Estonia – Running the Length of a Country – Part 2

‘If we do just an extra 13km today I’ll book us a cabin and we can sleep in actual beds tonight!’

In July 2023 Jolene and I set out to run the length of Estonia over eight days, self supported. This is part 2 of our journey. If you haven’t already done so, head over and read Part 1 before you devour this offering.

Run Estonia – Day 3

I’m not sure if I really woke up, rather I just stopped trying to sleep. The cold and damp of Day 2 had stayed with me and the aches and pains which come with multi day running were accented by my sleeping mat partially deflating during the night.

I had left my clothes in the open fronted wood store over night. Not in the hope they would dry, but just in the hope they wouldn’t be any more wet. They were exactly as expected and I was acutely aware that I smelt pretty bad as I put them on.

Setting off, we headed to a lake to fill up on water for the day. Only to disturb a naked Estonian man taking his morning dip. Once he had exited, with a wry smile on his face, we filled up and hit the trail. We have decided to have a short day of running today – just 22 miles.

As we set off in sunshine I feel my body begin to warm and my clothes dry. Having been concerned yesterday I’m loving it today! The miles seem to fly by beneath my feet and I’m simply enjoying the rhythm of running. Even the pain of the red raw chafing on my back subsides, once my brain realises the signals it’s sending aren’t going to make me stop.

Lunch sees us sitting beside an idyllic peat bog. Jolene slides into the water for a dip but I choose to just watch and enjoy being dry.

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The afternoon

I’m aware that I often find afternoon running harder, but not today. My heart and feet feel light as we run through wild flowers and forest. I also see my first moose hoof prints and they are huge! I’m certain this is a precursor to actually seeing a moose, but I’m to be sorely disappointed.

The other thing I’m aware of is that Jolene isn’t having the same day I am. As I gleefully skip along I can tell she is struggling. Throughout the week we will each flip between good and bad times. We both know the golden rule of long distance running though – if you can keep your head in the game your body will follow. Jolene may not be having a good day but her head isn’t quitting. I’m filled with appreciation for the strength of my team mate.

A few miles before the end of the day I spot what looks like memorials off to the side of the path. Leaving the path we stand and study the memorials, taking photographs so I can run the wording through Google Translate later. I will later get a good explanation of these memorials – but you’ll have to wait for Day 4 for that!

As I head back towards the path I use my sticks to beat the ground in front of me. ‘Cadi, you ok?’ Jolene asks. ‘Yep, just warning the snakes I’m coming’ I reply.

A good nights sleep?

Arriving at Hiieveski Campsite before mid-afternoon there is plenty of time for a swim and full hair, body and clothes wash in the lake. We have bought natural, solid shampoo for the trip – shared of course, to save on weight, so we can wash in lakes and rivers without adding chemicals to the water.

Along the way today we have passed the 100km mark. Just 270km to go! As we relax at the site a couple arrive, they tell us they are hiking the same route as us, but in the other direction. They are the only people we knowingly meet along the route who are doing the whole distance.

The campsite is large but quite quiet. However, our hopes of a good night sleep are quickly dashed when two camper vans arrive. The occupants proceed to stay up until 4am, talking loudly, with the children playing football by our tent until after 11pm. But, we are warm, dry and rested, so who needs sleep?!

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Run Estonia – Day 4

The plan today was to run 28 miles to Loosalu Campsite. Ideally we would have wanted to get a few more miles under our belt but the next campsite after that would have pushed the day to almost 40 miles. Too far for us to contemplate after a big day previously. However, I did have the inkling of an idea in the back of my mind!

We ate breakfast and packed up camp, now perfecting our routine which saw us up at 6.30am and away by 7.30. Our efficiency proved to be a downfall for me this morning though. My excitement that we were to pass through a large village, with a shop, at the start of the day soon turned to deflation as we found it closed. Confirming once again that Estonian culture seems to be to start late and finish late. No use for a lark like me!

Not to worry, we pushed on. Our route took us on a path beside a fairly large road before heading randomly into scrubland, then disappearing altogether at a motorway barrier. Time to consult the map! After some studying we realised we had somehow picked up an old version of the route – one which existed before the new stretch of motorway. But, we could see a way over and chose to use the old route until it rejoined the new part. Diverting back off the scrubland we crossed the busy road and were back on our way.

Thinking of water and beds

Despite the diversion we were eating up the miles pretty well. Today was the first day we spent a lot of time on tarmac. That meant smoother running; the pay off being the heat the tarmac kicks back up at you. And that heat felt even more noticeable today as it was our first day where water supplies were sparse. Jolene spotted a river we had to run across at about 18 miles. That was pretty late for a lunch stop but it was our only option.

As we trotted along I decided to float the idea I’d had with Jolene. If 28 miles was a bit short and 40 a bit long, how about something in the middle? The previous night I had spotted a small town on the route; Lelle. And at Lelle there was a small cabin to rent in someone’s garden. Also at Lelle…a shop. All we had to do was push on to 35 miles and we could each have a bed for the night and a real life shower! ‘Let’s do it!’ was Jolene’s response. So, as we continued to run, I pulled out my phone and got booking.

The beds were booked but what about that water? The river, when we reached it, was not a pleasant sight. Difficult to get down to, murky water, filled with a vast variety of insect life. As I dropped in a chlorine tablet I knew it wasn’t going to make it more palatable, but perhaps it would save me from an upset stomach. There was nowhere by the river to comfortably stop for lunch. We pushed on for another couple of miles before giving in and choosing a shady bit of grass verge by the road to eat.

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The day rolls on

Finally we leave the tarmac behind and head into peat bog territory once more. We both have two goals in mind; a swim spot at around 30 miles and that cabin 5 miles on. Oh my, that swim spot did not disappoint! A gorgeous peat bog, with a ladder leading in. We strip down to our underwear and sink into the welcoming, peaty water.

The final 5 miles are as tough as they always are. Seeming to roll on forever, past out of season ski centres (with random coffee machines in the middle of nowhere) and along long, straight, dusty tracks. Today is the first day the horse flies have made a serious appearance. Buzzing constantly round my head and waiting to bite the second I slow to a walk. Due to this it’s also perhaps the first time Jolene has seen a strange woman standing in the middle of the road, waving running poles above her head, screaming ‘feck off!!!’

Finally, the buildings of Lelle come into view. Crossing the railway line I make a bee-line for the village shop. We are at the absolute end of our energy and, unable to really process what my body needs, I just grab all sorts of food and drink to take back to our cabin.

Evening Visitors!

Our host spots us coming down the road and walks out to greet us. Our cabin is lovely! Compact but well equipped, with a lovely terrace to sit out on. The perfect spot for us to receive visitors!

Usually we have a bit of an eating and cleaning ourselves up routine of an evening. Tonight we are making an extra effort not to stink because Jolene’s second cousin, Kaire, and her husband, Will, are driving out to see us. A big part of the reason I chose Estonia for our run was knowing Jolene’s family come from the country. It is part of her DNA. Kaire and Jolene were penpals as children but have never met. Kaire grew up in Estonia and although she now lives in Norway, she still has a home here and is back to visit.

This is finally the chance for Kaire and Jolene to meet and it truly is a wonderful evening. The couple arrive laden with traditional Estonian snacks (plus vegan cheese for me!) and wine and we spend a couple of hours chatting  and laughing. It’s also a chance for us to learn more about Estonia under Soviet rule and to discover what the memorial we saw in the forest was about. Will tells us about the Forest Brothers; partisans who disappeared to live in the forest, using its cover to fight Soviet forces.

It is the perfect end to a big day of running. We have achieved so much already but we have many tough days ahead. For now though, the luxury of a soft bed!

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Run Estonia – Day 5

Firstly, let’s talk about breakfast! Although I’ve been really pleased with my choices for lunch and dinner so far my breakfast hasn’t been agreeing with me. I’ve been having porridge each morning but running so soon after eating oats keeps giving me indigestion. One of my purchases from the shop yesterday was a huge slab of  sesame halva, delicious and packed with calories. This now becomes my breakfast for the next three days. It might be weighty food but my gosh it was worth it for the lack of indigestion.

We have the choice again today; a shorter run day to rest our bodies a little, or some extra miles ticked off. We decide to see how we feel as we go. I slept reasonably well in the cabin but Jolene still struggled, so it’s hard to know how the day will start.

My body feels as if it knows what it needs to do now. It is becoming used to the new, punishing routine I have set it. I sent a friend a picture of a huge blister I have last night and she recommends I tape it tight.

As we trot along long, straight sections of forest track we struggle to find shade from the sun beating down. I run better in heat but am conscious of a susceptibility to heat stroke which could surface. Jolene is running strong but I can tell she doesn’t believe that.

The start of the early lunch stop!

We reach a bog and boardwalk at mile 13 and there is another delightful swim spot. It’s only 11am but Jolene suggests a swim and lunch. I’m reluctant to lunch so early but Jolene makes me a deal; after lunch we run another 10 miles to the campsite we had been thinking of staying at, we have another break there and then push on a final 7 miles to finish at Saeveski Forest Hut.

The idea of a dip appeals, as does the thought of another night with out a tent! The forest hut is free to stay at, so long as there is space. We’re confident there will be as we hardly ever see a soul on the trails. The deal is struck!

Although the lunch and swim gives us a much needed boost, it still feels like forever to the next rest stop. At times different parts of my body hurt, then stop hurting. Jolene and I often run apart, but always in sight of one another. We are both happy in our own headspace. As boredom kicks in however I judge Jolene is just far enough away not to be disturbed when I start to sing Ten Green Bottles to myself. I sing it once, then in reverse, then add more bottles. The only other song I can remember all the words to is the Neighbours theme tune, so I sing that too. The singing not only relieves my boredom but also provides a release of energy and stress.

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No room at the inn

The campsite where we are to rest and eat appears at mile 25. We stop and refuel. Jolene swims again but I just want to sit in the shade. I am joined by a cricket which takes up position on my head.

We are there a while before setting off. I am internally impatient however. I know there’s a farm museum between the campsite and the forest hut. If we get there before 5pm we might get a cold drink. I push the pace a little.

We make it! Just before 4.30pm we arrive at the open air museum. I wish I had time to take a proper look around but instead we grab a cold fruit juice and I say hi to some ponies. Definitely my favourite stop of the day!

Now it should only be a few more miles to the forest hut. The horse flies are out and we are both tired and hurting. Finally a fairytale like log cabin appears in the forest and I eagerly approach. I can’t read Estonian but even I could tell what the sign on the door said. The cabin was reserved, just for one night. This night. My heart sinks.

As we sit, looking a little dejected, on a bench outside, some scout leaders appear from a footpath at the rear of the cabin. They greet us and head to the hut, before two come back. ‘Were you hoping to stay here tonight?’ they ask. ‘Yes’ I answer ‘would you mind if we pitch out tent outside instead?’ ‘It’s ok’ comes the reply ‘there’s room for you upstairs where the women are sleeping. You’re welcome to stay.’ Oh happiest of happy days!

We both head down to wash in the river and I see a kingfisher shoot along in front of me. We eat dinner and head to bed, just as more scout leaders arrive. They are all doing their Wood Badge and par to that seems to involve sitting around a log fire and having a good time. If I wasn’t so tired I might have joined them!

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A final thought before we sleep (or try to)

As we take to our wooden bed base for the night I reflect on our journey so far. We have covered nearly 33 miles again today. We both know that, despite our bodies hurting badly, we are not so broken that we can’t continue. The only thing that can stop us is our minds. So often I hear people say they can’t do something. The reality is, you usually can. You have to decide if you want to. Most people wouldn’t want to run the length of a country, and that’s fine. But I do and I can.

We have three more days of running to go in Estonia. The end is tangible but also so very far away. You’ll have to wait for Part 3 (the final part) of our adventure to discover how our minds and bodies cope!

It’s astounding what the body is capable of when the mind keeps telling it it’s possible.

In the meantime, if you want to know more about this trip, you can find out more about how it came about and our planning here. Our Run Estonia adventure was entirely self supported; read our kit list to find out how we did this.

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