London Winter Walk

Sunday 14th January saw me take on my first challenge of the year, London Winter Walk – A 20km walk organised by Action Challenge as part of the Ultra Challenge series.

It was the first event I have taken part in with these guys and was booked as a attempt to kick start my training in preparation for the Isle of Wight challenge, also organised by Action Challenge.

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The walk promised the opportunity to get in some early training for one of the many events they have scheduled for the year ahead.

Setting out from Southwark Park, at the break of dawn in my case, the route saw participants pass over Tower Bridge, west along the River Thames into the City – taking in many of the capitals iconic landmarks en route. A quick rest stop, lasting around two minutes for myself, just after the half way point in Vauxhall, before the route sees you walk along the South Bank, crossing Blackfriars, Millennium, Southwark and London Bridges on the way back to base camp.

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Starting in the first wave, at a bright and early start of 8:30am, gave me somewhat of an advantage. For the first half of the route, there were very few pedestrians – especially in the city area – so there were not many people to weave in and out of. This enabled me to see a good time for the first half of the challenge – 18th in my wave.

 

The way back to base camp differed slightly. Growing numbers of tourists, cyclists and runners started to appear – slowing the pace and generally making you more aware of your surroundings.

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That said, by the time I was heading into the 19th kilometre it was not even midday. As some of the final waves were heading out at the start of the walk, I was finishing. And the timing was not too shabby either – 3 hours 9 minutes! My time saw me finish 22nd in the 8:30am wave, as the 10th Female.

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Obviously, throughout the day my rankings dropped somewhat as other participants completed in each wave. However, I was still considerably high up the charts considering this was the first walking challenge I had taken part in. Finishing 64th over all (out of 1600 participants) and being the 41st Female.

I took great pride in my results. I am not accustomed to walking challenges. Don’t get me wrong, I walk fast – years of commuting has done wonders for my walking speed. However, I have never walked as fast and at distance, as I did on Sunday.

Fuelled by those around me (not that there were many after the first hour), I power walked like I have never power walked before. I saw myself becoming a tad competitive when those more seasoned walkers over took me. I hated the feeling of someone approaching from behind. And when I crossed the finish line, I did so with no one in around me at an average pacing of just over 15 minutes per mile.

A pace that will definitely not be attempting for the Isle of Wight challenge, that’s for sure.

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The London Winter Walk was something new to my training.

Having run so many races over the last few years simply walking was a nice change to the norm. In the lead up I did not feel the pressure I would normally feel when participating, I didn’t feel nerves and I felt uncharacteristically relaxed.

The walk also made me a little more mentally and physically prepared for the challenge ahead. I now am aware that despite my trainers being wonderfully suitable for running, for walking they are not. Where you need the bounce when pounding the streets at a faster pace, with walking you need a little more stability and support. By the last kilometre I could feel every cobble in the street!

It also made me aware of pacing. Whilst the 15 minute mile pace was fine for a shorter distance I need to be aware of slowing it down as my training walks become longer and arduous.

The final factor I take away from the London Winter Walk, and one that has been mentioned to me on numerous occasions, is that walking is not easy. For someone who has spent the last few years developing my running pace and mileage, it was incredibly difficult to stop myself from breaking into a run a times and keeping the steady walking pace. Its not as easy as it looks!

The event was one that I would definitely look at completing again. The organisation by Action Challenge was outstanding; the staff were friendly, the rest stop had a multitude of snacks and refreshments, and to finish off a freshly cooked hot meal upon completion.

London Winter Walk is the first of the Ultra Challenges this year; with the Easter Walk (25km from Windsor) and the massive Isle of Wight challenge (106km) both booked in.

I am sure to become an ultra challenge addict. Not stopping until I have completed them all!

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Exercise and mental well being

We have all seen the rather amusing meme’s stating “I run because punching people is frowned upon” or “I exercise because completely exhausting myself is the most relaxing part of my day.” And yes they are amusing, but all jokes aside there is an element of truth in these statements.

During the most adverse times in ones life finding an outlet to channel any stress, anxiety or grief is an important factor in working through ones troubles and ensuring that mental health and well being is maintained.

In my late teens and early twenties, when I found myself in a situation that challenged me mentally or caused me adverse stress, I often turned to partying hard. Back then I thought there was nothing better than deciding not to deal with my problems, doing Tequila shots was more my vice, thinking the next day they wont be there. Obviously the next day and the hangover always was, along with the deepened feelings of anxiety and depression. As the years went by, and my experience in life continued, the partying ways lessened and my love for Tequila shots did too.

By mid to late twenties and now in my almost mid thirties my outlet has changed. During any times that cause me higher levels of stress I have turned to exercise. Exercise has been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. It improves self esteem and cognitive function. And for that small amount of time when you are running, spinning or boxing it out in Body Combat your mind forgets. You can go to your happy place simply by sweating it out.

Over the past few years I have struggled on and off with stress, desperately trying not to head back to the depressive years of my late teens/ early twenties. And every time exercise (and a few bubbles on the side) has been there to help me manage my stress levels. During these times I simply spent extra time channelling any negative energy into my performance.

Luckily, over the years, I have developed the ability to recognise when I need to “sweat it out” and when I just need to have a few drinks with friends. Some are not so lucky. Some, perhaps people with deeper levels of mental health, cannot find an outlet or simply don’t talk about their feelings because they are embarrassed or don’t know how to express themselves. It is these people we need to look out for and take time for.

I have many friends who have dealt with various forms of depression, anxiety and grief. The blessing with them, is that (I hope) they always have people to talk to, even if they don’t find an outlet to deal with the pain. And it is painful. Yes there are other things going on in the world that are a hell of a lot worse. But in that moment, at that time, what ever that person is feeling is bigger than anything else.

I have often been told in recent years that I have been an inspiration. That seeing me push through has inspired people to run. That I have been the heart and soul of many teams. And most importantly I have had a positive reflection on life.

Right now, I have to say I only hope its true. As during a stormy part of my life, whilst going through an experience I never imagined I would face, I am using all the strength I have gained. I am using my experiences and the positivity to pull through some tough times.

My outlet to do so is simple. Exercise.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, It’s about learning to dance in the rain”

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