It’s been just over 1 week since I completed my vivrunseurope challenge. It’s still all sinking in.
Before going through my highlights I thought I’d share some footage of the final day, I think you might be able to tell how happy I was!
Why run 3,850 kilometers?
There have always been two main reasons and drivers behind this challenge. The first, supporting the work the Red Cross does for refugees across the world. I believe that everyone deserves a place they can call home. My amazing grandmother, the inspiration for this challenge who I loved dearly, was a refugee at the end of WW2. She survived a plane crash and a 300 kilometer walk resulting in severe malnutrition. Not only this but she didn’t know whether her family had survived the Soviet invasion. It really is difficult to imagine the circumstances.
Sadly, over 46 million people find themselves in similar situations today having been forcibly displaced from their homes. I wanted to do something that I felt passionately about, raising funds and awareness for the plight of refugees around the world, many of whom have lost everything. Thank you for all of the wonderfully generous sponsorship which is going towards such a worthy cause.
The second driver has been pushing my limits and seeing what is possible. Fascinated by people who do slightly crazy things, I thought, why not me?
I really believe that most of our limitations come from ourselves. Fear, over analysing, finding reasons why we can’t do things, can’t try new projects or launch new ventures.
Vivrunseurope was about creating a project that both terrified and excited me. A project that provided both a physical and mental challenge.
I believe that everyone has the ability to achieve more than they can even imagine. When I started out in Poland and was telling people that I was heading towards Spain, it felt a little bit absurd! I didn’t know how far I’d get but I was going to give it my best shot and the crazy this is, I made it!
Where did the idea for vivrunseurope come from?
It grew quite organically over time. I knew I wanted to take some time out from my professional career as a consultant and go on a journey. That’s when I started thinking about my grandmother’s story as a refugee. After a few changes, I settled on starting where my grandmother grew up in Unieradz, Poland (previously Neurese, Germany) and covering her route as a refugee (approximately 800km) and then continuing on down to the southern tip of Spain, Tarifa (a total distance of 3,850km).
The strange thing is that I was utterly convinced that I needed to do this, more than I have ever been about anything in my life. Something I can’t really explain.
What were the most challenging moments?
There were a number of challenges along the way, varying in severity. The hardest one was probably the decision to change my route in Spain. I was caught in terrible weather in the mountains near Pamplona. Not having any real experience of mountains especially in the winter I knew that continuing on my planned route through the centre of Spain would be dangerous. I needed to make a decision. So instead of abandoning or postponing, I decided to take a train to the coast and head south towards Tarifa from Barcelona. I was incredibly torn at the time but in hindsight, it was the right decision.
Other challenges and difficulties involved general loneliness, getting stuck in a sandy forest, any hilly terrain which involved pushing a 35kg buggy uphill (ouch!) and some strange encounters with men in southern Spain (more about that later).
But actually, the things that freaked me out the most were my achilles tendonitis (which I had for the last 1,300km!) and this will make you laugh but hair loss! The physical exertion and not always being able to eat the right foods meant that my hair was falling out more than ever. I was convinced I was going to finish vivrunseurope bald! Fortunately that wasn’t the case! It’s sometimes the more trivial things that send you into a tailspin!
What were the highlights?
The highlights far outweighed the low points. This has for sure been the most incredible, amazing and challenging experience of my life so far.
The amazing kindness of strangers is what will stay with me forever. I met some wonderful people along the way in every country and was fortunate to be offered free nights of accommodation and meals from people that I had never met before. This very real contact with people opens the heart and provides a lovely warm glow. I am so grateful for this.
Wonderful Guido, Guido and Almut in Hiltrup, Germany.
Philippe ensured the safe crossing of the Pyrenees.
Experiencing nature in such a pure way was another major highlight. Seeing the world in panorama, experiencing colours and smells, stopping to admire the view. Not always easy to do in busy city life. Crossing the Pyrenees was a special moment along with many others by the sea and in beautiful forests. Nature in all its purity.
Achieving milestones was also very special. Flensburg and Celle in Germany (both important in Gran’s journey and quite emotional for me), each 1,000km mark, Paris (where my family is and where I grew up) and each country border. Reaching Spain was pretty incredible especially as I had to cross the Pyrenees to get there and of course, reaching Tarifa!
Paris with British School of Paris students 🙂
Of course, Tarifa!
Finally, seeing family and friends along the way, especially spending time with my incredibly welcoming and loving German family. During the second half when I experienced more loneliness, both of my parents made it out to see me as well as my friends Olivia and Jo, amazing, thank you!
What kept you going?
Honestly, not wanting to disappoint myself or others. There were definitely a few points along the way, mainly in Spain, when I genuinely didn’t want to continue. My body and mind were both hurting. But I’d always said to myself that unless I had a genuine reason, I had to continue. If I knew I could keep putting one foot in front of the other, however slowly, I needed to keep inching my way towards Tarifa. One step and one day at a time.
The bigger picture was also important. What refugees endure every single day across the world is tragic. What I was experiencing paled in comparison to their daily struggle.
I also had incredible support from family and friends. Always sending messages and words of love, support and encouragement. The difference this makes is difficult to put into words. I have never in my life experienced anything like it. At times, my heart wanted to burst with love. Thank you.
Were you frightened?
This is probably the question I have been asked the most especially because I was a woman alone. My honest answer is that I never felt truly threatened. It’s largely a state of mind, I made a conscious choice not to be afraid. I have to admit though that I avoided camping as much as possible which I’m sure helped.
If I did feel uncomfortable, I would listen to my fear and move away as quickly as possible.
There were a few unwanted encounters with men in southern Spain that gave me the shivers but nothing serious, although I was offered 10 Euros by one of them!!! Only! (not something I have mentioned on this blog, didn’t want to worry my nearest and dearest!). I think I was fortunate not to have had more. My theory is that having Bob with me either made me look homeless or crazy, people gave me a wide birth!
Oh yes, and then there was the murder investigation! (again, I kept this quiet). Not long after leaving Bordeaux, I was in the middle of a huge but very beautiful forest, suddenly a car comes into sight, stops and a man gets out. Stay calm I tell myself. He then shows me his police badge and asks if I’m from the area. Saying no and explaining my project, I then proceed to ask him why? Only a murder investigation, someone had been killed a few kilometres away. Certain things make you run faster! (location of questioning below)
What have you learnt?
Vivrunseurope was a journey of self-discovery for sure.
I’ve learnt that I’m more determined and stronger (both physically and mentally) than I ever thought. That people are generally good and want to help you (confirming what I believed already). That breaking large projects into manageable and achievable goals is essential to avoiding that overwhelming feeling. That cultivating a positive mind and thoughts is crucial to everything. That I love learning (podcasts and books were my saviour). That I love working (!), I genuinely missed the responsibility, team work and problem solving. That I love people and being with them (I will never again take this for granted). That the struggle makes the achievement all the more meaningful. That it is worth taking big risks and even risking failure.
Mostly I’ve learnt that by putting ourselves out of our comfort zones we are able to achieve more than we ever thought possible. While hugely uncomfortable at times (I’m not going to pretend otherwise), this is genuinely where the magic happens.
BE GREATER THAN YOU THINK POSSIBLE.
FINALLY, THANK YOU!
I would not have reached the end of vivrunseurope without the love, encouragement and support of my family, friends and people I have never met. It brings tears to my eyes (in a positive way).
I will never be able to fully express how grateful I am to you all. I hope to be able to do so individually but for those who I am not able to see in the near future, you have honestly played a vital part in me experiencing the most positive and life affirming journey of my life so far.
From an eternally grateful Viv.
Every day is an adventure. Now for the next project 🙂