Final Countdown to the Isle of Wight Challenge.

This time next week I will be well into the epic challenge on the Isle of Wight, heading for the darkest hours as night falls and the walk continues into the small hours.

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Whilst I have trained as much as I possibly could in preparation, walking for hours at the weekend, spinning and running, nothing can possibly prepare me mentally for the challenge that is fast approaching.

A few weeks back I embarked upon the longest training walk yet, 36.7 miles with fellow team mates. Two thirds of the way through I hit that “wall” and willed it to be over – and I was no where near the mileage I need to cover next week.

I always thought that the London Marathon was the toughest challenge I would ever have to face, until I started to rack up the miles of the Isle of Wight Challenge, with Ultra Challenges.

There is very little I can now do at this stage to prepare. Like most races, you do have that sense of panic and feel that you should start cramming in more training. But anyone who has every partaken in a endurance race will know that the best thing for you to do in the lead up to any event is trust the training and pull back to ensure you are feeling your best for race day itself.

Easier said than done. With my final big walk, of 20 miles, taking place in the morning I am already trying to juggle my diary to see where I can fit in more long walks.

As with any lead up to a big challenge, I am also starting to doubt my ability. Trying to understand how I am going to find the energy to get through those additional 30 miles. Unlike most races I have taken part in of late, I have trained and complete the event with friends. I am hoping that I will draw strength and comfort in experiencing every mile together.

The unknown is the biggest fear, you never know how you are going to feel on race day, how your body is going to react when you reach your threshold and living in the country we do – you just don’t know what Mother Nature will throw at you.

So, it is safe to say I am terrified of what lies ahead – praying that the weather is good to us and I find the ability from within to keep going.

Failure is not an option.

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City Break: Barcelona

Barcelona. The cosmopolitan capital in the Catalonian region of Spain.

With it’s Mediterranean charm, glorious climate and lively beach culture it is hard to picture Barcelona as a city. With cities you usually imagine a mass populated area at a fast pace.

When I visited Barcelona three years ago, I found the city a far cry from this expectation. Instead what I experienced was a laid back culture, no one was in a rush. Days were filled with Sangria and Siestas, and I instantly fell in love with the culture of the city. Who could not fall in love with a city that requires you to fall back into an easy, carefree way of life.

As with most city breaks, there is never enough time to see everything you want to see. But in my true style I tried to cram in as much of the culture and atmosphere as humanly possible.

Today I reflect on my highlights:

Sagrada Familia the monumental church devoted to the Holy Family. Construction on this iconic building began in 1882 by plans that were drawn up by Fransisco de Paula del Villar. Gaudi was then commissioned to continue the project in 1883. To this day the construction is yet to be completed. This is heavily evident as the two sides of the building look miles apart and, when I visited cranes still framed the impressive sight.

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Many people who visit the city don’t take the time to venture inside. A big mistake. For the rather ugly looking building from the outside, comes alive on the inside. The stain glass windows, filling the church with colour and beauty. If you are able bodied, take the time to walk up the towers of the church. Views from the top were simply stunning.

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Parc Guell

To visit Barcelona and not take the time to visit Parc Guell would be a criminal. Opened as a public park in 1926, it was designed to the work of Antoni Gaudi and provides its visitors with a exquisite display of colour and tranquility. In 1984 UNESCO declared it a world heritage site under “Works of Antoni Gaudi”.

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Tibidabo, the mountain that overlooks the city of Barcelona. Not only does it offer fantastic views of the city below, but also a day of amusement for those who wish to enjoy it.

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As it is here you will find the charming theme park that all the family will enjoy, as well as Tibidabo church. A day to be enjoyed in the Spanish sun.

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Casa Batllo, the renowned building in the centre of the city is one of Gaudi’s master pieces. The detail within the building showcases the work of this genius architect. Patience is needed to visit this sight, the queues can be long and some may say expensive.

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However, the wait and money to enter is well worth it. The work of this man is extraordinary – one of the most memorable and stunning pieces of architecture I have had the pleasure of experiencing to date.

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As with most cities, there is always plenty to see and do. Barcelona does not disappoint. From watching a football match at Camp Nu (not high on my list) and taking in the display of the  Magic Fountain to strolling down Las Ramblas and visiting Montjuic Castle – there is enough to keep everyone occupied for several days.

And with Barcelona’s laid back culture, you can spend those days sipping Sangria and eating Tapas whilst soaking up the atmosphere and the sun.

The London Marathon: Being a Spectator

Yesterday saw London’s streets come alive during the 38th London Marathon – the hottest on record.

In previous years I have watched the days events from the comfort of my sofa – which I now know does not really give you the full experience as watching from the sidelines.

After running London in 2017 and experiencing the support of the crowd, I did not think twice about returning to the streets this year though as a spectator, rather than taking part itself.

I have always been told that even as a spectator, the London Marathon is one of the most enjoyable live events you can witness. And yesterday I discovered how true this was.

Heading into London rather early in the morning, I shared the train with numerous runners proudly wearing their bibs and timing chips – but looking rather apprehensive. I looked at them with immense admiration, knowing exactly how they would have been feeling. I too faced the long journey to the start line just 12 months prior.

On arrival at Liverpool Street station I decided to re-trace some of my marathon steps, whilst there were very few people roaming the streets. And in doing so, I was able to see the parts of the marathon set up that runners would never really see; from the final barriers being put in place around the Tower of London, the charity cheer stations on Tower Bridge setting up ready for the thousands of runners and even the water hydration stations unpacking so many bottles of water in preparation. I enjoyed the quiet time reminiscing – along Tower Bridge, where I can still hear the cheer of the crowd, down Tooley Street towards Bermondsey with the target of finding a good spot near Cutty Sark.

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As I walked, I was flooded with emotion – it felt like it was only yesterday. There were some parts I remembered so vividly. Other parts, not at all.

Whilst I was making my way, trying to find a good spot, the wheelchair race – which had started way before the masses – had reached Bermondsey. So I was delighted to cheer the participants on. Starting their race so early meant that there were very few spectators out on the streets. So for them, with a lack of crowd to cheer them on, it must be a rather long and lonely race.

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Shortly after the World Para Athletics runners reached the 8 mile mark, followed by the Elite Women’s – all of which I was delighted to witness. Watching on the TV you do not appreciate how quiet the streets are for all these runners, especially in the early stages.

I did not manage to reach Cutty Sark. As I approached the seven mile marker I noticed a significant change in the number of spectators lining the streets. So, remembering my friends were waiting for me around this point in 2017, I found a good spot right on the curb and waited to spot friends running the distance.

I did not have to wait long to see the legend that is Mo Farah. With the crowds screaming his name, he simply made running look effortless.

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Following Mo Farah, and the rest of the elite runners, came the masses.

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As a previous participant, I did not appreciate the sheer volume of runners that take part. Obviously I had a fair idea, waiting at that the greatest start line in the world, when it took a good 30 minutes to cross the start. However, watching from the sidelines, the runners just kept coming. And, at mile seven, in the 24 degree heat the runners already looked exhausted. If you were someone waiting to spot a loved one running within the faster groups you would have had some difficulty.

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One friend passed me without me spotting her despite looking out for her charity T Shirt. I blinked and missed her, the app stated she had passed me by one mile. Many others had the same issue. You begin to understand why some wear costumes, so those waiting at the sidelines can spot them without issue.

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With the speedy runners passing by, the crowd soon started to thin out with the regular runners. Those runners that form the majority. The runners who would not finish under four hours. The runners like me.

The thinning crowd made it much easier to spot a friend, give her a hug and tell her she was amazing!

Watching her run off made me remember seeing my loved ones in 2017, the simple joy of seeing a friendly face in a crowd of thousands and have them scream your name.

After seeing her on her way my plan was to follow her along her journey. What I did not comprehend was the sheer volume of spectators that had the same plan.

Trying to get out of Greenwich required either a 40 minute queue on the DLR at Cutty Sark or a walk under the Greenwich foot tunnel. I chose the latter, preferring to walk than stand in a queue.

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Reaching the Isle of Dogs at 1pm saw me catch up with the faster runners and therefore the crowds too. With no chance of getting a good viewing spot I attempted to head further. Jumping on the DLR, watching the runners in the streets below was something else. The sheer volume of heads bobbing around Canary Wharf and seeing a normally derelict area of London on a Sunday afternoon alive with thousands upon thousands of people was something to be seen.

Back at the Tower of London I attempted again to find a spot – but it was almost impossible. At this point I decided to head on home to watch the coverage of the day on TV.

The day is just so special, for everyone. Seeing so many runners battling out on course, in conditions they were not able to train for, experiencing the immense numbers of spectators and seeing London’s streets come alive on a Sunday, was something everyone should experience in their lifetime.

The atmosphere and spirit truly brings London to life. It makes me extremely proud of our city and everything it stands for.

It was a rather emotional day for me, despite not running. Retracing my steps, reliving the emotions and most importantly remembering the cheers of my Uncle in the crowd. To this day I can still hear him cheering me on along Birdcage Walk – something that will live with me forever.

 

As many friends prepared for the most amazing marathon in the world, and many other marathons too, I consistently said “never again.”

Now, after spending the day watching from the sidelines, I felt that pull. I wanted to be involved, I wanted to be joining those running the 26.2 miles in our amazing capital city. I wanted that adrenaline rush!

And it was then that I realised, I should never say never. As given the opportunity I would love to run the London Marathon again.

Here’s to trying my luck in 2019!

 

Training: 36.7 Miles

There comes a point when you are training for a major event when you will hit the highest possible level of endurance. It is at this point that you start to question your sanity, your ability and you simply wonder why the hell you have paid to enter an event that causes you so much physical and mental pain.

Saturday was that day for me.

The date for the longest training walk was booked into my diary months previously so I knew it would be coming. I had trained consistently for weeks and weeks, pushing myself at a faster pace during long walks and short walks too. Sunday mornings had regularly seen me awaiting training buddies at 7am in abandoned car parks whilst most were still in the land of nod.

So I was prepared, I should have been able to cope. However, it was on this day that my mind and body suddenly started to comprehend the enormity of the challenge at hand.

Beginning our journey at a social time of 9am we followed the River Stort path from Harlow Mill until it joined the River Lea at Rye House. With the sun shining, and feeling rather energetic we were making good time, so we continued to push at a strong pace.

Taking the River Lea path northwards we carried on through to 11 miles, stopping for a short refreshment break, before continuing along the river path to Hertford Town centre.

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To help us get through the hours of walking, we started to break the route down into sections, with the next part following cycle path 61 from Hertford all the way to Panshanger – where we hit the half way point – 18 miles.

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With the weather being warmer than it had been of late, I found myself drinking more water than normal, feeling rather dehydrated and rather nauseous shortly after the half way mark. I had no choice but to carry on, so I took more water on board and simply just put one foot in front of the other. Focusing on our next milestone.

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Miles 18-25 saw us having to retrace our steps. Back along route 61, back through Hertford town centre, following the river until we reached Ware town centre and the most welcomed refreshment stop – a Fish and Chip dinner (or simply just chips and a much needed Diet Coke for me).

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This would be our last major stop before our finish. Therefore it was the perfect opportunity to add layers to prepare for the daylight fading and to change into a fresh pair of socks. With the mixture of a proper rest stop and changing of kit came a renewed sense of energy. I felt ready to take on the final 11 miles back to where it all began.

We continued on, sometimes talking, sometimes in comfortable silence – each of us focused on our own thoughts, finding our own way to get through. However, my fresh feeling did not last much longer. My feet were throbbing, my poorly bunions causing shooting pains as they swelled against the walking shoes and fatigue generally started to set in. We had been on our feet for around 10 hours at this point, with very little rest. Daylight was fast diminishing and all we wanted to be finished.

Our final point of rest was at the point we marked as “the five mile bridge.” The bridge that we stated was the home stretch on the way out, many hours earlier.

Here the night torches came out in preparation, final layers were added and I gave my poorly feet a chance to get through the last few miles by changing into my trainers. And they thanked me for it. With darkness setting in, the comfort of my trainers and a great longing for a shower, pajamas and prosecco – I pushed myself to keep going to the end. Not focusing on the path in front, instead keeping my eyes on my training buddies feet in front, I made it through feeling rather emotional and delirious to the end.

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36.7 miles clocked up. 12 hours after we had set off, we made it back to our cars, exhausted and elated.

Whilst I am extremely proud of getting through the training on Saturday, I have not stopped thinking about those extra 30 miles that are going to be added on top in less than three weeks time.

I wonder if my feet are going to cope, how I am going to find the ability to push through, how I am going to get through the long night hours, how is this even possible and what the hell was I thinking in signing up for this in the first place.

Last year I thought the London Marathon was the hardest challenge I had ever faced, I thought I would never be faced with anything that would push me more than 26.2 miles had done.

I could not be more wrong.

With just little under three weeks until the Isle of Wight Challenge I need to know how this is actually possible.

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Working through Anxiety

With April being National Stress Awareness month it seemed only fitting to take some time out and dedicate a blog to an issue that has been something that has caused me a great deal of stress and trauma.

Anxiety.

If you were to go back several years you would have heard me being described as a “social butterfly.” This does not mean I was out drinking every night, but I was simply one of those people who socialised all the time. There was always a work function, a birthday party or weekends full of lunches and nights out. I thrived on being around people and filling every moment possible.

Then gradually over the last five years I started to notice my social wings becoming smaller and smaller. And as such, over the last six months I notice I am more of an Anxious Annie than anything that resembles the social butterfly I once was.

The anxiety did not come from one isolated incident. Instead I find that it is a collection of events that occurred over a longer period of time. Perhaps one incident alone would not have caused my anxiety to build, however when events keep occurring that are outside your control and you don’t take time to address them appropriately then they are bound to cause you issues further down the line.

This is what has happened to me.

And lately, as I take more time to address my inner well being, I am finding that I am able to pin point those events that have led to my anxiety reaching its peak.

Incident number one. A work social event many years ago saw me out with some colleagues and clients. And as you can imagine, with it being the festive season too, alcohol was involved. As with most people, when I have had a few glasses of wine I let my guard down, my judgement becomes impaired and I generally relax a little too much. This particular occasion, which saw me joking with colleagues, led to one of the said colleague crossing a line. A line that saw me with months and months of turmoil and stress – before eventually seeking further assistance.

I managed to think I had dealt with the situation physically and emotionally. I got on with life and made myself believe I was stronger than I thought.

A year or so later I found myself in a second situation. At a friends hen do, with all attendees rather merry and having a good time celebrating, myself included, I ended my night early to help a friend home. She had got a little too merry, after going through a bad time herself and I took it upon myself to take her back to our rented accommodation. I successfully got her back, in one piece, but not without her becoming rather violent. Apologies were made the morning after, and I quite easily forgave. However, finding a way to get past the incident proved rather difficult.

After these incidents I started to question my own actions. On both occasions, I too, had been drinking and as such perhaps my judgement was not as it should be.

Social events that involved drinking soon became a no no for me. I found ways to avoid occasions where large amounts of alcohol were involved – if my presence was required then I would ensure that I was the designated driver. In doing so I would be able to take back control, to avoid situations that would cause me further stress and to shy away from any unwanted behaviour.

I would happily attend low key social events; gatherings in friends houses and quiet meals out were ideal, they caused me very little stress. However, “nights out” were completely avoided where possible.

Situation number three was completely out of my control last June when I was made redundant. Those who have gone through this process will probably relate to how this effects your mental well being. After the initial shock, you start to enjoy your free time as you search for the next position. However, what I found more often than not was that redundancy made me feel so incredibly useless, especially as my job role was previously described as “fundamental” to the company. I went through a rather turbulent time during my redundancy. With my confidence in myself completely blown it was rather tiresome keeping my head above water. I tried as much as possible between job interviews to keep occupied – I spent more time with friends and family, I took day trips and I de-cluttered the entire house. Anything to keep me as busy as possible.

Situation number four was the most heartbreaking of all. Loosing my uncle to suicide in September was something that pushed me that little further into anxious state. Not only did his death come as a massive shock to the whole family, he left a hole in all our hearts that can never be replaced. We spent hours, upon hours trying to come to terms with what had happened and what we could have done to prevent it. I threw myself into finding a way to raise money and awareness for mental health, but to this day I have not come to terms with his death. And I think in some ways I never will, but I will strive to advocate for mental health in his memory.

In the shadow of my Uncle’s death I made one of the worst decisions I have made in a very long time. I accepted a job that I knew would not be good for me. Despite a strong gut feeling that something simply was not right, not having trust in the role and being messed around during the interview process – I stupidly accepted the job. Perhaps I was looking for something occupy my mind other than grief, perhaps I was a little desperate after being off work for several months, perhaps it was pure stupidity or even a mix of all three. Either way, despite meeting some lovely people, it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. If you have a gut feeling listen to it, I should have listened to mine as it turns out it was spot on. I was messed around from get go, I was thrown into activities that had no relation to the job role I applied for and found myself falling deeper and deeper into a depressive state on a daily basis. The role had a toxic affect to all aspects of my life. I found myself incapable of following my daily routine; getting out of bed to go to the gym was incredibly difficult, I found myself feeling enraged during the working week, I had no energy despite getting a full eight hours sleep each night and often saw myself crying during working hours. I persevered for months, often wanting to walk out and not come back, until I found a role with a company that was the polar opposite.

Within a week of starting the new role, I found a change in myself. My energy levels started to improve, I found myself smiling to and from work and my routine started to return to normal. I no longer felt rage, I no longer felt the need to cry at my desk and I started to enjoy the thought of going to work and doing my job again.

I would like to say that I am no longer an Anxious Annie, but that would be a lie. The incidents that have occurred over the last few years are still heavily in-bedded within me. The difference now is that I have identified these past events and know that they have been causes for my anxiety issues today – mainly due to the fact that they were not identified and dealt with at the time.

Now I will talk about it and work through it on a daily basis, because in doing so I am helping myself. And in helping myself, I hope to help others. The more we talk about it, the more lives will be saved.

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The Easter Walk with Ultra Challenges

Saturday 31st March saw me take part in the inaugural Easter Walk with Ultra Challenges. The event, starting and finishing at Windsor Racecourse saw walkers take to the Thames Path along a challenging 25 kilometre or 25 mile route.

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Arriving bright and early, on what was set to be a very wet and dull day weather wise, I quickly registered to receive my pack with bib number and had something small to eat. Soon enough the first wave was following a Zumba style warm up, eagerly anticipating the start of the challenge.

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Within no time at all we were off, following the Thames River path, passing Alexandra and Home Park to Runnymede where the half way and refreshment stop was situated.

In the first half of the challenge, with only a handful of walkers ahead of me, we experienced a path that was rather wet and muddy underfoot – at times rather slippery. Making it to the half way point in good time, I decided not to stop for refreshments. I was feeling good, I was feeling determined and I wanted to keep up the momentum.

 

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So I walked straight through the check point, with the many volunteers congratulating me for doing so well and cheering me on.

The second half of the challenge was rather different. Following the river in the first half meant that the route so far was reasonably flat. Around the 14 kilometre mark we saw ourselves having to cross fields that were extremely water logged, at some points over ankle deep. Once this had been crossed, we then had a rather challenging climb up a woodland staircase – something that pulled back my time completely and left me rather breathless.

Soon after this was accomplished the rains came. A heavy downpour that went on for well over an hour as I found myself following the route through residential streets and into Windsor Great Park.

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The paths were somewhat of a change from the muddy river paths, with some hills to keep it challenging. Following the route in Windsor Great Park, you had to turn right on to “The Long Walk” – the never ending path from the centre of the park up to Windsor Castle. The Iconic view down to the castle at the far end was rather impressive, even on a dull day. The challenge was to maintain the pace along the 2.64 mile path that runs from The Copper Horse statue to the Castle gates.

After a good while walking, at this point avoiding dog walkers, runners and tourists now out and about for the Bank Holiday I finally made it to the castle gate, rather relieved to be off the long, long path and following the route back through the streets of Windsor and back to Windsor Racecourse.

Rather tired and elated, I crossed the finish line in a time of 4:01. As I did it transpired that I was the first 25 kilometre walker to finish – those few ahead of me where completing the 25 mile challenge.

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So I happily accepted my medal, glass of bubbly and lots of Lindt chocolate Easter treats, before having a hot meal that was laid out by the event organisers.

I continued to watch the results once home, as different waves of walkers made it back to the finish, and I was pleased to see that my final ranking for the days event was number six!

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To say I am pleased with that result is an understatement – I was ecstatic! The months and months of getting in the walking miles and at times at a faster pace had clearly paid off. Before I decided to take on ultra challenges this year, I never imagined I would be able to sustain a fast walking pace and for the Easter Walk I had done just that. With an average pace of 15:16 minute miles I finished elated and exhausted.

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The Easter Walk was the second challenge I have completed with Ultra Challenges, and just like the London Winter Walk, everything from the organisation and communication in the lead up to the day, the whole day itself and the staff was second to none.

With the Isle of Wight challenge just five weeks away I can’t help but feel reassured, despite the nerves starting to kick in, as I know the event will be just as well organised and enjoyable.

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