Where it started

A list going round on Facebook, February 2016: "which of these items have you experienced" etc. Some yes, some no, some didn't interest me. However, it put some ideas into my head, and I figured it was time I followed some of my friends in committing them to (virtual) paper. And then trying some of them out. The first challenge was undertaken on 1 March 2016, and I have no intention of ever completing the list: the more I tick off, the more I'll add.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Flashback: outdoor swimming

I knew I had it somewhere. The last time that I went outdoor swimming (as opposed to just splashing around)... I was entered into a junior race. In the sea at Margate. Not sure what time of the year, but it was clearly very cold. I'd bet quite a lot that I came last as usual. Mum towels me down while little sis looks smug that she didn't need to join in. I think this was around 1972, so I'm nine years old.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Reasons: do something useful

I'm doing all these daft things for my own pleasure / challenge / satisfaction. However, I also reckoned that I could be useful at the same time: a bit of sponsorship wouldn't go amiss.

So my "walk a marathon" target now includes an incremental event: walking across all the London bridges from Putney to Southwark (that's 25 km, about 15 miles). This is on Saturday 10th September, and I'm doing it in aid of Pancreatic Cancer UK. My initial target is the obligatory £125, but I'm very much hoping to be able to increase that once it's achieved.

Two very dear friends of mine were taken by this especially awful disease - a particularly cruel form of cancer, as it's so hard to detect in time for preventative measures to be taken. Both Alic and Peter were dead within two months of diagnosis. So anything that I can contribute, no matter how small, to research that may improve matters, will be an achievement.

If you feel that you'd like to support this present endeavour with this good cause in mind, please click here to visit my JustGiving page.

Thank you.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

An amazing weekend

I'd decided quite a while ago that 'walking a marathon' would be on my list, and blogged about it here more recently (while watching the London Marathon). As such, some increased distances (over my regular 3-4 miles and maximum of around 5-6 miles) were definitely on the cards.

I've been an increasing enthusiast for the work of Karl Whitfield at Mother Nature's Diet for about eighteen months. He's an inspiring, enthusiastic, passionate advocate of healthy living, with an approach that's a superb combination of commonsense, motivation, his own experience, humour, inspiration and integrity. I 'found' him and his group on Facebook back in November 2014, as I was entering the final phase of my weight loss journey and the beginning of my improvement / maintenance / learning curve (you know, that one that lasts for the rest of your life).

Karl provides huge volumes of information, loads of support, advice and encouragement, seminars and webinars, and many more chances for learning and sharing. Among all these possibilities, every so often he arranges a 'walk and talk' day, and this is the first one I've been able to attend. This one was a walk of around 12 miles in wonderful hills, through fields and villages and beside rivers.

At some distance from my home in Norfolk (which, let's face it, most places are), this one was based near his own location in Wiltshire. So I combined the trip with a long-overdue visit to fellow professional organiser Clare, who lives in Oxfordshire, and was delighted when she agreed to join in with the mad weekend - even when it became clear that we'd be spending a night under canvas (this being another item on the life list).

Fourteen of us met by the duck-pond in the picture-postcard village of Biddestone on an improbably glorious May morning. Most were folks I'd met before on previous MND events, a few were new friends, and the 'talking' bit was as delightful as it always is. Here we all are before setting off.

Along the riverside we went, through fields full of buttercups, greeting cows and horses, between rows of nettles (tough on those who were wearing shorts!), over stiles and small bridges. There were also stunning avenues filled with beautiful, pungent wild garlic.

We paused for slower walkers to catch up; Karl obsessively counting every so often to ensure we were all still safely in the group. We stopped for group photographs every so often, including on 'the beach' - a fabulous corner of the stream.

Then, at roughly halfway, we stopped for lunch. We took our boots off to walk in the grass for the last few hundred yards, enjoying the feel of the grass under our bare feet, and sat by the stream (feet in for some of us!) before gathering round with our lunches. Getting going again was a bit of an effort!

After lunch there were more hills than in the earlier parts, including some pretty steep climbs; a particularly narrow path between more nettles (which Clare managed to do a spectacular prat-fall [her words] into, when she took her eyes off the path to look at the view). Most of us took a trip into some caves - fascinating and eerie. And we saw some of the local red kites circling.

Finally, after approximately 5 hours and ten minutes of walking (I paused the Runkeeper app for any major stops for breath or lunch), and a clocked distance of 12.25 miles, we returned to the green at Biddestone. The last couple of miles were quite an effort for all except the fittest of us, and the feet were sore; but the sense of achievement was tremendous - not to mention the camaraderie. We'd all learned, exchanged hugs and support and motivation, made and renewed friendships, and had the most amazing time.

So: I'm well on my way to my target of 'walk a marathon'. This walk was just a little under the distance of a half-marathon; my aim is to do a sponsored 25 km (15 mile) walk across the bridges of London, from Putney to London Bridge, in September; and then incrementally to increase my 'longest distance' so that I'm ready for the full 26+ miles at some point in 2017. Given that my previous longest distance EVER (except that 24 mile sponsored walk when I was just eleven years old) was around six miles, I'm pretty pleased with progress so far!

Thank you to the lovely Karl and all other members of the MND family for such a special day.

Full album here.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Under canvas

Camping's changed since I last tried it. As a Girl Guide (around 1974-1979) I went on camps from time to time; the tents were an incredibly heavy canvas with what seemed like an endless number of heavy pegs and complicated guy-ropes. On family holidays (in roughly the same period) we usually went to sites down the French west coast where the tents were already there for you - except on the couple of occasions when we used a trailer tent.

I decided that one of my challenges was to spend a night under canvas for the first time in nearly forty years. My now middle-aged back wouldn't cope with the lack of a mattress, so the blow-up variety was brought along. Not having the old sleeping bag any longer, I reckoned that a duvet would be enough (it wasn't!). And life was made much easier by the fact that the lovely Karl not only brought along his own spare two-man tent, but swiftly constructed the whole thing for us.

My friend Clare shared the tiny tent with me on the night before our twelve-mile hike in the Wiltshire countryside with the Mother Nature's Diet family. We were very fortunate with the weather, setting up one night and waking on the following morning to glorious sunshine. Fellow camper Jane wonderfully cooked banana omelettes for us all for breakfast, and Karl & Kerrie's little single-ring gas stoves boiled water for tea. There's nothing like camaraderie to enhance the great outdoors!

So how was it? The actual sleeping, in fact, wasn't comfortable; but that was my own fault for not investing in a new sleeping bag (even in May, one needed total cocooning). I was much too cold to sleep properly. Mercifully, I usually sleep so well that one poor night's sleep doesn't cause too much harm.The mattress was fine. I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't spooked by the confined interior. The two-sink, two-loo, one-shower washroom was a bit cramped and spartan, but serviceable. And the experience of emerging into a quiet, slightly misty, sunny morning was delightful.

What would I do differently? Buy a sleeping-bag, obviously. Take a head-torch (much easier than trying to navigate with the iPhone torch in the middle of the night). Pack much lighter and ignore the fact that I look a bit ropey without makeup. Enjoy the world of nature for what it is and not try to adapt it to normal home comforts.

Oh, and one more thing. Having inflated the mattress using the lovely Kerrie's neat little gizmo that plugs into the car cigarette lighter attachment, we then discovered that it wouldn't actually fit through the door of the tent... quick deflation, both of ego and mattress! :)

Which implies that I'll give it another go? You bet.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Monday, 2 May 2016

Outdoor swimming: unexpectedly challenging

This might be the second day in May, but the temperatures are still unseasonably low (around 8-10 degrees C); so the waters of Whitlingham Broad were, in the words of the session leader, 'fresh'.

I met up with local friends Emily & Rebecca for this experience - this being Norfolk, they filter in to my circles from totally different bits of my life! Emily's an experienced open-water swimmer and triathlon veteran, Rebecca (shown with me below) is training for her first triathlon.

Photo: Rebecca Wass
I've been a confident but slow swimmer ever since I was very young; having a swimming teacher for a mother, I was introduced to the water when I was too young to be scared of it, and plodded through lengths of various swimming pools in school swimming galas - although I came last, more often than not (as explained here). Even today, although I rarely swim, I can still manage several lengths at a steady pace without feeling uncomfortable. So I reckoned that open-water-swimming wouldn't be too scary.

This turned out to be a very different kettle of fish. The hired wetsuit, to start with: much tighter-fitting than I expected (looking around at other swimmers, it was supposed to be), which gives one the feeling of constricted breathing even before getting into very cold water. (It's quite a workout just getting into the suit!) Then the suit gives additional buoyancy - a curiosity that took some getting used to in my scuba try-dive - although in that case, you have control over that buoyancy with inflation and deflation of the BCD.

In wetsuit, I stayed resolutely on the very surface of the water; my breathing was far more shallow than usual, due to a combination of the tight suit and the extreme cold; and the result was that the actual strokes I took, no matter whether breast-stroke, front crawl or (to a lesser extent) back crawl, felt as though I was fighting through treacle. After just one circuit (I later learned about 300m) I felt as though I'd done at least half an hour on a particularly vicious treadmill setting. However, I couldn't cope with the idea of giving up, so set off again.

Photo: www.triharder.co.uk
I found that I could keep going for longest using breast-stroke, breaking occasionally into a few yards of front crawl; when I ran out of steam, I would turn on my back, do back-stroke for a short way, and then simply use the buoyancy to float and kick my legs - and get my breath back. I reached the end of circuit #2 feeling slightly more confident. However, by the time I'd reached the end of #3, fatigue was really setting in, and I had to admit defeat. (I think the whole process took around 30 minutes.)

But hey: around 900m on a first try wasn't too bad, even though my technique was extremely questionable; I displayed at least the doggedness that I used to show as a child (never giving up until I finished the race, even though I might be several minutes behind the rest of 'em); and I came out feeling that great blast of adrenalin that only high-intensity exercise can give. Magic.

What this has demonstrated to me - and I already knew from the 'budgie-hooping' activities - is that my upper body and core strength need serious work. My main exercise is still my walking, which is great for the legs and a moderate amount of cardio, but some muscles are getting neglected. So next up is to develop a short routine with weights and own-body weight exercises - which will also involve work towards another of my life-list goals: "do ten REAL press-ups".

Huge thanks to Rebecca and Emily for their encouragement and company, and to the organising team at triharder, who made the whole event a real pleasure, with safety and encouragement being paramount.

I reckon I'll try this at a similar event later in the summer, and see if higher temperatures make for an easier swim!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

The Bike: help from the expert

So the BFG kindly comes over to Winterton to help set up my 'new' bike. He gently explains that the front wheel goes the other way round... that's a good start.

He then goes through a bewildering sequence of checks and bolt-adjusting, seat-moving, chain-cleaning-and-oiling.

He explains about the 18 gears (in Norfolk I'm less likely to make full use of those!); ah, so it's not that far removed from the way they're used in the car. We talk about maintenance and the sort of kit I'll need (helmet being priority, followed by padded shorts...).

I try a quick ride around our drive, and all the adjustments have (of course) improved matters considerably - not to mention having the front wheel the right way round. Duh.

So next week it's off to an appropriate shop to get the lid and a few other things; then I'll take a cautious ride through our village and see how I get on.