The Bearded Bimbler (aka Mike Creighton) is on a quest to run and wild camp across every UK national park. Having put a post our Join-A-Team board before Christmas, looking for people to keep him company, we caught up with him about how it’s been going…
Hello! How is it going?!
It's been an eventful few months. Since I first posted with Explorers Connect much has happened. I have run my first National Park, having set off on the 5th Jan into a pretty unknown frontier of the New Forest.
What have preparations involved? How do you decide which national park to go to and when to go?
Preparations took over a year to complete, I had to meticulously plan the logistics for every park, and routes would change based on where I could access a park border and where I could also access public transport. It has been like a game of chess, really, with points moving as I go. I decided to start low elevation in January to avoid much of the bad weather that we get around this time of year in the higher hills to make it safer and more pleasurable.
How long will it take to cover different national parks?
I promised myself to run at least 30 miles each day, which is a comfortable mileage for me. Each park is different offering its own challenges - from terrain to weather and supplies - but most can be easily covered over 2 days running at this pace. The only exception is the South Downs and Pembrokeshire which are long distance footpaths and will take around 6-7 days, which is no mean feat and something I’ve not attempted before. I've built in plenty of contingency days just in case anything happens, or if I just fancy an extra rest day.
How is training going?
I’m rubbish at sticking to any sort of training plan (I’m easily distracted). I tend to just get out and run the distances. I increase the distance in the lead up to each park and do the mean back-to-back days. I’ll aim to run 50-60 miles each week at the peak point in order to make my body do what I need it to do. Mentally it can be tough.
I hadn't trained very well leading up to the first run, a sore knee and the severe flu saw me pretty much out of action for 2 months. A broken washing machine, tumble dryer and then a water leak on Christmas day pretty much sealed the thought that this wasn't meant to be, but I dug deep and just went.
Sometimes when you’re alone and you’re cold, tired and worn out you can struggle and think ‘why’. But then I just remind myself of what I am doing, read my Facebook with all the positive messages and just get on with it.
Which national parks are you looking forward to visiting the most, and why?
I’m looking forward to visiting Scotland, but at the same time a little apprehensive. The wilderness is both a draw and something to be mindful of. I’ll be miles away from my friends and family at this point. But I love the scenery there - the hills - and the general isolation I’ll have.
Who have you got signed up to join or support you?
The support I've had through Explorers connect has been fantastic, I've had people from all walks of life wanting to come along, some offering their skills with filming or drone flights, and some just popping over for a little run. I've even had full on explorer types wanting to join me which is amazing considering some of the things they have done.
The company will help motivate me and this journey is becoming about the people I meet along the way - their stories and journeys and I’m grateful for all the support I’ve been offered so far.
What sort of kit are you going to be travelling with?
I’m looking like a large cumbersome snail at the moment. I’m aiming to carry everything in my OMM classic 32 bag, this includes a massive list and its surprising what you can fit into a small space. Essentials, though, are my sleeping gear, clean socks, Vaseline (if you run you'll know why), and wet wipes (I had a wash with these in a bus stop at the end of my first run). You've got to be quite strict when it comes to packing light, every gram counts so there’s no room for comforts.
What inspired you to embark upon this challenge?
I've always had a drive to do more with myself, but it wasn't until I took part in the Yorkshire Three Peaks that I really got into challenge events, I walked part of the coast to coast as well in 2017 and that was one of the best and most difficult things I had undertaken. I like exploring and I like being outside.
I’m often asked 'why' I’m doing this. The real question is ‘why not’. I’m blessed with the ability to run and walk long distances and I intend to use it as much as my body will allow. I've taken inspiration from many places over the years -books, online blogs and TV shows - but I felt at times that watching these people in far flung places can feel a little daunting to us 'normals'. I’m not blessed with loads of free time, money or someone willing to pay for my adventures, and I wanted to show others that you can still have an amazing journey right here in the UK. I’m not superhuman-fit in any way. I’m a 37 year old guy with a podge. You don't have to have a TV show or be sponsored in order to have adventure.
How do you hope you'll feel at the end of it?
I felt a lot of emotion at the end of my first run. I met some fantastic people and have been shown kindness that I never expected. I’m not sure how I will feel at the end, though - happy, fulfilled, or yearning for more. I think come the end of 2019 I’ll be inspired to do even more and seek even better adventures. The journey is becoming about people I meet along the way, the stories and the challenges. I hope that I’ll be inspired, maybe change a little in my outlook on life, as corny as it sounds.
What sort of adventure will come next, once you've finished this one?
I do have some ideas planned next. It becomes a bit of an addiction always seeking the next event. I’d like to run and wild camp some of the freedom trails. These are escape routes used by WW2 service men and women as they fled the Nazis through spectacular and dangerous mountain ranges. I have a few ideas for the UK still - coast-to-coasts but not the well-known one. Again, it would be a first of its kind.
I know you're just a few days in, but what have your highlights been so far?
Things have gone well. I ran some 30 miles across the New Forest in what I believe is the fastest time it has been done. My gear that I spent a year sourcing and researching has worked as it should. I got a giddy and nervous excitement arriving at my camp and getting started in the morning. I was smiling for pretty much the whole time. I’m getting to explore some fantastic places and feel very honoured to be given that opportunity. I have loved meeting people and chatting to them along the way and have also been enjoying the scenery and watching it change as I go through dark into light.
If you’d like to find out more about Mike’s Project Park Run, keep up with his progress, or generally offer your encouragement, check out his Facebook page and YouTube video. If you’d like to join Mike on his travels, or support him in any way, you can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’ve been inspired to create your own adventure and would like some company along the way, let us know the details and we’ll put a post it on our Join-A-Team webpage, and advertise it across our social channels and through our newsletter.