The Isle Of Wight Challenge

When I signed up for the Isle of Wight Challenge with Ultra Challenges I never imagined anything but reaching the finish line.

From the minute I committed to the challenge, the training began. Pre Christmas saw me racking up the mileage alone, then as the New Year rolled in I started training with my team mates and old boot camp friends.

Every weekend would see us increasingly mileage, meeting in carparks in an un-godly hour of Sunday morning and building up our endurance for the challenge ahead. Training in wet, windy and, on numerous occasions, bitterly cold, snowy conditions.

We racked up hundreds of miles over the months in the lead up to the Isle of Wight. I felt that my fitness had taken a turn for the better. I was training with many others who were faster and taller than me – so my walking speed and endurance had improved. I have overcome many issues with footwear, socks and blisters. And although I was extremely nervous about the day itself – I was more prepared than I have ever been for any challenge.

I never imagined I would feel how I felt on race day.

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The morning saw us wake to a beautiful sunny morning. Not a cloud in the sky. And at 7am there was already no need for any more layers other than a t-shirt. We knew it was going to be warm, so we had to ensure we take precautions.

The excitement and nerves were evident at the start line. As a group in one of the last waves, we saw many participants head out before us. I felt good, I felt strong and I felt capable.

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Soon enough we were on our way from Chale, with stunning views along the south coast of the Island in front of us. Everyone in our group was in high spirits, chatting away and enjoying the scenery whilst tackling the task at hand.

We breezed our way through to the first rest stop, quickly taking in supplies and using the facilities, before continuing our way along the coastal path.

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The views along the route were simply to die for. With the sea sparkling below us and the sun shining so brightly you would have thought we were somewhere in the Mediterranean rather than a little island off the south coast of England.

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As the heat of the day continued to climb, so did our ascent. The terrain provided a number of up hill climbs towards the west coast of the island and the Needles. One particular climb was somewhat of a beast after Fresh Water Bay, just as you thought you were at the top you see the hill goes on and on – providing you fantastic views once at the top.

It was just after this climb that our second rest stop approached. Time to take a seat, change into a fresh pair of socks and refuel.

Here I discovered a couple of blisters on my baby toes that needed dressing before doing so. They were quickly seen to and with a change of footwear too – we were quickly on our way.

Needles to West Cowes was the second leg of the route. Still in high spirits we trundled on along the waterfront – extremely envious of those paddling, sitting down to an afternoon drink or just having an ice cream by the sea. With the heat now soaring – I would have given anything to kick off my shoes and go for a paddle myself.

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The previous day we were pre warned about a particularly bad stretch of path between 30-50km. We were advised that it was boggy, wet and we had to take extra caution. With the heat of the day I believed that this would not be the case when we reached the 30km mark. I was wrong. You knew when you reached it, there were queues of participants waiting to tackle the area.

Boggy does not cover it. It was the most soul destroying part of the route. Not only did you have to try and tackle the path as quickly as possible, but you also had to try to remain upright without loosing a shoe. It was relentless, it felt like it went on for miles and with the amount of people taking part it took forever. It slowed us down, draining precious energy and also led to aches we did not account for. No where in our training did we encounter a terrain as this – and we had trained over farmers fields in the winter.

Soon enough we were back on road and woodland paths, with another rest stop approaching.

I could no longer feel the ache of the blisters on my baby toes, but instead my ankles just throbbed. The boggy terrain and consequential uneven footing had taken its toll. Refuelling again (at this point I had got through 6 litres of fluid), taking some painkillers and rubbing in some Voltarol, and then it was time to head off. Next stop 52km break point, dinner and the switch to the night gear ready for the dark hours.

A shift happened between the two rest stops. The team broke away slightly, with a couple walking faster ahead and the majority slowing down slightly. The heat of the day was still intense, I was taking on more and more fluids – with little effect. I felt severely dehydrated, despite high volumes of water, I suddenly felt incredibly weak and nauseous.

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This section of the route saw us having to navigate numerous styes as we trekked through farm lands, and I found myself having less and less energy to lift my legs to get over.

Out of no where, around the 40km mark I started to cry. I had no idea why, but it kept coming. With the crying, came panic. I had not yet reached the half way point, we were a good few hours away from that, and I had no energy. I needed to eat, to get that much needed fuel to carry on, but I felt sick at the thought. I was in utter despair, going through a cycle of balling my eyes out, panicking and swearing profusely.

Then came another boggy section, with styes too. Shortly followed by a number of ambulances, attending to other participants suffering from heat exhaustion and even a rumoured broken leg. It seems the days heat and course had started to take its toll – we passed many others who were treating blisters on the curb, being rescued by loved ones and some just looking defeated. Those who were still walking in groups barely uttered a word to one another.

I don’t understand how I managed to find the energy; but spotting one of my team mates slightly ahead I picked up the pace. I knew I needed to keep up to get through to the half way point.

I had made a very difficult and upsetting decision to end my journey at 52km.

There was no energy left within me. The heat of the day and the terrain had taken everything from me, and as the sun began to set on our approach to the half way rest stop – I felt my temperature beginning to drop to the point that I was shivering uncontrollably.

I knew I could not make it through the night hours in my current state.

On seeing my face, the tears and the distress, my team mates knew it was not something they could talk me out of. The island had completely broken me. I had nothing left to give.

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And after waving them all off into the night, promising to be waiting for them on the other side, I felt a sense of relief and disappointment. Relief, knowing that I did not have to attempt to keep up with everyone else when I was feeling so drained, but so utterly disappointed and frustrated with my body for failing me.

I had trained hard for this one, walking further in training that I actually did on the day. But on race day itself my body bucked against the conditions.

Making the decision to finish at the 52km mark was soul destroying. It was not what I trained for, it was not in the plan. I never enter a race to say at the end “let’s just do half.” That’s not who I am. The finish line is always my goal. But after feeling wretched for miles and miles, I was genuinely concerned I would be putting my health at risk continuing into the night hours. So I made that call.

On crossing the 106km finish line the following morning, my team mates assured me I had made the right decision for me. I had finished the half distance in 11 hours 44 minutes, the 106km distance saw them on their feet for 27 hours with very little rest.

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And now, 5 days later I am still questioning my decision. I keep trying to think back and remember if it really was that bad. Was I really feeling so awful that the only choice was to give up? Not only do I still feel that I failed, I feel that perhaps I don’t have the determination I thought I had and that I am now just a quitter.

When so many people managed to fight through to the end, why could I not push myself on?

The Isle of Wight challenge will be one of those that will haunt me.

A race where I will always think “what if”?

In the wake of the event will I ever be able to stop questioning the decision I made and my overall ability?

Will I ever be able to lay it to rest?

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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London Landmarks Half Marathon

Sunday 25th March saw me take part in the inaugural London Landmarks Half Marathon.

As the title suggests, the brand new closed road run boasted a route full of cultural and iconic landmarks including Big Ben, St Pauls Cathedral, The Tower of London and the Shard, to name a few.

The 13.1 mile route is the only one of its kind to see participants go through both the City of London and Westminster.

I was one of 10,000 lucky runners to take part, starting on Pall Mall and with the first half following a similar route to London Winter Run, before heading into the city following plenty of twists and turns.

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Despite a lack of running of late, due to other training commitments, I was extremely excited to take part in this event. I knew that I would not expect a PB, as my focus had not been on running for several months, but at the same time I intended to do my best, focus on myself and not everyone around me.

And I did just that for well into half of the race. I started in the purple wave, and got off to a good start. Though it took me a good while to get into the race and find my own rhythm, pacing remained pretty steady. Passing St Paul’s Cathedral and further into the city I had the 2:15 pacer in eye sight ahead of me. Behind me and at times next to me I had the 2:30 pacer. So after the half way mark I knew If I kept at my steady pace I would possibly find myself finishing between my two best half marathon times.

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Lots of twists and turns occurred the further we ran into the city. So many that 8 miles into the race I found myself paying less and less attention to the road and disaster struck.

I lost my footing on uneven pavement, twisted my ankle and fell to the ground.

True London spirit kicked in and I quickly found myself surrounded by people checking I was okay, helping me up and even one runner, seeing that I was distressed, held my hand as I assured her I was going to carry on.

So that’s what I did.

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It is safe to say that my journey after this point was extremely difficult. Not wanting to cause myself further injury, but at the same time wanting to complete even if it did mean crawling, I developed a run/walk method to get myself to the finish line. Inclines and declines in the road, along with corners, saw me adopt a slower pace and at times a fast walking pace.

Eventually, I was on the home straight – running for several minutes then walking for a short period. The final 500 metres seemed to go on forever, the last part seeing me retrace those final steps from the London Marathon.

I heard spectators screaming my name and I went to a different place. I remembered that day almost a year ago. When I hit the final 500 metres and heard my Uncle screaming my name, by far the loudest in the crowd.

I imagined it was him cheering me on and screaming my name – not complete strangers. And it saw me through to the end at a running pace.

Slower than originally expected, completing in 2:40, however by no means my slowest half marathon. And good time considering the circumstances.

The biggest achievement of all – not quitting. Stupid perhaps, seeing as I have had to slow down the training this week due to injury, but quitting is never an option for me.

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The London Landmarks Half Marathon was by far one of the best organised races I have taken part in. From the lead up communication, the race pack (including a very bright running t-shirt), the entertainment on the day and the medal – everything was spot on.

I certainly hope I have the opportunity to run this one again next year!

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Preparing for the Isle of Wight Challenge

In six weeks time the Isle of Wight Challenge will be done and dusted, and most likely still evident with the aches and pains expected post challenge.

I have come a long way with my walking in the last few months and I have found a new love for joining others in a long walk through forests and around farmers fields in my local area. I never imagined I would enjoy walking for hours on end, but I have and in doing so I have become fond of the company I have in doing so.

With less than six weeks to go, it is important to keep up the momentum and to prepare myself fully with what is to come.

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Training will not let up over the coming weeks. Every Sunday sees me plan in a long walk with the team, with the mileage getting bigger and bigger until the final few weeks. I will need to ensure that I get my biggest walk (around 10 hours of walking), planned and accomplished well before the day itself. A night walk; starting off in the day and finishing later into the evening; would be advisable to help me cope with that need to carry on – despite the fatigue setting in.

With training I also need to ensure I carry on mixing up the activities – not purely relying on walking to see me through. So, I will be heading back into Body Pump sessions twice a week along with my usual Spinning classes to build up strength.

Preparing for all weathers is something we have most definitely been doing over the last few months. We have seen sub zero temperatures, snow, wind – you name it. So if snow is forecasted on the day we will be prepared. What we will not be prepared for, however, is warm temperatures and sun! Instead we will just have to remember provisions to help us through if we are lucky to be blessed with warm weather – sunglasses, hat, extra water and sunscreen is all on the list of things to take along.

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The Kit is vital to any challenge. Since training for the Isle of Wight challenge began I have trained in a variety of foot wear to find what works best for me. Starting with my runners, as I thought they would be perfect for the job at hand. They were not, as I found out during the London Winter Walk, though perfect for shorter running distances they did not provide the stability needed for long arduous walks. So the next walk saw me don the trainers that got me through the London Marathon. The support was perfect, as long as my feet remained dry. So they would be great, until we have to face rain – trainers were out.

The next port of call was walking boots. For several weeks I attempted to rack up the miles in heavy boots, each time willing that they “break in” so I could stop thinking about my feet with every step. Each week I failed, my feet remained a mess of cuts and blisters.

So I gave up on the boots.

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I headed to Go Outdoors to try on a pair of Salomon X Ultra GTX Walking shoes, after a recommendation from a friend. They fit like a glove, and after walking them in during the week I took them on their first long walk. No hot spots, no blisters and no cuts to be seen. I had finally found the footwear for me and teamed them up with a pair of 1000 mile socks. There have been no cuts and blisters since.

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Nutrition is something I am still learning about during walks. Some have advised to eat something small every two miles, some say every hour. Either way, with each walk I am ensuring I have an array of snacks, including sweets like Fruit Pastilles or Jelly Babies. One or two of these every hour or so enables me to keep my energy levels up.

However, it is the meals we will have to take on board before the challenge and at the half way point rest stop that causes me concern on the day. Therefore the big 10 hour walk cannot come soon enough. I can use this training walk as a test to see what works – talking a refreshment break with food just over half way.

Rest is just as important as training itself. Over the coming weeks I will have to ensure that I fit in rest days (something that I have previously been terrible at) and find ways to relax. Just this morning I headed to the gym to spend an hour in the spa – using the hot tub and steam room. I find in the absence of a bath, the hot tub soothes my muscles, the steam room helps with clearing my lungs and the two combined helps me get a restful sleep.

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And if I have time between now and challenge day I will also schedule in a Floatation session, to relax both my mind and body ahead of the big day.

Less than six weeks until I face the Isle of Wight Challenge, the countdown is well and truly on.

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Training with Friends!

When I heard I had a place in the London Marathon back in October 2016 I made the most sensible decision to stop my boot camp membership.

With the long gruelling months ahead, getting the miles under my belt, I did not have the time to think about the comfort of the group boot camp sessions or risk injuries running around in the mud with others.

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The prospect was daunting, going out alone and attempting to keep myself motivated. Let’s face it, trying to push yourself when you know it is you and you alone, when there is no one to keep you going at your lowest moments, having no one to talk to, it’s is almost as hard as the training itself.

That said I quickly got used to my own company, and once the London Marathon was complete I did not rush back into group sessions or classes. In fact, I continued running – though not to the volumes seen pre-marathon – I took myself off to the weekly Parkrun and I continued to enter in shorter races throughout the summer.

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When the weather started to change, and the cold, dark nights drew in I longed for some company and the motivation to keep me going. I changed my gym membership and discovered some of the best Spinning classes which also allowed me to interact with fellow fitness enthusiasts again!

At the same time I quickly signed up for the Isle of Wight Challenge after a friend sent it over to me as a suggestion.

I did not even think about how I was going to train for the challenge. I was used to spending the winter months training alone. So I just got into the swing of long walks straight away.

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However, once Christmas and New Year had passed, those friends who had also signed up started to get into the training mindset. Planning walks, discussing tactics and even their kit.

I found myself on my own less and less. Long walks started to get scheduled in once a month – with our first group walk being a massive 20 miles.

From then on we have found ourselves frequently donning the walking boots, early on a Sunday morning. Sometimes walking the longer distances along the river into London, sometimes a shorter rural, yet hilly, route through Epping or Hatfield Forrest.

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What I have discovered over the most recent weeks is that I missed having the company whilst training. The London Marathon taught me that I don’t necessarily need it to get the job done, but having someone beside you, someone to talk to, people to keep you going just makes training less of an arduous task. I find myself thinking less and less about the miles we have to cover due to the fact that the company is so enjoyable, time flies by with everyone pushing each other to keep going and the camaraderie is something special.

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With many, many more miles to go before we take on the 65.8 miles I feel so comforted knowing I am walking with great company.

Training is certainly more enjoyable with friends.

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Lessons learned from The London Marathon.

As I step out early at weekends, heading to meet fellow team mates and train for our long Isle of Wight adventure I often spot runners. Runners racking up the miles, up early to get their training done before most people are awake. Running early so they can salvage as much of their weekend as humanely possible.

When I see these runners, I cannot help but reminisce. Rewind twelve months and I was one of those runners.

Whilst I have my own challenge to contend to in 2018, I cannot help but think back to those cold, dark months putting all my energy into running and very little else.

And as such, I wanted to think back to that time to share the lessons I learned training and completing the London Marathon in 2017.

The road to the London Marathon is a lonely one. The long winter months, pounding the streets – most likely alone (as lets face it, there are not many people who will run a 20 miler with you if they don’t need to) can start to get to you. The loneliness can be just as hard as the running itself. With no one to talk to, no one to keep you going – it is just damn boring! When I voiced my feelings during the training months, many friends told me “you will not feel lonely on race day.” And at the time I struggled to believe them. I could not think that far ahead.

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Race day was a completely different atmosphere from training. Being surrounded by thousands of runners, spectators and volunteers – you simply do not have the time to feel lonely. In fact, at times you sometimes long for a little quiet space of your own.

If you are feeling the loneliness of training, I promise you race day will be the total opposite. Even strangers will be screaming your name!!

Get a gait analysisIf you have not had one already, I would advise to get this checked as soon as possible. After struggling with a groin injury during training I went to get my gait checked and discovered I was wearing the wrong trainers. As a heel striker I needed more support, and the trainers I was running in did not offer the support I needed. In fact, the specialists informed me I would not complete the London Marathon without injury if I continued in the trainers I was running in. So new trainers were purchased in time to wear them in for the big day. So – GET THE GAIT ANALYSIS!

SELF DOUBT is the biggest hindrance during training. And at this point of time there will be many runners doubting their ability. Constantly asking yourself “how am I going to do this” is normal. We don’t train so it will be easy, we train to be able to tolerate the pain.

Running a Marathon is hard! It is supposed to be hard. If it was easy everyone would be doing it. Take pride in knowing you are training to accomplish one of the most amazing experiences you will face.

Stop comparing yourself to other runners. This is your race, take it at your pace. Yes, everyone would love to run a little faster, a little better and it is natural to be a little competitive. However, at the end of the day whether you run at a 8 minute mile pace or a 10 minute mile pace, the distance is still the same. You have to run the same course, the medal and sense of achievement upon completion is still the same. Stop focusing on others, focus on your own journey.

Nutrition is key. By now runners taking part in a marathon will know what works. You will need to refuel during the race, you will need to have a hearty breakfast before crossing the start line – so make sure you find something that works for your body. After trial and error I found the perfect option for me. After discovering the hard way that energy gels do not sit well with me, I discovered that jelly sweets (mine were from Decathalon) offered me just what I needed to get through a long run, along with electrolytes in my water (rather than the high sugary drinks on course). That said, I always found refuelling post run difficult – more often than not, not wanting to eat.

 

Don’t try anything new in the last few weeks, especially kit. There is nothing worse than chafing, blisters or stomach issues in the lead up or race day itself.

Your mind and body can do amazing things. Once you dig deep and push through the pain you will begin to realise you are capable of the unimaginable. When you get to the point where your legs just keep going, no matter the speed, you will find that you are in a place where mind and body are working together to achieve something amazing.

You will NOT be last! There is a misconception some have, myself included, that you will be last over the finish line. You will not be the last one to finish! The majority of London Marathon runners are not elite runners, and will finish in over four hours. Stop worrying about being last. And if you are last, who actually cares? You have finished a marathon!!

London has a lot of love. I underestimated the power of London in the lead up. The love that surrounds the London Marathon is something else. I cannot begin to describe how powerful the crowd were en route. Friends, family and even complete strangers can carry you through. I was lucky enough to have some amazing support throughout the race. I had a group of friends chasing me throughout the day – cheering me on at Cutty Sark, the Isle of Dogs and again in the final 500 meters – I had the Willow Foundation cheering me on at Tower Bridge and again at the finish line, My sister-in-law was awaiting a sweaty hug along Victoria Embankment, then my family (including my late Uncle, who’s cheers I heard from far away) waiting by Buckingham Palace and finally the first face I saw after picking up all my belongings – my other half! Never underestimate the power of a friendly face in the crowd to keep you going.

Training and running the London Marathon was without a doubt the toughest challenge I have faced to date. When I look back to the day I cannot help but swell with pride. I have one of the most amazing medals, I have experienced one of the best races in the world and I did that! No one else. I accomplished something I never thought possible.

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So when you are struggling to get through, just imagine crossing that finish line!

I promise no matter how you are feeling now, the feeling you have when a random stranger places the medal over you neck is worth the hundreds of miles, the tears, the aches and pains and the frustration to get to the finish.

 

Stepping off the Emotional Rollercoaster

It is safe to say that the last nine months of my life have panned out a little different than intended. I never imagined that I would be made redundant from a job I had had for twelve years, or that I would loose someone so very dear to me, or even that I would have to accept that relationships I valued highly were not as cherished on the other side.

Life, at times, is simply a hell of a rollercoaster of emotions and obstacles that we have to try to ride without falling off.

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Its not easy. At times, when you feel the lowest, when the situations thrown at you just seem too much to get through and when people cause you pain, it is very hard to keep a positive mindset. It is very easy to want to give in, to curl up and ignore everything and everyone. But we all know it is not healthy.

For me, as always, trying to remain positive during turbulent times is such a struggle. Trying to think ahead, to think of the bigger picture and remember there are things we simply have no power over requires such strength, when you are most likely at your weakest.

But I now am determined to step off my emotional rollercoaster, to channel my emotions into positivity and continue to drive forward, to carry on my adventures.

And in doing so I consider ways I strive to achieve and at the same time help other to do the same.

  • Stop! Think! Try not to get carried away by emotions. Take a moment to think about what the emotions are, what are causing them and what can be done to alleviate these emotions and keep them in check.
  • Consider the bigger picture. If the situation that is causing your emotions to surge is something you can change, what can be done to take control? Look at the situation in a different perspective. A few weeks after being made redundant, many close friends and family said “think of this as an opportunity.” And it was, I wanted to leave the company for years anyway, so being made redundant gave me time. Time to look for something else, to start a new chapter and most importantly it gave me time in the summer to spend with loved ones.
  • Acceptance. It is not easy to accept situations that cause us upset, grief and pain. However, until you accept the situation you cannot move on, you will hold on to negativity. We have to accept there are things we cannot change, and we just have to learn how to live with those feelings in a healthy way.
  • Forgiveness. It is something we don’t like to give. It is something I personally have issues with. Forgiving those that have caused my pain, my grief and my emotional turmoil has been, and still is, hard as it coincides with my anger. You need to let go of the anger, so that you can forgive. Grudges, resentment and anger can be so incredibly toxic. We need to let go of the toxic energy. Forgiving people, even if you don’t physically tell them you forgive them is so much better for both mind and body.
  • Listen to your feelings. Even if you do feel ready to step off your own rollercoaster, that doesn’t mean those feelings will never arise again. When they do, stop and listen. Listen to yourself, think about why you are feeling that way and find someone to talk to. Find something that will help you work through the feelings. I have always found great solace in exercise. No matter how upset I am, zoning out running or spinning has always been a great stress reliever. Going to the cinema is another – sitting in a dark room with a bucket of popcorn escaping in a movie is usually a excellent way to take time out.
  • Focus on a positive mental attitude. If you feel yourself falling into your emotions tell yourself “I must remain positive.” Let go of the bad thoughts and negative feelings.
  • Share. Our mental health is just as important as physical health. When those suffering do not share their feelings, their thoughts and their anguish it can be detrimental to their mental health. Suffering alone is not necessary. Share your feelings, talk to loved ones and if you really need it – seek professional help.

Through the most turbulent time of my life I have learned a great deal about my own strength, my own mental health and how important it is to surround yourself with those who are able to ride the rollercoaster with you.

Despite these hard times I have learned to find the ability to let go the negative, to forgive those who have caused anguish. I continue to channel my emotions into exercise to encourage mental well being.

And I will forever advocate for those who can no longer fight. To fight to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. To remind others that it’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay not to talk about it.

Let’s talk about it!

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