Last updated: 05-Nov-18
By Luke Jarmey
We love hearing tales of normal, everyday runners going out there and taking on great challenges… but also documenting them in an interesting way. Gavin Boyter is one such runner and in this Q&A, we dive into his Lands End to John O’Groats run, which he has turned into a book ‘Downhill from Here’ and upcoming film, of the same name.
Q. Who is Gavin Boyter?
A. I’m a 46-year-old writer-runner. Like Haruki Murakami I think each activity feeds into and enriches the other. I’m not a fast runner (marathon PB a decade ago was 3:11:42) and I’ve only ever won one race (a 5km fun run) but I can run for an exceptionally long time!
Q. How long have you been running?
A. As a serious pursuit, only since my mid-30s. Initially for fitness, but subsequently just because it renews me and now I can’t do without it.
Q. First race and favourite race?
A. The London Marathon in 2005! In fact, it was the first time I ran with any other human. Favourite race so far might be (believe it or not) the 24 hour Cotswolds race – in July I’ll run it for the 3rd year running and my target to beat is 102 miles.
Q. On to ‘Downhill from Here’… what’s it all about?
A. It’s a book (and eventual film) about how an ordinary club runner – I took my redundancy cash from a dead-end job and turned into an adventure – ran all of Britain, by means of a circuitous 1174-mile route. I averaged a marathon a day over 48 days and it was a genuinely life-changing experience. I also managed to raise a few thousand pounds for two very deserving mobility charities: Whizz-Kidz and Limbpower.
Q. Had you ever undertaken a challenge like this before and what was the furthest you’d run?
A. In short, no! In training I’d run a 100km ultra (London to Brighton) but when I made the decision to “go ultra” and run the length of the UK, a marathon was as far as I’d run. Since then I’ve done the aforementioned 24 hour race near Cirencester (102 miles managed) and a Centurion Autumn 100. There, I suffered foot trauma akin to trench foot but finished in a little over 26 hours. There will be others.
Q. What inspired you to make a film and write a book about it?
A. I’m first and foremost a writer and filmmaker (director of the feature “Sparks and Embers” and co-director of the forthcoming thriller “Nitrate”) so I knew I’d have to document this incredible experience. The camera also gave me someone to talk to on the lonelier or more traumatic sections!
Q. Did you have support with you, or were you on your own and self-filming for the entire run?
A. I had one support driver / camera-person but about 70% of the footage I shot myself, on a handheld GoPro with a miniature steadying rig. My Dad, who is 72, was my support crew the first two weeks and last two weeks and that was great fun. Well, when he wasn’t cursing my name for making him wait two hours on a chilly beach with the camera set-up for a perfect shot while I ran a different trail entirely.
Q. Tell us about some of the runners you met along the way?
A. I met a fell runner called Stan, who manages an arts centre in Ambleside. He told me scurrilous tales of rivalries and lunacy in the Lake District. Fellow-writer and ex-squaddie Chris Thrall shared my pain as I headed into Cornwall. Richard got lost with me in the Pennines as he told me about running the very first London marathon (he’s since completed over 100 more, the MDS and others). And a leathery cove called (apparently) Jessie James “O” almost persuaded me that running across Australia’s outback might be fun.
Q. The trailer depicts some pretty raw emotions at times, what caused them?
A. The combination of fatigue, pain, worry at being lost as the sun went down in the Scottish Highlands wearing only shorts and a t-shirt, guilt at being unable to contact my support driver (and Dad) due to having no phone reception. That was a perfect storm of disaster. Having to wade up to my neck through a 30-foot-wide river in spate just completed the joy.
Q. Talk to us about your preparation. How long did you train for and what did that training look like?
A. I trained for about six months, augmenting normal running training (50-60 miles per week) with back-to-back long runs at the weekend, occasional very long runs (30 plus miles) and ultra races. In a sense though, you just can’t really prepare to run a marathon a day, every day, for 48 days. It’ll hurt and you just have to have faith that your body will adapt and cope.
Q. Was your kit pretty dialled or were there some failures en-route?
A. There’s a kit-list at the back of my book but it’s not excessive. Key items (camera gear aside) were a Camelbak, cycle shorts worn under running shorts to prevent chafing, sun block and a “vanilla” phone whose battery would run out of power halfway through the day. I wore only two pairs of shoes throughout – one road pair and one pair of Salomon Trail shoes.
Q. Nutrition, what did this look like?
A. I brought a Nutribullet along with the best of intentions but used it only twice. It’s all but impossible to ingest 6000-8000 calories a day for that long. I ate three courses every meal, supplemented with gels and sports drinks, dried fruit and blocks of Orkney Fudge. I never turned down cake!
Q. It is a cliché, but what were your highs and lows of the run?
A. Lows – the above-mentioned episode lost in the Highlands. Highs – the view down onto Loch Ness from the Great Glen Way (underused trail – do try it!), the incredible rock formations on top of Kinder Scout and the incredibly generous support and kindnesses I received from strangers.
Q. How has the film editing gone and when do you expect to release it?
A. Slowly! I shot over 450 hours. I’ve got this down to 12 hours now but am seeking investors to get the film finished and released. So far the trailer clips have proved very popular, particularly when I’m in mortal danger, which audiences find strangely hilarious, the bastards!
Q. Looking to the future, what’s next for you Gavin?
A. I blame my lovely girlfriend Aradhna. I went to a Dean Karnazes book-signing and while I was waiting in the queue to meet the great man, she came up with a crazy notion. She suggested that to show solidarity to a Europe that Britain seems determined to leave, I run across it using the route of the 1883 Orient Express. It runs from Paris to Istanbul via cities like Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest and should prove an incredible experience. It’s over 2000 miles of running and I hope to do it in Spring 2018. The book I’ll write about it is tentatively titled “Running the Orient”.
Thanks very much Gavin
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