Sunday, 11 April 2021

Kitting myself up as an extreme athlete. Preparing for the Macmillan Mighty Hike.


Not really me, but very much an extreme athlete. Click bait. Sorry. 

I am having a great time kitting myself out as an extreme athlete.  I just bought myself a peacock blue, tiny, all weather, all singing and dancing rucksack; the man wearing it in the advert was on a bike and meant business with his stern face and lantern jaw, with his muscly legs and aerodynamic cycling helmet.  His rucksack was black, and streamlined, and I imagined he could get his lunch and a flask of tea and a change of socks in there without compromising his aerodynamics.  That's just like me, I thought, and I must have that rucksack.  When I went to investigate it online, I saw that there was a bright blue one.  Oh!  I thought, I will look so good in that.

So much about exercise is in the mind.  I remember in 2003, when I was training to run (wobble) the London Marathon in Spring 2004, being told that my only question on waking each morning while training should be, "How far am I running today."  Only when that was sorted could I look after the children, paint my paintings and have my breakfast.  I remember those long months of running, whatever the weather, and feeling like giving up at least five times a day.  But I didn't give up and I learned what a subtle thing the mind is and how, at the drop of a hat, it will turn you round from your training, and make you go to the ice cream shop and then on home to bed.  You have to resist.  Oh boy, it was tough.  But the actual marathon was truly an amazing experience, and I did complete it after about six hours.  I was beaten to the finishing line by a womble, three hippos, a teddy bear and a birthday cake.  And a famous Indian marathon runner in his seventies who zipped past me on the final stretch.  Most people zipped past me on the final stretch.

I have chosen to walk twenty six miles on June 5 this year for Macmillan Cancer.  It is called The Mighty Hike and when I signed up a year ago, I thought I had plenty of time.  I did have plenty of time, then, but now as the date looms ever nearer, I don't have much time any more.  So I am channeling the extreme athlete I once was in 2004 and making myself walk on the Downs every few days.  I am joking, I never was an extreme athlete.  Calling myself this is all part of the mind games I play to get myself out there and moving.  

The South Coast Mighty Hike 2021.

On the 5 June about 500 of us will walk along the South Downs from Brighton to Eastbourne. There will be coaches to drive us back to Brighton where I, at least, will try and drive in a straight line back to Bognor Regis.  It is possible I will have worn myself down from 5'9" to 4'10" but at least I will have done it. And for such a good cause too.

Walking like this is a serious business.  I have invested in proper walking boots and I have bought some fancy new insoles that tell me I will feel I am walking on air.  I realise that socks are very important, and so have found some that are great for ladies, for the summer, and for fairly flat feet.  And, oh bliss!  I just ordered for myself that peacock blue tiny rucksack for serious and super focused walkers.  I am that thing, I say to myself, so I need this bag.

Yesterday I walked ten miles.  I planned an extra hilly route on the South Downs, packed my (large) rucksack with tissues, a pooh bag (wet wipes, loo roll, nappy bags, spare pants etc for all those stops behind bushes), sandwiches, a flask of hot soup, water, mobile phone, bluetooth ear phones, mobile battery charger and the hat that Gill, my dear friend, knitted for me.  I planned a very early walk just after the mists of dawn have faded and the early morning bird song was at its newest and loudest.  Striding across the South Downs, I would have proved how strong my mind is now, for my second marathon training event. 

I was still on the sofa in my pyjamas at 9.30am.  The longer you wait to go out training, the harder it becomes.  I remember this so well.  Oh not today! your mind says, perhaps tomorrow.  Planning is one thing, doing is another.  But I have in my memory the line up in the early morning of the London Marathon all those years ago, and the gruelling training that I had had to do suddenly became a life saver.  I was used to running long distances, in that I had done so for this event, and now I was glad.  Alongside me were all manner of people, all shapes and sizes, all ages.  I was told to notice anyone with brand new trainers, as they would not last long on the run.  There were plenty.  You have to wear your trainers in, to get past blisters and get used to how they feel, in order for them to serve you on a long run.  The pros turned up with old, well worn running trainers and a fierce look in their eye.  Twenty six miles of anything is serious. You need all the help you can get.  And so, I changed out of my pyjamas yesterday morning, told the sofa I would see it again soon, and to wait for me, and drove to Bury Hill here in West Sussex, to begin my walk. 

Something wonderful happens once I am on the Downs.  I feel my spirits raise, I feel my head clear, and my energy expand.  It is, whatever the weather, beautiful.  Even in the pouring rain, even in heavy fog, I am in a place beyond myself where nature just is. I love the colours in the chalk paths, all the shades of white with touches of brown and yellow, I love the way the brown barren fields and mud filled paths are suddenly filling with new green shoots.  What the shoots are, I don't know, but they are popping up everywhere, small and delicate, out of what seems such hard, lifeless brown old earth.  It is true, nature is a mystery, and relentless, and a wonder.  The silence is wonderful, and I realise it is really only silence from people.  The birds are not just singing, they are shouting.  The wind blows around me and the new greenery, and the old trees, rustle and make their own sounds.  And then there is the sound of my own feet tramping along the path.  The sound of my (state of the art) anorak swishing as I move my feet, and when there is no wind, and the birds are having a quick glass of water after yelling so loudly, I can hear my own breathing as I walk.

This uphill bit is so beautiful you can forgive it for being uphill.

 Yesterday I chose a route with loads of hills.  The Mighty Hike, I am told, involves hills.  I had better get used to them.  Oh the Downs has hills, it has hills like a forest has trees.  But this particular walk has two intense climbs up on the way out (nicely down hill on the way back) and one mile long descent (blimmin uphill on the way back).  There is a nice little tree stump in some woods just at the beginning of the long climb up on the way back where I planned my lunch, and all will be well.  When I get there I will be so pleased with myself for coming that far, and I will need my egg sandwiches to give me the impetus to walk this mile uphill so I can be ruler of the world when I get to the top.

I think on these walks.  Or rather, all the voices, conversations, thoughts, plans, worries, speculations, observations and stuff that is in my head, go AWOL while I try to get a word in edgeways.  Problems do get solved on these walks.  Things do become clearer.  I feel my focus shift, and new perspectives and ideas come through.  I am surprised at how little any of it matters when I am so far from anyone else, and from home, and from any emergency services should I be attacked by bears.  (No bears on the South Downs.)  

At the end of the walk yesterday I found that I had only done ten miles. I thought I had done much more than that.  Oh dear.  No wonder I was not that tired, next time I must do more, what went wrong?  And then I thought, I must be making progress - at what point in my life have I ever been disappointed that I had walked merely ten miles?  A paltry ten miles! So in a way, great progress was made in my mind yesterday.  Apart from loving it once I got going, I am making progress.  Yesterday's route felt like more than ten miles because so much of it involved walking up hills that felt like mountains. To put this into context, there are always cyclists on the Downs, who actually ride up these hills.  I may think I rule the world when I get to the top of one, but these cyclists actually do rule the world.  They would easily outdo any bears for speed and strength.  

Today, the day after, I am resting.  My new blue rucksack arrives this afternoon, and I am washing my new, special, ladies with flat feet, summer weather walking socks from yesterday, and noticing that my recovery time from this walk is much improved.  Today, my mind works, my body is not too tired, and I cannot wait (in theory) to get back out for my next walk.

To sponsor me for this walk, please go here, to my Just Giving page 

Margaret, on her ninetieth birthday
Macmillan Cancer support are just wonderful.  I was a Macmillan Buddy for two years, befriending
people struggling with their cancer.  I saw at first hand how much Macmillan do for their clients, and how dedicated and helpful they are for all those who turned to them for help, advice and solid support.  I am walking this Mighty Hike in memory of my first buddy, Margaret Winstone, who became such a close friend despite over thirty years age difference between us.  Margaret, a vicar's wife from Yorkshire, was a mathematics and music teacher.  Sometimes, in her late eighties, she would sing me folk songs from her youth, with such loveliness that brought tears to my eyes. I supported Margaret right up to the day she died.  Margaret didn't believe in giving up.  "Don't fuss!" she would say with a lovely laugh, and so I won't fuss, I will do this walk for her.  

All sponsorship money goes directly to Macmillan, who do such a good job. Thank you all. 

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