Name: Laura Maisey | Age: 31 | Mission: Running 1,249 miles home from Rome | Loves: Writing | Hates: Unnecessary rural fences
I first met Laura on a cold and dark Winter’s morning at London’s fastest growing free fitness initiative, Project Awesome. She seemed the silent type – keeping herself to herself whilst huffing and puffing, determined and somewhat reluctantly through the hour long session. It wasn’t until we got to chatting in the café afterwards that a witty, sarcastic chatterbox bubbled to the surface. As it turns out Laura wasn’t really ‘down’ with exercise and she certainly wasn’t a runner. Back then she couldn’t run more than 3km. But all that was about to change.
A year later she had completed a 90 mile self supported run (to Celebrate the Duke of Wellington’s 200th birthday), and is now planning to run 1,249 miles from Rome, back to her London Home.
Laura found her Joy de Vivre through the beauty and simplicity of running. Better still, running has become a catalyst for her to better understand her own mind, and to pursue other passions in life – like writing. This is her story.
Laura also blogs for the Huffington Post
Email Laura through: firstname.lastname@example.org
LISTEN TO LAURA’S INTERVIEW (27 minutes):
READ LAURA’S INTERVIEW (20 minute read):
Anna: Who are you and where do you come from – in true Cilla Black style?
Laura: (In beautiful Liverpudlian accent) My name’s Laura and I come from Liverpool.
I do actually come from Liverpool, but I don’t talk like that anymore. I live in London and I run. And I write.
Anna: Have you always been a runner?
Laura: No. I’ve been a runner for about 16 ½ months.
Anna: That’s very specific!
Laura: Indeed – since Nov 17th 2014 to be exact.
Anna: And what happened on Nov 17th 2014?
Laura: I decided that I was fed up of going to London ‘Project Awesome’ sessions (I’d been to about 3) and puffing around feeling like I was about to have a heart attack whilst everybody else sailed “BayWatch-esque” past me and not struggling. And so in order to no longer give a bad impression to my Project Awesome team mates, I decided to run in my own time and get fit, so that when I got to Project Awesome I would also appear to make it all effortless! And so, on Nov 17th 2014, I went for my first solo run. I was out for about 20mins.
Anna: Where did this take place?
Laura: I left from my front door, I went up to Richmond Park and looped around a bit. I was out of the house for about 20mins and I ran for about 8 of those! And from that I realised that leggings that you wear to go out in on a night out – when you run and stretch them they are actually see-through. So I was showing everybody my pants for the full 20 minutes.
Anna: That’s nice for the residents of Richmond!
Laura: Also my shoes didn’t fit. I don’t even know that they were running shoes – I really didn’t know what I was doing. And I wore all black, because I thought if I wore all black I would be invisible.
Anna: And if anybody had attacked you, in Black, you were all ninja’d up?!
Laura: Yes, and I’m well known for my ninja skills.
Anna: So ninja, what’s happened in those 16½ months since then?
Laura: I was just basically dogged and determined and I just kept going out. People asked me why I kept going running and I talked nonsense really, as I don’t know why I did it! I think there’s something quite primal about it. It just felt like something that was so simple. All I had to do was put my feet down and head outside. And the fact that I was human was all that I needed. There was no precursor to my ability to go out and put my feet forward. It just felt like I was doing something that I was supposed to be doing. Not in a spiritual way, just literally in a way that my body was built to do.
I was having a bit of job nonsense at the time – I was flitting between jobs and fairly unhappy about that side of things, so I guess potentially I was doing it for an element of control when I didn’t feel like I had control over other things. And I just kept going out – I didn’t have any natural skill, I wasn’t very fast and didn’t have any good style or anything, I just kept going out – that’s all there is to it really.
Anna: I knew you were starting to do a bit more running and every time I spoke to you it seemed to be about the next run. But then you did something that really made me go “wow”. It was your Wellington Run – can you tell us about that?
Laura: I thought it up in January and again I’m not sure why as I was only 6 weeks into becoming a runner, but I just progressed at a bit of a ridiculous rate really. I did my first 5km on Jan 1st at Parkrun.
Anna: I love parkrun! All hail parkrun.
Laura: Yep, can’t get enough of it. I just did my PB at the latest one that I went to (and I never say PB as I really don’t care about it) but they put it up on the website as ‘PB’ otherwise I would never have known!
So I did my first 5km on 1st Jan 2015. I signed up for a 10km on Feb 1st. I thought 1 month is enough time to double your distance?!
Laura: At the time I did the Parkrun I remember texting my friend Danny [Bent] saying “I don’t feel like I’m going to die, this is awesome!” And he said “If you can run 3 miles you can run 13”. And I always say that to people now. At the time I was like “You say that because you’re one of those people who can, but normal people can’t” and normal people can. If you can run 3 you can run 13 – it’s a fact.
So I did 10km on Feb 1st and I did my first half marathon on March 22nd. So I was 4 months into being a runner.
Laura: And then it just seemed to be progressing at an alright rate. Where I work is connected to the Duke of Wellington and the 200 year anniversary of the battle of Waterloo was coming up and everybody likes a theme, so I thought I would run between 2 of the Duke of Wellington’s residences – one being his London town house and one being his coastal castle.
If I went to a place called Otford and got on the North Downs way, the distance between the 2 would be 96 miles. So I thought “Oh it will be so pretty – I’ll go on the North Downs Way and all the nature and things…” I thought if I can run a half marathon, I can run 90 miles. And so I booked 4 days off work. The job that I was unhappy in had a bit of a fliddy about it. In fact the day I got back from my run they sacked me – extreme high to extreme low! But actually it was another high because it wasn’t a good job.
So, I booked 4 days off work. I was determined about it. I dug my heels in and I did my first day – it was planned to be 23 miles – to get out of London and into the countryside.
Anna: And you’d never run 23 miles before this point?
Laura: No, that was the longest I’d done. The most I’d done was about 17.5 miles in a day with a massive split in the middle.
Anna: And you were running with all of your stuff on your back?
Laura: Yep, I had a backpack and I wasn’t really used to all of the weight I was carrying. I took stuff that I didn’t need. I took maybe the heaviest map that the world has ever seen that I only used once. I just Google mapped it. I didn’t take enough clothes – just what was washed. I was sitting here on the kitchen floor and I was surrounded by colourful things and I just randomly picked things up. When I unpacked in the evening I realised I had an extortionate number of T-shirts and no running pants.
Anna: It sounds like a Master Chef store cupboard challenge. Like ‘this is what you’ve been given, now go on a 96 mile run with what’s in your bag’.
Laura: Exactly! And who’s going to win? Red tomatoes or green peppers?
Anna: Now. I seem to remember that there was a point during this 96 mile run where you had a bit of a fight with a fence. I think you told a fence that you had taken offence to the fence?
Laura: I don’t know why fences have such small open sections between them because if you’re trying to illegally cross a field (because you’ve worked out that it will save you about half a minute) then you need to be able to get across. But you’re strapped in tightly into your backpack, then you can’t free yourself from it to jimmy through. So I just bulldozed through with a backpack on. There was a motorway which I was trying to avoid and I just had a right old fliddy. I was getting scratches on my face – everywhere – and I was just stuck basically in the fence.
Eventually I forced my way through, crossed the field and there was a really high gate on the other side. That gate didn’t have holes in it and I couldn’t climb over that but there was a gap on the bottom, so I managed to get out of my back pack, throw it over, I heard it land, but then I couldn’t follow the bag and get under the gate! I thought I could just dip under, free of my horrible backpack, but couldn’t. So I then had to go back along the field, with my backpack now lying out of sight on the road. Then I had to get into the road (there was no pavement – only grass verges) and retrieve my bag. The intention of the whole thing had been to take off about half a minute, but it ended up adding on about 20.
Anna: It sounds like a Shawshank Redemption type of escape – pretty impressive.
Laura: I don’t know what I was thinking with this whole ‘nature path’ on the North Downs Way. I ended up ditching the North Downs Way – I couldn’t cope with the brambles.
Anna: But you made it!
Laura: I did.
Anna: So, you ran 96 miles over 4 days.
Laura: I think it was just under – I didn’t track anything.
Anna: Not a Strava fan?
Laura: No – too high-tech for me! Because I took off some distance using roads instead I think it was about 90 miles.
Anna: Phenomenal. So, I want to talk to you about is your new plan. I actually feel that this is quite cool – we’re speaking to you after having done what was one substantial adventure, but you’re now embarking on something rather more dramatic. Tell us about it.
Laura: OK, so what’s going to happen is I’m going to fly to Rome in September – normal start – have a look around Rome. And run back to London!
Anna: And how far’s that?!
Laura: 1,249 miles.
Anna: You’re going to run 1,249 miles?
Laura: Yep. To work around my work pattern it started out as being something I was going to complete between October and Christmas. And that meant I was going to have to just hope for the best across the Alps – I mean, surely it doesn’t snow in the Alps, does it?!
Anna: Denial is a great survival tactic!
Laura: I wouldn’t have very many daylight hours, and I was only going to have 2 months to do it in, so it would average out 23 miles per day. So, I thought if I only allow myself 3 rest days, it would be fine and I would be home for Christmas. No probs!
And then Spike from Project Awesome (expedition leader guru) and he gently said “Well, it might snow” and I said “No, I don’t think it will snow – I’ll be in the Alps on Nov 13th and last year it didn’t snow until Nov 20th”. It was quite late last year. So, he said “Why don’t you think it will snow” and I said “Because I don’t want it to snow”…and he said “riiiight…..so may be you should think about going earlier in the year?”
So I’ve moved the whole run earlier now. I’m going in September and I’m prioritising the sensible thing.
Anna: And you’re not just running, you’re raising money as well? There’s also a ‘why’ behind it, so tell us about that.
Laura: Project Awesome has been the catalyst to all of this – it’s just a very nurturing and encouraging environment and one that I want to contribute to for other people. My friend Dave Finch has a son and daughter, who would sometimes come along to PA, and his Son who’s 8 was recently diagnosed with having a brain tumour. When the brain tumour was removed they found that it was malignant so it was brain cancer, and he needs a year’s worth a treatment in a children’s hospital in Manchester.
Dave is visiting him as much as he can. So Mon – Weds he’s working down here and then on Weds evening he goes up to Manchester and spends the rest of his time until Sunday evening up in Manchester. And that’s how he’s living his life for a year, which is hellish to say the least. And he’s an amazing positive, giving person. If Project Awesome could be solidified into one person, he would be the type of person –Dave embodies everything that Project Awesome is about.
So for him to be up in Manchester and paying for a hotel 4 days per week is not really a long-term solution. That situation would be far more hellish than having a private space where he can have some privacy and work (because he still ‘works from home’ when he is up there). And also just cook and sleep properly. It’s so important for him to look after himself, in order to be a good support for his son, Adam.
And so there’s a Ronald McDonald house – which started over in the US – where basically they give free accommodation to family members who have children who are in hospital. But you can’t provide free accommodation without having some financial backing, so when I found out about Adam that was around the same time as I had decided to go public with my idea to do this run, and connecting the 2 things just seemed logical.
Anna: How did you ‘go public’ with the idea for this run? What was your first step?
Laura: I made a Facebook page – Facebook is life – if it’s on Facebook it’s happening! And I’d quit Facebook! Previously I only had Facebook for myself, but now that I have Facebook in relation to the run I’ve realised the power of social media. It can be such a force for good. And I hadn’t realised that before as I had never had to use it in that way. And so when I got Facebook back to go public with the run I was like “Ugh, I’m so over Facebook” but now “I love Facebook!”
Anna: So, it starts in September. Do you have a fundraising target for the Ronald McDonald or are you just rolling with it?
Laura: So I set it up as pounds per mile, which I stole from Suzy Pike, who did a similar thing for her bike ride cross Australia, and then a very kind person who’s a friend of mine said “I will sponsor you a pound per mile” and I said “No, I meant with everything” and he said “no, that’s fine” and so he’s given me the full amount of £ per mile. So now I’ve had the ability to adjust it and now it’s £2 per mile. And rather than put pressure on myself to start out by saying £10 per mile and feel like a failure, if we hit £2 per mile then I’ll just adjust it. Happy days!
Anna: Talk to us about training and preparation because I know that you’ve been having a few backpack rubbing problems?
Laura: Yeah, so those collarbone things – I found this out on my Wellington run. By the end of the first day there just wasn’t any skin left on my collarbones. And I was weeping in the arms of some B&B lady who must have been so shocked. I was emotionally drained after doing 25 miles on the first day. And she got out some pink microfibre dust cloth things, and so I just tucked those underneath where the backpack goes onto my collar bones and just ran with 80s shoulder pads for the whole run!
Anna: Happy days!
Laura: Sometime they’d dislodge and I’d find a pink duster up against the side of my face on its way out and I’d tuck it back in. But yes, collarbones – that’s my main problem.
Anna: All of this stuff you don’t find out unless you give it a crack – For example my collarbones aren’t an issue, but no matter which sports bra I choose they always cut holes in me. It just goes to show that we’re all different and it’s all about what works for you.
Laura: Yep. There’s also a little bit of back stuff – skin off my lower back – but not too much.
Anna: And how about mileage? What’s your approach to it? This is a very long run. What’s your physical and mental approach?
Laura: As I work a lot I was trying to work on my work days and then on my days off I’d go on a long run, which I’d build up a mile each time. And basically if you want to do anything, or see anyone, or have a family or a life, you have to do that on your days off, especially if your work days are like mine – 9am-7pm. So I’m not in a position at 7pm to go home and invite people for dinner as I’m not going to get home till 8pm.
So I finally hit upon a formula that works: I run on my workdays and my days off are days off from everything. It’s not that I don’t run on those days, but I don’t consider them training days. Work is 9 miles away – I do a variation of running to and from, so around 18 miles in a day – I’ll do that a few days in a row. I’ve got a Boris Bike account as well so if I’m late waking up I’ll run the first bit and then I’ll cut off some time by taking a Boris Bike and cycling the last bit. Sometimes I just walk it to stretch out my legs.
Anna: So you’re literally walking and running everywhere? That’s your training for it?
Laura: Yes. And as a happy consequence I don’t really need to pay for much commuting stuff which keeps me at about £5 a week in commuting costs.
Anna: That’s amazing.
Laura: And that’s commuting from outskirts of London to central London 5 or 6 times a week!
Anna: And just before we move off the run to one more exciting thing that I want to talk about. Tell about the route. You’ve said that there are loads of different ways you can run home from Rome, so how does one work out how to run home from Rome?
Laura: Thankfully there’s a route that is going to take me the majority of the way. It’s called The Vie Francigene which it means “the route from France” and it’s the route that the Arch Bishops of Canterbury used to take to go and see the Pope to get their Pallium from Rome. It was first recorded in 990 by Archbishop Cedric the Serious! So he recorded it on his return journey and that’s the route that people follow.
Anna: So is it a way-marked route?
Laura: It is, but different countries take more or less pride and care about how they look after it. So the majority of it in Italy is good – especially in Tuscany they’re quite proud of their place in the route and it’s quite well marked. When you get into France and you’re out in the countryside there may be a turning that just isn’t marked. So you can’t just go “right I’ll just run until I see a post” you do have to pay attention to the guidebook. Also in France you find less of the free ‘pilgrim’ accommodation. You can just rock up, knock on the church door and say “Hi, I’m running” and they will find you a sofa for the night.
Anna: So you’re planning on camping for a lot this? Because you’re running with all of your kit on your back – you’re totally unsupported. Are you nervous about that at all?
Laura: I’m not really nervous about the solo element of it. In fact in kind of looking forward to it, although I know that there will be points at which I won’t have talked to anyone for a while and I’ll feel lonely. But the idea of carrying everything – no. I put extra stuff in my bag when I run to and from work now – things like bags of sugar! So running with weight is not an alien concept. Although I am aware that it will probably weigh more. That’s fine. The only thing that I find intimidating is that I hate going back on myself – if I get to the end of my road and realise I’ve forgotten something I’ll take a loop to get back to my house to retrieve it rather than go back on myself, so I won’t have covered the same ground. I hate the idea of lost ground and lost mileage. So the idea of that is also is quite intimidating. If I lose my pathway there then I am lost and I am useless in a forest. I’m useless in a forest! I don’t have a natural sense of direction.
Anna: So what’s your strategy – obviously there are going to be some dark days – I had my pants of perspective with me in NZ – which you are actually wearing at he moment (your own, not mine!). What’s going to be your strategy for the days when things just go wrong? When disaster strikes. Or do you just not think about them?
Laura: I think I’m fairly strong mentally. I’ve always had this need to know in the back of my mind – because of growing up around someone with mental illness [my Mum] who didn’t have that coping mechanism – and the idea of having a mental illness is one of the things I find scariest in life. And so in order for me as a youngster to reiterate to myself that I wasn’t suffering from mental illness was my ability cope in situations that were difficult – through nothing apart from just going trough my thought process, going through my thought process and going “Yes thus seems rubbish, but it will not be rubbish for much longer because that’s how time works”. Everything is better in time and I can usually make it better. I’m not religious – I don’t need something else. I haven’t got a fallback plan. And it’s important for me to not have a fallback system because if that fallback system ever disappears then I will be abandoned. So I’ve always been quite pragmatic in needing to know that no matter what happens I will always come out OK. And I always have done.
Anna: And that’s the reality of it. I remember when I did my first bike trip, there was a horrid long, hot mountain pass and I remember thinking ‘things will always be different in a mile’s time – they might be better, they might be worse, but they’ll be different.’ And your approach sounds like the same thing.
Anna: So, I just want to go onto one last thing. Running has obviously become a huge part of your life – and you’ve found a lot of joy through running. But it’s also brought about something that you’re equally as passionate about – writing. You write fantastically. I snort out my Diet Coke when I’m reading your writing. How has running helped your writing?
Laura: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I guess it’s something to do with recognising your capabilities and taking up something like being a complete fat pie, sofa lover and then becoming a runner – it starts a thought process that says “Ah, you can do things! You’re capable of things”. People can spend so long – not purposefully – saying “You’re not able to do that” and they predominantly don’t get it. And every time you hear that you feel less able to do things. Every time you try something and you don’t complete it, it compounds this idea in your mind. And as you get older you think that you are less capable of these things and you can’t do these things. And when you take on something completely new, completely alien, (it didn’t make any sense that I took up running) I think that it opens your mind to other possibilities.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since I was a child, so for me saying to other people that I wanted to be a writer felt like a childish thing to say. But then I thought, “no, wanting to be a writer isn’t childish” because all of the stuff that you read anyway has been written by someone who is a writer – it’s a grown up thing and it’s fine. It’s a job – you can make it a job. And I guess that thought pattern kicked in. When I came back from the Wellington run, that was very much the point at which I decided to tell everyone that I wanted to become a writer. I find it difficult to imagine the one without the other.
Anna: And it’s going incredibly well. You’re writing for the Huffington Post. I saw something you did for Etch Rock the other day. You’re writing in lots of different places?
Laura: Yes, and I’m doing a bit of writing for Look Mate socks (which are awesome and funky!) and they’re a company that I’m really excited about. And I’ve been doing some writing for their website. And it’s important for me that I’m at a stage where I don’t have to make money from it and I can choose who I associate myself with and I can have pride to be involved with them. I have the luxury of not just needing to grab anything as I have full time work. And I hope that the portfolio that I build will come to something. I very much come back off a run ready to write. That’s where I mull over ideas.
Anna: So how are you going to be documenting this run home from Rome and where can people follow you?
Laura: On the Facebook page. Also I try to do for the Huffington Post every week so I will try to keep that up. But equally I don’t want to give too much away straight away. I want to come home, digest everything that’s happened. Figure out what it was all about. And then do something with it then.
Anna: OK, final, final question. You said that 18 months ago that your Twitter handle was ‘LazyLauraMaisie’. What advice do you have for people out there who are sat on a couch, doing a job that they don’t enjoy or just feeling like they could possibly could do something more, but they’re just not sure?
What would you go back and tell your old self?
Laura: Let yourself be encouraged. Let people say to you “Well why don’t you contemplate that other thing that you want to do with your life”. I think your initial reaction is to say “Well of course you would do that – you are that type of person – you are an adventurer – you are going to run from Rome to London so of course you are going to be like that” but I’m only like that because I allowed other people who have said encouraging things or not even that people encouraged me off their own backs, but I aired an idea in a nervous way and it was met with total positivity. And I think your inclination when people do that is to say “Yeah, but I’m not really going to do it because you need to keep doing the normal things like earn money and keep going to work and pay your rent” but there will be someone in your life who will be saying things like “There’s no reason why you can’t do that. Why don’t you think about it, don’t resist it, let people encourage you”. Think how awesome it would be if you let the idea that you have in your mind now that you’ve never told anyone else because you think it sounds stupid or whatever, imagine if you told someone and their initial reaction was “That’s a great idea!” It doesn’t sound like a thing that could really happen, but please go and air your idea and let people encourage you. You can very rarely do this sort of thing in a vacuum – you need those people and the support.
Anna: Well, no longer ‘Lazy Laura Maisey’, thank you so much for your chat and sharing today and …you need to go and do some running…!!