Running the 50th

They were as surprised to see me as I was them. Neither of us had expected the other to be there when we approached the corner. The trouble was, there were many more of them. I was only me.

They grouped together defensively, then aggressively, realising the superiority of their numbers. Flexing their muscles, staring right at me, they started to make purposeful moves in my direction. I stopped, not wanting to give ground, not wanting to show fear. This wasn’t how I imagined today turning out. They were much closer now; they weren’t running, but they weren’t slowing down either. They just kept coming. I swallowed, my throat felt dry. I thought: “oh bullocks”.



I wave my arms, clap my hands. I take a step to one side, a quick jump back to the other. Oh crap, I think I’m doing the timewarp.

Amazingly, this seems to work. They stop in their tracks, barely two metres away, and just watch me. I sidle quickly (not the easiest thing in the word to do; try it) back across the field and then stride (I don’t run) away from them, back around the corner and quickly up and over the stile.

“Yeah, I think I’ll call that half way. Best to be heading back anyway.”

I had wanted to do something a bit different to mark the last day of the 2014 5×50 challenge, the 50th consecutive day of running 5k (or completing at least 30 minutes of an equivalent form of exercise). Having a run-in with a group of boisterous bullocks wasn’t quite what I had planned however. But what could I do? It was whilst looking at an OS map of Dartmoor that I had a lightbulb moment, a sudden spark of inspiration: I could make use of the National Grid. No, not that one, the other National Grid. The one that tells us where we are; the one overseen by the wonderful people at Ordnance Survey.

Great Britain and its surrounding sea is divided up by a grid of squares, 500km by 500km in size (the country only actually falls into four of these squares: H, N, S and T). Those four squares are then subdivided into squares that are 100km by 100km (making 25 smaller squares within each large square). Down here in the south west of the country, we fall into large square “S”, so every small square within it starts with the letter “S”. In particular, the part of Devon I live in falls into small square “SX”.

Each 100km square is then subdivided again, this time into 1km squares denoted by a number (running from 00 to 99). Starting from the bottom left-hand corner is (in our example) SX 00 00, with the top left-hand corner being SX 00 99, the bottom right SX 99 00 and the top right SX 99 99.

National grid

SX 50x50So I knew that I had a square, 100 kilometres by 100 kilometres, and that the square was subdivided again by lines running from 00 to 99. All I had to do was find where line 50 met line 50 within that box and go there. Assuming it wasn’t in the sea, of course.

Now this may all sound unnecessarily complicated (and, to be fair, it probably is), however I was keen to do something different to mark the end of another challenge and, as it turned out, it gave me the opportunity to visit a part of Devon I had never been to before. As was evidenced by the fact that I got lost three times on my way there.

The good news was that the place I was looking for wasn’t in the sea. But only just.


I parked at Bovisands overlooking Plymouth Sound, put on my running shoes, plastered myself in sun cream and set off. The coast runs north to south at this point so I soon turned inland to run almost due east along the line of the 50th subdivision. Running away from the water naturally meant that I was heading uphill and quite steeply too. Crossing a sheep-strewn field, I approached Down Thomas from where I was but a stones throw away from where the north-south line 50 meets the east-west line 50. It’s in the middle of a field and I didn’t feel like trespassing, so I pressed on eastwards.

Successive footpaths stayed remarkably close to the 50th subdivision, allowing me to keep to a fairly straight line as I ran on. I ran along paths overgrown with nettles, I clambered over stiles, I raced over bridges and across fields with grass up to my knees. I was sweating and breathing heavily. I had gone about two kilometres.

Grassy path

Finding myself in a field full of cows, I opted to walk for a while, tiptoeing around the dozing creatures sprawled out on the grass under the heat of the sun. They flicked a tail or two, but otherwise didn’t move. My next encounter with the local fauna came when a fly flew straight into my mouth, bouncing around the back of my throat as I coughed and spluttered and tried to evict it. The next fly I met flew up my nose. What is it with these creatures?Buttercups

Curious sheepDescending a buttercup littered path, I hopped over a stile, crossed a stream and came round a corner to meet 8,000 lbs of meat. That will be half way then.

I retraced my steps, heading westward back past the docile cows and curious sheep. The last section was downhill, back towards the coast and it made for a much more pleasant descent than it had an ascent a little while earlier. It was a short, sharp climb along the coastline and then I was back at the car and at the end of today’s run. And at the end of the 50th day of the 5×50 challenge.

Over the 50 days I have:

  • Run 110.12 kilometres over 21 days
  • Swam (approximately; I’m hopeless at counting lengths I’m afraid) 10.82 kilometres in 11 trips to the swimming pool
  • Walked 44.96 kilometres of “designated” 5×50 walking (so not counting all the stuff I would normally do) over 8 days
  • Played just over 10 hours of football on 10 different days.

Within those numbers, I have tried a new parkrun, entered my first ever race, competed in an office football tournament and found an incredibly tenuous reason to run around some fields in the south of Devon. It hasn’t all been easy, but it has definitely been worthwhile.

Roll on 2015’s challenge. I’m off for a lie down.


4 thoughts on “Running the 50th

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