Where it started

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

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Reasons: this sums it up

A posting by the excellent Stuart Humber, one of my colleagues on the mad but wonderful Mother Nature's Diet journey, and himself responsible for the Mother Nature's Fitness partner site. This simple statement, to me, sums up the whole darn thing.

Don't you think?

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Walk not run

Back in 2007-08, I was an enthusiastic runner. For some eighteen months, running - albeit very slowly (a sub-10 minute mile was a big achievement) and not far (5K was about my sensible limit) - was a big part of my life, and my main tool in keeping my weight under control. I'd got to a stage when I would run for around two miles about 3-4 times each week. It was an efficient use of time - I could do a decent workout in around thirty minutes - and of course, the adrenalin hit was always special. I ran a couple of the Wroxham 5K races, and my personal best was 31'45" (August 2008).

Unfortunately, a nasty episode of plantar fasciitis in my left foot in the autumn of 2008 (which lasted for two very painful years) messed me up; and as I started to get back to serious walking, in June 2013, I had an argument with a pothole in the road, took a serious sprain to my right ankle (yes, that's one injury each side), and I knew that my days of high-impact activity were probably over. Even now, nearly three years on, the right ankle has a constant niggle of discomfort. So I stick to walking.

Watching, as I type this, the inspiring London Marathon, I feel somewhat wistful. It would have been such a brilliant entry on my Life List. So I was encouraged to find this article, which explains why there is no reason why one shouldn't power-walk a marathon. There are some wonderful events that encourage walking rather than running. I'd already added a similar idea to the List: "charity trek, e.g. Great Wall of China".

In both cases, I'll need to bump up the training. My present schedule is 70 miles per month, which I'm proud of achieving (I did 60 miles minimum per month for 12 months, and then last month was my first 70 mile achievement; on course for April success too). My usual walk is around 3.5 miles, with the occasional 5-miler when I get the chance. To successfully walk a marathon in a day (taking, I would guess, around 7-8 hours) I need to ramp up those distances!

One last thing. I have, in fact, walked a marathon (or very nearly) once before: when I was just eleven years old. It was a school sponsored walk, and I managed 24 miles. You can read about it here. So if I could walk that distance aged 11, I'm damn sure I can manage it more than forty years later.

Watch this space. Or come and join me.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Budgie-hooping: getting there

This activity looks set to become a regular thing, so I promise not to bore with every single darn session. However, this one was particularly notable. Session 5, and I finally manage to get into the hoop - just - without standing on the instructor; and once again (with continuing help!) did the splits in mid-air underneath the hoop.

My core strength is still pitiful and needs loads of work, and graceful I am not; but I'm mighty proud of how far I have come.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Ride a bike

I didn't have a bicycle when I was a child, for the very sensible reason that we lived on a large major A-road in east London and my parents didn't much like the idea; I couldn't blame them. I used a bike occasionally during my twenties, as my first husband was a keen cyclist and we used the machines mostly to get to the pub... However, it's never been a method of transport I've felt very confident with, and I haven't tried it much since - and whenever I have, I've been very wobbly and way out of my comfort zone.

So: time to get a bike and get over my fears. I consulted with my good friend Huw (known as the BFG): a startlingly fit cycling nut of 6'5" (as well as being one of my most useful singers, as he has a splendid bass voice). Huw took a look at some of the secondhand bike adverts, recommended a 'hybrid' type (for town and trail, it turns out), and off I went.

I got this lady for £40 and was well pleased. Those of you who know anything about bikes will spot that the front wheel is actually the wrong way round; having got it out of the back of the car, I didn't realise that it COULD go the wrong way round.

So that was why it felt odd trying to ride it. Well, what do I know?!

Now to get the BFG over to check it over, adjust seat height and anything else that needs adjusting, explain to me about gears (apparently it has 18 of the things), recommend kit...

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Reasons: always be a rookie

A useful article popped up on Facebook the other day that gave me a useful definition: "challenge yourself to always be a rookie at something". I've spent a lot of my life refining that which I already know, perfecting it. Obviously, in a professional sense, I need to be the best I can be for my clients. However, in my personal life, it's become more and more limiting: I've built up a wall around myself ("if I can't do it right I won't do it at all").

When I was a child, I received a school report which is burned into my brain: "good at everything except games". Actually, that was a bit of an overstatement - science, for example, was never a natural area for me - but in earlier days, my academic achievements in the basic "three Rs" were fairly near the top of the class. This resulted in my inability to cope with being bad at anything. A few swimming galas in which I consistently came last - I have a couple of silver medals for coming second in a two-horse race - put me off sporting activities of any kind, big time. It took me until my late 40s to realise that you don't have to be good at sport to benefit from it, and to enjoy it.

While some of these new activities of mine (especially the 'budgie-hooping') are proving to be rather addictive, much more than one-off ticks on the list, it's also a new experience for me to try something out and not worry about 'getting it right'. Safety is paramount, of course; but perfect expertise is not necessary, and sometimes isn't even desirable. I now know that I can scuba-dive for a few minutes without coming up for air. It would take a lot more work to get me to a point at which I would comfortably do a 'real' dive. I may progress with that; I may not. But that first scuba experience was thrilling and important in itself, without perfection. And that's the approach I want to start all these activities with - and then see where they take me.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Scuba try-dive

Now, this was a challenge I never thought I'd attempt.

Our good friend Milton has been a keen scuba-diver for many years, and has often offered to take me on a 'try-dive' - giving the chance to have a first go at using the complex equipment and to experience the extraordinary sensation of breathing underwater, but in the reassuringly safe environment of a swimming pool. Until now, I'd always refused. However, when it came up on my friends' suggestions for my Life List, I took a deep breath (above water) and said OKAY - not least because we were due to visit Milton and Dorothy for our post-Easter break.

In the event, our short visit didn't allow Milton to act as my instructor due to timetables (so I thought I'd get out of it for the time being). However, they weren't going to let me off that easily, and Milton's fellow instructor, Sue, stepped in. So on the last day of our holiday, I headed off with Sue to the HQ of Bolton Area Divers.

Scuba is one of those activities which is completely safe at the same time as being potentially dangerous - rather like driving a car, really. In other words, as long as you learn carefully, follow the rules, don't panic and do as your instructor says, you'll have an exciting, enjoyable and magical experience.

The first 90 minutes or so of my experience consisted of learning. Watching the DVD, receiving instruction from Sue, answering questions to make sure I understood what was involved, signing disclaimer forms, being fitted for fins, wetsuit, mask and the rest of the kit, learning what all the tubes and controls were for and how to fit them together, experiencing the extraordinary weight of the air tank on the back. Then, after a drive to the local swimming pool, we spent about another 90 minutes in the pool itself.

My first attempts were very strange and mostly infused with panic. Being a performer, I'm used to the 'in through the nose - out through the mouth' technique of breathing, so the fact that one has to leave the nasal breathing out of the equation at all times took a lot of getting used to. My first couple of tries resulted in a panic-stricken splutter back to the surface. Breathing through the reg (regulator) and never through the nose was incredibly weird.

However, as the brain tuned in to what was needed, and with Sue's patient encouragement, I managed it. First, just face into the water while in the shallows; then swimming along the surface but with face submerged; then sitting on the bottom of the pool; and finally, swimming along the bottom of the pool (although still in fairly shallow water). By now, I was managing to stay under the water and breathing through the reg for a few minutes at a time.

Among all this, I also needed to get the hang of inflating and deflating the BCD (buoyancy control device), which is effectively an inflatable waistcoat. One of the myriad of tubes is used to inflate (keeping you nearer the surface) and deflate (allowing you to sink deeper). This took a lot of getting used to!

Lastly, Sue weighted a couple of hoops, and set them up for me to swim through. The sense of achievement was immense. Comically, I ended up collecting the hoops (they got caught on the cylinder) so by the end of the manoeuvre, I looked more like a triumphant sea-lion than anything else.

I didn't manage to pluck up the courage to go to the deepest point in the pool on this occasion; and I know that I'd need to practice in the safety of the swimming pool quite a bit before I might feel brave enough to try the Open Water course. The thought of 'real' scuba - and, of course, underwater photography - is hugely exciting and still pretty scary.

However, having learned the basic 'breathing underwater' technique, I also realise that this might open up the possibilities of snorkelling, which is something else I'd love to try, and previously wouldn't have attempted.

Sue was a brilliant instructor, patient, thorough and clear, and I was so glad that I let Milton talk me into trying out this amazing experience. It's pushed my boundaries once again - and I'm feeling really proud of myself!

Friday, 1 April 2016

Climbing through trees: Go Ape

My relationship with heights has always been a slightly uneasy one. Happy enough with aeroplanes and with the higher points of the Eiffel Tower, I've never been keen on the prospect of tandem sky-dives or similar. (You won't find that on the life list. Yet.)

However, having read online about the extraordinary Go Ape! network, I reckoned that this was something I wanted to try. Zip wires, ladders, cargo nets and the rest, carefully erected throughout a variety of forests across the country, excellent instructors & supervisors, tuition and security and harnesses.

I wasn't going to try it alone. It's really not my poor husband's bag, so I borrowed somebody else's: my best friend Dorothy's husband, Milton. We were visiting them in Lancashire for our regular post-Easter break, and one of the courses is in Rivington near their home in Bolton, so this seemed a great opportunity.

The pre-course instruction was thorough and reassuring. You tried out the process of clipping harnesses on and off at various points - you're never without at least one connection to safety - before moving on to the first of five courses.

The beginner's course allows you to try out the sequences of safety harnesses and clips while still only a very short distance above the ground; then across one wire while holding another; and finally a short zip wire. Confidence built, we moved on to the second.

Now we were much higher above the ground; across wires and wooden horizontal slats, and then our first major challenge: the Tarzan rope into the cargo net. Supported by the harnesses, the major confidence challenge was simply to jump off the platform and allow yourself to swing to a point that you could grab the cargo net, then climb across to the next platform. Having finally plucked up the courage, I swung a couple of times but then grabbed the net and managed to get myself across to safety.

Milton, following behind me, caused hilarity with his loud yell of 'Mother!' as he jumped...

Next came a much longer and higher zip wire. I'd got the hang of it by this time: if you lean all your weight into the harness before taking the step off the platform, it's much less scary.

The third course included greater challenges. Stepping onto loops of rope meant you finished up almost doing the splits as you went. The platforms were much higher in the trees. And it was very windy, the higher you got; and then it rained. We were still warmed with adrenaline and going well, despite (in my case) tense with a combination of fear and excitement. (We had, by the way, lost our photographers by this time: they were freezing to death as well and went off shopping!)

However, we got to a point where we needed to climb the 'parrot ladder' (hand and footholds were horizontal poles either side of a central point), and the safety harness needed to be attached. Unfortunately, a previous user had managed to get the harness rope caught up around the ladder, and Milton's best efforts couldn't shift it. We were up the highest tree in the course, and freezing cold. He blew his safety whistle, and one of the instructors very promptly got to us and sorted it out; but ten minutes of hugging a tree and not daring to look down, in increasing wind and rain, left me very uncomfortable.

I managed the parrot ladder, then the following wire bridge, and then the longest zip wire so far: it actually went across the corner of the reservoir (the view was great). By now, I'd got the hang of the fact that I needed to lean back fully into the harness before launching into space, and really enjoyed the mad ride. However, after our rather nerve-wracking wait on the parrot ladder platform and being frozen rigid, I decided it was time to call it a day - for that occasion, at least.

I know that I'd love to have another go. It's still a challenge to my courage - it's pretty scary being up that high - but also a test of trust and trying something outside your comfort zone. So I've marked this item as part-done: the next part is to complete a full course. There's another course much nearer my home - in Thetford, on the Norfolk/Suffolk border - and I have a long list of local friends who would love to come too. So watch this space: the likelihood is that we'll organise a summertime visit to Thetford with big kids and little'uns, and see how we get on there.

And as for the Bolton experience: despite the cold and nerves, I truly loved it and was so glad I'd done it. Milton was a brilliant companion, reassuring and patient, and I couldn't have done it without him.

Hooray for swinging through trees!

Full photo album available here.