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.
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
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.
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