In less than a week, I will set off on the run of a lifetime, attempting to become the first person to run Europe’s Danube river from sea to source*. A route that covers 2,000 miles (3,000km), starting at the Black Sea coast in Sulina, Romania, passing through eight countries and four capital cities, finishing at the source in Donaueschingen, Germany. I have a window of 70 days. That’s the average of a marathon a day for 70 days.
The furthest I’ve run before is 7 marathons in 7 days, or 190 miles in 3 days, or the 250km Marathon des Sables in 6 days. What happens to the mind and body beyond those efforts, is completely unknown territory. And while I’m venturing into that unknown I’ll be raising money for poverty-impacted children worldwide.
Why run the Danube?
About 10 years ago, I was having a coffee with two friends in Vienna overlooking the Danube. My friend from Vienna turned to the other friend, who was from Belgrade, and joked: “If I put a message in a bottle and threw it in the Danube, you could fish it out in a week’s time in Belgrade. We could communicate this way.” It was the first time I’d ever thought about the Danube – a river that runs through ten countries and four capital cities – in this way. The main artery of a continent, connecting cultures, full of history with so many stories.
The seed was planted. Over the next decade as I evolved from a first-time marathoner in 2009, to an ultra runner, via the Marathon des Sables, the odd 100-miler, a two-day 70-mile trip around the Isle of Wight and other running challenges, I kept coming back to this idea. I couldn’t shake it. Eventually, I googled it: “How long is the river Danube?”. The answer came back. 1,770 miles. Then I realise there was a relatively navigable route to follow, the EuroVelo 6 cycle route. And that was that.
I started to plan my route using the online mapping tool Komoot. Just to see how hard it’d be to manage the logistics. Over about 3 years, including the pandemic I kept building the route. Eventually the pandemic made me realise that there was never going to be a perfect time. And I decided to give it a go.
What about sleeping?
I will run with everything I need to be self sufficient in a pack on my back, mixing wild camping, with bivvying under stars in campsites who’ve granted me a patch of grass. But I have some friends coming to support me on legs of the journey and I hope to meet runners along the way and strangers who might offer up the occasional sofa or bed. The entire mission is self-funded and keeping accommodation costs to a bare minimum adds and extra dimension to what’s already a tough logistical challenge.
The full challenge explained
What about your family?
One of the biggest questions I get asked is how I got the ok from my work and the family? I’ve got a very, very, very supportive wife, for a start. She understands this is a big dream for me. She knows it’s a life itch I just had to scratch. I asked my 6-year-old son if he would be upset if I went for 2 months. He gave me the green light as long as he could come for some of it. Being away from them both will be one of the hardest parts of this challenge.
For work, I’m a freelance journalist so I didn’t have to bargain for time off. I will lose income but I’m in a fortunate position where I can absorb some of that.
What running kit are you taking?
I have to carry everything so I’m keeping my kit minimal. Hopefully under 8kg I have a 24-litre pack, one set of running gear, one set of camp gear to change into, a bivvy sac, half inflatable mattress and a lightweight sleeping bag for camping. There’s also a medical kit, some essentials like deet and suncream. Plus some tech – like a Garmin InReach Mini 2 satellite communicator - for tracking and an Insta360 GO2 to film the adventure.
I’ll try to run as far as possible in one set of shoes. And I’ve gone for the Saucony Endorphin Speed 2. Eighty percent of my run will be on tarmac roads or compacted trails and I feel these offer me the best overall balance of comfort, protection and a little extra propulsion. I also have a pair of Speed 3 which I will send along the way.
Fuel-wise, I’m mixing eating from shops, cafes, service stations and whatever I can muster en-route while also carrying a few familiar essentials including Precision Fuel & Hydration electrolytes, chews and gels, some 33fuel shakes and super greens for breakfast as a daily nutritional foundation and some Veloforte recovery shakes to get the goodness back in after each day’s effort. And I’ve got one or two Vala gels for when I really need a treat.
Packing for your own multi-day run?
All of the kit I’m taking has been tried and tested. I used many of the items here in the desert at the Marathon des Sables or on other multi-day running adventures since. If you’re about to embark on an adventure of your own, watch the full kit run through for some great ideas:
How you can get involved
The adventure starts very soon. And there are a few ways you could potentially support me:
1. Donate to my charities and help poverty-impacted children:
2. Run with me. The Route is here...
3. Help with connections along the river. I'm looking for people to run with, friendly faces to meet en route, beds/showers and places to charge stuff.
4. Follow the journey / DMs open
* We can find no record of this having been done.
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