Part I Flight Free Travel: an interview with Rosie Watson

On 17th August 2019, Rosie Watson set off on a journey from the Lake District to Mongolia. Instead of taking the nine-hour flight, she decided – inspired by a lifelong passion for running and the environment and having pledged to commit to #flightfree2020 – to run the 12,000km distance. Having made it as far as Bulgaria, the trip was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic, and Rosie is now back home in the Lake District, continuing to share stories and adventure tips on her blog, ‘The New Story Run’

What inspired you to do the run?

I’d always wanted to do a long self-powered adventure and running made sense as that’s what I love. I also wanted it to be connected with the climate crisis; it is the most important issue of our time and the area I trained and worked in, and – as I wanted to do it soon after graduating – I planned my post-Uni life around doing this!

How long was the planning phase? How did you train, and what are your top tips?

I started planning my life around setting off on a big adventure a year before leaving, but at this stage I didn’t have a clear plan. I started training before I’d really decided on the idea, but only properly about 6 months before leaving. I’ve been running for a decade and had done shorter trips carrying a rucksack before so wasn’t starting from scratch!
The real planning, like nailing down the idea, making my website, getting a rough route plan and gathering kit was done in a couple of intense months whilst I worked part time for money, but spent every other second absorbed in planning and training. It’s best not to over-plan, but the ‘New Story’ side of the run needed more than expected! 

In terms of training, build up to doing 2 long runs per week on consecutive days: these can be SLOW – more of a day out than a fast run. Go out in all weathers, seasons, and on all terrains. Build up the distance, then start taking a rucksack on one run, gradually increasing the weight each time, and then take a rucksack on both (different weights, don’t suddenly double it). Plan a few long weekends of camping and running each day and add in a bit of bodyweight strength training to prevent injury. And finally, get basic things right like sleeping lots, eating enough nutritious food, and reducing stress. These are crucial for recovery and neglecting them will lead to illness, injury or burnout. 

What was your routine on the run?

My running stretches would last 5-7 days before I’d take a few days to relax and catch up with communications. This would involve updating the blog, planning the next stretch, downloading maps and emailing people. There was always a lot of this to do – it was often the hardest bit! Day to day I was usually camping, either wild or in people’s fields or gardens unless I bumped into someone who offered to host me (this was common in winter!). I’d wake up about 7am, have breakfast, pack up my camp, then get going! I would start with a few kilometres walk to warm up, and from there jog/run when I could. I would usually move in 2 hour chunks then have a break and snack, and then go again until I found a good place to stop (sometimes I had a plan of where to get to, but it depended on the day and how I felt). Once done for the day, I’d set up camp, make dinner on my stove and try and stretch a bit. Afterwards, I’d sometimes do phone admin like sorting out photos or updating social media, then read on my Kindle until it was sleep time, which was always early, about 9.30pm. The sleep was what kept me going!

Has it changed your perspective on international travel?

I don’t think it has particularly as I was already committed to stopping flying – and it’s not like I think everyone should run everywhere! However, it reinforced my belief that travelling is much more rewarding if you travel slowly, interact with locals, and don’t just go to hot spots or tourist attractions.

The trip was clearly a hugely positive force, with many people keen to get involved and support you. How are you looking to harness the community that you’ve built to raise awareness about environmental issues?

This is something I’m still trying to nail down! I’d like to write for a few other platforms such as magazines and newspapers and will also be on some podcasts.
I’m passionate about trying to create change in the outdoor community, and that’s something I’ve started working on a bit more through conversations started by the article I wrote for ‘Adventure Uncovered’.
There will also be a film about my run coming out at the end of the year. These are all around the theme of communication, but harnessing the current audience is an ongoing challenge! Suggestions welcome!

Were most of the stories featured on your blog planned connections you made before leaving, or did you find them along the way? Did you always plan to collate things as you have done?

I had some connections before I left but it usually happens by asking anyone I meet who they might recommend I meet next. I do my own research as I go and am constantly sending out emails and trying to organise things. It would have been impossible to do it all before as the route evolves as I go. But yes, the plan was always to write the stories as I went and create a portfolio of people making the world better!

Follow Rosie’s social media here: 

To find out more about Rosie’s trip, read Part 2!

Images by Rosie Watson

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