International Women’s Day on 8th March #ITD2021 is a moment to shine a light on female achievement and celebrate the strength of women across the world. For us, that means highlighting the amazing women who have decided to take on a monumental challenge – to run all 630 miles of the South West Coast Path this year in one go! Not only will they be running it, but they will also be trying to set the first ever solo female record attempt for a fastest known time (FKT) on the trail. And if that wasn’t enough, they have all chosen to use this challenge as a way to raise money to look after the trail and support other environmental and health causes close to their hearts.
So, without further ado, let us introduce you to these inspirational runners. Find out more about when they will take on the trail, what’s motivated their decision, how they’ve gone about training and what the Coast Path means to them.
Runner: Dani Blackie
Date of attempt: April 2021
Where are you from? Christchurch, Dorset.
What do you do? Cardiac specialist
Why are you taking on the solo female FKT? Running the whole of the South West Coast Path has always been a personal challenge I have been interested in. It was surprising to discover that there was no woman’s record for the path. Historically sport hasn’t always been as inclusive as it could have been, this has undergone positive change in recent years. I believe endurance sports is for everyone and it’s important that unconscious bias and self-limiting beliefs are challenged. Life is about inclusivity. It would be awesome to put the ladies on the proverbial map for the SWCP, but I have the upmost respect to anyone taking on such an endeavour! It is a very humbling experience to be able to embark on such an attempt, none of it would be possible without my awesome support team and everyone that has helped with training to date.
How are you preparing for it? Training has been underway for some time and is going well – in January I did 10 virtual marathons in 10 days!
What does the South West Coast Path mean to you? Having completed many different sections of the Path, its natural wonder never ceases to be inspirational. Along that path deep friendships have been forged in the breath-taking rugged beauty of the natural world, so many miles of that path echoes some of the most beautiful days of laughter in the sun, wind and torrential rain.
Making a difference: Dani is fundraising for the South West Coast Path Association to give back to the Trail that plays host to her attempt, and The Save Me Trust who work to protect wildlife from hunting, poaching and other threats. She says ‘my objective is not only a personal challenge, but also to support local charities during the financial implications of Covid-19. They do amazing work and together we can help support them so they can continue to protect our wildlife and habitats. Protect the natural world and save the badgers!’
Sponsor Dani: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SWCoastalchallenge
Runner: Emma Hazeldine
Date of attempt: 2nd April 2021
Where are you from? Originally from Newport but now based in Cornwall
What do you do? Medical Research Assistant
Why are you taking on the solo female FKT? The decision! After years of busy life I had reached a time in my life where I finally had the capacity to train for something big. As well as being local, the path has that significant personal connection for me and the simplicity of spending a fortnight of putting one foot in front of the other and surviving the experience as best I can, has huge appeal. My incredible crew (partner Alli) will have the complex job, whilst mine will be to keep moving forward. It’s not all about me though! The FKT journey will allow me to tell a story about the path, about how the path is affected by coastal erosion as a direct consequence of climate change and how the coastline is affected by marine pollution.
How are you preparing for it? I am being coached by my ace coach Damian Hall, who until very recently held the overall SWCP FKT. It’s important to me that Damian’s values concerning the environment align with mine, and he’s a great coach. I love, love, love training; it is (almost) never a chore. I work hard, I rest well, and find the training hugely rewarding. The FKT attempt for me includes every part of the journey including the journey to the start line.
What does the South West Coast Path mean to you? The SWCP has featured in my life for many years. It is the site of frequent long runs, my partner and I have fastpacked sections using ‘tarp accommodation’, and we even ran down to Polperro on the afternoon of our civil partnership, celebrating our event with more Coast Path adventures. I have run the path in thirst-making, blistering heat, freezing mists, horizontal rain, and crisp, cold days and each run has been utterly glorious. I’m a run with your heart kind of girl.
Making a difference: Emma is fundraising for the South West Coast Path Association to safeguard the future of the National Trail as it comes under increasing threat from climate change. She says ‘I am using the run as an opportunity to draw attention to the need to care for our coastline, the impact of climate change on coastal erosion, and the issue of marine litter. I am taking my part in eroding the path as I run and, therefore, felt it was important to contribute to the cost of maintaining this wonderful place’.
Sponsor Emma: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/EmmaHazeldine
Runner: Gill Horton
Date of attempt: Sunday 20th June
Where are you from? I’m originally from Liverpool, but relocated to Yeovil, Somerset with my husband as he’s in the Navy.
What do you do? I work at Screwfix head office in Yeovil as a HR Administrator
Why are you taking on the solo female FKT? By challenging myself to run the SWCP I hope to inspire women to explore their fears & goals and go out and crush them, whatever they may be, it doesn’t have to be running. If my SWCP FKT attempt can help just one woman to realise that she is strong and capable of so much more than she knows, then I have achieved more than I set out to do.
How are you preparing for it? I’ve been preparing for this since last spring, I always said I’d set a crazy challenge for myself the year I turn 40. Once I decided to run the SWCP I contacted Damian Hall who set the FKT in 2016, he has been coaching me since July and I’ve loved every minute of it, Damian is an incredible coach. I have a very structured training programme, which has helped me progress so much more not just physically but mentally.
What does the South West Coast Path mean to you? The Coast Path has a special place in my heart, it’s the place I go to train, it has also helped me when I’ve been struggling with my mental health, running along the coast is where I can quite my mind, find solace and peace.
Making a difference: Gill will be fundraising for mental health charity Mind as well as generously making a personal donation to the South West Coast Path Association herself to mark her record attempt. She says ’I have seen so many people struggle with their mental health over the years, even lose their lives. I almost lost my life in 2017 due to my mental health. I care so much about this cause and know many people reading this will have witnessed people battling, or indeed fight the battle themselves. I will also be making a donation to the SWCPA because I know how hard their team of amazing people work behind the scenes out on the Coast Path to keep it in such beautiful condition and the cost that goes into its care.’
Sponsor Gill: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Gilly-Horton
With so many trailrunning and ultrarunning challenges cancelled in 2020/2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, trails like the South West Coast Path are more popular than ever as a place to take on a serious running challenge. The SWCP is establishing a real name for itself within the ultrarunning community and we’ve already had seven other runners get in touch to tell us of their plans to challenge the FKT in the next year or two. One such runner is Jess Miller….
Runner: Jess Miller
Date of attempt: Delayed from 2021 due to covid – hopefully now 2022/23
Where are you from? I live in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.
What do you do? I’m a Receptionist for an Investment Banking company
Why are you taking on the solo female FKT? I’m wanting to make this record attempt, as not only would it be a wonderful feat to complete, but to follow on from all the other incredible women that are planning on making attempts would be an achievement in itself. I’m a huge advocate for encouraging all women to take on attempts like this, and I’m hoping that my attempt will help others to see that completing, or even just beginning, this path is absolutely achievable.
How are you preparing for it? It’s always difficult to plan for adventures like this, there’s certainly no training plan for 630 miles! Asides from getting my feet and body used to spending days on the move and having a lot of food to hand, the best preparation I can have is making sure I’m surrounded by a community of friends and family who refuse let me quit. I’m a chief queen of an incredible community of women called Adventure Queens, and every single one of them will be a reason to keep going, and at the moment, that’s over 10,000 reasons.
What does the South West Coast Path mean to you? I lived in Plymouth for 4 years whilst at University, way before I knew about ultra-running or FKTs, so I actually used to walk sections of the Path without realising it. I only realised when I found the SWCP National Trail website, so it’ll mean even more when I do eventually make an attempt and end up running, walking or crawling through a city where I spent such a huge part of my life.
Making a difference: Jess too will be fundraising for the South West Coast Path Association. She says ‘It’s so important that we keep these routes available and accessible, but also keep the surrounding environment and wildlife alive and thriving’. Watch this space for Jess’s fundraising page over the next year or so.
The current FKT is held by ultra-runner Kristian Morgan who took the title from Damian Hall just last September, shaving a good few hours off the original record. The time he set was 10 days 12 hours and 6 minutes – so our runners will no doubt be dreaming of beating this and taking the title from Kristian.
If they don’t beat this time however, there is still the solo female FKT record up for grabs as the only female attempt we have on record was set by Julie Gardener as part of a mixed gender team with her running partner Mark Townsend. The time she set back in 2013 was 14 days 14 hours and 44 minutes, so this will no doubt be a time our runners will also be looking to beat.
Regardless of whether they beat this time or not though, as long as one of these runners completes the trail, it will be recorded as the solo female record. Back in September 2020, another trail runner Leah Atherton put in a sterling attempt to complete the trail and set a solo FKT but sadly she had to stop after 500 gruelling miles due to injury and exhaustion. This just goes to show how cruel a mistress the South West Coast Path can be.
Keep an eye on the SWCPA social channels for news of how all our runners get on and to see how their fundraising makes a difference for the habitats and people of the South West Coast Path!