Going wild

When I was a girl we lived in a house. It was a compact terraced house situated on the fringes of Station Town in County Durham. The station – actually located in the adjoining village of Wingate – was no longer there (although my father could remember it) and was built to serve the local mining villages surrounding it. The line was no longer there either, ultimately a victim of Beeching in the 1960’s although declining before then, but evidence of its existence was all around us. Not only in the place names, but also in the miles of reclaimed railway lines now bridleways that cross cross their way through the villages to the coast.

When I lived there, Station Town was in the middle of the countryside in the middle of the 1970’s. Woodchip paper adorned the walls of our little house. The window frames were rotten enough to remove and climb through if you had forgotten your keys (true story) and the lino on the passageway floors was bumpy and cold to a bare foot. Heating and hot water were provided courtesy of a coal fire, chilblains were a real threat and if the wind was blowing the right way (thanks to a broken vent) it would snow on you in the bath. Life up North could be grim.

Nevertheless, there is a certain kind of being ‘alive’ when you have to embrace the seasons without the buffer of mod cons. And it wasn’t all bad. Being in the countryside as a child was a blessing. It provided places to explore and fish and hills perfect for sledging. A glorious freedom where we could stay out all night and watch the stars with an innocence not yet coloured by life.

My childhood experiences left me with a preference for cooler temperatures, a desire for exploration and a constant love of nature in all its forms. Living an adventurous life becomes much harder when you become an adult. Burdens such as responsibility, lack of time and lack of money hang around the neck of freedom. And the biggest burden of all, fear.

As a child, although cautious and risk averse, I was also reasonable fearless when it came to adventure. Not afraid of making difficult decisions, my life has taken many twists and turns over the years. But the older I get (and the increased comfort that comes with financial security) the more I seem to have to fear.

And I don’t like it.

There are many roads in life I would love to travel down. One of those is reducing the cocoon of modern life in order to experience the elemental wonders this planet has to offer. I’m talking about being in the weather, in wilderness, travelling without mod cons and allowing my body to feel, to be without the five star support. Well, realistically it’s more like three star, tea but no biscuits kind of support but you get my drift.

I want to feel alive rather than comfortably numb.

Our first micro adventures have already been completed. We loved throwing ourselves in Bude sea pool in November and the Atlantic on New Years Day. They have given us a little taste of the possibilities. So G and I have reviewed the things that are currently stopping us from seeking adventure and we’ve started to dismantle those barriers. Our next slightly bigger challenge is to wild camp. It’s been a hearts desire for a long time and now we live close enough to Dartmoor – where it’s legally permitted – its eminently doable. As soon as these bloody storms stop, we’re out there.

Training journal | Week 26 to 27 | Running from the Black Dog

A friend contacted me yesterday. ‘Alright you – how’s it all going’ he asked. It is a reasonable question and I didn’t really want to answer it truthfully. We danced around the subject, being a little more polite than we would normally be. It was lovely to hear from him and I cherished that he had taken the time to get in touch.

I didn’t want to answer the question truthfully because to do so, would be to admit the return of the black dog. I can’t believe we’re back here again but then again, I would extremely naive to expect it to be any different. I do find it difficult to talk about, but I think it’s important to do so. I’m worried that people are bored of hearing about it in the same way I’m bored of my own internal monologue. Although, I guess you have the option to stop reading. I can tell you it’s as bad as it’s been for a long while. But I’m grateful this time I’m more prepared to deal with it.

I’ve tried the usual distraction techniques; music, denial, reading (although that becomes much more difficult during an episode – trying to read through fog makes the words all blurry!) In the end sometimes it’s just tears and a kind soul to hold my hand that helps to make things better. Kindness is a corrector of many ills. Deploy it at will if it is your power to do so, you have no idea how much it can make a difference.

The one distraction I have no shortage of at the moment is exercise. The structure of the plan helps, although it does add more stress to the whole proceedings too. I have fourteen weeks left of the programme. It’s sufficiently close to help focus a fuzzy mind. Tricky too though. The fibromyalgia is closely linked to mental health. The deterioration of one invariably drags the other with it, screaming and kicking. The ticking clock does help me to get back up of the metaphorical floor and try again, day after day. With varying degrees of success but at least the fight is there. In times past I would sink into a stupor for months and then have to start again from scratch.

Week 26 was a great week. It started with ‘Defender’ and finished with a fun Mountain Bike exploring a world beyond Torrington on the Tarka Trail. ‘Defender’ was a turbo session, rescheduled to take in account a trip to Surrey for work later that week. It plays around the Functional Power thresholds but since I don’t have any fancy equipment and my heart rate monitor is a tad temperamental these days, it was effected using mostly guess work.

It was a good start to the week and led nicely into a mostly rubbish Tuesday run and a mostly strong Wednesday brick session. Thursday, G and I headed to Ashtead and then onto Banstead pool after work which was gloriously cool and empty. We compounded the swimming on Friday at a boiling Leatherhead pool and then shunned Woolacombe in return for a ‘home’ trip to parkrun Mole Valley on the Saturday.

Saturday was long run day. I intended to run to parkrun but got waylaid by a dodgy looking bloke in the car park. It’s a long story, that basically resulted in a slight rain check until I got to Denbies where I planned to hot foot it up the North Downs Way for a bit before coming back down for the run. I had barely got to the old Bed and Breakfast when was accosted by another dodgy looking bloke in the shape of Andy Fay. This waylaid my plans again for the second time. We had a lovely catch up while walking up the hill to accommodate Andy’s dodgy ankle and a run back down again where it didn’t seem to bother him too much and I had to sprint to keep up with his warm up pace.

We then headed back to the run start just in time for the off. I changed my shoes for trail shoes as the course has the potential to be a bit muddy. But, the recent rain rendered it almost not runable. At times I could barely stay upright. G fell over at the top of the hill and reduced his effort to mostly a walk. It was not our finest hour, not particularly enjoyable either. I could barely contain my desire for sand.

The combined effort of a weeks solid training and a trip to Surrey pretty much finished me off for the start of the next week. I was exhausted and reduced to living in five minute segments, just to get through the day. I lost co-ordination and tripped over a chair trying to get out of it, hurting my leg in the process. I didn’t trust myself going out for a run so went out for a walk instead. I abridged the weights session to prevent more fatigue but goodness, lifting those weights made a great different, injecting energy and helping to light the spark of recovery.

On Saturday and going slightly stir crazy for being indoors most of the week, G and I headed back to Woolacombe. We got there early, deliberately so I could head out for a leg stretch while G sat in the car with his book and a beautiful view of the Atlantic. It was one of those runs that felt faster than it was, but the legs were strong and the heart was willing and for a while I was free.

The following day, Storm Ciara hit. It was too windy to keep the garage door open and I couldn’t face sitting in a dark garage with the door closed for over two hours so I opted to sit that session out. Focusing instead on self care which I felt would yield better results. Like the sun shining through the cracks of cloud after a storm, the fog is lifting and I’m hoping to be back to proper training soon.

Training journal | Week 22 to 24 | The Waste Lands

A quick look on Strava tells me I have completed sixteen activities this month. A glance at Training Peaks tells me I have 17 weeks to Lanza. Neither are quite enough but better than I was expecting.

The fibromyalgia has been a bit of a beast in the last few weeks. Probably a consequence of the stress of the election in the build up to Christmas and some poor food choices during the holiday period. The fatigue has been a cloak of fog, slowing my brain and making it much harder to execute even simple tasks.  I have dropped a lot of stuff and then struggled to pick it up again. Manual dexterity at the moment is definitely not my forte. It’s not helped by the physical manifestations which, among the general aches and pains, has settled in my hands, making the slightest activity painful.

Because my brain is so slow at the moment, I’ve not even been able to write, crochet or do any of the normal out of hours activities I normally do for relaxation. Save picking up the wonderful Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater and savouring the days on his countdown to Christmas. I must save all my energy to be able to concentrate on getting through the working day without the boss realising how unwell I’ve been.

Adapt and overcome has been required. The intensity of the Ironman training has been too much and I’ve missed a few of the session set. Or in certain circumstances have not completed the whole session. Movement is definitely the way to recovery. I learned that lesson the hard way a few years ago, and so no matter how uncomfortable it is, I know the importance of keeping going. 

That’s not to say I haven’t thought about quitting. Several times. Jon has been kind and has revamped the program to make it more accessible. Slowly I’m getting better and managing to maintain the fitness I’m fighting so hard to gain.

I’ve realised that habit is crucial to getting the sessions in. I have to fight to start each session but that fight is much easier where the groundwork has been done. Parkrun is still a stalwart. Knowing that being outdoors and just putting one foot in front of another on the route generates a peace that makes it much easier to get to the start line. The hills are certainly enough to silence the voices for a time while I just focus on breathing and taking in the beautiful views.

Swimming has been much more difficult. The hot water making my joints throb for hours after I’ve got out. I must confess I have been looking for excuses to miss the sessions. It’s a task made much easier by the leisure centre and it’s social opening hours. I long for warmer weather and more open water swimming. Hopefully, it shouldn’t be too long.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. I’ve built some confidence getting on the spin bike and hitting the HR sessions. They are fun, psychologically easier than the rest of the activities and I love the feeling of nailing a session in the garage. During Storm Brendon, sick to death of getting soaked while running, I took the easy route and went to the gym. It worked really well as I had a conditioning session to complete too and was working in Surrey, well away from the weights and my garden. 

The gym was a real surprise. I loved being around folk who were clearly into their sessions and having a good time. The mood was catching and I finished the set completely energised. I do wonder if I spend too much time training on my own?

I have a rest day today, and time to pull myself together to get ready for the bigger efforts that I know are coming. Taking one day at a time is the plan. 

20/20 challenge

So, a change of pace and topic here for a little while. Three and a half years, waking up after a vote (that should never have happened and as it turns out was conducted illegally) my heart was broken. I didn’t agree that the (advisory) vote should be honoured and I don’t believe it was to destroy democracy to think that way.

In time, I hoped a way would be found to reconcile and remain in the EU but after Thursday devastating result, that hope turned to hopelessness. And frankly I’m scared. I’m scared for society, democracy, people on the brink of poverty and those already fallen into the crevasse, those relying on the wonderful NHS now and in the future and ultimately the safety of the world. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a lot of tears yesterday. Shed for everything we’ve lost for apparently very little gain.

So now, more than ever is a time for love and kindness. For the world and personally. Inspired by my great friend Lee. G and I have made a commitment to the 20/20 challenge to complete 20 things in 2020.

The twenty ‘challenges’ are personal and designed to contribute to self care, care of my community or care of the environment. They are meant to be fun but not frivolous. And a beacon of hope in a very dark time. Here’s the list…

1. Donate 20 items to charity.

2. Visit 20 new places (can be local).

3. Donate to a food bank 20 times.

4. Get back into volunteering and volunteer 20 times.

5. Spend 20 days where I don’t go online at all.

6. Read 20 books.

7. Watch 20 films I’ve not seen before.

8. Complete 20 thirty minute lunchtime walks.

9. Try 20 new exercises (dragon walk anyone?)

10. Replace 20 household/garden items with a more sustainable version when needed.

11. Pick up random street/beach rubbish 20 times.

12. Go on 20 different walks.

13. Lose 20 lbs

14. Save 20 £20 notes

15. Write 20 random cards to family & friends.

16. Do 20 random acts of kindness.

17. Do 20 things as a means of self-care (e.g. massage, or visit to art gallery or something relaxing).

18. Write 20 blog posts.

19. Cook 20 new dishes in a year.

20. Clean 20 road signs.

So, there you go. Starting Jan 1, I’ll keep you updated with how it goes.

And for those of you feeling similarly despondent at the moment. I need to borrow the words of ee cummings. ‘i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)’.

Stay strong x

Sisu

This was going to be a blog about Woolacombe parkrun.  Come to think of it, it may still be in a little while if the following idea does not go anywhere…

While I was in blog planning mode, an e-mail arrived into my in-box from James Clear entitled ‘Sisu: how to develop mental toughness’.  You can read his full blog post here. In it Clear explains, Sisu is the concept of carrying on when all hope appears to be lost.  ie it is not so much about the achievement, rather more about facing challenges with determination and valour. He gives an example of Sisu as the last two miles of the marathon when you are absolutely exhausted and sums up the concept saying “we all experience failure, but mentally tough people realise that failure is an event, not their identity”.

But what if you stepped off the path with two miles to go. What if that becomes habit. What if your identity is as a runner or triathlete and you fail enough for the label to become more reminder rather than a series of events? Or even worse, the DNF’s become part of your identity so much so, they engender inertia and the inability to even start, never mind finish.

I started to ponder this.  

Earlier this week I started a book called ‘Landmarks’ by Robert Macfarlane.  I’m only a smidgen of pages in but he has already introduced the topic of how people become landmarks through the story of others lives.  I’ve talked about this briefly in a blog post before.  Recently, I’ve been ’accountant’ lady, ‘crochet’ lady and ‘running’ lady, I’ve been ‘siren’ and other labels much less complimentary.  I’ve been drawn towards ‘radiators’ and run away (literally on occasion) from ‘drains’.  No-one wants the moniker ‘failure’.

Once the mantle of ‘failure’ is donned, in theory to achieve even the slightest hope of success, Sisu is required at every single event undertaken.  Well, that’s hard.  Really hard.  It also backs up what Matt Fitzgerald asserts in his book ‘How bad do you want it’. Here, he suggests the key to success is to make things feel as easy as possible.  When things feel hard, even the best can fail. 

Ever decreasing circles.

And yet, in the real world, I’ve seen examples of this over and over again.  People trapped in the same cycle for years despite protestations of ‘this time it’s going to be different’ and then setting themselves up to fail by not really changing anything.  You know it, the ‘always doing what you’ve always done, and always get what you’ve always got’ syndrome but this time expecting a different result despite having changed nothing at all.

Of course, it’s highly possible that I could be overthinking this.  But the above paragraph definitely applies to the last four years of my life.  Clear’s e-mail struck a chord and I know at present I’m struggling to achieve consistency.  Primarily because every time I head out it’s too damn hard.  Even with half an eye on Fitzgeralds view of keeping the perceived exertion ‘easy’.  

I could argue that many times since 2015, my Sisu had been employed fire fighting in other parts of life. But really, that argument doesn’t wash anymore.  

So, it’s time to change and this time (with fingers crossed and a fair wind that help will be forthcoming) I have asked for it.  This time with the view firmly towards success.  

Well, there you go.  Woolacombe will have to wait for another week and I didn’t expect this to come out as another ‘start again’ blog but I guess one has to start somewhere. 

Planting trees

Feet…

According to an old chinese proverb, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

That proverb resonated strongly last week as G and I were sat drinking coffee at what is rapidly becoming our favourite coffee shop in Devon, the Porthole. It’s a favourite because, not only do they serve delicious coffee, the enamel mugs are insulated so you don’t burn your hands on them. Magic!

heat proof enamel :o)

Anyway, that’s not why we were waxing lyrical about Chinese proverbs. The reason was because we were ear wagging on a conversation the couple next to us were having. It followed the general lines of ‘we’d love to live here, why can’t we live here, we have too many reasons not to move’. We fell into conversation with them naturally and had the opportunity to learn of their circumstances. They were living in Bristol and had a huge mortgage and lots of (self imposed) responsibilities. The time was never really right of course, but primarily they acknowledged they were scared of the unknown. Yet their passion for the place was tangible and the desire to relocate sounded real enough.

I get it, I really do and I wonder how many people right now are stuck in places because they are scared of change.

A few days later an e-mail popped into my inbox. It was from Alastair Humphreys – the chap who I was talking about a little while ago – the adventurer who was looking at different ways of injecting adventure into life.

One particular line in the email struck home, “being relaxed about the destination but clear about your direction will give you more purpose and confidence to explore, dream and discover.”

The message was consistent with James Clear and his preference for building habits rather than setting goals. So it seems that our determination to spend more time outdoors and move more, rather than set some elaborate (and probably unrealistic at this time) goal of losing gazillions of weight in a year or entering events in the hope they’ll motivate you to get fitter and lose weight. A thought particularly pertinant when we consider we’re heading off to Lanzarote next week to support at the Ironman.

Our initial focus on ‘moving more’ is proving to be easy to achieve so far. Everything here is so beautiful and more importantly accessible. There is space to breathe and even when the weather is not so good and the wind is blowing strong enough to clear your sinuses out, you can’t help but feel invigorated when you get back.

Our reasons for planting the tree were health related. Both physical and mental. I’d tried to plant trees many times before but on reflection, I think the reasons for planting were confused. Now, they are easy to identify; to spend more time outdoors and live more simply and so the tree is growing marvellously.

Small steps, big strides

I hinted in the last blog post that I had qualified as a personal trainer. And it’s true. I have, so recently qualified that the certificate is still in the post.

It was a long time coming. I first started the qualification in 2007. I was still a copper in the Met at the time. I got so close, completing all the modules other than the final level then I opened ‘Run to Live’ and never found the time (or the energy) to complete it.

I’m still not sure what the long term goal will be – although I will look for a couple of clients – possibly ‘virtually’ as I’m still working full time at the moment. But, the personal satisfaction of drawing the line has been immense indeed.

Actually, to be honest, my first client is me (no pressure there then). Grant and I got our heads together and wrote a rough plan. It’s more ‘back of a fag packet’ than ‘preparation for final assessment’ but it’s a route map we can follow.

The first eight weeks is called ‘Just move’. With a desk job I really enjoy and a natural inclination to be lazy, I’ve often found that I can log less than 1000 steps in a day. So, the next two months will focus on finding fun ways to move and nothing more complex than that. Happily, with a relocation to Devon, we’ve had lots of opportuntity to explore the area. Once the computer is switched off at 4pm, we’ve hopped onto the bikes to cycle to the coffee shop on the coast or headed to the beach for a walk. We’ve opted to ride out on the local cycle trails to find new areas and enjoyed walks on Exmoor to bag a few more Trig points.

Trig point – Winsford Hill with panoramic views across to Wales and Dartmoor

We’re learning a lot about the nature of the area, especially not to assume things. Heading out with the OS explorer map to follow cycle routes, we ended up on the South West Coast path on cycle route 27. It was barely a footpath, never mind a cycle route. Thank goodness we had the cyclocross bikes and a sense of humour at that point. It certainly improved our bike handling skills. But not as much as the journey back. Getting lost and being reluctant to cycle the long way back we found a short cut along a bridle way. It was basically a 1:4 climb over a hill along a very muddy and rutted footpath. Bikes on shoulders for two miles before we reached the road on the other side. The first six miles back from Woolacombe took us nearly an hour and a half. At least we got a whole body workout that day!

Woolacombe bay

The key thing at the moment is that I’m having fun and not putting any pressure on myself. Just finding time to rediscover my mojo.

Day 1, Week 1

Northam Burrows


A few months ago, Grant my husband and I had attended an evening with Alistair Humpreys. The evening was called ‘A night of adventure’, a lecture evening featuring a number of people who had basically temporarily headed off on adventures. It was fascinating, mostly because all of the speakers, without exception, were ‘normal’. One chap spent the weekend collecting Scottish Munros, another had walked across the Eurasian Steppes. Most of the adventures were done on a shoestring and had started because their originators had grown tired of waiting for the ‘right time’. It made me realise that we are all able to experience adventure and they don’t need to be journeys to the ends of the earth.

I recently received an e-mail from Alistair. The subject line was intriguing. ‘Would you like to live more adventurously’ it cried. Well ‘yes’ I thought, ‘I really would’. So I signed up. It was easy, you can do so here.

It turns out Alistair was offering a way to experience adventure in every day life. It had been triggered by the fact he had recently got married and now had a family, which of course had curtailed his ability to just head off and cycle round the world. Having responsibility did not diminish his desire to occasionally step off the sheep trail and go and do something different. These series of e-mails was designed to encourage us to go off and have our own adventures.

Without spoiling the plot, Alistair encourages us, when planning adventures, to consider our own barriers. Mine is easy. I am clinically obese. That is despite being a (newly) qualified personal trainer and despite having a lifelong passion in sport and being active. I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t own the fact that being overweight does hamper my ability to do things and it’s definitely getting worse the older I get. So, now is my time to recognise that there will never be a ‘right time’.

The time is now.