Running around a country

No mean feat: James Harcombe battles his way past the Vale of Llangollen on the Offa's Dyke Path during his circumnavigation of Wales last month

A Welsh-born Queenstowner gives a new meaning to the term ‘sporting all-rounder’.

James Harcombe last month ran 1742 kilometres around Wales, smashing two records in the process.

By taking 25 days, eight hours and 54 minutes, he took an amazing 14 days off the fastest known record.

He also grabbed the record for the Wales Coast Path – the first 1440km of the journey – by four days.

“Both records were recently taken by English people so it was a bit personal that I got them back for a Welsh person,” Harcombe says.

The 52-year-old was originally going to the run the distance with well-known Wanaka ultra-runner Mal Law.

The 57-year-old, however, got hip troubles on the first day and pulled out after about seven days.

He later rejoined Harcombe for much of the run and still completed about 1380km, including Offa’s Dyke Path, which runs alongside the English border to the start/finish line at Chepstow.

Harcombe also had injury problems, including an infected left foot which required medical treatment and antibiotics for a week.

He echoes Law’s quote that 90 per cent of ultra-running is mental – “and the rest is just in your head”.

Typically he started running each day at 7am and finished between 7.30 and 9pm.

“Beyond 9, it starts to eat into your recovery time.

“The biggest day we had was 82km, and the shortest was about 55km.”

His tactic was to walk up the hills – there were 35,796 metres of vertical ascent – and run on the flat and the downhills.

Unlike on New Zealand trails, he was constantly stopped in his tracks by having to open gates and cross stiles.

Thankfully, weather was on the runners’ side.

“It was absolutely unbelievable – we only had one full day’s rain and two days that rained for a couple of hours.”

The expression, ‘the loneliness of the long-distance runner’, didn’t apply.

“I don’t find it that lonely when I run because my mind’s always ticking over.

“I actually find it harder when there’re people with me because you make conversation with them and end up making navigational errors.”

Harcombe says they couldn’t have managed without amazing logistical support from Law’s wife Sally Law and her friend Jean Johnson.

On the fundraising front, the run – dubbed ‘Chasing the Dragon’ – has also been successful.

They aimed to raise $25,000 for the Mental Health Foundation of NZ but have raised more than twice that.

Some of that comes from Kiwis adopting ‘My May Challenge’ as a parallel fundraising exercise.

They’ve also raised just over $18,000 for British mental health charity Mind.

After a staggering 305 or so hours on his feet, Harcombe says he won’t run for a month.

“I’ll just wait for the next crazy thing that Mal comes up with.”

Harcombe’s inviting anyone to text ‘Dragon to 2446’ for a $3 donation to the Mental Health Foundation of NZ