Wherever I turned

Calm in the head, but rather windy for much of today’s walk. Restricted time available since Matt and Yaya were due down here sometime in the late afternoon, and would presumably need picking up. So not a dash today but a calm controlled 14 miles, actually in slightly longer time than I used to walk a mile further yesterday.

Nice to see or bump into a number of people from work, bizarrely. I often can walk twenty or more miles locally without seeing anyone I know, though many then claim to have seen me (genuine claims, I’m sure). I do get the odd honk here and there and I got one from a car plastered with Southampton stickers and paraphernalia. I think I know who that was, the honk was a pleasant nature, and I waved back pleasantly, resisting a mutter that they might not be so happy and honky tomorrow. For a while today it seemed that wherever I turned there was some familiar face, as if the world was watching over me.

Only minor irritation today was at the coffee break when I hunted down the newspaper rack, only to find just The Echo – the local Southampton paper – with a “Come on You Saints” headline. No way was I going to read that rag but I then noticed that a number of the papers were on one single table occupied by one elderly woman. I wandered over, smiled and asked whether she had finished with any of them. Apparently she hadn’t and there were a couple of her friends who were ordering the coffees and would be coming over once the order was ready. I muttered and grumbled something under my breath, in a style that surely would have casting agents from SS-GB drooling at my vocal style.

Am I the only one to find SS-GB really disappointing? [I know I’m not, by the way] For a subject area and premise that sounded so promising, so interesting, so alluring, it was so so disappointing. I won’t be tuning in to the second episode, since the first not only fell well short of expectations as a plot, it also made my feel my age as I considered a doctor’s appointment to test my suspected hearing loss, given so many mumbles and mutters.

Eventually, another man (who had obviously seen or heard our exchange) came over. Was he that casting agent? Could I have that big opportunity to give up the office job? No, but he did arrive with a newspaper for me to read. A nice thought, disproportionately thoughtful for someone furnishing me with an opportunity to partake in The Daily Mail. I smiled thankfully and then managed two minutes before feeling my blood pressure rise only slightly. It was time to get back on the road……..

I was soon laughing to myself at the absurdity of the whole thing, something akin to a short sketch in a second class sitcom. I timed my arrival home perfectly for half-time in the Pompey match before showering, dressing and then hearing Pompey score thrice in a fantastic second half show at promotion rivals Carlisle. That really did make my day.

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Friday afternoon cops it

Looks like the way of it. Walking on Friday might well become a regular thing. But before anyone thinks I have become a part-time worker, I am actually trying to kick off earlier starts – it can’t be that difficult to get out of bed just that bit quicker, and if I’m lying in bed in the early morning thinking or worrying about work, I might as well get into the office and be paid for it. So this is where flexi time is my friend, building up some hours over the week so that I could leave work at lunchtime today and have the afternoon on the road.

Thinking that this could just be a gentle precursor to a decent walk tomorrow, I should have known that it is hard for me to do any gentle walking. It was like this in my twenties when I became a moderately serious runner, running 10km in not much more than 40 minutes and half marathons in not much more than 100. Going out for a run was never a 5 mile jog, it was either a 5 mile dash or an 8 mile jog. That was ultimately my undoing as I just overdid it and developed injuries that could never be overcome sufficiently to keep up regular running – that, and lifting heavy computer equipment at work without bending my legs properly.

After faffing around at home today despite only a light lunch, I left the house just after 2, and I owned it. I nailed it. I smashed it. Whatever I did, Friday afternoon copped it. 15 miles in 4 hours and 5 minutes. That is a tidy 16 minutes 20 seconds per mile. OK for walking one or two miles at that pace, but that distance is decent – I really speed walked on even or slightly downhill paths, and took long strides on the uphill. Taking into account that I had no break on a route that included the Itchen Bridge, I don’t think that I have pushed myself like this for a very very long time. Any pedestrian that I could see in the distance immediately became the target. Some were not playing ball, turning into their houses as I got close, but others felt the wind in their hair as I swashbuckled past them.

I didn’t intend this when I set out. But I had a lot of anger, frustration and aggression in me and that acted as a remarkable source of energy as I mentally murdered a number of people and rid myself of something approaching a world record level of negativity. Blimey, did I need this. I am still a child in many ways as my recovery drink is almost always hot milk with Nesquik – other strawberry flavoured milk based drinks are available, though not in our cupboard – which does help with reviving leg strength, I find. Tomorrow is another day when I will be calmer but hopefully still with plenty of miles in my legs.

So what is an ’emo’ anyway?

Another good distance today though I never quite hit the heights of happiness that I did yesterday. A bit stiff-legged initially, I did at least push myself to climb Portsdown Hill and visit Fort Nelson to see what is apparently the original Nelson’s column. It has to be said that there were no sprint walks today and at one point I was overtaken by a lady who looked about 90 walking her dog.

But I was determined to be content with whatever I could achieve today. Much of the climb after turning off the A27 not long past Fareham was not paved and on uneven grass verges at best. I have generally found motorists quite patient and, facing the traffic always, I try my utmost to step onto the verge when a car approaches. It is only very occasionally that anything untoward takes place. I once got hit on the shoulder by an apple core thrown from a car and now and again I have been shouted at by passengers. Today as I staggered up the hill, on the verge, and acknowledged the driver slowing down a little as I stopped on the verge, the passenger shouted that I was a “f***ing emo”. I had no idea what this meant, but I did think that the first stage of my gaining understanding was to discover what an emo is. Then I could work on the rest of it. If it referred to me being as funny as Emo Philips, then it was flattering indeed, but I guessed that that wasn’t what he meant.

I wasn’t racing away by any standards, and despite being out for about the same time as yesterday, the distance was less: 17.5 miles. But that’s ok – perhaps I overdid it yesterday but it was hard not to carry on walking while I was in such great spirits. Certainly feel a bit fitter after the last two days though I will be stiff tomorrow morning and my feet do want a bit of tlc. Feels like a lazy day coming up.

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Former full-time athlete buzzing with positivity

There’s no easy way to get really fit. With the third anniversary of the start of the long walk this week, I have mused as to how fit I really became and, a few days after returning to work, I remember introducing myself as – Keith Spicer, Head of Disclosure Control and former full-time athlete. It brought a laugh or two but there was a certain seriousness to it. For ten weeks it was my job to walk for 15 or 20 miles, every day, or an average six days a week anyway. I doubt that I will ever return to that state of fitness but I have thought that full-time athletes often go away for altitude and warm weather training. Last Friday on Dartmoor was an altitude training of sorts and today was, at least relatively, warm weather training.

The temperature rose into double figures this afternoon and even in the morning was pleasant enough. I didn’t start off as early as I would have liked but just enjoyed taking a day’s leave to lounge around until finally getting ready. Without any weekend sport on the radio I was alone with my thoughts for the first seven miles until the coffee break. Those thoughts wandered firstly to Fantasy Football – a topic on which I can easily obsess if I am doing well – and the frustration of signing Jesus, Gabriel Jesus. Yeah right, it is pronounced Hay-Zeus but that hasn’t prevented wordplays abounding. After the miracle of three goals in his first two games for me, he then broke his metatarsal (one of a number of body parts made famous by David Beckham in the mid-2000s). I would imagine he’ll return around Easter. I loathe the phrase “see what I did there” since it betrays a smugness not becoming of great wordsmiths or comedians but…..see what I did there?

The coffee break did me the world of good. There is something about coffee during exercise, most definitely (which is even more definite than definitely, it seems). The restart saw me absolutely buzzing with positivity and it is a long long time since I felt so great during a walk. Once I reached Hill Head and Lee sea front I couldn’t have felt better. The first shoots of spring had brought out many to enjoy the sunshine but it was strangely quiet except for the waves on the shore. I was reminded of that morning on Loch Lomond when I felt absolutely at one with the world, though that day of 10th April 2014 was one of massive contrasts in emotions. There is much that I have never said about that day and I intend to put that right, perhaps on the corresponding day this year. Back to today and I had a stroll on the stones on the beach and the silence when I returned to the promenade was quite beguiling.

It set me up for a couple of hours where my stride was longer and I sensed a swagger that I don’t have that often. I am not a great social animal, not anti-social but sometimes unsociable where I prefer to keep myself to myself but today I was desperate to bump into someone I know. Not anyone in particular, but just someone to talk to, to show how happy I was. It wouldn’t have mattered who it was as long as I knew them reasonably well. It is hard to explain that feeling any better than that.

Originally, I had intended to walk on both Friday and Saturday, with a shorter walk on the former before a 20+ miler on the latter. That may still happen and I hope that the weather will be similar, with neither hypothermia nor sunburn a significant threat. I have been known to burn even in December, so it is a serious thing for me. In the late afternoon it became cooler without being dreadfully cold and I even shed my hoodie later in order to expose a rather luminous lime green top for visibility. I could have sworn I saw some drivers put on sunglasses or pull down their windscreen sunshades. This was shortly after seeing a cyclist dressed completely in black, no lights, with big headphones and without his hands on the handlebars. That’s a quadruple whammy in my books – if he could have had a rear windscreen sticker it would have screamed, “Please Hit Me”.

A touch over 19 miles. Looking to recover overnight and do the same or slightly more tomorrow. A few have asked me why I continue to rack up the miles week after week after week, often treading familiar roads and paths. They should have been in my boots today, then they would understand.

Stairway to Devon

Back in the day, which is a day more than 26 years ago, I met my Pammy and, back in another day, we got married. That day was 25 years ago this week and so we had a short break down in the west country. We honeymooned in Totnes and we have not returned there since…….until this week to celebrate our silver anniversary. Unfortunately the stately manor at which we stayed has long since closed to honeymooners and other visitors, so we instead stayed in nearby Paignton.

It seems that whenever we go away somewhere we go for plenty of walks. I am pretty much obsessive on walking and Pammy either enjoys it too or does it to support me. Very much both, I think. 

Thursday. A gentle 3 mile walk to Torquay and a wander round, remembering where we had wandered round, 25 years before. We really couldn’t remember very much at all.

Friday a.m. A perilous drive through the country, including a diversion to take in one extremely narrow road and a bridge that was about two inches wider than our car. Arriving in Princetown, in the middle of Dartmoor, on a chilly morning could mean only one thing. A decent walk. But neither of us could realise how cold it was going to be, even in early February. We settled for about 5 miles before entering The Old Police Station Cafe for soup of the day – carrot and coriander – though it could have been pretty much any flavour as long it was hot. It was one of those mornings on the moors when the army were out in force, clearly the senior officers waiting for the most unpleasant conditions before exposing their privates to the cold. We could well imagine news items along the lines of members of the public suffering from exposure and being picked up by Mountain Rescue. It was cold. 

Friday p.m. Totnes was on the route back so, after negotiating the narrowness, we stopped in our chosen post-nuptial town of residence. Interestingly, in the cafe on the corner of the main precinct, the soup of the day was carrot and coriander. Coincidence or is there a national/regional soup cartel that decrees the soup of that day? We had a 3 mile round walk from the town centre up to Bowden House and, though we could recall so little about the town – maybe it has just changed too much – our memories were really jogged by the walk up to the house. It was just a bit sad that we couldn’t get that close to the house, since it is now a private house.

Saturday. Walked from Paignton to Brixham. For the most part, this was the South West Coast Path, and the scenery was great. But you know. I love a bridge. One minute earlier and a GWR steam train would have entered centre stage into my pic.

Again, it was cold, though nowhere near as unpleasant as the previous day. A couple of beaches that made me consider talking to my feet but loads and loads of steps, down, up, down, up, down again and up again. The ups are tough and raise the heart rate but I prefer them to the downs, where every step down thumps at the weakest part of my anatomy – my back. Yes, I am feeling it now. Not the 6 miles or so but the hundreds of steps where the spine bears the full weight. Thankfully, it wasn’t going to kill me or be a stairway to heaven, merely a stairway, er, to Devon.

Of course, the walking was tough but absolutely lovely to walk with the love of my life. So that’s it. Cold. Tough terrain. Enough for the week. Time for some me and Pammy time.

Going to lie down for three and a half days

It is those days when I don’t really feel like walking that are often those days when I do need to get out on the road the most. If I really really don’t feel like it, it may be better to leave it for that day. So that was last weekend gone.

This weekend, I thought that I would feel the same after a week at work where at times I seemed incapable of doing anything right, and also being in great demand at the most inconvenient moments. At least Friday was pretty good, with an interesting and helpful workshop in London. Note here to those not in the know. Any meeting an hour or less with someone you recognise is a catch up, anything 1-2 hours is a meeting, anything less than 2 hours with presentations is a seminar (if just one presentation it is a “show and tell”), anything more than 2 hours but less than a full day is a workshop, anything over more than one day is a conference, and being in more than one venue qualifies it as a roadshow. Anything half an hour or less with colleagues is a stand up, normally held at a venue of maximum annoyance to everyone else, normally either by the photocopier or in the kitchen area. It is a stand up even if everyone is sitting down, incidentally. Being a 6 hour meeting qualified it as a workshop and, yes, I did present. A very bad night’s non-sleep and a very early start made it difficult in the afternoon with one particularly dry presentation testing the ocular resilience. Overall though, it was worth going, worth doing and I learnt some fings. Knackered by the time I got home.

But an early night on Friday made all the difference. Not only did I miss the nauseating Graham Norton, whose chat show is such that the only attraction is the normally brilliant guest line-up, for once I slept through for a number of hours, whereas my typical sleep pattern at night is comparable to that of a two month old baby. Without the nappy changes and breast feeding, that is. This morning, I felt maximum positivity. And, on those days, I have to take advantage. I can’t say that my body felt as fit as it has ever done, or that I had the natural energy, but I felt positive and an inner strength that made me feel I could walk for miles and miles. It was only the dark and the forecast of heavy rain from about 7pm that could hold me back. Certainly 30 miles would have been possible otherwise.

So a familiar route – Cosham and back, and plenty of football to which to listen. Rugby? Er – no. Don’t get it, never have. Why run forward with the ball and then you have to throw it back?  Added to that a lot of self-satisfied rugger buggers blah blah. But the walk – I felt that inner strength throughout. 3 hours 10 minutes there, about 3 hours 15 minutes back – not quite the same route – punctuated by a decent refuelling stop. 22 miles.

Ah yes, there are so many people very willing to say how many steps they have walked and to get “their 10,000 for the day” in. It was brilliantly parodied on The Tracey Ullman Show this week, playing the part of a recently pedometerised woman in the workplace. It can be irritating to be given their running total at regular intervals but it can only be good for anyone to try to be active. This blog probably annoys people by me blabbing on about this number of miles that number of miles but I’m now going to even more annoying. I have always reckoned about 2,000 steps to the mile but the average is around 2,100 – 2,500. Given I am tall and have longer than average legs, I would reckon around 2,100. So today was in the region of 46,000 steps. So I can go lie down for three and a half days…….