Not 35

I’m going through a strange phase with life in general that has even perpetuated in my walking. I am flitting between being very positive and enthusiastic and (now and again) just being a bit fed up with anything and everything – not terrible downs but just a bit fed up at times. I had booked on to the Sarsen Trail about three weeks ago but was not up for it at all – and the forecast of thunder and lightning made the decision for me. As it happened, there was some drizzle and light rain but nothing more than that, but I can’t say that I was heartbroken to miss it.

Today was ok. It was that sort of in-between temperature where it wasn’t absolutely clear to me whether or not I needed a hoodie on top of two thin layers. In the end, I wore one and never took it off, with a breeze emerging at regular intervals, and I didn’t find it easy to decide whether to walk on the sunny or shady side of the street. The walk was pretty much two half-walks, each of around three hours, and included some off-road footpath sections, though I wondered on one occasion whether I had drifted onto private ground, half waiting for a big bloke with big dog to appear.

Before I start, Pammy always asks me how far I am going to walk, and typically I might say, “around 15 to 18 miles”, before trotting out 22. It is almost always the case that I end up going further than I had said. Last night, I was asked the question, and responded, “Not 35”, with reference to the 35 miles of my last walk, which was an exceptional distance for me. This morning, the same routine……..not 35…… and I was never going to walk anywhere near that. 20.5 miles, in fact. Pretty decent. Soles of my feet just starting to become sore, but nothing too serious.

Looking further to the future, I have signed up to the South Coast Challenge on 25-26 August, which is another in the suite of 100 km walks, this one from Eastbourne to Arundel. https://www.southcoastchallenge.com/

I suspect it is going to be tougher than either London to Brighton or the Thames Path Trail, the two that I have completed. Hopefully it is not as gruelling as the Wight Challenge, where the weather dealt us a nasty hand and made every step a challenge in itself. Quite looking forward to it, but I must admit to raising an eyebrow or two at the cost of £185, though there are reductions if one has competed in previous challenges, and considerably cheaper if you endeavour to raise a certain amount for charity. I’ve asked plenty of times before and I can’t keep asking – and I feel a bit less pressure if I’m not performing for sponsors. You do get a fair amount for your money and the organisation and support is generally excellent.

So it’s the build up now, ten weeks to go. Mostly it’s about keeping fit and healthy, keeping up the miles.

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I’m sorry I Havant a clue

If I am going to take a day’s leave off work to go walking, I am not settling for 10 or 12 miles, it’s going to be a significant and testing distance. But I have to say that I pushed myself too far and too hard today. So much so that I felt quite dispirited not to say knackered for the last ten miles or so.

I left the house at a decently early 9:20am and the plan was to walk to Havant and back. Even the quickest or shortest route each way would see me getting somewhere very close to 30 miles and I felt 9 or 10 out of 10 both physically and mentally, having a real spring in my step even despite the morning soon becoming pretty muggy. I had a coffee stop in Cosham after just short of 11 miles and then had a planned route through the side streets to Farlington. Unfortunately, as I have found before, Google Maps and Street View don’t necessarily reflect reality on the ground as I came across a restricted access road and gated community and I wasn’t getting through there with a couple of threatening dog signs fairly prominent. So it became a different route through Drayton and I was only really aware of going in something like the right direction as I found myself in Bidbury Mead. I knew the way from there, at least.

I walked around Havant Park, being either slightly angry or slightly amused or both as three young lads rode their bikes right across the cricket square and what could quite possibly be tomorrow’s pitch for Havant’s match. After a few minutes’ rest, I returned west through Bedhampton and toward and up Portsdown Hill – crikey that is a long uphill trawl from there. Despite starting to feel it in my legs, for some reason I opted to take the right fork at the top toward Southwick and Wickham rather than the considerably shorter left fork toward Portchester. With no pavement for at least three or four miles, this was tough going even on pretty wide and quite walkable grass verges. By the time I reached Wickham, I was shattered. Unfortunately, there is still at least 8 miles left via any sensible walking route.

Ok, so I did it, I got home. There have been quite a few drivers honking in a friendly way to me but I have no idea who any of them were. I was almost honking myself as I had a break around an hour and a half from home with a litre of flavoured milk. I normally find that extremely energising but it was probably too much work for it today. Every part of my legs took turns in hurting and I was extremely dispirited. In days to come, I know I will look on the distance of 35 miles in a different light to how I do at the moment. There is no doubt that I pushed myself too hard today and I will do well to get up in the morning to travel to cricket. At least I’m not playing.

M Dolphins

It’s a little while since I last posted – in fact not since mid-April. However, it’s not that I haven’t been walking, it’s just that I haven’t been blogging. I decided to take a break from social media and Facebook in particular as part of a brain detox, and included this blog since it takes a little bit of time after each walk. I restricted myself to a few minutes on Facebook every couple of days in case there was something important, and so I only put a small number of Likes and odd comments against others’ posts. Apologies if I missed your birthday or you thought I was ignoring you.

I also started to live a bit more healthily in other ways with not eating between meals. This has been just such a weakness of mine and though I generally have a decent amount of things that are good for me, they are supplemented by simply too many things that are not. To show the extent of this, in the last three weeks, my weight has shifted from 14 stone 3 pounds to 13 stone 8 pounds – a loss of 9 pounds. One or two people have noticed and commented.

In a period when there have been plenty of pressures from a number of directions, walking certainly has helped. Over that time, I have had walks of 16, 19, 15 and 15 miles and today, a really tough but stonking 27 miles or thereabouts, the longest walk of my year to date. The route was from Sarisbury – Stubbington – Rowner – Elson – Fareham – Wickham – Shedfield – Botley – Hedge End – Bursledon – Sarisbury. I suffered a bit from neck and shoulder ache from about 10 miles onwards, perhaps suggesting that I was fairly tense. Indeed, I don’t think I ever really relaxed today but I’m really pleased to get that distance. A bit of blister damage to a couple of toes but nothing much more than that. Sarisbury Hill is not easy at the best of times but when you’ve already walked a long way, it can be tough. I am normally humming a Peter Gabriel song to myself while ascending said hill. If you don’t know to which one I’m referring, google “Peter Gabriel songs” and I’m sure you can work it out for yourself.

Today aside, I have been able to become calm during walking and the release of endorphins (or ‘M Dolphins’ as I sometimes call them) does help with stress and all that. No doubt there are some who have opening this link thinking it was about Miami Dolphins or American Football. I am sorry to disappoint you and, though I can happily watch the Super Bowl or American Football highlights show on BBC, I know very little about who plays for whom, though I do remember number 13 Dan Marino quite a few years ago! I see M Dolphins as the aquatic version of M People, so I occasionally have one of their best tunas as head music. Unfortunately none of their songs appear suitable for dolphin puns, not even the flip sides.

Obviously for that distance today, it was an early start for me. Even starting a walk at 9am feels just too early, but when one has taken a day’s leave to go walking, it has to be a decent distance to make it worthwhile. Sometimes I do think I am mad to spend that amount of time but it does help, it really does, and I get more than a certain satisfaction that I can still manage it. I imagine that if I reach 100 years of age, I’ll still be up and down the roads with the zimmer frame, blogging whatever distance that is possible. A while to go before then, though.

 

Snicker

Firstly, well done to all my friends, and everyone else, who completed the London Marathon today, as well as those who completed the Southampton Half Marathon. Me, I never watch the London event now, since it makes me slightly sad and envious that I was never able to compete in it myself. I am not going to blame anyone else for this, since I really pushed myself too hard to give myself a chance. In 1988, though I was already pretty fit and playing squash, football and cricket, I was effectively couch to 10K within about three weeks, and was regularly on 8 mile runs three weeks after that. And these were runs where I aimed to run my best time each time out. I had a regular 5 mile route with considerable hilly parts where I was under 35 minutes and I felt if I went two days without a decent run that I would somehow instantly lose my fitness. It wasn’t uncommon to run four or five miles at lunchtime and then the same in the evening.

It became an obsession and I was soon on the half marathon circuit, completing Southampton on a hot (26 degrees) morning, and then Winchester and Gosport later in the year. Just one week after Winchester, I ran a personal best 10K at Totton (having walked four miles each way to the event from my home in Bassett). Running absolutely dominated my life and I was up to 16 mile runs when I felt a shooting pain in my calf while on one of my 5 mile dashes. I rested for a couple of weeks but it was clear that I had done some damage. It turned out to be a back injury that manifested itself in all sorts of complications including sciatica. So 104 minutes and 44 minutes will remain my best for half marathon and 10K events and, proud as I am of those very respectable times, I know that if I’d taken it more steadily, I could have done even better. It is sometimes a very harsh lesson to learn from experience.

I have tried a couple of times to get back, with mixed success, but I know that I would never be able to run another half marathon, maybe not even 10K without considerable risk of damage. And it’s all my fault. I have become much better in the last six or seven years at not having regrets and I console myself that I have achieved considerably more with walking than I was ever likely to running. Today, I was determined to do a really good distance, and pushing myself to walk long distances doesn’t damage me like it did with running. It was a strange day weather-wise. Half the time, it was quite warm but not boiling at around 18 degrees maximum, and half the time it was quite chilly with the odd strong breeze. Going eastwards, I took routes that I hadn’t taken before and bumped into people from cricket, from work and outside.

I was stuck in a long queue in my coffee stop at around 9 miles and, if you can imagine Dot, Mo and Kim from Eastenders, with Audrey, Gail and Rita from Coronation Street, all together visiting a coffee shop for the very first time, that was who was at the front of the queue. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d been told they’d run out of coffee followed by an Eastenders doof doof, such was the drama of this gaggle of cackling over-theatrical dames. I normally count on roughly a 25-30 minutes stop but today it was more than 15 minutes before I was even served, so we were looking here at not much short of three quarters of an hour.

It was a long day but I couldn’t quite achieve a full marathon. 25 miles, equalling my best of the year so far, I believe. Not a marathon, not even a snickers, despite shrink-flation over the years. Perhaps just a snicker.

Tarmac melting

It has been nice to feel the arrival or impending arrival of warmer weather to the south coast of England. I don’t know any official measurements but it felt around 16 or 17 Celsius. Yes, not quite tarmac melting temperatures but it was still quite sweaty to walk in three layers for a very very good distance of 23 miles.

melting-road

shoes (not my normal walking gear)

With the Sarsen Trail coming up (https://www.wiltshirewildlife.org/Event/sarsen-trail-2018-26-mile-walk-online-registration) there is the prospect of 26 miles in late May when I would expect to be walking in the low 20s Celsius. Though not a challenge on the scale of others I have done, the distance is still notable for me, and even more notable is that I will need to catch the shuttle bus at 7:30am. I don’t intend to stay in the area due to extortionate local b&b/hotel mark up prices that seem to accompany any event, so I will drive the 40 or so miles from home to the meeting point. Hardly the greatest preparation, but surely I can do this on a one off basis. One or two tentative expressions of interest to join me on this one but nothing firmer than that as yet. Just to say, I don’t walk fast, I pace myself, I’m not scary, I can do conversation, I am a nice person……allegedly……

There was no way that I was rising so early this morning, and I was on the road just after 11am. The route was straightforward for the most part: a direct 11 miles to Cosham, and around 12 miles back via the tip of Portsea Island. The most challenging part was – predictably – steps. I don’t mean the total of 45 to 50 thousand steps today, I mean the bridges and subways with steps that really do take their toll on my knees now. We regularly receive glossy literature from our local council saying how much they are doing for us, and welcoming feedback, so I am requesting stair-lifts in all bridges and subways that have steps. Whichever party you are, and whatever other policies you have, I promise that I will vote for you if you did this. Seriously, it is not too bad when it is not raining, so you do have an alternative option to fix the weather.

The warmer weather made the soles of my feet a bit sore by the end of today’s walk, the first time that has happened for a few months. I have used petroleum jelly pre-walk to help resolve foot soreness and chafing in other areas and this definitely helps. I probably need new specialist socks given all that I have are at least a year old now and some look on the thin side. Bloomin’ expensive is this walking lark if you take it seriously. I’m not sure that I do take it that seriously but I know its place in keeping me sane – I have walked over a thousand miles in each of the years from 2012 onwards and I have now passed 300 for 2018, and a 20 mile walk each week is de rigueur so am well on course to do it again.

Mind you, in 2014 I had achieved the thousand by some time in April. This is the first year since then that I am re-experiencing the walk day by day by reading the blog posts that I wrote at the time. I was reaching Fort William on the corresponding day then, having negotiated the hardest week of walking that I have ever had. I was extremely tired but had a wonderful five days on the Great Glen Way in front of me, followed by a slog of a last lap up to John O’Groats. They are great memories and sadly (?) I enjoy them much more now than I did at the time. But next time it will be different; I will be determined to really appreciate what I am doing.

 

 

Listen to your heart

Roxette, got to number 6 on re-release in 1990, in case you were wondering.

Oh how wrong they were. There was me, with my mantra that, to get really fit, I have to either (i) walk a mile or two further than is comfortable or (ii) walk for a second consecutive day for at least about 15 miles. So, despite being stiffer and slightly achier than would normally be the case the day after an 18 mile walk, I set out with the target of 15+ miles. It was hard work to the coffee stop in the 7th mile, and after the standard half an hour break, I felt really queasy and my shins ached more than ever.

I should have listened to my head, though that wouldn’t have been such a big seller. Forget your emotions, do what’s sensible – how would that get the pre-pubescent and newly post-pubescent into the record shops (Note: that was 1990, when that was the thing)? I had had a bit of a stomach ache earlier in the week, and then an on-and-off  headache for a while the next day. Perhaps I was still recovering from a very mild bug and hadn’t quite got it out of my system. Anyway, as I walked along the streets, I did feel as if I might have to be sick at the side of the road. It would have made sense to have a drink of water, but I felt that might just make me sick anyway.

It was also an afternoon when I think a higher than usual number of friends saw me on my walk, given the number of horns beeping for no other obvious reason, and I didn’t want to respond to them with a honk of my own. It even crossed my mind to stop and get a taxi, but I carried on, not wanting to risk having to cough up (sic) an extra fifty quid for soiling the inside. It felt best just to carry on and I decided to take my mind off my ill-feeling with a bit of music on the radio. Gradually, I felt slightly better, and I nipped into Poundland for a couple of bottles of that water-with-a touch-of-various-fruit-flavours drink. Two for a pound, though I suspect they have been shrinkflated to 400ml from an original 500 ml.

Ending up with 16 miles on the clock, I reflected in a typical 90s way: Oi! Roxette! No! especially after, absolutely coincidentally, Taylor Dayne came on the radio with Tell It To My Heart. No, it’s not really love, nor just a game, yes I’m happy with 16 miles, but perhaps I shouldn’t have. I am not immortal after all, and I’ll give it a break this weekend, which will be the last weekend until sometime in September without cricket of some sort. I won’t be pulling stumps on my walking, but it might be a Sunday or even midweek thing.

I am just about to sign up for the following event: https://www.wiltshirewildlife.org/Event/sarsen-trail-2018-26-mile-walk-online-registration

which is a 26 mile walk from Avebury to Bulford, in Wiltshire. It is on a Sunday, 27 May. I will try and stay somewhere near Bulford and get the shuttle bus up to Avebury for the start. Anyone who wants to join me would be very welcome, as long as they can put up with me for the estimated 8-9 hours! Not that long to build up the fitness, though. If you can’t do it, er, listen to your head.

 

Grey shades in warmer climes

In deep contemplation over life, the Id and the world in general on the walk today. I am towards the end of a week’s leave and was always planning on walking a couple of days near the end of the week, when the weather forecast has been for drier and slightly warmer days. Not that I am unable to get out on cold and wet days, as the last few weeks have demonstrated, but it is just more pleasant when one doesn’t have to hog around gloves, woolly hat and an emergency rain jacket. No need for any of those now, and it was nice to get back down to three layers, with the top layer being a relatively thin hoodie on a day where temperatures were at last in double figures Celsius.

Much of the walk was lightly paced, but with a couple of short speed walks. I felt a bit preoccupied and found myself wondering about my life, particularly my own emotions and psyche, how I form my opinions on things and stuff like that. I have had a much lighter social media presence recently since I cannot bear getting into conflict, especially on the keyboard where so much can be misinterpreted. I almost never get involved in any political debate or discussion (but am continually amazed how many do – even when they have not a clue what they’re talking about!), partly because opinions are so often painted so absolutely entrenched black or white. It’s not just politics either; pretty much any topic of discussion now leads to a clear positional dichotomy.

I find that really challenging. I find it especially difficult to take one side or the other as absolute and everything to me is a shade of grey, perhaps because I like to think I can see both sides of every story , though I would sometimes like to be more decisive. Unless it is a choice between ‘obviously good’ and ‘obviously bad’, I have come to the point of preferring not to get involved. Even then, it can be a journey. Take the example of a student dissertation some (about 20) years ago, where I was a second marker. The (politics) student had chosen the topic (unbeknown to their supervisor) of the fallout from World War II, and had ended the dissertation with the sentence: (paraphrasing) “…..but was Hitler really such a bad guy?” It goes without saying that I didn’t agree with the opinions of the student, and the first marker argued that we should just fail him outright. But, looking at this in a balanced way, the student had taken an array of evidence, from a range of sources, and set out the arguments – however, the undeniable criticism was the quality and bias of some of the sources, and the relative weight that the student had given to them. I didn’t mark on his opinions, but on the process and the quality of research…..and yes, it did fail.

As I recalled that, I contrasted that with the way I sometimes feel about myself. I don’t know why I self-critique so differently to how I do with things for which I am not so personally responsible, I have no idea. Very little is any shade of grey. With work, I am either absolutely buzzing with positivity, or extremely down on myself. I have been in the same job for almost 10 years now, a very good job, mostly enjoyable, and one which is very well suited to me – someone actually called me “Mr SDC” recently and another said that the Office would fall apart if I ever left! I have had realistic opportunities to go for promotion but I have always seen the worst in myself and not taken them forward – even though, in the cold light of day, I know I could probably do some of those jobs if I could just convince myself.

On a different level, in my early twenties I can immodestly say that I was a pretty good dart player when I had my head right, in fact I could often stay on the board for an hour or more against very decent players if I got a run going. In my head, at times I was brilliant and could beat anyone, and at other times I was hopeless and could lose to a beginner. When it came to proper matches, no-one could be absolutely sure which side of me would actually turn up! Certainly there were some great games and some terrible ones too, and apparently no effect of how good my opponent was. I could have done with having a balanced view of myself, knowing that I was pretty good and able to beat most players at that level, rather than the ‘all or nothing’ opinion of myself. Even with my walking, I once did get very down on myself when I could only manage about 13 miles on a Sunday when I was preparing for an event. Again, I should have realised that things aren’t supposed to always be perfect and there are many who would be delighted to be able to walk that distance.

Much later, at more than a slight tangent, I was musing too that over my working life, I have tended to attract older women as good friends and confidants, as someone who is easy-going but perhaps seen as a bit vulnerable, troubled and ‘motherable’. I have otherwise no idea why that is but I have had it in every job I have ever had, though not so much at the moment. Perhaps there are becoming gradually fewer people in work who are older!

As you can see, my mind was all over the place and this blog – and not just this post – is becoming less and less within its initial remit and the walking aspect is sometimes incidental. Perhaps today I have been somewhat self-indulgent and thinking too hard about things about which I shouldn’t think too hard. With the likelihood of another walk Friday or Saturday, I was not aiming for as high as normal, and it ended up as 18 miles. It struck me that ‘normal’ is now 20 miles rather than the 15 it used to be. Feeling fit and healthy and very capable of longer distances if I needed. That much longer to muse over everything and then pour it out on this blog……….