“I’d always run sporadically, but I started running regularly about two years ago when I joined Run dem Crew, a running club in London. Meeting new people and running with them motivated me to keep going every week, and running soon became an enjoyable habit.
“At the same time I was thinking about a career break from my job as a consultant in the city. I wanted an adventure.
“My grandmother, who passed away a couple of years ago, had been a German refugee after the Second World War – escaping her home in Neurese (now Unieradz in Poland) after the Russian invasion. Unaware if her family were alive or not, she survived a flight, a plane crash, and walked around 300km to finally settle in the German town of Celle. I wanted to see some of these places and the idea came to me organically, why not follow Grandma’s journey – but run it?
Before setting off, the most I’d ever run was a half marathon
“I started researching crazy people who’d done crazy long runs, cycles and treks, and the more I read, the longer my journey became. I thought well, if I’m going to Germany I might as well go to Belgium. And I should probably visit my family in France… oh, and there’s Spain.
“Before setting off, the most I’d ever run was a half marathon. My journey from Unieradz in Poland to Tarifa in Spain was going to be 3,850km.
“I calculated it would take me around six months to complete, planning in mini breaks with family in Germany and France and one rest day a week. Obviously I couldn’t cart a suitcase round, and running with a backpack was going to be uncomfortable, so I decided to buy a running pushchair to put my stuff in – some camping equipment, a few clothes, my camera and a laptop. It weighed around 35kg (pushing it up hills was not fun).
I didn’t need to worry about work or how I looked, I could be ‘me’ on a really raw level
“I set off on 15 July 2014. I was nervous and excited as I started out on my first run. It was surreal knowing I was embarking on this big adventure, but running through the cobbled streets of the town where my gran was born and grew up made me feel closer to her.
“In those first few days I felt all my stresses slip away, it was just me and the beautiful surroundings. Throughout the whole journey I didn’t need to worry about work or how I looked, I just had time to think and be ‘me’ on a really raw level.
I covered an average of 20 miles a day, setting off when the sun came up
“I ran along cycle paths in Germany, past forests and inland lakes, and along the stunning Baltic coast. I crossed the Pyrenees in one day, it was windy and terrifying but I met a pilgrim who was on the Santiago to Compostello route and he helped me cross – you never know who you’ll meet!
“I covered an average of 20 miles a day, setting off when the sun came up and running for between three and a half and six hours. I would keep it low-intensity – running for a bit then walking for a bit – and alternated between two different pairs of trainers daily, so that I wouldn’t get injured.
“At first I was hungry all the time but after a weeks your body becomes efficient and I wasn’t really eating any more than I would usually. I ate bananas, dried fruit and cereal bars during the run, drank loads of water and used electrolyte tablets.
“At night I’d camp or stay in B&Bs, or often people would find out what I was doing and offer me a free place to stay. The whole journey made me believe in the kindness of strangers – so many people would come up for a chat and then invite me for a meal in their home.
I soon learned to say what I was doing in every language
“It wasn’t always easy, though. The hardest bit was spending six months alone. I’d meet lots of interesting people but I was always moving on so I couldn’t build relationships. I speak fluent French and English but I can’t speak German or Polish, so a lot of communication was through hand signals and gestures – I soon learned to say what I was doing in every language, though.
By the time I reached Paris, I was finding it tough to keep going
“Social media became my lifeline, I’d never really used it at home but all the messages of support from friends and family kept me going, it was my link to the ‘real’ world.
“By the time I reached Paris, I was starting to find it tough to keep going. I grew up in France so spent six days there with family, I spoke at my old school, I relaxed… I really didn’t want to leave, but I wasn’t about to give up.
Podcasts helped me take my mind off things, and I broke distances down into manageable chunks
“I carried on but once in Spain, my final country, a couple of injuries hit. My IT band and Achilles flared up, and I was feeling desperately lonely. Podcasts were a bit of a saviour, they helped me take my mind off things, and I started to break distances down into manageable chunks, just aiming for the next town and not thinking about what lay after it.
“The chunks of distance kept passing, from Valencia, to Nerja, to Malaga, I was getting there, and soon all I could think about was finishing. I told myself if I can take one step, I can keep going. It isn’t called a challenge for nothing. I was going to end in Tarifa, a laid-back town at the southern tip of mainland Europe – the point where I couldn’t go any further.
On 13 January 2015 I finished my epic journey of 3,850km, having raised just over £10,000 for the Red Cross
“I knew my mum was waiting for me and while I was prepared for an anti-climax, on that final day I just couldn’t stop smiling and whooping. Actually finishing I was elated, I ran into the sea.
“Six months before, starting off in Poland, I didn’t know if this day would ever come, my plan was to see how far I could go and every added day was a bonus. But I’d made it. On 13 January 2015 I finished my epic journey of 3,850km, having raised just over £10,000 for the Red Cross – the charity that helped my grandmother as a refugee.
“I took a few days to relax in Tarifa before returning home to London and thinking about my future. Having run nearly every day for six months, I wasn’t sure how I’d cope. I missed running a bit but I tried to stay active and also get some rest. Now I’m ready for another adventure. It’ll definitely be something a bit shorter though… I’m thinking maybe an Ironman.”
To read more about Viv’s incredible journey visit her website vivrunseurope.com