During one of my recent wanderings around the social media world that I love to browse for constant fitness inspiration, I discovered not only a legend of a runner, but a brave individual who was running for a sensational reason.
Laura Maisey had just began an adventure of a lifetime, targeting a solo run from Rome back to her home in London, an epic feet that would see her clock up 1249 miles along the way. I was immediately in awe of the challenge she had set herself, not only from an angle of jealousy when thinking of the beautiful scenery she would be discovering along the way, but also due to the respect I had for her cause, wanting to complete this mammoth task to raise money for Ronald McDonald House (a Manchester-based charity who provide free accommodation for families whose child is undergoing cancer treatment so that they can remain close to their loved ones). Laura was supporting this charity for her friend David Finch, whose son, Adam, is undergoing treatment for cancer.
With an appetite for the unknown, especially within the world of running, I had to get in contact with Laura to ask her a few questions about her adventures, and like a true champion, she was only too happy to oblige.
For those of you as intrigued as I was about this fantastic lady, here is my Q & A with Laura…
First of all, I have to say congratulations for an astonishing achievement. I already know that I will be referring back to this run in the future as one that inspired me to take on a particular challenge of my own.
Q. Having already established that you were raising money for Ronald McDonald House, what was going on in your mind to make you think, ‘I know what I can do to help….I will run home from Rome to raise money!’ Did someone else’s journey inspire you?
A. It would be disingenuous of me to say the fundraising idea came first. Rather, I was inspired by the likes of Anna McNuff, Dave Cornthwaite and Elise Downing to realise I was also capable of undertaking a large-scale challenge of this kind. So the idea was in place, I had told people I was doing it, then a week or two later, I saw Dave at Project Awesome and it just clicked, “why not use the run for something bigger?” I asked Dave what he thought we could fundraise for, connected to Adam and when he suggested the Ronald McDonald House, it made total sense to me as they also helped my parents stay close to me when I had an operation on my hip when I was 10 years old.
Well, the fact that the charity had also helped your parents makes it even more relevant that you raised money for them, but still, running home from Rome really was taking things up a notch to say the least!
Q. So, you had your start and finishing points set, but I am interested about your specific goals in regards to the fundraising. I noticed on your social media channels that you originally wanted to raise £1 per mile and you had changed that to £2, £3 and then £4 because the fundraising was going so well. At what points in your run did this happen? It must have been quite overwhelming to smash your original target!
A. I may be the luckiest person in the world as I have such good people in my life. They are the only reason I am able to do half the things I do (on my run, for example, 95% of my stuff was lent/given to me by wonderful friends/family).
One of my work colleagues, when he heard I was raising £1 per mile, brought me a cheque for the full amount of £1249! What an amazing man! And the rest was lovely people hearing about my run (some were even strangers) and donating because they are kind. One time, at Parkrun, I got chatting to a fellow runner afterward, told him briefly about my run, perhaps a five minute chat in total, and later that day he donated £30 online! People are amazing. And so yes, it was quite overwhelming – an affirmation of how fabulous I already know everyone is.
People certainly are amazing, you are spot on. The running community has helped me see this over the last couple of years. There’s some big hearts out there.
Q. You began your run in Rome, Italy and made your way via the Via Francigena pilgrim route before heading through France and back into England. Why Italy and why the Via Francigena route in particular?
A. Ah, Italy! To ask why Italy is like asking why does your heart choose one person over another. Italy for me is a magical place. It’s people are wonderful, overflowing with hospitality. Its language has a musicality that makes speaking and listening to it a visceral experience. You are drowned in history, everywhere you look. Thousand year old Cistercian abbeys where monks still live take in pilgrims and feed them and wash their feet as a mark of respect for your journey. The food tells its own story too, from hearty Tuscan soups to thin crusted Neapolitan pizzas. There is also the stunning artwork of the Renaissance which I’d better not start on otherwise I’ll never finish! Suffice to say, I practically drool on myself every time I see a Caravaggio. And I chose the Via Francigena because it started in Italy!
Just thinking about all the joys of Italy is making me want to pack a bag!
Q. Did you map out an exact route and stick to it?
A. No! I used a pilgrim route which varied from ‘very well signposted, no doubts here’ to ‘you may well end up in Africa for all the help we’ll give you today’. The Italian leg was charmingly wild and you never knew what you’d get but mostly I managed to stumble along with the signs and asking locals and google maps.
Good old Google maps! I may still be stuck somewhere far away if I hadn’t had that on my phone myself!
Q. You were away for 2 months on your own, what the heck did you take with you and did it all fit in your backpack?
A. I took the things that people gave me. Very little thought went into it! Donna gave me a running backpack, my brother gave me a one man tent/bivvy, Tarek gave me an inflatable pillow, Ray gave me an inflatable mattress, Bianca bought me a cover for my phone, Sophie gave me a travel towel…. You see? I think if people want advice about what to pack for a long run, I am probably not the person to consult! Look up Anna McNuff’s kit list for her run across New Zealand. She really DOES know what she’s doing.
I love the fact that you say that very little thought went into it. I’m sure many won’t be able to get their heads around that one! Anna McNuff’s list is a great go-to for anyone setting off on a crazy run themselves. I will certainly be referring to it in the future.
Q. You were away from family, friends and all of the every day things that many of us take for granted. What were the toughest parts of being away?
A. I didn’t actually find it that tough being away. I’m more resilient than I realised and not a lot of negativity got to me. I was in a very privileged position, being able to undertake a journey of that type, and I was very aware of that. People constantly took care of me. What I lacked in stability, I gained in kindness and new friendships. Obviously, when I got towards home, I started to think about the things it would be nice to do, for example, have clean clothes every day, not to have to wee in forests, to see friends. But two months is not so long, so I didn’t get to the point where it really got me down.
That’s certainly a good thing that you didn’t find yourself feeling too far from home but 2 months is a lot to many people. I think you are more resilient than you are giving yourself credit for.
Q. Was there any kind of recovery period once you finished your journey?
A. I got home on the Saturday at midday and I went to workout at Project Awesome on the Monday morning. So, physically, I didn’t feel I needed a recovery period. It’s not the same as a marathon where you put in maximum effort and feel ruined for three days. It’s not a massive all-out effort anymore when you’ve been running for two months, it’s just life. So I didn’t need to recover, as such. Mentally, I was great for 11 days and then something happened. I started to feel very vulnerable and struggled with the amount of things that every day requires you to spend time on. It felt quite jarring to go from 8 hours inside my own head every day to relying on massively delayed public transport (and spending mental energy letting it annoy me!). As mentioned earlier, though, I am surrounded by good people and their presence helped me to reset my mind and remember I have a very nice life and not much to complain about, really.
Q. What advice would you give to anyone running such a distance in a foreign country?
A. Make your peace with uncertainty. Where you will sleep, where you will find food, which way to go – your journey will be full of uncertainty. Be calm. The world will look after you. And language is not a barrier.
That’s a great sign off line! ‘Make your peace with uncertainty’. I will be storing that one for many future travels. I am sure it will come in handy to remind myself every so often.
Well Laura, it has been a pleasure speaking to you and following your epic journey from start to finish. What you have achieved this year is incredible, not only from a physical point of view, but the money you raised for Ronald McDonald House (£4,463.54 as of 21/12/16) is an outstanding contribution to an amazing charity. You are most certainly one of 2016’s big running inspirations.
…and thank you to everyone for reading! You bunch of absolute legends!