When Stonehaven athlete Chris Cowley announced he was going to run the entire 145 miles of the Aberdeenshire coastline from St Cyrus Nature Reserve in the south to Cullen on the Moray Firth, none of his friends batted an eyelid.
This is, after all, a man who last year won the Hardmoors 200-mile race in North Yorkshire, running virtually non-stop for more than 51 hours.
Ultra distance running and all the pain and hardship which comes with it, has a special attraction for Cowley – and a growing number of others – who derive immense satisfaction from testing the very limits of their powers of endurance.
With very few ultra races surviving the cull of participation sporting events caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Cowley turned his thoughts to innovative solo challenges closer to home.
He said: “During lockdown some people were coming up with ideas such as running around their city limits. I love running along the coastline, so it seemed natural for me to try to run the length of it in Aberdeenshire.
“I’d ran some sections before and for other bits I checked out heat maps to see where other people had run.”
Cowley’s aim was to stick as close as possible to the water’s edge for the journey, although that ambition didn’t come without its challenges.
He said: “I wanted to honour the coastline as much as possible. I kept close to it, although I had to use my imagination in places to find a way through.
“Some of the paths I took didn’t lend themselves very easily to good running.
“Sometimes the tide would be well in and the water was quite rough, so I had to move off the beaches on to sand dunes and golf courses or navigate through fields and over barbed wire fences, often in the dark.
“I started at 7pm on a Monday evening and finished 38 hours later.
“Fortunately I had a lot of friends who joined me for stages of the route, while George Reid and Karen Donoghue followed me the whole way in their campervan and provided me with food and a change of clothing.
“My girlfriend, Victoria Presly, ran the start and finish with me, but had to work in between.
“It’s a beautiful route, although I didn’t see so much of it because I was running in the dark.”
Running the coastline was a tough assignment, but Cowley has a far more daunting test pencilled in for January when he’ll take part in what organisers describe as “Britain’s most brutal race”.
He has signed up for The Spine, a seven-day race along the 268 miles of the Pennine Way from Edale in the south to Kirk Yetholm in the north.
The promotional material for the event promises that runners should expect to face “extreme weather, deep snow, ice, mud, bogs, ground water, storm force winds and driving rain” and that “it’s not just the conditions that are against you, your own body and mind could become your worst enemy”.
Cowley said: “Hopefully it will go ahead. It’s expensive to enter, £975, so it’s a one-off chance for me to do it.
“There’s 160 people doing it, but most don’t finish. It should be a proper adventure.”