badly. I stopped after 35 minutes to make photos of the coast and I used this excuse to switch to walking. The coast was sandy with patches and streams of water left behind the last tide. I spotted two horsemen on the beach and caught them with my camera. On the path I made photos of snails and wild-flowers. This was the last section of the Norfolk Coastal Path and I already knew that I won’t start on the Peddars Way. I felt a bit worn after the 63 km (39 mi) of the previous day, the weather was still cloudy and I wouldn’t have risked another desperate searching for accommodation in a rainy night, so I decided to finish the Coastal Path and walk towards Kings Lynn until I feel like.
Shortly after the crossing I reached the beach of Hamlen Near the Sea. First I spotted the kites and hear the sound of a hovercraft. It was past 10am when I arrived and I was more than ready to have a rest and a breakfast. Fortunately there was a café just next to the beach filled with lifeguards and locals visiting the beach. I ordered a veggie-breakfast, a tea and a cake filled with fruits called stone. I leaned behind on the bench drinking my tea, waiting for my hot breakfast and looked towards the beach. My shoes and socks were already off and I let the coastal wind dry my worn feet. I was content. Although I knew that once again I overdid the distance while looking for the optimum and that I will need a good day’s rest to recover from the injuries I got during the last 10 km (6 mi) of the previous day.
I spent almost an hour in the café, then started to walk towards King Lynn. I found a supermarket on the way and bought some bandages and ibuprofen cream to repair my sore feet. I walked another 5 km (3 mi) besides the road before I decided that there is not much benefit of going on, so I got on a bus and from Kings Lynn I got the train to Cambridge through Ely quite quickly. From Cambridge I managed to run back to Comberton without much complications although the rain caught me on the last section again, so I arrived wet and tired to my present home. Looking back now I am very satisfied with the ultra-light packing, as I had all vital gear in a running bag. I am also happy about the paces I managed to maintain over the tour. The combination of the 6 km/h (4 mi/h) walking pace and the 10 km/h (6 mi/h) running pace can provide a very good average speed on these light-packed hikes enabling the coverage of significant distances even over a weekend. The only thing was the first day’s distance that I over-estimated again and it was mainly caused by the condition of my feet. My current estimation is that I can run or walk about a marathon a day to be able to recover from it during the night, but I have to prove this assumption another time.
Take care and stop before it really hurts.