Interview: Heather & Geoffrey

If you’ve spent any time reading this blog you’ll know we’ve done some unusual races. Escape From Meriden is a rather unique event where, starting from the village of Meriden (allegedly the geographical center of England), you have 24 hours to “escape” as far as you can. You can take part as an individual, a pair, or even as a “chained” pair complete with orange prisoner suits for an authentic on-the-run experience! We were following the event this year and spotted that among the entry field were Heather and Geoffrey Daunis who had flown all the way from the USA to take part. After the event we had a chat with them about how it went.

Great to meet you guys! Please introduce yourselves to our followers.

Heather: My name is Heather Daunis, I am a 44 year old mom of four, grandmother of 2. I am a registered nurse in the operating room at a local children’s hospital and a retired Army veteran of 20 years.

Geoffrey: I’m Geoffrey Daunis, I am 41 years old and we’re from Gonzales, Louisiana (a growing town just outside of Baton Rouge). I am currently a stay at home dad as I retired from the Army almost 2 years ago after 23 years of service.

How did you both start with running?

Heather: I started doing triathlons after the birth of my third child. I was looking to be more active due to some health problems. After completing a full Ironman in 2019 I got into ultra running. I did my first ultra in 2020 right before COVID hit.

Geoffrey: I ran track when I was a kid until I was about 12 years old. I never ran much more after that until I joined the military when I was 17. For a while, running was a chore and I never really enjoyed it. It was not until my late 20’s or early 30’s that I really started to enjoy running.

So how did you end up taking part in Escape From Meriden, then?

Heather: I am a member of several ultra running Facebook groups. Someone shared about the event in 2022 and I followed along. It looked like a fun adventure and my husband actually agreed to do it with me.

Geoffrey: When I agreed to the race, I agreed to the 24 hour unchained version. She signed us up for the chained version and didn’t tell me about it until it was already too late.

Bet that came as a shock! How did you cope with being physically chained to each other during the race?

Heather: It actually wasn’t too cumbersome being chained together. The worst parts were the bathroom trips. I tried to minimise those as much as possible by being very aware of my fluid intake. Of course I had to hydrate properly, so there was a very fine line I was teetering on with this. The one time that I really wished we weren’t chained together was the first stop in McDonalds. Geoffrey was asleep and I wasn’t. I really wanted another cup of tea but I didn’t want to wake him up. I tried to download the McDonald’s app on my phone thinking I could order on the app but apparently I downloaded the US app and that didn’t work. Eventually I gave up and got comfortable and took a nap and we ordered more tea once we were both awake. Geoffrey and I are pretty patient for the most part so being attached physically didn’t seem all that terrible. He may have a different opinion, but I didn’t hate it.

Geoffrey: Being chained to each other was honestly not as big of a deal as we thought it would be. The most difficult part was using the restroom, but that also provided us with the majority of our funny moments during the event.

We’re sure everyone wants to hear about that (we certainly do 😳). Talk us through the race, we’re sure you have plenty of other stories too!

Heather: It began raining right from the start (at midnight) and it was pretty cold. We had a solid gear plan – we wore the orange jumpsuits for extra protection and we also fashioned some velcro hoodies to keep us warm but our feet got wet right away.

Geoffrey: Initially, our plan was to start out running and try to run at least the first marathon. However, my body decided it had different ideas. I have a heart condition called AFIB and on random occasions, my heart decides to beat in an unorganized manner. The majority of the time it does not bother, but at the start of the race it came on in full force. So, we had to start off walking for the first 2-3 hours. The wind and rain made it difficult to really get running anyway. We ran some and walked mostly through the night until we got to McDonald’s in Stratford.

Heather: We stopped at the McDonald’s for breakfast the first morning and stayed there for over two hours waiting for the rain to pass and trying to dry some of our clothes and socks. My phone kept blacking out so we actually ended up going to a different McDonald’s than originally planned, but I think it actually worked out for the best. It had a big couch in the back corner and a large unisex bathroom. That was our first bathroom experience chained together. Since we were wearing the jumpsuits, I had to take off my pack and take my arms out of the suit in order to use the toilet. Geoffrey had to hold my pack so it didn’t have to be put on the floor of the restroom. It took a little bit of time but we got the hang of it pretty quick. The only problem was that McDonald’s had the largest restroom that we came to and one of the only two that were actually unisex. We did take a quick nap there waiting for the rain to stop and one more bathroom trip before we headed out.

Geoffrey: We took our shoes and socks off so they could dry out while we had a little rest. We had all of our clothes laid out on the tables and were sprawled out on the couch. The interesting thing is that if we had done something like that in a McDonald’s in America, we surely would have been run off.

Once we got through Stratford, we followed a public footpath where there were many people walking, cycling, and running. We got plenty of strange looks, one older woman even asked us “Are you a bit lost?'”We weren’t, we were just making sure we were going the correct way.

Heather: Our route was planned to the extent that we knew the direction we were taking but we didn’t plan out the path entirely ahead of time. What I did was, once we reached a stopping point for our next meal, I would then choose the next point we wanted to reach depending on facilities and distance and time of day. This worked out really well for us because at each stop, we knew how we were feeling and what was an appropriate goal for the next several hours. There was one little village where we stopped for a snack because we were getting hungry but it wasn’t quite lunch time yet. We came across a small grocery shop and there were no public restrooms there. We got a few supplies and ate a snack on a little park bench. We decided to go into a hotel across the way in search of a bathroom. It was such a cute little hotel and they were very kind to point us in the direction of the bathrooms but there were no unisex facilities. We decided to go into the ladies room, luckily it was empty. We went into the stall which was MUCH smaller than our first toilet experience. Shortly after we heard a woman enter the restroom so we had to pantomime with each other in order to each use the toilet and get dressed. Once we heard the lady leave we made a beeline for the door and got out of there without being caught.

The next time we had to use a ladies room, we were at a public convenience in a different village. We waited for several women to finish and then we went inside and went into a stall. This one was slightly bigger in size, but once again a woman entered while we were taking turns using the toilet. I thought I heard the lady leave so I opened the stall door to see her still standing there looking right at me. She said, “Is this your umbrella hanging here?” She was completely unfazed by this man and woman in a ladies room, wearing orange jumpsuits chained together! I said, “nope, not ours!” And we quickly got out of there. It was the funniest thing 🤣

Geoffrey: As we made our way to the next village where we planned to stop for dinner, we were also looking for a place to sleep. Unfortunately, with all the rain, my feet were soaking wet and I started to get blisters. This made our travel much slower. Not to mention how we always seemed to end up on a road that had no pavement. Trying to dodge cars and having to jump off the road every couple of minutes seem to make things go that much slower. We made our way to a little town as the sun set Saturday night. We decided we would try to find a place where we could rest and hopefully take our shoes off for a bit.

Heather: For dinner that night I found a place that said it was open and looked like just a typical pub. When we walked up to the place it looked a bit more fancy than a pub so we were unsure of whether we should go in or not. The whole front of the building was glass windows so the lady popped her head out and asked if she could help us. We told her we were looking for a place to eat so she warmly welcomed us to come in. She began getting us a cozy table for two situated with chairs opposite from one another. I had to explain to her that we couldn’t really sit across from each other due to the fact that we were chained together. She just said “I’ll need to hear that story” and configured the chairs appropriately. It was a small restaurant and they had a nice sized unisex bathroom for us to use. The other patrons were also very curious about our situation so we spent some time explaining the race to others while we were there. The food was fantastic and we left there feeling refreshed and energized to make it to our next destination.

Geoffrey: With our bellies full, we got back on our way and headed to a little town called Burton on the Water where we had booked a room and planned to get some much needed rest. The lady at the desk looked very concerned with our condition. We were able to lay out all of our wet clothes and socks to dry them out while we slept. We got about 8 hours of sleep even though we had our race packs and orange jumpsuits piled up in the middle of the bed since the chain prevented us from taking them off.

Heather: As awkward as it sounds, we actually had a great little sleep there because we were pretty tired at that point. We went to the bakery across the street the next morning and once again had plenty of funny looks but everyone was so warm and inviting everywhere we went. We really loved the hospitality of the shops and restaurants in the UK!

Geoffrey: It was quite wonderful walking through the Cotswolds and seeing all the little villages there were seemingly stuck in time. However, we were not prepared for the relentless wind that was constantly blowing throughout the race. I don’t think it hindered us much but it definitely kept us from being too comfortable during the race.

Heather: It just so happened that our finishing location was near a place called the Prison Cafe which was actually an old prison. It was the most fitting ending to our adventure! The looks we got when we entered the cafe were priceless.

That sounds like you had an awesome time – and got quite some stories to tell for it too! Given that you’d come over to the UK for the race, how did you go about choosing roughly which direction you were going to “escape” in?

Heather: Being that we are not from the UK, nor had we ever been before, we wanted a route that would give us the best scenery and everywhere I looked said that the Cotswolds area was beautiful. They were not wrong!

Geoffrey: Heather used the GPX files from last year’s race to determine a direction that we wanted to head in. Our route took us through Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace) and then through the Cotswolds. Ending up in the old prison was just a lucky coincidence as our route took us there and we decided we were ready to call it quits.

The route worked out very well indeed then! You ended up doing a little over 60 miles we believe. How does that compare to other events you’ve done before?

Geoffrey: The longest event I have ever participated in was 12 hours, and the furthest I had ever run was 30 miles. So, this race was a first for me in many regards.

Heather: First off, Geoffrey doesn’t race with me all that often so it was really nice to do this with him. That was the biggest difference for me. We have also never made an international trip just for a race.

I did a race last year called the Last Annual Vol State 500k. It’s not really the last one, they just call it that. It crosses through 5 states, mostly along Tennessee and you can choose to do the race supported or unsupported. I did it unsupported and it took me seven days. For that race, it is a pre-planned route that is used every year so the people that live along the route are very aware of the runners and many of them put out mini aid stations in their yards. Some of those aid stations are pretty elaborate and all of them are very much appreciated. They have been given the term “Road Angels” by the racers. This would be the closest race that I’ve done that compares to EFM. I do enjoy the adventure of having to make your own way in a race, I would like to find more races to do in this format.

Iain has done several of “The Drop” which is is opposite concept – you have to find your way back to the a fixed finish point from an unknown start location. They are much shorter though and we are not sure if they exist in the USA!

So apart from epic chained adventures, do you often run together?

Heather: We do run together a good bit at home. I have specific running goals for myself and Geoffrey is more of a casual runner. I have a coach and a strict running calendar to adhere to but anytime my run fits into his schedule, he usually comes along with me.

My advice to other couples is just to be flexible and patient with one another. Your goals do not have to coincide in order for you to enjoy time running together. We don’t always run at the same pace when we run separately but we easily adapt to each other’s pace when we are together. Sometimes the most important thing isn’t how many miles you manage to get, but the quality time spent together within those miles, so give each other grace when you are able to run together.

Geoffrey: Yes, we do run together a good bit. Heather is training for much longer races and trying to get faster, whereas I just run to stay fit and keep moving. My advice would be to try to run together and make it enjoyable. If it is miserable for one person, that person will never want to run. When we go on trips, we always try to run together at least one time. This way, you get to explore new places together.

That’s great advice – we agree! What’s your next adventure? Although we guess it will be hard to top this one!

Geoffrey: I am more of a casual runner so when I do races, I like to stick to the shorter runs like 5 or 10 miles. Heather likes to do the longer races. We are participating in a local race called Q50 Extravaganza in February. It is a trail run and they have a distance for everyone. Heather is running the marathon with my daughter, and my son and I are running the 10 miler. Our next big trip will hopefully be to Leadville, Colorado so Heather can run in the “Race Across the Sky”, the Leadville 100.

Heather: I’ve got some big goals for 2024. There are a couple of redemption races on my calendar. A 50 miler, Wild Azalea – it’s a local race here in Louisiana. I ran it last year and totally underestimated it. I finished it, but was not happy with my performance. I’m excited to give it another shot this year.

I am running the Barkley Fall Classic in Tennessee again for the third year in a row. I have managed a “marathon finish” the previous 2 years and I am determined to make it the whole way this time around! Like Geoffrey said, I have also just entered into the lottery for the Leadville 100. It’s a fairly notable race here in the US that I have had my eye on since I got into this sport and I think I am finally ready to take it on. EFM will be a hard one to top for sure in so many ways. I’m always searching for new adventures for us and I can’t wait to see what I come up with next!!!

Wow, BFC and Leadville are definitely big goals – we’ll definitely be watching to see how you get on. Good luck!

We saw you followed your Escape from Meriden with some tourist time visiting Scotland (great choice, by the way!), do you have family connections over here?

Geoffrey: We actually started our trip by staying in London for five days, then we spent three days in Coventry for the race, and then went to Scotland. Heather’s maiden name is McGuffee which comes from the Macfie clan. I however, do not have any family connections outside of her.

Heather: I had never been to Scotland and had always wanted to go. My ancestors are from there but I do not have any friends or family that reside there now. We only got to see a small portion on this trip, but we are already working on a return trip in the future.

Well be sure to drop us a line if you’re visiting – we can take you out on some of our favourite trails! Macfie/McPhee/McVie is quite a common name where Iain grew up in the Scottish Borders, he went to school with several McVie brothers! Never heard of McGuffee before but it makes sense!

Any final thoughts before we wrap up our chat?

Heather: I don’t have a huge social media following or anything, but I love the idea of inspiring others and being inspired. I would have never heard about this race had it not been for Facebook. That being said, I encourage everyone to share their adventures with the world. You never know who you’ll be an inspiration for!

Geoffrey: I would like to say that EFM was an amazing adventure and I recommend everyone not be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and try something new and challenging. Especially if it means you get to travel thousands of miles away from home to a foreign land with foreign people. We have done several races together as a family and this was by far, the best.

That’s a great place to end our time with Heather and Geoffrey. We hope you’ve been inspired to find your own adventures, whether that’s your local 10k race, or an ultra while chained to your other half 🤣

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