Peebles Outdoor Film Festival Q&A: Jenny Tough - Adventurer, Writer, Film-maker

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Raised in the Canadian Rockies but now living in Edinburgh, adventurer Jenny Tough more than lives up to her name with several world firsts under her belt. We caught up with Jenny just days before her next big trip – an attempt at the first solo, unsupported run across Morocco’s Atlas Mountains

So, it’s time for another big adventure … tell us more

This time I’m running solo and unsupported across the Atlas Mountains, starting in the Moroccan desert and finishing nearly 1,000 kms later at the Atlantic coastline. I’m hoping to cover the distance in about three weeks, but there are a lot of potential variables as I’ll be covering some relatively unknown (to guidebooks, anyway) areas, and also living in the mountains in the fall, when the weather could really hit me with anything.

Why the Atlas Mountains … is this very much a cultural experience as well as a physical challenge?

Absolutely! The Atlas Mountains are populated by the Berbers, who are a people that I know very little about and I truly can’t wait to learn about their culture and how they’ve survived for so long in such an incredibly hostile environment. As much as I’m focused on the challenge, I will definitely be taking time to explore and be educated by the Atlas Mountains.

With just a few days to go, how are you feeling about the trip?

I’m a little worried about sections of the route that I can’t find any information on, but I know that when I get there I’ll be able to find my bearings – somehow. Right now I’m just really excited to get going. There’s nothing I love more than time in the mountains and exploring places I’ve never seen before.

What kind of terrain do you expect to encounter?

I’ll be sticking to old mountain trails as much as possible. My understanding is that Morocco is quickly paving roads to the mountain villages, so it’s hard to say what I’ll run into, but my aim is to stay off-road as much as possible. I also have a few mountain ridges planned, which I’m really looking forward to.

You’ll be running solo and unsupported … what are the key bits of gear needed for this kind of trip?

It’s all about going as minimalist as possible – any extra weight slows down my running – but also staying safe, as I will have no back-up. In my 30L backpack will be a bivvy, sleeping bag/mat, warm clothes, small stove, and lots of food and water. I’ll also have a GPS so the folks at home know that I’m still moving and I can call for emergency assistance if needed. 

And is there a luxury item you just can’t do without?

My tuque (bobble hat) is always with me –it’s the cosiest thing ever, and keeps me toasty warm in the evenings and mornings.

What is the most challenging aspect of the trip?

The prospect of running up large mountains with a big backpack day after day is a pretty real challenge, but in a solo and unsupported mission I usually find that logistics are what drain me the most. I’ll be in a country where I don’t speak the language(s) or know how things work, and trying to find my way around while keeping well supplied takes a lot of mental energy – something that you don’t always have in spades after running a mountain marathon every day!

And what are you most looking forward to?

Being outside and on the move. Every day will come with different vistas, different challenges, and different accomplishments. Adventure is so good for the soul, and I really can’t wait to get stuck in.

How do you train for something like this?

Obviously strong legs and even stronger lungs are required, but the most important thing is to stay injury-free the whole way across a long expedition, so I give a lot of importance to yoga and cross-training. I love cycling and did a lot of that over the summer, so hopefully that will help. The physical training is important but, mentally, there is no substitute for time alone in the mountains and gaining the experience needed to get through those challenging and tiring days.

Finally, would you like my dog to go with you? He’d be delighted.

I would absolutely love it if your dog would join me! Have him meet me at the airport on Saturday morning!

Further info

Follow Jenny on this world-first expedition as she shares her experiences of the high Atlas Mountains through her social media channels. And then, be among the first to hear all about the trip when Jenny speaks at the 2018 Peebles Outdoor Film Festival over the weekend of 26-28 January. The full festival programme will be launched at the end of October.

Photo: Jenny hot-footing it through the Tien Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan in 2016.