It was the photo my mum took of me that for the first time in years made me dislike what I saw.
I’ve always been pretty happy with how I look and accepting of my body despite my flucturations on weight over the years.
This photo really upset me. My hair had started to recede and it was showing, and I had a ring around my belly and I looked tired and frankly like somebody who had given up. I felt like it too. I looked like I had hit middle age, yet I was only 32. What had happened.
In reality, what had happened was lockdown, homeschooling, stress, not looking after myself, and ignoring my personal need for movement and exercise.
The photo initially made me sad but then I decided to do something about it.
I joined a Gym 🏋️♀️
After a few weeks of procrastinating on what trainers I wanted to use in the gym (like it actually made a difference) I had joined up and found myself typing in the pin to get into the damn place.
Once inside, I got to work, lifting, pulling, looking at my phone, repeating.
I kept this up for a few months and saw some slight gains, and then due to the busyness of work I lost it all over Christmas despite my best efforts.
After Christmas I felt unhealthier than ever, yet couldn’t face the gym. I needed something better.
First, I decided to take a punt on an App that appeared in my Facebook feed. Freeletics.
I downloaded the free trial and found it worked great. After a few weeks, I was already feeling fitter with the HIIT style workouts and challenges it was giving me.
Exercise quickly became a normal part of my life again, but I soon wanted more.
6 Months Earlier
6 months earlier I recorded a podcast with Rebecca The Rambler. Rebecca shared how she found Ultras. I assumed she ran them, but after laughing at me for the suggestion, she informed me she walked them.
“You can walk Ultras?
But I thought they were for runners?“
I was pleased to find out they were not, well not all organized ultra events. Although I’m pretty sure the Spine Race is for runners only.
A seed was planted. I wanted a challenge, but an Ultra still seemed impossible to me at that point, yet that seed grew…
Back to the story
In my need for a challenge – something to train towards I re-visited the idea of doing an Ultra. The idea had grown to the point of obsession, and I was looking at trainers again.
I passed the checkpoint in my local woods once for an Ultra that was taking place there while out on a bike ride one Saturday, and after chatting to one of the staff members, and seeing a few contestants hobble by I was especially interested.
But where I struggled was finding an ultra event that accommodated walkers.
Rebecca suggested a few, including a business I had recently started following called Robustours, run by John Beamson.
John’s business is a bit marmite. I know he won’t mind me saying that. Luckily I like marmite. By that, I mean John is very much the face of the operation and you either love him or hate him for his honesty. I personally like the guy a lot, and was drawn to his no-nonsense, no excuses mentality and considered signing up. John will hate that I considered signing up and didn’t just do it.
A day or so later, I received a DM on Instagram.
It was from John. What a coincidence.
I replied, and a few hours later we were on the phone chatting ultras and business. John wanted to use my help to promote his North Yorkshire Ultra, by getting on my podcast. In turn, I agreed to have John on the show and to do the ultra. The deal was sealed.
Now I had something to train for, and train I did.
I consistently worked out in the evenings, got in some good walks with lots of ascents, did some bike rides, walked where I could and dropped a bit of weight to help make me a bit lighter.
In all honesty, I’d never walked as far as the 50K I had signed up for and felt nervous about it.
Those nerves did not let up on the run-up to the event, and on the night before I was happy just to walk it in the maximum time of 12 hours.
Race day arrived and I turned up to the start line with as much naivety as one could have about these kinds of things. Smiling through the sun, with a lovely day of walking ahead of me.
The 3k stretch of Tarmac between the start in Scarborough and the cliff tops soon wiped the smile off my face and honestly, the aches started there and didn’t end.
I really enjoyed walking along the Cleveland Way Coast Path with the sea consisteltly to my right, and could have happily, at many intervals throughout the day stopped and enjoyed a snooze but walking was the order of the day. And a lot of it.
I spent much of the day walking alone, with a few intervals where I walked with others. In the growing list of aches and pains I found myself noticing, I found it easier to manage by myself and walk at my own pace.
FIrst I noticed my feet were tender after a long stretch on the pavement, then the ups and downs started to wear at my calfs and shins. After a while I felt a hot spot brewing into a blister, which I foolishly ignored. Towards the end I had a huge blister on the ball of my foot, and one on my heel. Meanwhile my calfs burned, my back hurt, and I had also sustained a daft injury in the shower that morning on my hand when I reached up to grab the soap and knocked the shelf hanging from the side of the shower in my B&B.
Yet it was the people I met that made the day for me more than the walking and landscape.
With anything difficult, where there is a common interest, a level of comeradie arises.
The North Yorkshire Ultra was no exception.
I made some friends who I have no doubt I will meet again in either another event, or just on the hill, and enjoyed every minute I spent walking with these individuals (you know who you are!)
As I reached the finish line in 10 hours, 58 seconds, I felt like shit.
I was happy to tuck down some pizza, and get home and hobble into bed.
The following day I reflected on my experience and this is what I concluded.
It’s too easy to be comfortable these days. I appreciate life is not comfortable for many people, but for me, in the grand scheme of things it’s nice. My love handles are testiment to that.
What I enjoyed was allowing myself the opportunity to do something very different to what I would normally choose to do on a Saturday. The Ultra wasn’t just about the event itself, but it was more made by the training, and mental preperation leading up to it.
I enjoyed the challenge immensely and will be back for more. And after a long absence from the hills and mountains, I can now comfortably call myself a Distance Hiker.
I will be back for more.