Running from Canterbury to Sicily

'Unfit' Brit jacked in the 9-5 to run 1800 miles along a pilgrim's trail - and is nearly there after 77 days

 Ross Simpson before setting off on his 1800-mile journey from Canterbury to Sicily

Ross Simpson before setting off on his 1800-mile journey from Canterbury to Sicily

A British man who was previously "profoundly unfit" is reaching the end of his unsupported run from Canterbury to Sicily along an ancient pilgrim's trail.

Ross Simpson gave up his nine-to-five job, sold or donated 80% of his belongings and took up running in a bid to raise money for the Youth Cancer Trust and inject some adventure into his life.

He has just passed through Naples, with around 300 of the approximately 1860 miles left, and is due to reach his destination of Palermo, Sicily, on August 6.

Ross wrote on his blog: "At the beginning of this year I was a wreck. I was coming to terms with an involuntary breakup, the loss of my apartment, dog and the future I had planned...  I spent every day feeling as though time was passing me by and I was wasting the prime of my life sat staring at a screen."

Despite claiming that before he decided to take up the challenge his nan would have beaten him in a 5k, he handed in his notice and started training in a bid to get back to Britain in time for a friend's wedding in August.

He left Canterbury Cathedral on May 1 and set off  through France, Switzerland and across the Alps into Italy on the Via Francigena, of which one internet guide advises: "Those new to the long-term hiking should opt to do only a part of the route or choose a more adjusted route." Yet Ross's plan involved not just the trail itself to Rome but to continue on to Sicily.

 Ross encountered 20ft of snow in the Alps and then switched to a route which skiers he met told him would be too dangerous

Ross encountered 20ft of snow in the Alps and then switched to a route which skiers he met told him would be too dangerous

Carrying his tent, he's run through deserted towns in France where he said finding food and water wasn't easy. Regarding reaching Switzerland, he told Trail Running: "From the border I ran to the edge of Lake Geneva and traced the edge heading for the snow-capped Alps. I ascended the steep mountains. My path was covered in 20ft of snow, so I detoured along the closed road towards the Great St Bernard Pass. I didn't see a single soul on the mountain, except for two french men that skied past me and said the route was too dangerous.

"I was terrified the snow walls would fall and cover me. Finally, reaching the top of the pass, I descended into Italy, climbing over and under Avalanche snow fall into the Aosta Valley."

However, still nothing was straightforward: he was chased by bulls, plagued by mosquitoes and was ill for two weeks. He told us: "Most days I'd run over multiple peaks and the toll on my ill body was immense. I reached half way, but it was more daunting than reassuring...

"I dealt with great loneliness as I saw those around me on holiday. My legs ached, my muscles and tendons were tight and I put my focus on the milestone, Rome." He says his feet have either stress fractures, killer tendinitis or both.

 Ross reaches the end of the pilgrim's route in Rome, but still has a long way to go to Sicily

Ross reaches the end of the pilgrim's route in Rome, but still has a long way to go to Sicily

As he heads ever close to the toe of Italy, he told TR this week: "Mentally the will to go on is demanding, but I know it's possible.

"I keep my suffering in perspective, knowing that out there today teenagers and young adults are being diagnosed with cancer, parents are trying to put on a brave face for their children and someone has just lost the toughest battle of their short life."

  • Ross has already raised more than £5000 on Just Giving. Click here for details of how to donate.