Gerbils and hamsters come out to play

For a few years now, one of the things that I feel obligated/obliged (please, someone tell me the difference) to do is to monitor weekend weather forecasts from about Tuesday night onwards. In the summer, this is usually to see the outlook for cricket, and at all other times it is to assess whether a good walk is going to be possible, likely and/or pleasant, and what sort of distance might be in order. For much of this week, the forecasts have been for the mother of all rain on Sunday and a clear spell on Saturday. By Friday morning, rain was going to fall on both days, though by last night and then this morning, there was some drizzle and light rain due only for a short period on Saturday afternoon, and still belting down on Sunday.

So as I prepared to leave the house at lunchtime today in a hoodie – which has a hood, indeed – I was only persuaded after about two minutes by Pammy that I needed to take a light waterproof jacket, you know, one of those that folds or screws up into a sort of bum bag about the size of one of Taylor Swift’s cheeks, rather than one of Kim Kardashian’s. At the time, it was a decision that had all the hallmarks of ‘anything for a quiet life’ but in hindsight I had reason to very much thank my better half since there was to be significant rain.

After a mile or two, I realised that I had forgotten to take my medication today, but it is only a ‘light touch’ just to take the edge off any downs. There was just the hint of drizzle as I neared Stubbington when a car stopped in a side road and my attention was drawn to a driver honking and howling at me. Now I hadn’t misbehaved in the slightest as I recognised the driver, who greeted me with, “I’d recognise the back of that head anywhere”. Now there are certain people who can be as sarcastic as they like without upsetting me, and where I think the feeling is absolutely mutual, and this person was one of those sorts. I won’t embarrass him by naming him but he is a work colleague (thankfully, not much contact through work itself!) for whom I have massive respect as a human being. Not quite a full-on bromance but not far off. The brief exchange raised my spirits significantly. While I keep the identity protected, the big goober will probably identify himself on Facebook by saying how nice (or not) it was to see me on my walk.

I reflected on this over my coffee as I took my break a few minutes later, just as it started to rain. My mood has been fluctuating somewhat for some time and I have thought before about what changes my mood. A first throw at a list – in no particular order – of my personal mood changers would be something like (a positive is, er, a positive change):

Light-touch medication: +1 (around -1 if I don’t take it for two or three days)

Eating chocolate (while and just after eating): +1 per bar; (an hour later) -1 for the first bar, -2 for the second and later

A good night’s sleep: +3

A bad night’s sleep: -2

Coffee, the first of the day, not necessarily first thing in the morning: +1 or +2

Subsequent coffees: Nothing significant, though might have some effect on forthcoming sleep.

Sarcasm / banter with good friend(s): +3

Pedantry with good friend(s): Well, positive, but it is not a quantifiable concept. How could you assess this against the level or quality of pedantry, and how could one assert whether it is actually pedantry or not?

Doing good for someone else: Anything on a scale of about +1 to +3, depending on the level of help (and a bonus +1 if someone says thank you – you don’t know how much that sometimes means; when I say that, it sometimes means +1)

A hug: Almost always positive, the level of positivity directly proportional to the level of genuine warmth. If I was being particularly pervy, I might also mention the, er, physical attributes of the ‘hugger’ that can add a small positive multiplicative factor! So I won’t mention it. Oh, hang on….

Having a task ‘to do’ that you have to do, but don’t want to do, and can’t round to doing: Anything from -1 to -5. Yes, that is self-inflicted, absolutely. I suffer insufferably from this complaint. In fact, I was going to represent GB at the 2018 Procrastination Olympiad, but I’ve decided that I’m too busy and will go for it next year instead.

Sarcasm or hurtful comment from someone you don’t know: Up to -1 (for a short while). If I don’t know them, it’s irritating but only briefly. I can usually (sometimes gradually) convince myself that they don’t know me well enough to say anything.

Sarcasm or hurtful comment from someone I do know (but not a good friend): Depending on what it is, either 0 or a negative on a scale up to about -3. Of course, it is normal to only think of a very effective retort a while afterwards, rather than at the time.

A nice long walk: A few miles will usually negate all negative scores, and have a positive effect (up to a further +5) that peaks in the first couple of days, gradually diminishing as the days increase, until about 7-10 days afterwards.

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[I actually found that quite a helpful mental exercise to rationalise my thoughts. Certainly not an exhaustive list but what came into my mind. Current score about +8.]

OK, so I finished my coffee, a slightly shorter break than usual, and by that time it was raining, not quite cats and dogs, but at least gerbils and hamsters (Old Joke Alert: I had a hamster who passed away recently…… he died at the wheel). It was enough for the waterproof jacket to be vitally effective for about an hour until the rodents relented and then ran away. At least today I didn’t feel strained like last week in getting to 14 miles and I am feeling like I’m gaining a bit in fitness now.

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Bye bye bug, hello happiness

Er, yes I am still here. I have been absolutely desperate to get back out walking recently but have saved myself for now that I have just about recovered from a very nasty cold like ailment. Now, I am not worried in the slightest about whether it was a cold, virus, man flu, Aussie flu or whatever but it was very nasty whatever it was, and lasted almost a month (relenting for a couple of days around my birthday when I felt a bit better). Since getting fairly fit from about six years ago, I have had colds, but when one does permeate the much stronger immune system that fitness brings, it’s invariably nasty, nasty, very nasty.

Illness does limit the exercise than one can do, and the advice is to cut back, either to do something less strenuous or to do less of what you normally do. I have waited for days when I have felt a bit better, but it has been frustrating and I have become less tolerant and more irritable over the post-Christmas period, being stuck in the house for most of most days. Going back to work, though dreaded, actually did me a bit of good for once, and some of the big weapons against possible depression/anxiety are the feeling of doing things that are worthwhile, helping others and being appreciated by others. In other words, it is having a sense of self-worth, something one often doesn’t have when unwell.

That very long walk, almost four years ago now, was energised by my niece’s daughter Poppy, who was born sleeping, and during rough days she gave me the will to keep going. Poppy’s anniversary was coincidentally today, the day when I got back out on the road in anger, and I did give her some thought while on the road. 10 days ago, so desperate was I for any walking that I strolled up to Park Gate and back to buy a newspaper, no more than about a mile and a half round trip, but left me knackered on the sofa for a while with that bug. Now, it appears, it’s bye bye bug, hello happiness, to somewhat twist the words of the Everly Brothers. I was aiming for a gentle walk up to Costa in Sholing, the one by the Range, KFC and Greggs, and then, after frequenting only the coffee shop, returning along the same route for a total mileage of about seven.

Instead, what happened was that, perhaps as I might have anticipated, I was pumped up by the caffeine and so carried straight on. At each turning, I was deciding how far it was reasonable to think I could expect to achieve, and also took in a fair share of long gradual uphills and short steep uphills. Yes, uphill is a noun as well an adverb and adjective, before you ask. This really did me some good today, the other key anti-depressant for me being walking and feeling that I can push myself to good distances. Yes, I know, in the old days it wouldn’t have felt like that much of a distance but 14 miles today felt a lot and it’s going to hurt in the morning. For a period after a particularly tough uphill trawl that increased both my heart rate and weight of breathing, I felt I was almost sleepwalking or daydreaming, and that can be quite a nice calming feeling.

I am not booking up yet for any challenges this year. Despite teasing with the Atlantic Coast Challenge in the latter part of last year, I am not yet confident that I can attain such a level of fitness, even for a few months time. I am going to give it a couple of months and see how it goes. Yes, I might lose the early bird prices, but on the other hand I won’t be pressuring myself unnecessarily. Even a personal challenge of, say, a thousand miles for the year (which I have achieved with something to spare for each of the last six years) may be a little premature, but I will keep score anyway.

Great to be back.

A Cornish return

No walking today. It’s been a tiring week and a long day yesterday. It’s also wet, windy and cold, and I’m not in specific training just yet to make it that vital or worthwhile. But I have been thinking hard about a new walking challenge and I think I’ve found the one. It’s the Atlantic Coast Challenge 5-7 October next year and what effectively consists of three marathon distance walks on three consecutive days Friday to Sunday. But – as they say on I’m A Celebrity – I won’t be alone in there. This is one that I would really like to do with a few friends. There has already been some interest and some pledges to do this in a team. It is quite an exciting yet daunting challenge, and that is the combination that usually works.

Atlantic Coast Challenge

The route follows the North Cornwall coast from around Padstow to Land’s End along the South West Coast Path. I have walked some of that route, though in the opposite direction. It will be beautiful and with lovely Atlantic views, but also tough walking. We can only hope that the weather won’t be too bad. Photos from that last visit……

I’m leaving it for a few days while these guys have a cooling off period prior to committing to this event (the Cornish pasty for finishing will surely persuade one of them, in particular). As ever, there is some expense involved – but slightly cheaper if we all commit prior to 30th December. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to some walking over the Christmas holiday period to build up a little bit of fitness once again. As we get to spring and summer, I will build in some off-road walking with plenty of hills. The not very hilly New Forest and the slightly more hilly South Downs beckon.

Worth getting out of bed for

Sometimes there is simply too much going on for my one-dimensional brain (perhaps two-dimensional at a stretch) to handle. Issues and concerns both inside and outside the office are pretty difficult when they all come at once.

I certainly needed to get back out there on the road, press the endorphins and temper some of the toxins of trouble. No doubt over the following month I will be considering some fairly implausible walking challenges before setting on something very challenging but marginally manageable given a following wind, hopefully both interesting and manageable.

For today, a jolly jaunt along familiar tracks. A coffee stop, a couple of drivers beeping their horns in greeting, a couple of instances of rather reckless driving. Just another day at my ‘walking office’ and how great it felt. Well, great for at least about nine or ten miles. It is a few weeks since I’ve done anything near this distance. Strangely, my walking trousers felt tight, not around the belt as much as round the thighs. Blimey, that cycling had an effect. At one time, 13.5 miles would have been easy and a hardly-worth-getting-out-of-bed-for distance. Today, it was more than that. Likely to be stiff and achy tomorrow.

Cycle Challenge Day 9

Well that’s that. Another challenge completed. The final day was a bit more comfortable than I expected, though it was still over 50 miles on the bike, and around 2 hours 45 minutes. I’m glad to finish and have a certain warmth that I did manage it. However, this thing has pretty much taken over my life after work this week, and most of any free time over the last weekend.  Bye bye to the gym for a while – I am sick of the sight of that bike.

 

Day 9 Distance: 86.3 km (53.6 miles)

Total Distance: 804.7 km (500 miles)

Where am I on the London to Glasgow route: Glasgow. Finished at 7:10pm. The kids of CiN have mooched in just before 9. Well done to all of them, through all kinds of weather and inclines. Over £5 million raised so far. If you want to show your appreciation for them, please donate here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1gRFL3txwwWdMPshdNwRNRg/the-rickshaw-challenge-2017

Here are my heroes:

Thanks ever so much for reading. This is obviously the last blog post for this challenge. I am as stiff as a board – I reckon I need to go for a long walk soon……….

Cycle Challenge Day 8

158.3 km and so less than 100 miles to go, at the start of Day 8. Stuck in the middle of nowhere last night with only a distant phone box for company, so thank goodness that the bike started this morning. The seven days have been tiring and the mornings are not fun, my body having a certain aura of reticence and inertia about it now. Once I start, it is not so bad for a decent while with some sort of sense of achievement just round the metaphorical corner. There has never been much doubt in my mind since the weekend that I will complete the distance, only how much it would hurt.

It is odd – and somewhat masochistic (in some but not all senses of the word) – when you know that an activity that is entirely voluntary is not necessarily going to be enjoyable but what you do know is that it is going to hurt. I’m not certain I can get my head round that, but only that I keep going there. There is a near analogy of continually banging your head against a wall; it feels really good when you’ve finished. Perhaps, for me, it is that I can call myself a sportsman. I was always decent, but not brilliant, at a number of sports with no specifically great achievements that would impress too many people other than my mum and dad.

After those 10 weeks’ walking in 2014, I did introduce myself to a couple of people, quite straight-facedly, as a former full-time athlete. The walking (and now cycling) achievements are more a victory for stubbornness over talent, and a difficulty in accepting to give up – ok, don’t mention Isle of Wight. And I’m in no danger of giving up on this one, despite another two and a quarter hours and a bit riding and bouncing up and down on the saddle after work today. It reminded me of Not The Nine O’clock News sketch with the song I Like Bouncing and Rowan Atkinson belting out the classic lyrics “I like bouncing boing boing boing, Up and down until I get a pain in me groin”  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOUTimHYj5w) and I sure did have a pain in me groin, and me thighs too tonight. I was looking to get close to halving the remaining distance today, and I knew that I needed 71.5 km to keep those kids behind me. Competitive Dad and all that.

 

Day 8 Distance: 72 km (44.7 miles)

Total Distance: 718.4 km (446.4 miles)

Where am I on the London to Glasgow route: The route has shifted eastwards to Edinburgh. About 700 yards ahead of the kids of CiN. I’m not gloating about this – I’m only trying to help by letting them ride in my slipstream tomorrow, the final day.

 

Image result for pictures of edinburgh

The ‘Ride to the Clyde’. Just this one day left, a jaunt from Edinburgh to Glasgow. What a fantastic achievement by me those kids. Please think about making a donation:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1gRFL3txwwWdMPshdNwRNRg/the-rickshaw-challenge-2017

Cycle Challenge Day 7

I need to get wound up more often. Over the course of today, I turned from Cool Calm and Collected Spice to Sarcastic Spice to Irritated Spice to Angry Spice and then (most satisfyingly) to Stroppy Spice. A couple of innocent, or partly innocent, people got in the way. It gave me the aggression and drive to give it everything on the bike when I got home. I forgot the increasing stiffness and achiness in my legs and cycled away much further than I had planned.

What made me angry? Well, all sorts of things, work related. Being taken for granted, being taken for an idiot, having my advice completely ignored. Just all part of a day’s work. We’ve all had those sorts of days. It’s funny that very few personal insults can upset me since I can usually bat those away, but questioning integrity is on an absolutely different level. That really got my goat, in fact, a whole tribe of goats, but it helped to instil so much energy to burn off and channel to the pedals.

I’ve calmed down now. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Maybe you don’t like me anyway. I’ll try to be Normal Spice tomorrow.

Day 7 Distance: 92 km (57.2 miles)

Total Distance: 646.4 km (401.7 miles)

Where am I on the London to Glasgow route: In the middle of nowhere, but 8.7 miles ahead of the kids of CiN, apparently snuggled up in Hawick.

Image result for pictures of in the middle of nowhere in scotland

Now those kids on the BBC Children in Need Rickshaw Challenge. They have really got things to be angry about, to be bitter with the world. Their resilience is to be admired. As I write this, I’m reaching for my phone to donate. This ride – the one that I’m doing – is obviously a virtual ride of 500 miles over 9 days and it is in tribute to all of them who are really on the roads and hills. Please read one or two of their stories within the link below. I don’t envy them for one minute for what they’ve gone through in their lives; they deserve their moments of fame this week on the ‘Ride to the Clyde’.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1gRFL3txwwWdMPshdNwRNRg/the-rickshaw-challenge-2017