Where it started

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

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Walking: the Nordic way

When I was on my sponsored Bridges walk, I saw quite a number of folks - of all ages - walking (usually much faster than me) with lightweight poles. I'd come across references to the technique several times recently, and having discovered that the lovely Barbara Ives occasionally leads walks and runs training sessions, I resolved to give it a go, booking myself in to one of those sessions for just after our return from holiday.

So, having arrived back in Norfolk on the Friday afternoon, I found myself setting out on the Saturday morning for the recreation ground near Catton Park, just to the north of Norwich. We were lucky to have a beautiful day for it, just a touch of autumnal cool and wonderful sunshine. Including Barbara, six of us were there.

Barbara started by passing out the lightweight poles and explaining how to adjust the length to suit our height. We warmed up with a few stretches (using the poles for balance), then moved on the walking technique.

The key words to remember were 'soldiers and lemons'... the 'soldier' reference being to keeping the arms as straight as possible in a marching action (while moving the poles and managing not to drag them on the ground); and the 'lemons' being ensuring that the front of the foot pushes fully down (as though squeezing a lemon under the sole), using the whole length of the foot. We all found quickly that these guidelines resulted in a much more upright posture and unusually rapid pace - and arms & shoulders that were unaccustomed to so much activity!

We then moved across the road into Catton Park for a circuit of around two miles. I found it quite difficult to keep the arms straight and the rhythm of the poles going at first, but this had improved by the end of the walk.

Here's the group pausing for breath and consultation - and selfies! - partway round.

It was easy to see why some of my walking colleagues on the Bridges Walk had kept up such a punishing pace. I think if I tried that I'd need to get some of the little rubber 'feet' to stop to clunking of the sticks on hard pavement! It would be interesting to see how differently the technique works if I try it on our beaches - always a challenge at the best of times, especially if the tide is high and the walking therefore on soft sand.

Finally, we returned to the car park after a very enjoyable couple of hours. I would definitely love to get some poles for myself - although they're not cheap (the version we were using are around £70). However, they'd be a great investment and would last for ages. Let's see how the post-holiday client bookings go...

This was another highly enjoyable new 'lifelist' experience - well worth trying for a new approach to a commonplace fitness activity, and one which may well become a more regular part of my life. Meantime, it was a lovely group, a great instructor and a beautiful day. What's not to like?

Click here for information on Nordic Walking, and click here for Barbara Ives' website.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Snorkelling with seals

A few photos are shown below (click to view a larger version); you can see the whole album here.

When I did my scuba try-dive, way back in April, that opened up another possibility: snorkelling. Having got to grips with the rather bizarre sensation of breathing through the mouth alone, I figured that the surface-of-water nature of the rather more straightforward activity (and without a socking great tank on the back!) would be OK: and it was. Finding myself with the opportunity to try this out during our holiday in the beautiful Isles of Scilly was a real delight.

The Scilly Seal Snorkelling team is based on the tiny island of St Martin's. High winds on our original intended trip (Friday) scuppered that day, but Saturday was fine. As the tripper boats don't go out from St Mary's early enough, Anna and Lewis collected us from the quay in their RIB (rigid inflatable boat) to travel to St Martin's. That in itself was an exciting experience - belting through the waves!

Once at the quay, we were kitted out with the various layers of wet-suit - including boots, gloves, hood - then fins and mask. (The hire of all the kit was included in the very reasonable £45 session fee - I only needed to take swimsuit and towel.)

Then it was back in the RIB to travel to one of the many tiny, uninhabited (except for the wildlife) islands near St Martin's. Once anchored up in a bay, from which we could see dozens of seals basking on the rocks, we had a debrief, and then we were in.

I was oddly nervous as we started - mainly getting back used to the no-nose-breathing. However, Anna stayed close to me until I found confidence, and I was soon able to breathe through the kit and remain with face submerged for long periods of time.

My only handicap was (as with scuba) my short sight: obviously I couldn't wear specs, and I didn't want to risk losing my (rigid gas permeable) contact lenses. However, it's also true that the goggles and being underwater corrected my vision to an extent so I was quite happy. I've decided that for any further similar adventures I'll get a supply of disposable soft lenses.

The seals are wonderfully inquisitive. Within a few minutes of us all getting into the water, they'd started to come up to investigate. As Anna had warned us, they often approach from behind, nibbling our fins, and can make you jump when suddenly a large mammal swims around your legs without warning! You can see the chap below on the right of the photo watching us as we were all looking under the water...

The other bit of kit that I dearly wished I had was an underwater camera. When (not if) I get the chance to do this again, I'll definitely invest in one. Seal after seal swam across my vision, sometimes some yards below and sometimes right up to me; the closest twined around my lower body very gently before swimming off. There were also small fish, a few inches long; and beautiful fronds of seaweed dancing from the rocks.

I popped back up to the boat briefly to share with my husband (who was watching and taking photos) what I'd been seeing. He told me that the seals had been following us when we didn't know it:

... and also coming right up to the boat to check it out.

The wetsuit ensured that the water didn't feel cold at all, and only right at the end of the 90 minute swim did I start to feel that it was time to come out. As I relaxed into the environment and became confident, I felt increasingly in awe of the opportunity I'd been given: interacting with and observing these gentle, playful creatures was such a privilege.

Finally our time was up, and we all returned to the boat. Hot ginger tea and Twix bars were on offer to revive us. We all shared experiences as the RIB returned to St Martin's, clearly all thrilled and excited by the encounter.

The tide was low as we reached the island, so our final job of the trip was for the swimmers to get out and wade in pulling the boat containing the non-swimmers! It was probably less than half a mile, but that was quite a workout...

The whole of our visit to the Scillies was a true delight and a wonderful experience; this morning's excursion was indisputably a major highlight for me. Another challenge to my notions of what I could and wanted to do, an extraordinary encounter with nature; special beyond words. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Long walk: the London Bridges Trek

The aim: to be able to walk a marathon distance in June 2017 without keeling over. The training: gradually increase the distance of my longest walks, and add in more medium-length walks, for the intervening 9 months. The additional benefit: sponsorship to fund-raise for my choice of charities.

Having managed two 12-13 mile walks in recent weeks, this was my first 15 miler: a walk across the bridges of London, from Putney to Tower. Roughly 25K (15 miles). I publicised it, asked around, and was rewarded with generosity and support from many friends.

I lost two dear friends to pancreatic cancer - which is (I believe) the fastest, least often detected, lowest survival rate cancer in that ghastly cast list - during the last couple of years. So - as much for awareness-raising as for scientific research - I chose to support Pancreatic Cancer UK.

At the time of writing, I've raised £610 (plus in many cases gift aid). Thank you, all, so much. (The link to my fundraising page is here.)


Additional bonus: meet up with work colleague of (whisper it) almost 30 years ago. The fabulous Janice was walking with some present-day workmates, in aid of Small Steps (helping young children with disabilities). I hadn't seen her since a reunion in 2011, and before that since I moved jobs in 1988 or so. We won't leave it so long next time.

So: off we went. My 'wave' set off at 11:45 from Putney.

It was a very damp day. By the time we reached the 5K mark, it was raining heavily - although thankfully, most of the rest of the day was no more than a drizzle. Still pretty soggy by the end, though. Funnily enough, it didn't bother me too much. If it had been very cold or extremely windy, I think it might have been a different matter; but warm rain isn't too unpleasant.

I took just under five hours to walk just over 15 miles - hence a pace of a bit under 3 miles/hour. Which I thought was pretty good over such a long distance - until I realised that Janice had got in about half an hour before me having started 15 minutes later!

I chatted to a few other walkers along the way; but mostly was quite happy with my own thoughts. Observing the busy life of Londoners and visitors alike, seeing areas of the capital that I'd never seen before (to my shame - having been born a Londoner); appreciating some magnificent architecture, buildings and bridges alike. I took a photograph at each bridge - some selfies, some of the bridges; you can see the whole album here if you're interested...

I have to say that the one disappointment of the day was the poor quality of food supplied at the lunch break (Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens). This being a major physical challenge, and considering that in many cases we were fund-raising for health-related charities, I was baffled by the lack of healthy food.

Apples were the only items that weren't stuffed full of sugar or additives. Danish pastries? Mars Bars? Haribos, for goodness' sake? Even the cereal bars, when one examined the contents, were overloaded with sugar (which is, after all, one of the main causes of cancer). And no, you don't need sugar for energy; far higher-quality carbohydrate can be obtained elsewhere. Where were the bananas? The plain nuts? The green stuff? At the risk of drum-banging on this topic, I wish that the organisers (Action Challenge UK) would think a little more carefully about this element of  their event - which was otherwise pretty well organised. They could learn a lot from my colleagues at Mother Nature's Diet. OK, rant over.


Finally, shortly after 5pm, I was greeted by the aforementioned speedy Janice, together with my lovely husband. T-shirt, medal and congratulations all round. (I had a nominal mouthful of pink fizz but declined the free hot-dog...)

I was thrilled and proud of what I'd achieved. I've learned that London pavements are a good deal harder on the joints than Norfolk country lanes and beaches; that I have more resources and determination than I thought possible; that I don't mind walking in the rain; that many hundreds (and thousands) of people want to challenge themselves and often to support charities at the same time; that there is a great deal of open-hearted generosity in the world. I was proud to be part of it all.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Long walk: training with a friend

It was a real pleasure to share this walk with a good friend, Christine, who I met through the fabulous Mother Nature's Diet. We spent the whole walk - around 5 hours, including a pause for lunch - chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen about all aspects of food, exercise, health - and life in a holistic sense. It's fabulous to exchange thoughts and experiences when you're so much on the same wavelength - and seem to share quite a few life experiences!

The route we followed was the one that I tried out on my own three weeks ago, starting in Holt, up past Greshams School and Voewood, off through Kelling Heath and past the steam train line; and up to Salthouse for lunch. Then back out of the village and heading south, back into Holt through the forest.

Here we are at the fabulous lily pond on Kelling Heath early in the walk.

The day started beautifully sunny, and our paths across Kelling Heath and up to Salthouse were wonderful. Butterflies everywhere, and we're moving into blackberry season, so did a fair bit of scrumping along the way...

We stopped, of course, at Cookie's Crab Shop to buy dressed crab for lunch as I had last time - delicious.

We felt a few spots of rain as we left Salthouse, and it turned into a gentle drizzle as we made our way along the footpaths that cross the fields running parallel with the sea, then turning sharp left along the edge of the fields. By the time we reached Kelling village and the road past the church it was raining fairly insistently, but the forest provided a fair amount of cover. By the time we reached the outskirts of Holt again we were fairly soggy...

However, the rain couldn't stop us continuing to enjoy ourselves, swapping thoughts and ideas, and delighting in the fact that we were (notwithstanding a few aches) both pretty comfortable walking what was very nearly a half-marathon. 12.6 miles (if you're observant you'll see that's half-a-mile less than last time; having tried it before, I got lost far less!), over 950 calories burned, and a respectable pace of almost three miles per hour, which wasn't bad.

As Christine has observed: not bad for a pair of Norfolk broads...

Next week: the 15-mile sponsored walk across seventeen London bridges, from Putney to Southwark!