In August 2019, 25-year-old Rosie Watson set off on a two-year journey to run from her home in the Lake District across Europe and Asia to Mongolia. The self-supported journey had a purpose beyond adventure alone: to find people tackling the ecological and climate crisis and share their stories of positive, healthy alternatives for how we live.
Living out of her tent or staying with strangers, Rosie was eight months into her run when the borders of Kosovo, where she was staying, closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving her to wait it out in the country until the world gets moving again. During that time, Rosie answered some of my questions about her New Story Run via email about her adventure and experiences so far.
You’re nearly nine months into your run and the world has ground to a standstill. How are you, and what’s your current situation?
I’m doing well, thanks! I’m on my 7th week of being ‘stuck’ in Kosovo. The borders (and shops, restaurants etc) here closed as soon as the first case was found in the country. Luckily, I was still in the same country as Mike, my partner (who started a ‘twinned’ biking adventure, the New Story Ride, a few months after I started the New Story Run). We are staying in a closed hostel with the two guys who run it and their cats, one of whom has just had kittens!
It’s good to have company and we feel pretty lucky with where we are. We have everything we need, the best view over the city, are a 10-minute walk to a shop in one direction and the other direction is forest and mountain. The lockdown has been strict, with timeslots to go out based on your passport number, but there is a phased plan now to ease it. We’re happy we were able to stay – there was one flight back to the UK but the trip’s principles involve no flying, it was expensive and we have everything we need here, anyway! We hope to just wait until it’s safe to continue, which will be another month at least, but hopefully not much longer… we will see.
How are you coping with the uncertainty of when your trip will continue?
I’ve settled more into a rhythm now. It was weird stopping and being in one place after being on the go for seven months. I’d done an average of 17km a day with a rucksack since mid-August, and not been in the same place for more than four nights (usually less). I had a bit of a weird crash the first few weeks and felt totally exhausted a lot of the time, and a bit emotionally up and down. But I think that was caused by the ‘stopping’ part really – the ‘uncertain future’ part I’m mostly OK with.
I deliberately kept the whole trip flexible and don’t have a schedule; although I didn’t expect this, I didn’t expect everything to go super-smoothly either! As I don’t have a timeframe, even if it had to be delayed by a whole year and I had to go home for a while, I’d still come back to complete it. There’s also loads of admin and writing and media stuff to do, to do with the trip, so it doesn’t feel like wasted time.
How much running are you doing at the moment?
In terms of running, I’ve been taking it quite easy. The most I’m doing in an easy 8km loop! I’m hoping to build up a little more now but my main focus has been on yoga, stretching out the tight spots and niggles, and resting. Those are the priorities, and I just do whatever I feel inspired to do on top of that. A pandemic is not the time to put pressure on ourselves!
Tell us about your run and the reason behind it?
I’m running from the UK to Mongolia, on the New Story Run. It’s a self-supported, mostly solo, low-budget adventure. I set off in mid-August 2019, and it will take roughly two years in total (actually maybe more considering the COVID-19 pause!). Along the way, I’m meeting people and projects working to tackle the climate and ecological crises, through that creating a ‘New Story’ of how we live, work, meet our needs and do everything! I tell these stories on my website and social media (#NewStoryRun).
My mission is to tell these stories in a more personal way, focusing on individual stories that people can connect to on a more emotional level. They piece together a cross-cultural picture of how we can live in a more connected, fun, healthy and sustainable way – a ‘New Story’ to replace the old destructive one!
What distance and countries have you covered so far?
I’ve covered 3570km. I ran across England to Newcastle and got the ferry to Amsterdam. Then I ran across the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria (over the Alps just as the snow hit), Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and to Kosovo!
I’ve usually wild camped, unless I had someone to stay with – which was surprisingly often as so many people have taken me in.
Before lockdown, what did a typical day look like for you?
I’d usually wake-up early then take my time eating breakfast (porridge cooked with my stove/soaked oats with nuts) and packing up. Then I’d aim to run in roughly two-hour blocks with breaks and snacks in between, until I had either got to where I’d planned to stop, had done a decent distance, or it got dark. I usually aimed to run 25km, but it depended on the terrain. Then I’d make dinner on my stove – usually pasta, red lentils and sachet soup. Then do a bit of phone admin if I had battery or read on my Kindle, try and stretch a bit or massage my feet, then sleep – a lot! I would often fall asleep by 8pm and not wake up until 7am.
I would have rest days whenever I was meeting a project or had someone to stay with. Then it would be a mad rush of writing about people I’d met, replying to stuff, sorting out photos, social media, researching the next bit of route and contacting projects about visits, trying to eat lots of vegetables etc… and also trying to properly rest too!
How have you found the physical aspect of your challenge?
Running every day on a constantly evolving adventure has been the best thing I’ve ever done, for sure. It’s definitely been exhausting at points, but it depends on what environment I am in. If I’m in mountains or on small trails, I can get energy from where I am, even if the terrain is tough. It’s what I love most, so that’s definitely invigorating. But if I’m on a road or flat section (which happens more than I’d imagined it would!) I find it much harder. Going over the Alps was the hardest part so far – not because of the hills, but because I had to stick to awful main roads for weeks because several metres of snow suddenly fell. It made everything really, really hurt! I was really worried I’d get a proper injury in my feet. But once I was back on trails they all disappeared and it felt amazing.
The biggest challenge has been getting enough proper rest (I.e. properly resting, not rushed rest days full of admin). I’ve had way more days off than I thought I would. Other than that, I’ve just noticed my body, and especially my feet, getting stronger. But on the other hand, in the month before I stopped, I was feeling really quite tired, even when resting.
I actually gained a bit of weight – I’m the heaviest I have ever been! Maybe because it was winter, maybe the extra muscle mass, etc… I’m not sure! But I guess before I was more of a speedy runner, but I’ve had to adapt to be more of an endurance plodder.
You’ve run solo for much of your challenge. Have you been welcomed by communities during your travels?
Yes – it’s been incredible. I worked out recently that I’ve wild camped over 70 nights, but have been hosted over 90 nights, mostly by people who were previously strangers. I always try and find someone to stay with for each rest point, through social media contacts, mountaineering clubs or the people/projects I’m meeting. Contacts pop up in all sorts of ways.
But at least 22 of those nights hosted were totally unplanned – just people who took me into their homes after I knocked on their door to ask if I could camp in the field or ask where would be a good place to camp. I started asking people more after a load of people suggested I do that in Germany and it’s made the trip so much better! People have been unbelievably open and supportive, and it’s amazing to get an insight into local people’s lives and have this constant evidence for the goodness and openness of humanity. Even with language barriers, I’ve spent whole evenings chatting to people where neither of us has spoken each other’s language but we could still connect somehow.
Have you come across many stories of hope and environmental inspiration during your run so far?
Yes, loads! One recent one was in Albania. There is a charity called TOKA, set up by Catherine who I stayed with who is wonderful. TOKA helps support the local community to fight back against the hydropower plants that are being constructed illegally and are destroying Valbona National Park (and the entire area, and livelihoods of the community). They’ve faced threats, are fighting massive corruption, have no functioning justice system, and there is a massive amount at stake… but they are also so organised and strong in their strategy. They’ve developed an alternative plan for the area, based on lots of community consultations, which would meet the needs and wants of the locals and be sustainable for the environment too. What they’re doing is incredible, and it was amazing to meet them. (You can read more here).
That’s just one example. Some projects have been more technology-focused, some more city-focused, some transport-focused, some conservation-focused, some housing-focused… it’s a huge range.
You ran through Europe during winter. Did you experience any challenging moments due to the weather or cold?
The cold wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. The whole of Europe had a very unusually mild winter. The coldest I camped in was maybe -8c degrees, and it was actually OK! There’s also been very little rain compared to the UK.
There have only been two seriously hard days in terms of weather. One where it poured down with sleet all day. After a coffee stop, after a few hours, I got so cold it was impossible to warm up (I was soaked through every layer) and I couldn’t work my hands at all. I ended up finding a hotel that night and treating myself to dinner – the only time I’ve done that! I don’t think I would have been capable of putting a tent up… it was a struggle to even unclip my bag, and I was just getting colder and colder!
Then there was another day of cold pouring rain but thankfully I found an unlocked church to sleep in that night.
What have been the high points of your trip so far?
Meeting people working on projects they’re really motivated for is always great. A main highlight has also definitely been these random encounters I have when I stop to ask for water or where to camp – people have just been incredible.
And in general, just being on the adventure has been even better than I ever dreamt of! Running, being active and outside almost every day is great
How do you navigate your journey – do you use a map, an app or both?
I’ve got used to just using my phone now. I use a mixture of the Gaia GPS map (for mountains) and Maps.Me for urban sections. I put my phone on aeroplane mode to save battery – I have a PowerTraveller charger but often there are still long sections between people I’m staying with!
What are the essentials that you’re travelling with?
A small tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, stove, spoon, lighter, clothes (very few…), tech stuff (phone, camera, chargers etc), basic washbag (no fancy toiletries).
I’m on my fourth pair of shoes, which have mostly been Inov8 Terra Ultra G260s – pretty good for 3570km! So far I’ve got kit posted out to different points when I need it.
Are you sponsored by anyone right now?
The trip is funded my GoFundMe donors, so in that sense, I’m supported by a lot of individuals. And I have some kit and in-kind support from this lot: Kong Running, Powertraveller, DFDS Seaways, Peebles CAN, Love to Run Coaching, Small World Consulting, The Health Architect, Therm-a-rest, Inov-8 and Esri UK.
You can follow Rosie’s progress via her website, www.newstoryrun.wordpress.com and her social media channels: www.instagram.com/rosiewats, www.twitter.com/r_birdshouts and www.facebook.com/rosie-watson-the-new-story-run.