See.Think.Do. Elise Downing
Hey Elise. Whereabouts are you right now?
Hello! I'm in Bristol at the moment, listening to it absolutely chucking it down outside and feeling grateful not to be out in it! I moved here from London right before the pandemic hit and I love it (mainly because I never have to get on the tube anymore...)
What (if anything) is getting you excited right now?
Well I'm spending most of the week in Devon which I'm excited for! I have a day working on Dartmoor (although work seems like a strong word...) and then heading to Croyde on the North Coast to attempt to learn to surf with some friends. After all the lockdowns it still feels absolutely wild to be able to travel and see friends who live around the country at all, and the novelty hasn't worn off yet! On a smaller scale, I just got loads of yellow sticker bargains from the M&S bakery, so I'm excited about that too.
Tell us about your decision to run the coast of Britain? Where did the idea come from and when did you take that first big / small step?
Honestly it feels like a bit of a weird dream now to look back on! I was 23, living in London and feeling pretty miserable. I'd just started a new graduate job after finishing uni which I didn't love, my rent ate up pretty much all of my wages and I was dating what turned out to not be a great guy. I just remember feeling so stuck. Then, sitting at work one day, the idea of running around the coast of Britain popped into my mind and I just couldn't shake the idea!
I'd done a little bit of running before (including one disastrous marathon dressed as a Crayola Crayon which I cried for a solid 8 miles of and a small child heckled me as 'The Crying Crayon') but nothing like that. It would be about 5000 miles, and take the best part of a year. But I just kind of felt like it was a good an option as any to ditch the job/flat/boyfriend, so I started to tell people about it and then, six months later, I was standing on the start line. I was COMPLETELY unqualified and had no idea what I was doing.
What’s been your highlight to date?
My first (hopefully not last!) book Coasting came out a month ago, so that's been a pretty big life highlight! I've been really blown away by how nice everyone has been about it and every time I see it in a book shop it just feels like a dream. I knew when I was writing Coasting that it might not be everyone's cup of tea, and perhaps some people would be expecting more straight-up 'how to go on a long run' chat. But I really wanted to write the kind of book I'd want to read, and especially that I would have when I was feeling super lost 5 years ago and first thinking about going on a long run, so I'm really happy that it's resonated with people.
What have you learnt in the last 12 months, that you could apply to your next challenge/goal?
I have this awful habit of filling my diary up with plans six months in advance and then realising I don't have a single free weekend until Christmas (that's not a joke...). And it's nice to be doing stuff, but it also means I often end up feeling really busy (read: burnt out) without always actually achieving a lot. Often completing a big goal takes a lot of being patient and chipping away at one thing.
If it wasn't for being forced to slow down over the past year, I don't think I ever would have sat still long enough to write a book, which is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done! So I really want to try and remember that and set aside more time that isn't furiously scheduled down to the last minute, because I think you need that to have the headspace to think about bigger projects.
What’s been inspiring you recently?
I've spent the last week avidly watching the tracking updates for the Cape Wrath Ultra, a 400km/8 day race in Scotland. I'm entered into next year's race but am a bit injured at the moment, and I just can't wait to get training properly! I'm really scared about it, the daily distances are a big jump up from what I've done back to back before, and it's been so inspiring (and fear inducing) to see this year's competitors complete each day.
How do you think about mental health and what helps you manage it?
I think it's super important to distinguish between just your general mental health as in, everyone has it, can be good or bad (just like physical health) vs mental health issues which can be serious illnesses and, for lots of people, require medical support. I don't think the narrative that sometimes conflates the two and suggests self-care and a bubble bath can cure everyone's problems is very helpful for anyone.
But when it comes to just keeping my own mental health in balance, I know that the more time I spend outside and moving, the better I feel! I'm never really sure why, especially when so much of that time is spent having type 2 fun, knee-deep in a bog, thinking what a weird hobby it is... Somehow life does just seem to make more sense outdoors though!
Any bad habits you’d like to kick?
Procrastinating, for sure! I am the worst procrastinator I know and it's the main source of all the stress in my life. Literally how do you make it stop?! Somebody tell me!
How will you measure “success” in 10 years' time?
It's hard to say, because how I'd have answered this question 10 years ago is completely different to how I would now, and I'm sure that'll be true again. But the main thing I want is a dog - if I have a dog in 10 years, I reckon I'll feel pretty successful!
What’s the next adventure?
I'm running the Great Glen Way with my Dad in September, and Hadrian's Wall with some friends in October. Then I'm meant to be doing a 5 day ultramarathon through the Copper Canyons in Mexico in November, but who knows if that'll be able to happen!
Top Local Spot: Left Handed Giant: a local brewery that hosts my running club! GREAT pizza, which is the best post-run
Watch out for: The Sunset Route, by Carrot Quinn. It's her newest book and just came out. She talks about her adventures riding freight trains, and then finding long distance hiking, and it's just the best thing I've read for a LONG time.
Best new thing: Cold water swimming (me and the rest of the world, I know...). I swam all through winter and it's my new fave thing, mainly for the coffee and pastries afterwards.
Smallest change/ biggest impact: Walking everywhere! Choosing walking over public transport/car travel wherever possible is the thing that makes the biggest difference to my physical and mental health, as well as being better for your carbon footprint.
Your message in a bottle: You don't need to be the best at something, you just need to have a go.
What's Doing at Days
Reading: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: a therapist, her therapist, and our lives revealed
Hiring: New faces!
Listening to: Declassified podcast
Organising: Cans (watch this space)