When Will set out on his epic challenge to run 500 miles solo and self-supported, summiting all 189 of Wales’ mountains, he had no expectation of finishing. It soon transpired that positivity, determination and the will to support an important cause would carry him further than he could ever have imagined.
Q: We’re so pleased that you’re joining us on Tour in Manchester and Kendal to talk about your epic challenge. What drew you to running all of Wales’ 189 mountains?
A: Exploring my home country is a bit of an addiction of mine. This started when I was about 19 when I walked the Offa’s Dyke Path. The Wales Coast Path followed, then the Cambrian Way and most of Wales’ other trails. Then I happened upon a news story about two people who walked a route taking in all of Wales’ mountains over 2000 ft. As soon as I saw their squiggly route, I was set on the idea of doing it myself. The running part; that was just because I figured I didn’t have enough time to do the whole thing at walking pace!
Q: You’re joining us with your film Taith Galed. Can you tell us more about the title of the film? What was the hardest peak?
A: Taith Galed is Welsh for ‘a hard journey’. I’ll be honest, I set off on the run to have a bit of fun but, as the film shows, things didn’t really go my way – or to plan. Most people would think that the big peaks, like Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), Cadair Idris or the Glyderau would be the hardest but actually some of the smaller ones tested me the most – those mountains that are off the beaten track and not particularly well-trodden. Often with those, I’d have to forge my own line to the top through shin-shredding heather and bracken. The Berwyn Mountains were particularly tricksy!
Q: How did you train for the challenge? Do you find it better to have a more specific training programme or best not to be too structured?
A: I didn’t follow a training programme or structure, but I did do a fair bit of hill running in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire – definitely not enough though. I ended up kind of just telling myself that it would actually be impossible to fully prepare myself for the scale of the challenge so I just did what I could.
I’m primarily a hiker and put a lot of trust in my hiking background to give me the right base level of endurance. I know that’s served some elite runners well – people like Damian Hall and Jasmin Paris.
Q: On the trip, did you find mental or physical barriers to be the biggest setback?
A: There was a point very early on in the trip where the distance ahead of me hit me properly for the first time and I needed a big pep talk on the phone from my partner Hannah. Apart from that moment though, the physical challenges distracted me from the mental side of things. I didn’t really have much time to feel, say, overwhelmed or lonely, because I was always thinking about the route ahead; where I’ll restock, how many mountains I’ll aim to bag the next day, where I can aim to pitch my tent.
Q: There’s a part in the film when you realise you’ve missed a mountain and need to double back on your journey. How do you deal with difficult times on the trail? What does ‘success’ mean to you?
A: That missed mountain was a real spanner in the works. It threw all my plans off kilter at a point in the trip where I was facing the worst weather so far and the hardest terrain. I think I just realised I had to think practically rather emotionally. So instead of feeling sorry for myself I just threw myself into planning my re-route. There was a moment where it did have me thinking about the ‘why’ of this trip. Why did it matter that I’d missed out a mountain, why was I doing this challenge in the first place? I’d set out to have fun – re-routing wouldn’t be fun. So why re-route? Why not just carry on – or stop? The thing is, finish line fever had hit me by this point so the decision I ended up making wasn’t totally rational.
Q: You achieved this feat of endurance in a record-breaking time of just 23 days and raised an incredible £12,500 for Mind Over Mountains, a charity which works to restore mental health through nature. Why was it important to choose Mind Over Mountains as your charity?
A: The funds actually got matched by the Waterloo Foundation after I completed the run. So, unbelievably, the total is nearing £30,000 now. Choosing Mind Over Mountains was a no-brainer. I was invited on one of their weekends in the mountains not so long ago, where they use time outdoors – in the company of expert counsellors – to help people going through difficult times in their lives. A lot of the people I met there were recently bereaved, for instance, and you could visibly see the positive impact from the company of the other people there and the beautiful setting.
Q: Tell us why you love spending time outdoors.
A: Originally, it was the sense of adventure it provides – particularly when setting out on a long-distance trail with all those miles and unknowns ahead of me. Today, I think a big part of it is giving my brain a bit of thinking time away from all the many tedious parts of modern life that we now have to put up with; endless emails, non-stop content etc. When I got back from this running challenge I had a bunch of passwords to reset on my phone and computer and it was honestly far more stressful than anything I faced running up Wales’ mountains.
Q: What bit of kit could you not have survived without on the trip?
A: Deciding whether to bring a down jacket or a synthetic filled jacket was a big decision ahead of the trip and luckily I made the right choice. The synthetic filled Haglofs Spire Mimic jacket I took might’ve been a little heavier than the down jacket I was considering but at least it was able to keep me warm even when it got soaked through. The down jacket would’ve ended up providing little to no insulation on those days where the rain was blowing sideways and creeping into every little gap in my waterproof jacket.
Q: When you joined us on Tour in Llanelli, you told us that you didn’t necessarily see yourself as a runner. How would you describe your relationship with running before and after Taith Galed?
A: I’ve thought a little more about that since then. If I heard someone else who’d run hundreds of miles say that they’re not a runner, I’d think they’re a total nincompoop. So, yes I am a runner. I think there must be a little bit of imposter syndrome going on within me because for so many years, I’ve been a hiker and I’ve also interviewed a lot of FKT athletes and world record breakers as part of my day job. The reality is that if you run – whether that’s 5 miles or 500 miles – you’re a runner. Or you’re whatever you want to call yourself!
Q: Tell us one word that sums up your relationship with the outdoors.
A: Unhygienic! That probably describes my approach more than my relationship. So, if I were to specifically describe my relationship, the word would probably be… evolving. Just to encapsulate my progression from hiking to running. And who knows what stupid idea will pop into my head next.
Header Photo Credits: Chris Johnson.