Walking through seasons – my 5×50 challenge

Get this bloody thing open, would ya?

Get this bloody thing open, would ya?

 

And so it is over. My fifty day challenge of daily 5kms and no alcohol drew to a close on a warm and sunny Whangie in the Kilpatrick Hills late yesterday morning; with the not-husband and the Tiny Support Team having provided a delightful picnic and bottle of chilled Prosecco to celebrate my success.

This morning, I have taken the day off work because,well, I am self-employed and so I can do as I damn well please; but also because I fully intended to have a day out chilling (and, I confess, I thought I might have something of a hangover to work through – as it happens, I don’t.) and reminiscing on the past fifty days and how they were truly hellish, a complete nightmare, a test of my strength and how I am so bloody happy they’re over and I can go back to being a lazy, wine-guzzling mardy arse who spends half her life on Facebook and the other half moaning about things I have seen on Facebook. 

Except that wouldn’t be true. I have loved every single moment of it. Yes, of course there were days where I could have pulled the duvet over my head and hid away rather than struggling into my trainers at daft o’clock on a Saturday morning. There were times where my teeth chattered and my goose-pimples had goose-pimples whilst I got my creaking hips into a decent stride on a frosty morning. There were a couple of times where I wrung the rainwater out of my leggings and my trainers took three days to dry properly. Towards the end of last month, my body decided to hit me with what was probably the worst cold I’ve had in years and the thought of dragging my aching, wheezing, headachey body around a 5km circuit literally reduced me to tears.

But I did it. And every day, I just felt better and better.

Quite a few people have asked me about the physical benefits of the challenge and, I just want to say here, that I can only talk from my own, personal perspective. I am very aware that I am fortunate enough to be mobile, and active, and pain-free and, although I do have a chronic health condition (Polycythaemia Vera, I’m sure I’ll find an opportunity to tell you about this in due course), I am lucky that my bloods have stayed pretty good with only a couple of temporary hiccups in the past couple of years; so I have had the energy reserves available to be able to confidently approach this sort of challenge – four or five years ago would have been a very different story. But yes, the physical benefits have been many, and these – of course – have also affected my mental well-being too. To start with, I was generally walking more than 5km a day (I didn’t count my usual exercise like the school run, I only monitored using MapMyFitness when I was out, specifically, for the challenge work), I think I was averaging about 7km a day and I was usually going at a fair clip (could talk but not sing, not enough to be out of breath with a stitch and shin-splints; but enough to be warm and sweating slightly) and burning around 3500 calories a week. The increase in exercise had a knock-on effect that I genuinely wanted to eat more healthily too and, whilst I didn’t exactly live on rabbit food, I was particularly careful of my portion sizes and tried to eat more protein and fresh vegetables, and less carbs. It was what my body seemed to be craving. Of course, I was also off the alcomafrol, so that reduced helluva lot of empty, wasted calories.

I don’t know exactly how much weight I have lost because perimenopause means the scales rarely tell the same weight hour by hour; but I have tried to work out some kind of average and it seems to be in the region of 9 pounds or so, possibly a smidge more. I’ve certainly toned up my legs, bum and tummy area – I’ve not got rid of my mummy-apron (I wasn’t really trying to, to be honest – I think only surgery could do that!), but above that I do have the start of some abs and my waist is almost two inches smaller; so that’s not bad without having done any specific targeted exercises like crunches.

 

Just pondering how strange it was to be too hot in a t-shirt in April. It was snowing the following week...

Just pondering how strange it was to be too hot in a t-shirt in April. It was snowing the following week…

I have also been sleeping so much better, I have been genuinely shattered by around 11pm and waking up really refreshed at around 6.30am rather than having to be dragged out of bed by my feet; and because I haven’t been falling into the ‘drink wine and veg in front of the TV/Facebook and accomplish nothing’ trap, I have been using my time more wisely doing crafts, reading, meditating, doing yoga, tending to the raised bed at the community garden and, well, just pottering and pootling, really. My days have felt longer, fuller, with more things tried and accomplished (I even made myself a pincushion and I am quite ludicrously proud of it!) and -yes – happier. And that is where things have been the most noticeable.

Before I started this, I used to wake up regularly having an anxiety attack; usually about work. I’d let it eat away at me during the early morning, during the walk to school, on the walk back. By the time I got back in at 8.45am and it was time to start my hours, I would be jangling, shaking and already knackered. These attacks have all gone.

Before I started this, I seemed to have every damn symptom of perimenopause, from aching bones to headaches, night sweats, hot flushes, palpitations, severe and rapid mood swings and confusion. These, as you would expect, got worse depending on where I was in my cycle, and my PMT and period pains were just awful. I was horrid to be around. These have all but gone, or been massively reduced.

I have been meditating every day of the challenge, using the brilliant free Stop, Breathe and Think app that I’ve been using regularly for over a year now. Before you meditate, you are encouraged to list your top five strongest emotions at that very point – ranging from ‘negative’ emotions such as anger, jealousy and resentment through apathy, indifference and nervousness through to the ‘positive’ emotions such as gladness, joy and contentedness. Boy, have I seen my top five emotions change. Whereas before my mood was generally one of confused, overwhelmed nervousness and insecurity; I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say that over the past fifty days I have witnessed a sea change and my moods have changed completely. Reading straight from the app right now, my top emotions of the past month have been: grateful, thankful, appreciative, enthusiastic and encouraged. Three months ago, they were exhausted, nervous, apprehensive, panicked and mixed up.

So, what have I learned?

I have learned that walking is fantastic exercise for both body and mind. I have also learned that alcohol was having far more of a detrimental effect on my health than I thought – the morning panics, I swear, were down to alcohol rather than lack of exercise. To prove my hypothesis, I walked around 7km yesterday, but had a  drink because the challenge was over. Not only did I pay for it with a crushing headache within a couple of hours; but I woke up with a panic attack at 5 this morning. I have been sleeping so much better, and being so much happier and more contented during the day, that alcohol is a simple thing to give up. Not give up completely, but cut back considerably to being an occassional treat rather than a staple to get over a tough day or a cloudy mood.

 

“It is Spring again. The earth is like a child who knows poems by heart.” –  Rainer Maria Rilke

PicMonkey Collage

The most important thing I have learned, however, is to look and to feel. To notice again.

I have learned that, to fill my heart and head with joy, all I need to do is look around me.

The vast amount of my walking was done within five miles of where I live, my home for twelve years and a place I have become used to, even probably slightly jaded by. How many times have I walked through the woods from the David Livingstone bridge, down past Bothwell Castle and down to where the cycle route takes the green bridge that crosses the Clyde and sweeps up the hill to the Blantyre Farm Road? Hundreds of times, in all weathers. Yet these fifty days felt different. Maybe because I was walking without the weight of my own World on my shoulders, maybe because I am more contented and am learning that worry is futile and only steals my own peace. Maybe because my eyes, and my heart, were open to the experience. I had nothing to lose, and nothing to be cynical about.

When we started, back in March, the trees were skeletal, the ground was hard with frost and my face and fingers stung with the cold North wind that made my eyes stream and my lips taste of blood and salt. On other days, the cloud seemed low enough to touch, and my head mostly studied the pavements as I held my hood down over my bowed head against the driving rain. I walked in my hillwalking boots, sometimes my wellies; wearing several layers and occassionally getting drenched through them all.

And then, slowly – oh, so slowly, it felt, I noticed the green starting to push through brown, muddy ground and rotten leaves. New life pushing through last year’s spent life. The heartbeat of the woods got louder and louder, and the air was soon full of birdsong and the gentle, soft unfurling of delicate, velvety leaves; the joyous dance of daffodils and wood anenomes and the scudding clouds and blue sky reflecting in that gently meandering river that, just ten miles downstream, once hosted ships that sailed the World and rang out with the sound of hammers.

Suddenly, I could see a million different greens around me, all perfect, all bright and full of promise. The greening was both an age to wait for, and a sudden flash of gobsmacking brilliance.

Sunshine and showers, blue skies and hailstorms. Snowdrops and daffodils and hidden bluebell dells. Foxes and deer and skylarks’ song and house martins. Dawn choruses and heartbreakingly beautiful sunsets. Country lanes draped in hawthorn and promise; the sound of lawnmowers and the smell of early Spring barbeques; the sound of laughter and the smell of earth.

I saw it, heard it, felt it all.

I held it.

I hold it still, and I always will. Everything is beautiful.

Everything.

 

20160515_145822

Celebrating the end of the challenge and drinking in the beauty at Rowardennan, Loch Lomond, May 15th

 

I have, so far, raised just shy of £700.00 for Parkinson’s UK and would like to say a huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone who has been kind enough to donate to this wonderful cause. My justgiving page will be open for another couple of weeks, so if you would like to make a small donation, you can do so here. Thank you so much xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chilly Beltane musings and ponderings of a non-philosophical ilk.

Art by Amanda Clark

Art by Amanda Clark

 

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light, where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious, is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

Stephen Spender

With enormous thanks to the friend who posted this beautiful piece on Facebook today.

I think we can all too often forget that Facebook and other social media platforms can be more than mere hotbeds of gossip, bad feeling and worst sentiments; and whilst I do attribute a degree of the improvement in my mental health to a considerable cutting-down of time spent on social media, I couldn’t stand to be without it completely. It is, after all, the place where news – both happy and sad – is shared, and where friends I cannot often – if ever – see in person exist. I do get excited and thrilled by their plans, their joys, their happy news; and I worry about their sadnesses, their troubles, their grief and their woes. A lot of my dearest friends are ‘internet friends’ I have yet to meet in real life, a concept that would have been alien to me ten years ago; yet these are people who have helped me beyond measure, who have been rocks, who have loved me and cared about me and watched my back for me time and time again. I hope that I have been able to offer them the same degree of support and love when they have needed it from me, because these are no fairweather social media chums simply there for likes and shares. These are friendships every bit as valid – if not more so – than the friendships borne of societal proximity and shared necessity / convenient bartering system of favours and borrowed milk. And in today’s society where we are encouraged to distrust everyone and watch their every move for fear they may be doing something we should disapprove of, friendships are to be cherished and nurtured.

And so you may well have noticed that this post – which has already rambled off on a tangent far faster than I was expecting it to – coincides rather nicely with Beltane. Unfortunately, Beltane has coincided with a sudden change in the weather that has hurtled us, it feels, back into November and I would be lying if I didn’t say it hadn’t affected my mood somewhat.

My 5 x50 challenge had been going brilliantly. We had some stunning – if still mostly rather cold – days for walking or cycling. Because I have not been drinking alcohol, I’ve been going to sleep earlier and waking earlier each morning; which in turn was setting up a really positive morning routine for the kids and I, and I would drop them at school and then skip merrily (OK, walk quite contentedly) home for a morning of work; then disappear off after work for my 5km, or go up to the community garden for the afternoon and then involve the whole family (how delighted they were!) in my daily stomp.

We had some stunning evening walks….

dalzell

Dalzell Estate / Baron’s Haugh RSPB Reserve, Motherwell

day29

The view from Bothwell Community Garden on Day 29

Even Derek the Blue Beastie got dragged back out of the shed…and why yes, that IS my fleece in the basket, I was that warm.

bike

We also decided to fulfill one of Kid One’s ambitions, to start walking the Clyde Walkway. We parked the car at Newton station, got the train into the town, and walked back to the car. After 16km, Kid One decided not to vocalise any more of his great ideas within mum’s earshot.

clyde

I am currently trying to convince him to do the next stage……

It was something of a disappointment, therefore, when the weather changed to what can best be described as ‘f^cking Baltic’. It, as usual, waited until I had sowed seeds in our raised beds both outside and in the unheated polytunnel and then decided to throw down hard frosts, hail the size of peanut M&Ms, and a good sprinkling of snow for good measure.

“Damn you, weather!” I raged, shaking my (very cold) fists at the weather gods “How can you do this to us so close to May? DON’T YOU KNOW I HAVE JUST PLANTED SEEDS?”, before noticing on my Facebook memories that, yes, it had indeed been snowing this time last year.

When. Will. I. Learn? Probably never, let’s face it.

The cloud, biting Northerly winds and white shite (interesting hail/snow combos) did affect me more that I was expecting and, having been on a bit of a buzzy clean-living, annoyingly healthy perky bitch vibe thang, I sort of hit the ground with a bump. And a smack. And a metaphorically bruised arse. The walks became a chore,  I developed the World’s most hideous cold complete with pounding headaches and streaming eyes caused by blocked sinuses and a chest that rattled, wheezed and hurt like I have an 80 a day Woodbine addiction. A cloudy morning was greeted by a strange desire to hide away, to crawl back into hibernation, to forget all the good things I have been experiencing with the coming of Spring and the 5 x 50 Challenge; a sense of rising panic and worry that Oh my God we are not going to get a decent Summer this year, it’s going to stay dark and damp and cold forever and ever and dear Lord Almighty how shall I cope when we start heading back towards Autumn and the shortening days and the darkness and cold once more?….

On top of that nonsense, my rapidly deteriorating mood was affecting my crafty gubbinses. (I like saying that, it makes me feel like a hobbit, only I am shorter and have hairier feet). I couldn’t concentrate for long on anything, not even reading or crochet; and when I did attempt something I found instructions frustratingly difficult to follow and the results when I did manage to complete something lacked finish. I managed to finish some granny-square bunting for our village’s craft bomb weekend that’s happening towards the end of May and I was, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, unimpressed and rather disappointed with the overall result, despite my fellow yarny craft-bombing type ladies making all the right ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aaah’ noises when I did a somewhat half-hearted, Elvis-sneery ‘big reveal’ at the last meeting before blushing scarlet, looking embarrassed and silently vowing not to ever get involved with anything requiring a modicum of skill or talent ever again. I don’t have a photo of the bunting (I’m not sure whether this should be considered a fortunate thing or not – I forgot to take a photo, so underwhelmed was I by the whole experience) but I’ll try and take one when it is up on display in its chosen spot in the village. There are reasons why I need to keep it under wraps for now, anyway….*touches nose knowingly*.

By the middle of the week I was actually getting on my own chebs so much with my constant moaning about the sleety-hail-snow-rain stuff, my stinking cold and my frustrations with every damn thing that I decided, like I sometimes do, to have a good, hard look at myself before people started avoiding me more than they already do. Whilst in the midst of serious, earnest soul-searching, I discovered the following truths:

  • Colouring in is actually really quite stupidly relaxing and totally not just for the under fives, but only if you have decent pens.
  • I have decent pens.
  • Prima Makes is definitely worth £4.99 of anyone’s money if you want a magazine full of badly sized templates and some fantastic crafty ideas that are ideal if you happen to be married to a manager of Wickes and/or have more money than sense.
  • Days where it is cold and wet and/or trying to snow despite it being nearly-Summer are a way of telling you that you haven’t cosied up and read enough books.
  • You need to make the most of every single patch of blue sky and sunshine and get out in it. Even if it’s only for a few moments, even a few stolen moments drinking tea on the back step can make a real difference.
  • Don’t stop doing yoga. Ever. Your body and brain won’t be your friend anymore. And painting your toenails gets a lot harder.
  • Don’t put life on hold waiting for something. Not a sunny day, not a certain person, not for some kind of planetary alignment. Just get out there and do it. Now. It might be your only chance.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, don’t throw it straight in the f%ck it bucket. Glare at it a bit, kick it around a bit, threaten it with being thrown out of the window, and then try again. And again. And again, if necessary. Have faith.
  • Good moods, like Spring, often return by themselves. Stop worrying about it, and just let it happen. Worrying and beating yourself up about why you seem more down than you were will just exacerbate your anxiety. Accept it as a glitch, and wait for it to pass. (Please note that I am talking about moods here, I am not talking about mental health issues – that’s a far more tricksy, subjective issue for me to give such flippant advice on….).

And lo,my pep-talk seemed to work. I made this. And I am rather pleased with how it all came together…..

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More about my Beltane wreath next time, dear reader, as well as more about the 5 x 50 challenge (only 14 days to go, NOT THAT I’M COUNTING OR ANYTHING) which is still going to plan with each day done on time and without even a single rest day (I am well over the 250km mark already) despite illness, crap weather and general grouchiness. I’ll try and do something a bit interesting soon, I promise.

Here’s to the coming warmth of Summer! (We hope!)