Winter Mini-Adventures

So I put out a poll on what to write about next, a grand total of 4 people voted. Thank you  4 😉

As Max sailed off into the never-ending sunset on his Antarctic adventure, I began to think that maybe, to pass the time, I should try some new things, things that pushed my comfort zone a little bit. So here is what I did!

Challenge 1 – Ladies’ Pond, Hampstead Heath.

I am a member of the ‘Adventure Queens‘ Facebook group, which is an excellent resource for women out there looking for inspiration, ideas, women specific kit recommendations (I hate pink, all my kit is pink, vendors please stop doing this!! I look ridiculous and clash a lot!!) and female company to go adventuring with. On this group I had seen a thread about open water swimming. In London. In winter.

Turns out there are several locations open in London in winter for open swimming, including…

North London
South London

So, having learnt winter open water swimming in London is actually a thing, and after hearing about the supposedly great mental and physical health benefits of submerging yourself in near freezing water, I thought this might be the exact challenge I was looking for. Certainly this was ridiculous enough.

Thankfully there is no shortage of people, who like me, are over excitable for something ridiculous, and I have to thank Meg, who is a PhD student working with me at UCL. Without the knowledge that Meg would be waiting for me on Hampstead Heath there was no chance I would have gone out for a mid-December sunrise swim. 6.15am and both stars and pavement are glistening – clear skies, frost and an air temp of zero degrees. I traipsed to the train station, freezing in my clothes, let alone without them, in water.

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Sunrise over a London skyline from Parliament Hill

It was a stunning morning as we saw light break over the London skyline from Parliament hill and made our way to the Ladies’ Pond on Hampstead Heath. However, on arrival it turned out the pond was shut. It had frozen over. Thankfully! the Mens’ pond was not fully frozen and they were sharing it with the ladies! Thanks guys!

 

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The Mens’ Pond, Hampstead Heath. No wetsuits here.

So I had packed a wet suit, but apparently that is not the etiquette. So Meg and I, bare-footed and swim hatted we crept onto the wooden jetty giggling mad with both cold, and at the daring of our own nerve. Before even getting to the water edge my feet were so cold I felt nauseous. But we were committed! We each stood on a ladder and counted down 3, 2, 1 before descending into the 4 degree water. It was cold. Cold in a way my body had never experienced, brain struggled to translate what my skin and organs were telling it. I wore my heart rate monitor, 120 bpm to 170 bpm in about 2 seconds. Hats off to Meg she managed to swim for about 5 seconds, I just kicked water until my hands were in more pain than I could cope with and a fear of vomiting from pain forced me out of the water.

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Winter sunrise swim!

On a huge high, super proud of our 5 seconds in the water, we hurriedly got dry, layered up and gulped down hot black coffee from a thermos. We spoke to the other women there, everyone was so friendly and excited for us and our first winter dip (though did think we were mad as they had built up to that temperature since summer ended).

Adventure completed! I jumped the tube, buzzing, and hoped I did not smell too much like a pond as I headed off to work.

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Meg and me, buzzing from our ‘swim’

Challenge 2 – End of year Yoga

New Years Eve and I am on a train heading south out of Glasgow on my way to Mark’s end of year reflection yoga and meditation class. Three hours of yoga, meditation and chanting. Chanting is far beyond my comfort zone. However, Mark is someone you just feel calmer for being around and having met him leading ‘yoga for runners’ at the Highland Fling training camp two years previous, I know his class will be excellent, and to be honest, exactly what I need. Dedicated time and space to be present and distraction free. Every day, I struggle with distraction and coaxing myself to focus (hence all the hobbies).

Anyway, I went to the class having mentally committed to giving my best, to be open minded and to let go of being self conscious. To take part without judging myself. Which was a good thing as there was singing and physically touching people (sitting back to back), which are two things I struggle with. So it turns out it is actually super comfortable to sit back to back with someone!! It was a really peaceful place to spend the last morning of 2017 and I came way feeling I gained a lot of energy from attending. My resolution from the class was to spend a few minutes every morning doing the breathing mediation, but have yet to start, and learn how to make a really good ‘Om’ sound, as when done right its a really relaxing sound. I have incorporated some of the yoga sequence we learnt into my stretching routine.

If you live in South Glasgow check out Mark’s classes – https://www.pranayogastudio.co.uk/teachers/mark-russell

Challenge 3 – Winter run on Rannoch Moor

After Christmas I travelled up to Scotland for a week on a ‘mini-tour’ of Scotland (Glasgow-Edinburgh-Balloch-Highlands-Glasgow). I had put out on the Fling face group to see if anyone wanted to run 20 miles out on the Way that week. Luckily, Kirsty from By the Way Hostel was up for a run! She recommended I catch the bus up to Glencoe Mountain, she would hop on at Tyndrum, and then we could run back together.

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Tiny bit of snow on the moor

At 7am I am standing in a lay-by off the A82 somewhere between Balloch and Alexandria praying this bus shows up! Actually the bus was brill, though pricey (916, runs Glasgow to Uig in Skye!) and an hour later Kirsty gets on and we catch up on running, races, the Fling, hiking, munros, west highland way race, training, people we know from the fling….. actually we talk the entire 4 hours we are out running and it is so lovely to run with someone and chat!

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Kirsty and me out running!

The moor was beautiful, though slightly disappointing the snow was gone, just icy slush in places. I had anticipated torrential rain so had my full dry kit in my bag, but it stayed dry and wind free. Kirsty introduced me to a tree on the Way, just up the hill between Bridge of Orchy and the pub down by the Loch, and where to expect low points in the race and where to expect jelly beans from Murdo.

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The hardest tree in Scotland.

Back in Tyndrum, fish and chips at the Good Food cafe, a brief trip to visit the sword in the Loch and then hopped on the 916 home. Back at my Aunt and Uncle’s house the fire was roaring, my cousin, his kids and dog were over and we had a lovely evening. Perfect day and what a start to 2018!

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The sword in the Loch

Challenge 4 – West Highland Way Podcast

Just after Max went to Antarctica I received the news that I had been successful on my ballot place for the West Highland Way race (96 miles – 35 hours). I cannot explain how excited I am for this race! I literally have no idea what will happen or how I will cope physically or mentally! I put my race profile up on the website and then got an email asking if I would be a guest on the podcast in the lead up to the race. The podcasts are really cool, John Kynaston does a great job interviewing previous race winners and title holders and they are a great resource for new runners of this distance, like me.

After ensuring John was aware I was a novice for this distance, I was interviewed for a podcast for the very first time! You can listen here, I am at around 15mins30secs.

http://www.kynaston.co.uk/podcasts/episode123.mp3

Challenge 5 – London Long Distance Walking Association Mid-Week Meet-up

As part of my West Highland Way race training plan I will be doing a lot of hiking and walking. This is because I anticipate walking around 40 miles on the day. To make this part of my training more social and keep time passing when I cannot get out in the hills I decided to join the Long Distance Walking Association London group. My first walk with LDWA was a mid-week pop-up walk in central London.

A little bit nervous I tuned up after work at the designated wetherspoons, my heart sank a little when I realised I was going to be the only women on the walk, though I had expected to be the youngest by far. However, the guys were super friendly, very happy for me to be there and wanting to join the walk, so all was good!

The planned route was 11km of the Silver Jubilee walkway and we were each given a print out of the walk and a mini guide. The walkway is through the Capital centre taking in many of the tourist sites (the Mall, St. Pauls, the Millienium Bridge, Parliament, Big Ben, Shakespeare’s Globe etc..). It was opened in 1977 and is marked by plates on the pavement and the crown directs the walker on the direction to take.

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Pavement Plate – follow the crown

It was a perfect night, clear skies, good company and ended with a pint and a burger!

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London lit up

 

Challenge 6 – Volunteer at Parkrun!

So not a biggie this one, but I had never volunteered and the point was to do new things. I had fun! Stood in the pouring rain cheering runners on as they ran the 1 mile lap round South Oxhey playing fields three times! I had the best marshall spot, near the top of the hill 😀

I love parkrun, if you are new to running or want to start, parkrun is the easiest way to start. You can walk or run or mix it up, there is no pressure or competition unless you make that for yourself. Bring your kids or your dog and if you have a disability and need a guide that can be arranged. Everyone is just super glad you came out and are taking part. If you are even unsure, just go watch one and check it out – https://www.parkrun.com

So Max is back, hopefully, on Wednesday and our joint adventures can start again. It has been a long 7 weeks! Promise, I will get him to put a blog up as his photos are out of this world amazing.

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