1,047 mile FKT attempt will raise awareness of addiction and mental health issues
The Wales Coast Path snakes for 870 miles (1,400km) around the sea-swept edges of the country. Wales’s fourth “side” is marked by Offa’s Dyke, 177 miles (285km) along the eighth-century border between the Kingdom of Mercia and what is now Wales.
Running just one of these tough trails requires determination, fitness and mental strength. Alan Bateson is going to run them both… in 22 days, raising money for The Children’s Society and Axis Counselling.
A meaningful exercise
Fortunately, the Wales Coast Path and Offa’s Dyke are familiar territory for the Shropshire-based ultra runner. Last year, Alan completed 580 miles of the Wales Coast Path – raising money for YoungMinds – before he was thwarted by an ankle injury. In 2021 he ran the length of Offa’s Dyke, raising more than £21,000 for the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).
These charities – and those for which he is raising money this year – are close to Alan’s heart. He was sexually abused as a child, has suffered from mental health problems throughout his life and has been addicted to drugs and alcohol. But now aged 44 (and clean and sober for five-and-a-half years) Alan is determined to use running to raise awareness of the issues that have affected him, and also to inspire others to overcome difficult past experiences and go on to achieve new ambitions.
“I always had running,” Alan reflects. “I think running was what saved me from going really deep into addiction.” Alan was a runner in secondary school but, as he hit puberty, he abruptly had to come to terms with the reality of the sexual abuse he had been subjected to as a child. “It made me feel even worse about what happened,” he says. “I was angry. I had a lot of rage.”
By the time Alan left school, he was heavily into drugs and drinking. This led to crime and a spell in a young offenders’ institution. However, in an unexpected way, this incarceration rekindled his love for running.
“I got a job working in the gym,” Alan remembers, “where they had a treadmill. One of the prison officers was a runner and he used to come and watch me on the treadmill – I was quite quick.” Seeing a talent in Alan, the officer asked for permission to take him out on runs in the surrounding countryside. “They taught me pacing,” says Alan. “They taught me basics. So I came out of young offenders after just under a year, in love with running. Again. Which I hadn’t been since the 800m and 1,500m championships at school.”
That didn’t mean life suddenly became easy for Alan. He continued to be affected by addiction and mental health issues, and found it hard to speak out about the abuse he had suffered as a youngster. “It’s a bit of a taboo subject, isn’t it?” he says. “And that’s what I want to try and break down.”
Getting sober really helped Alan to focus his running ambitions. “You instantly have loads of time on your hands,” he says. “And I didn’t need to earn as much money. Alcoholism is expensive. I was working 60 hours a week, to drink 30 hours a week, to be miserable for the other 70 hours.” As Alan’s time and clarity increased, so did his weekly mileage, and he started training for ultra distances. However, during the pandemic, there were no races and he wanted to use his fitness for a positive purpose. When Alan learned of the suicide of a friend, he realised what he needed to do.
“I’ve lost count of men that I’ve known, or been friends with, that have killed themselves in the last 10 years,” he says. “This charity CALM kept popping up. So that’s when I decided I wanted to raise some money for them. I’m fit – what can I do?”
Alan is now a running coach, and operates an events company called Runningmonk Trail Events that encourages runners of all abilities to take part. There are no cut-off times in any of Alan’s events, which he hopes will break down barriers to participation. “I get just as much pleasure from cuddling the winner as cuddling the last [finisher] and putting a medal around their neck,” he says. “We have all kinds of runners coming to our events. They just love the fact there’s no cut-off. And everyone’s treated the same.”
And running has given Alan something else, too: a new relationship. Alan met girlfriend Katie while out running, and she’ll be an important part of the crew for his FKT attempt. “We originally said we were going to go for 25 days and some hours,” he says. “But then I just thought: ‘You know what? Let’s just make it bonkers. Let’s try and go for 22 days.”
Alan will really be pushing himself – the route totals 1,047 miles (1,685km) with around 4,500ft (1,370m) elevation gain every day. “People donate when they can see you suffering,” he says. “They want to know that you’re earning your money, don’t they? When you get to day 10, day 12 and you start to go gaunt in the cheeks, you’re exhausted and you’re taped up, people start thinking: ‘Fair play, I’ll chuck him a tenner.’”
Although Alan has quit drugs and alcohol, perhaps running is a new kind of addiction. “It’s no different, is it, really?” he says. “It’s something you can’t live without. Or struggle to live without. It is an addiction. And I have no qualms about that. I like it.”
Alan begins his challenge on 26 June. Follow him on Instagram at www.instagram.com/therunningmonkshropshire. His fundraising page is here: www.justgiving.com/team/alanswelshcoastalpathoffasdykechallenge
The Children’s Society is a national charity, working with young people to counsel and support them through their most serious life challenges.
Axis Counselling provides a comprehensive, confidential, flexible and high-quality counselling service to those in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin who have suffered childhood sexual, physical or emotional abuse, rape or sexual violence.