Macmillan Charity Walk

I’m just putting another pillow beneath my calves to try and raise them above my bum in the vain hope that this will reduce the ache. After our Half Marathon walk for Macmillan today, which turned out to be slightly more than the normal 13.1 – by over two miles – the soles of my feet are throbbing slightly less now but my calves are still burning.

I’ve just looked at the route trackers of both my big sister and my niece, and both of them are over fifteen miles. So it’s no wonder I’m suffering. It’s one thing to run a half marathon in two and a half hours, it’s another to be on your feet for over six, in the sun, on an ‘undulating’, with a capital ‘U’, course.

I did think, when I’d run/walked a half marathon in north Wales, which included Moel Famau, and several hills that were steeper than this, that I’d be well trained for this walk. That took less than four hours. I had put out a small, apologetic fundraising call on Facebook thinking that the whole escapade would be easier as it was walking, and wouldn’t be killing me.

I take it all back. It did nearly kill me.

I’m finishing this off now on Sunday morning because my blog writing got distracted by a glass or two of celebratory fizz, foot masks (big white socks filled with peppermint balm etc that you wrap around your feet, sit back and relax), and a general inability to keep my eyes open.

My sisters, my eldest niece and I were doing the walk yesterday as a way of remembering our dad, who’d died just over a year ago. And actually, to remember our mum too, who’d also died of cancer over fifteen years previously. Our sister-in-law was going to come too, but her six-month-old had other ideas, so it was just us.

Macmillan, whose nurses support cancer patients, had created a huge camp at the start, with portaloos, tents for teas and coffees, and food stations ready for the 26-miler walkers who were returning here later in the day. They had set off at around 7am, which hopefully gave them a cooler first few hours, and we rolled out around 10am.

Five of us wearing our green Macmillan tops on a grassy field with trees and a blue sky behind
Us, all fresh at the start

The first hours, for us, were a little overcast and breezy, thankfully. Still t-shirt temperature, but comfortable. I had decided to try an experiment of using a long-sleeved white sports top instead of a vest, to see if that would reflect the sun back and therefore keep me cooler. The others had their green, Macmillan Tees on, but we were all in shorts.

Our time group was one of the largest of the day, so the initial walking was slow, as we  collectively navigated some narrow woodland paths. Unlike a run, where you separate out quite quickly into small pockets, a green wavy line was visible all the way until around mile ten because nearly everyone was going at a steady pace.

The terrain was undulating, and mainly grassy or earthy underfoot. It made a lovely change from the miles of tarmac that I normally pound along each week. The start, at Penrice Castle, was a little way inland, but it only took a couple of miles to be able to spot the sea. Technically, that first section was the Bristol Channel I think, but it was still vast, and blue, and glistening in the sun, so we’ll call it the sea. Beyond the waters, the ghostly headlands of Devon and Cornwall kept us company for the majority of our walk.

The five of us on a sandy beach with sea and blue skies behind.
Clouds are disappearing at 4 miles. What I wanted to do was to stay on the beach. What I had to do was walk another 11 miles!

At around four miles, along the beach of Oxwich Bay, we made our first impromptu stop, as a walker ahead of us peeled off from his group towards the toilet blocks. We decided that that was a better idea than looking for a private bush, so followed him up. It was also a chance to break into the homemade cookies that my niece Maia had made with her mum. They were a tasty treat to keep us going, although at this stage we were all feeling pretty good. The clouds, however had disappeared, and this was only two hours in, so we needed to make sure we kept drinking, and periodically munching on salted crisps.

The vast majority of the route was very accessible but there were a few hairy points, especially on the downhills, where we were glad we had our walking poles, to create an extra leg for stability. We saw some of the walkers coming down those parts on their bums, just to reduce the fear of falling.

We had an official pit stop at mile 8 where there were lots of snacks and drinks laid on. It was tempting to spend longer than the fifteen minutes we sat here, but there were still about seven more miles to go so we pulled our packs on and headed off.

That second half was starting to feel harder than the first, and I could have done with a few more sit downs. I remember needing many more of those than my fellow walkers when I did the Coast to Coast walk several years ago. Some people can keep plodding on, hour after hour, but without frequent little breaks I can feel myself start to get grumpy. It’s not a good look.

For the last few miles, the ground had a few gentle rises and falls but was nice and soft to walk on. Maia and I started doing a bit of jogging on this bit, just so we could go ahead of the others and then have a break. At eighteen (nearly), Maia is the spriteliest of us all, especially as she’d done a recent hike (with tents on backs) and camp in Dartmoor. It was in preparation for an amazing sounding trip to the wild parts of Iceland. We had loaded her backpack with a few extra things (in order to help her training we said) but she had borne it all well. However, by now, even she was starting to flag.

I walked the last couple of miles into base camp with my eldest sister Shila while the others had run on ahead to the finish line. As we got closer to Rhossili, there were some very appealing looking benches for gentle amblers to admire the coastal view. Shila, however, was not for sitting until she’d reached the end, so I had to let my calves scream unheeded and keep walking to the final camp. Maia, her mum Hersha and my other sister Usha were there to meet us and walk over the line together. It was a blessed relief to finally sit down. My white t-shirt experiment, by the way, was a success as my body wasn’t overheated at all.

My calves took a long time to recover, and I think they were further hindered by Hersha’s hairbrained idea to get our legs up to the waist in the sea for ten minutes when we got back to our accommodation in Swansea. She told me it would be therapeutic and help me recover quicker. The walk to the beach wasn’t far but the tide was way out, and although we persevered through the muddy flats, we didn’t get much deeper than our shins, and that was only because some of the sand was sinking beneath our feet. I think that added a further mile on to our day’s tally. But the foot masks helped a little at the end, once we’d scrubbed the sand off our feet.

Several feet wrapped in white foot socks with a couple of glasses of fizz in the near ground
The fizz was as therapeutic as the foot masks

The organisation of the walk was superb. I’ve never done one this well arranged by a charity before, and I would definitely recommend  this one. We even got a full meal at the end.  It was, despite the exhaustion, an amazing way to experience the Gower Peninsula. The scenery was spectacular, and we had the chance to remember our dad, who was a keen daily walker, and our mum who had held Maia in her arms when she was a baby.

If you haven’t already donated and wanted to add to the coffers of a well deserving charity, then our Just Giving link is below.

Life, Travel, Walking

What I’ve Done (Lately)

As I lift my legs higher on a cushion after today’s long run, I realise that it has been two weeks since my last blog. Well that sounds like the beginning of a confession, so I had better get it all off my chest (fully recovered since the chaffing incident, in case you’re wondering).

Life, despite my best intentions, has been a little hectic of late, and I’ve barely had time to think, let alone sit and think about blogging. I have had the laptop open, but only to hammer out a few more words for the final essay on my OU course. It’s due in a couple of weeks and then I am done and dusted. Until next academic year that is, because I’ve decided to definitely do the second year and turn my Post Graduate Certificate into a Masters. I’m not sure whether it will translate to any writing jobs in the big wide world, but I’m enjoying the learning process, so I will carry on for a bit longer.

Also the WIFI went down for several days last week, which is, in this day and age, a bit of a catastrophe, and wasted half a day for Anne when she was passed from pillar to post on the phone, as they took an age to agree that it wasn’t just a case of switching it off and on again. We actually had to watch real time TV occasionally, which consisted of a random episode of NCIS and The One Show. The only good thing about this infringement of our human rights, was that I was able to work on my essay without getting distracted, but finally, the day came when a tall young man from Openreach with the most amazing long blond ringlets, sorted it out for us, by correctly reconnecting a cable on the outside of the house, that had been badly set up in the first place, only three weeks earlier. But at least we’re now back in the land of the living.

We also celebrated our grandson’s 3rd birthday last week. Anne made him a dinosaur and volcano cake as the boy is a walking dinosaur encyclopaedia. And earlier in the week, we took him to his happy place at Chester Zoo, where, in between watching the animals, he ran the legs off himself, and me. He had his first experience of the Bat house, and was not freaked out by the darkness at all, but was gutted that he couldn’t see the bats faces as they were too far away!

We had a glorious time away, this weekend just gone, with old work colleagues and most of the folk who walked the Coast to Coast with me back in 2015. Only John was missing from the original Six Pack. The weather, near the village of Appleton-le-Moors where we stayed, had promised to be dry but overcast. In the end, the sun came out in such a way that we could enjoy a very pleasant eight+ mile walk on Saturday including two pit stops at the beer gardens of some very fine public houses. On Sunday, Anne, Helen and I left the others doing another walk, and we ventured into the tiny but picturesque town of Staithes, on the east coast above Whitby. The previous day Helen had given Anne her first art lesson, and as we sat on a bench with our teas and coffees, there was another impromptu lesson. Watching the two of them, I got inspired and attempted to draw what I saw in words. It was just a basic description but it was nice to record the families on the sand, the two dogs gleefully gambolling in the waves as their humans threw them a ball, and the boats bobbing lazily up and down. I feel I need to do this kind of thing now more often, whereas before I would have enjoyed the day and then promptly forgotten about it.

That same Sunday morning, which also happened to be Mother’s Day for most of the rest of the world, my grandma, who last year had celebrated getting a telegram from the Queen, peacefully died, just two weeks short of her 101st birthday. I wrote a small piece about her last year, and, of course we’ll miss her, but she has led such a long and remarkable life that we won’t feel sad for her, just for ourselves. That evening though, we raised a glass to her.

So in amongst that whirlwind, I’ll bet you’re wondering how my running is going? Even if you’re not I’m going to tell you anyway. Not all that brilliantly, unsurprisingly. I’m still trying to get one long run each week, and then I’ve managed about two more quickies in the week. The length of the long run is getting harder, and I think it will take a few weeks to stop my legs getting bushed. I can’t even say it’s going to pick up again next week, as we’re currently in the middle of packing to go on holiday. Again. This time with my brother and his family, for a week on the Norfolk coast. That was the reason I got this week’s big one completed today: a slog of a twelve miler. Tough but it’s in the bank.

Life is hard, but although I’m not getting out and about in my trainers all that much, my final piece of course work is actually about my marathon running experience, so I will get my fix one way or another.

Books, Walking

The Salt Path – Raynor Winn

For one of my pieces of coursework I was trying to find examples of travel writing when Anne handed me this book. And then I started underlining passages within it before she told me she’d borrowed it from a friend. Oops, sorry!

Front Cover of The Salt Path - Raynor Winn
A slightly bent cover – sorry about that too

I was going to just read the first chapter or two to get a feel for the style, but it was difficult to put down. There is a vivacity and gentle humour about it that keeps you interested, despite the slightly traumatic beginnings. I realised why when I found out that the book had originally been written by Raynor for just her husband, Moth, as a way of helping him to remember their journey. Sometimes it feels like a love letter, and is warm, intimate and poetic.

I went on a walk, with some friends, back in 2015, that took two weeks and was well planned with solid walls, hot food and showers to meet us each night. I thought that was a difficult trek. Ray and Moth spent months wild camping, walking nearly all of the 630 mile South West Coast Path because they had suddenly become homeless and Moth had been diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative disease that would affect his body and mind. If I’d had this book on my travels, it would have put my own privations into context.

Before their life on the road, Ray and Moth Winn had owned a house and farm in Wales and had lived there for thirty odd years, renovating the land and buildings while raising two children. But an investment in a friend’s business had turned sour, leading to a very costly court battle that saw them lose everything. The children, luckily, had accommodation as university students, but while the bailiffs were knocking on the door to take possession and the two adults was hiding underneath the stairs, Ray’s idea to walk began to form.

A very strange idea when her husband had just been told he had corticobasal degeneration (CBD), and was already starting to be unsteady on his feet. But as Ray says, she 

desperately needed a map, something to show me the way.’

Her descriptions of this deceptively long stretch of land are lyrical and she packs a lot of really interesting information in, about various spots along the route. If anybody is considering doing any part of that walk, then this book would be a great accompaniment. As is the book they used, Paddy Dillon’s ‘The South West Coast Path’. Even for me, who has no plans for any more long-distance hikes, it was alluring and made me want to take a teeny tiny trip down there.

There are also some very interesting reactions, when they divulge to people they meet along the way that they are literally homeless. Sadly a lot of it is negative so they don’t do so often. Raynor occasionally weaves in stories of other homeless people they encounter, as well as certain ‘statistics’, that bear no semblance to the very hard reality on the ground.

It’s a story about a journey, but as all stories about journeys end up being, it is so much more. Was their trek just delaying the inevitable social housing wait? Did Moth’s condition get worse with the arduous task of walking with his life on his back? Could they deal with the grief of the loss of their home and their livelihood? Did they always find a private place to squat?

I’ll give a little spoiler, there is hope at the end, and in the end, it’s a love story. For her husband, and for the incredible beauty of the natural world around them.

Life, Running, Walking

Marathons – never say never again…

During the walk on Sunday, I managed to first convince myself to run another marathon, and then convince myself not to.

The walk took just over 3 hours and gave me ample time for vacillating. Just over 7.5 miles (12.25 km), so it was leisurely, with a couple of stops for using the facilities, or opening a coffee flask. Our group gets together periodically, and there is often a little venture out sometime around the New Year.

I actually got into this walking for pleasure lark with these very people, or some of them, when they decided to embark upon the challenge of doing the Coast to Coast walk in 2015. We did about 200 miles (as we got lost a couple of times) over two weeks, from St Bees in the North West to Robin Hood’s Bay in the North East. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, when I wasn’t knackered, but it’s still something that I don’t do much of, except when someone asks ‘shall we do a walk?’. More often than not, it’s these guys.

This Sunday, we took in a chunk of West Wirral, starting at Thurstaston, along the beach towards West Kirby, and then back along the Wirral Way taking in the Dungeon (not actually a prison cell). The weather was cool but brilliantly sunny and dry; a perfect walking day.

Some of the group are runners, so I wasn’t fully boring them with my contemplations. I think Brian was the main recipient. He has done a number of marathons in the past, and, having required the assistance of a medical tent at the end of his last two, he has knocked it on the head, at least for a while. I have no idea why I suddenly felt like I wanted to try one again, given that my only previous two attempts were back in 2015 (they sandwiched the walk – it was a busy year).

Reflecting on the good second experience in Athens (November), as opposed to the bad first one in London (April), I know that I enjoyed it because I was, for me, extremely fit. I had bagged a Half Marathon that September in just under 2 hours. So with all my London training, and with all that walking under my belt, Athens felt like fun. I ended up doing them both in about five and a half hours, but I was running with a friend for the second one, and we ran at her pace.

Perhaps there is a part of me that wants to get under five hours, because I know I could have done in Athens. Perhaps the pain of training is so far away that I’ve forgotten that I hated it (not at all like childbirth – but you get my drift). At a couple points, during our perambulations, I was seriously close to going home and signing up for something this September.

But, as the walk progressed, and we climbed up a hill, and my right hip started to twinge a bit, I realised that, before I even start contemplating crazy things like that, I need to get myself to a level of fitness that hasn’t been in my body in over six years. It’s not unachievable, but I’m going to give it more than a few months.

Still, September 2023 in Berlin, around my 50th birthday, may be calling to me?