Stumbles, Fractures and Challenges


Mobile Feb 2016 223Back at the beginning of December I was very determined that I would keep walking through the winter. I had already decided to walk the Great Glen Way and the Cleveland Way in 2016. All I had to do was be fit enough.

I checked out a number of local walking groups to help keep me motivated.  I finally decided on my local Ramblers group and on my first walk out with this particular group I fell over my own two feet, on tarmac. The moment I hit that ground I knew I was hurt. I was bundled off to A&E and sure enough I had fractured my shoulder. This simple act of hurting myself has probably made me more determined than ever to complete my two planned national trails.  I am sure that not all Doctors at fracture clinics are quizzed on how quick their patients would be back out walking and carrying a heavy rucksack.  My doctor is still unsure about me being able to carry the rucksack on my first walk so I will definitely need to look at the option of having it moved on for me.  I keep telling myself no excuses, there is a way around almost anything if you want to do something enough.

I was unable to really walk far without pain for a few weeks; however, around about New Year’s Eve I came across the #Walk 1000 miles in 2016 Challenge advertised by the magazine Country Walking. Without a minutes thought I had signed up. Taking into account that I had only been on one short and painful walk since my fall I had no idea how I was going to cope.  I didn’t really expect to do well initially but I had a year to complete this challenge.  I did doubt that I would manage all those miles because I generally only walk at weekends. I work very long hours during the week and couldn’t see how I would fit anything extra in. However, I did know that I can walk 10 miles each day over the weekend. That was a massive commitment but thought with the miles walked for the national trails and holidays I would be pretty near.

On my first two days I tried to see how far I could walk until it became painful.  I soon realised I couldn’t push it so started doing two or even three short walks each day.  By the end of week one I was amazed that I had in fact walked 21 miles.  All of those little walks added up.  Each week I am now able to walk a little further.  I was lucky that, as I was unable to work or drive I could continue these little daily walks.

What I didn’t expect though is how strong that motivation to keep walking every day would continue.  When it came to me going back to work I thought that I would try getting up an hour earlier to get a walk in that way. I had worked out a little route around town that I felt was safe enough to walk in the dark and would probably take about an hour.  In the final section of my walk there is a fairly steep road which I thought was important to include.  On my first morning we had a beautiful sunrise and I was so busy taking pictures I was nearly late to work. From that day I gave myself another half hour just in case.  Even having to start work an hour earlier one day I just got up even earlier to include my walk.  I found it a perfect start to my day. I was wide awake and alert for work with the knowledge that I had done the miles I needed for the challenge.

Every day when I finished work I would look longingly out of the window so off I would go for another walk straight from work. It’s now getting a little lighter in the evenings so I can vary that walk more with confidence.

Since the 1st January I have only missed 3 days of walking.  It has become the most natural thing to get up and get out for a walk before and after work.  Sometimes I can go further than others depending on what I’ve got on.

All of last year I concentrated so much on building up my walking at weekends. Distance was the most important thing to me.  This challenge is more about every step counts.  There is a little but steep hill near my house and I’ve used it a lot to practice walking up hills.  I have always had to stop several times going up there to catch my breath.  This year for the first time I walked straight up it.  I almost didn’t believe I had done it.  The next day I went out and thought I’d try it again.  Again I got up without the need to stop. For me those little walks every day have actually improved my fitness more then all of those long walks I  have done once or twice a week.  That was a real lesson for me. I am still not up to walking the distances that I was before my fall but I can in fact walk further by splitting those walks and doing two walks a day. Just give myself time to recover and off I can go again.

As part of the challenge I joined the #Walk 1000 miles class of 2016 Facebook group. The best thing I could do.  Very few of my friends and family are into walking like me however I now have this group of 100s of supportive walkers and we are all doing the same thing.  Because of this group I’m even considering some other walking related challenges that I have learnt about through them.

As of this moment I have walked 172 miles so far since 1st January. I no longer have doubts about completing the challenge and I am feeling fitter and healthier already. Never mind the bonus of losing a few lbs along the way.


The Procrastinating Walker

056Have you ever woken up on a Saturday morning and looked out of the window and thought what a beautiful day for a walk out in the country if only I didn’t have to…..

It is amazing the amount of reasons you can come up with for not doing something which you would probably enjoy if you just did it. Despite loving to walk I can procrastinate just like anyone else.   I planned to walk Hadrian’s Wall for at least 2 years before I just did it. One day I decided that this year was to be that year.  I had the annual leave booked and I hadn’t really planned where I was going so there was no excuse. From that moment I got on my computer, set up my little spreadsheet to plan the trip and that was it. I never wavered from my determination to do it from that point.

I can’t explain why we procrastinate but you have to flick that switch on in your mind.  One of the mostly likely times to procrastinate is through the winter months.  It is very hard to feel like going for a walk when it’s dark and damp outside.  I have already decided, planned and booked accommodation to walk two national trails next year.  The Great Glen Way in Spring and the Cleveland Way in Summer.  In order to be fit enough to do both trails I need to retain and improve on my fitness through the winter months.  To be honest I am worried that my ability to procrastinate will take over and I will find myself in Spring having not walked further than around the shops. I desperately need that switch well and truly on in my mind to keep me motivated.

The ironic thing is that when I’m determined to do something I am so conscientious that when a real and valid reason for not walking comes up it sends me into an almost panic.  It is very true that like most sports the more you hike the more you want to and we trained a lot for the three peaks. On the weekends we had off I thought about nothing else but training.  I just couldn’t relax.  There has to be an even balance between the two and as yet I have not conquered that one.

On a few occasions I have continued to do planned walks despite weather conditions.  I have some of my best memories from some of those walks.

One winter morning a couple of years ago I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning after a few days of snow. Despite my apprehension to drive out on the snowy icy country roads I packed by rucksack with hats, gloves, extra fleece and a flask of hot coffee and set off.  The sun went in almost as soon as I set off but I kept going.  I only went up to Shining Tor which is not too far from home. It was really great walking in the snow. I knew the path was safe and I knew the walk well so I didn’t worry about that. Walking in the snow takes more effort and a wonderful way to get fit! Although that walk is only about 4 miles by the time I got back to the car I felt like I had walked doubled that but I felt really good.

I have been known to push things a little close for comfort and a sorry to my son for putting him in the next two scenarios.

One weekend my son and I thought we would walk up Shining Tor via another, steeper and therefore more challenging route. When we set off all was great.  I could see that the clouds were on the hill top but fully expected the clouds to lift before we got up there.  As we walked up the hill we started coming into the snow line.  There wasn’t any snow at home so I hadn’t been aware that there was lying snow on the ground up here. Still snow on the ground is fine, we were still safe on this path. Then the clouds came down more and the visibility became very difficult. This was a new route for me and I had a map but that was useless in zero visibility.  I do always carry a compass and I was beginning to feel that I was going to need to use it when suddenly I could hear voices.  We started walking in the direction of the voices and came up to the more familiar path. Up here in the clouds there were loads of walkers.  I couldn’t believe it.

We had a similar scenario with low lying clouds twice walking up Scafell Pike. My son is yet to see the top!

On another occasion my son and I set off up to Kinder from Edale.  It was freezing cold on this particular day and as we got further uphill our planned route became hazardous.  The footpath had eroded and we would need to climb over the rocks. You have to be sensible, it was icy and I was not going to risk that with my son so we turned around.  We passed a few lads that were making a brew up there which was really appealing! When we returned to Edale we stopped in the visitors centre.  They took one look at the both of us and suggested hot drinks.

These walks were very definitely memorable and I actually quite enjoyed them….not sure about my son! You learn something on every walk you do so I just need to always carry a GPS to find my way in low cloud, carry a little stove to make hot drinks plus stick to familiar routes.

I can’t say whether I will succeed in my endeavour to keep walking over the winter but I hope so. I really do enjoy walking. Now where is that switch in my mind?

Oh and the picture was taken on August Bank Holiday!

This fat lady can walk Hadrian’s Wall!

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Just over a week ago at around 1pm I walked into Newcastle to complete my first long distance walk, Hadrian’s Wall. I was now fit enough to walk 11 miles before lunch. My feet and legs felt very tired and I knew I could do no more that day.  After a hot bath though and a good sleep the following morning I felt fit again. I knew I could have physically continued if the walk had been longer.  I had walked 88 miles from Bowness on Solway to Newcastle over 9 days.

I did not find this a particularly difficult walk….if you take one day at a time. Although in the back of my mind I kept Newcastle as my aim I deliberately only concentrated on what I was doing the next day.  Every evening I sat and read through the instructions for the following day.  Unless you have a medical problem I think after a bit of preparation that each day individually would be achievable by most.  I never pushed myself beyond what felt comfortable.  Even over the crags and the highest section of the wall. You do have to constantly go up and down fairly steep hills but they are short ascents before you start downhill again. You can do most things for a short time. As with all my walks I counted the steps.  Before I started the hill I would gauge whether I felt I could go for 25 steps or even go for 50.  Either way I stopped briefly whenever I reached that number, had a look at the view so I could catch my breath back. There was one section I had to do 10 steps before stopping. I still got to the top! The difficulty with this walk is that it is day after day. That comes with practice but you can walk what feels comfortable for you and just take a longer time to complete the walk.  Or you can just do a highlights version of the walk. A majority of the walk is fairly flat.  I did the high sections over two days to make it easier on myself.

In my preparation for the trip I planned to walk between 10-11 miles a day with a rest day mid trip and I deviated off the route to go into Hexham. On my first main walking day as planned I carried my rucksack. For the first 2 miles I kept stopping to take the strain off my back. I didn’t practise my walks with such a heavy rucksack. Despite that I soon found my stride and walked the 9 miles into Carlisle by 2pm. I was desperate to get the pack off and here made one of my first mistakes. Hot, dehydrated and tired as soon as I arrived at the guest house I had a hot bath. It took half an hour at least to stop feeling dizzy.  You just don’t realise how dehydrated you can become. I carried 2 bottles of water with energy tablets in plus a small flask of coffee. After that day I made sure I drank them all before going anywhere near a hot bath/shower.

The owner of my first bunkhouse recommended I arrange a carrier to take my pack particularly over the high section. I rang the company she recommended and arranged it for the rest of my trip. It cost £6 a transfer which I was more than willing to pay after that first day. I cannot stress enough how important this was for me.  I do not think I would have completed the walk without doing this.

Freed from my heavy bag I set off the next morning feeling happy and confident that the trip was now achievable. One problem I didn’t anticipate was arriving too early to get in my accommodation. I found those that allowed me in at around 2pm were ideal. That fitted in with my walking; gave me plenty of time to rest and recharge my batteries before the next day. I stayed at one bunkhouse where you aren’t allowed in before 5pm. whilst it was a lovely place to stay I would have chosen differently in retrospect. I spent most of that day hanging around waiting to get in. That isn’t relaxing at all!

Along the Wall there are no cash machines other than in Carlisle and Newcastle.  Normally not a problem except that many of my bunkhouses and places for snacks did not take card payments. On reaching Birdoswald I had very little food so having established they accept card payments I settled into their cafe. Lack of food was often a problem for me. I had not taken enough with me and it was only towards the 2nd half of the trip I realised you have to eat when you pass somewhere with food even if it’s just for a scone because you don’t know when you’ll pass somewhere again.  There were very few days i found enough food for three meals a day. After discussing this with other walkers it seemed that most carried loads of energy bars. I hadn’t even thought of it.

I was very fortunate with the weather generally but one day the rain started around midday. I was not quick enough putting on my waterproofs. That was an extremely uncomfortable 5 mile walk in the rain. However on arriving at the bunkhouse and having downed two cups of tea I realised that I was one of the few walkers there without blisters or injury. I had come across people giving up or injured along my route. All of these walkers were walking much further every day. This is why I felt I planned it right. My plan allowed me equal walking and rest time and well within my walking abilities. Additionally I had taken my old well-worn in boots and wore 2 pairs of socks. Old style!

The views on the walk are varied. The sections with visible wall and in parts the highest from near Birdoswald to around about Housesteads were beautiful. I often stopped to take in the view and appreciate how far I had come and still had to go. The section prior to Carlisle and going into Newcastle does have quite a bit of road walking which isn’t my favourite but even here you are overlooking their respective rivers Eden and Tyne most of the time.

You meet a great variety of people on a walk like this and many will stop for a chat if you want to.  I particularly remember some of the people staying at the bunkhouses I stayed in. If you were going the opposite direction they would ask the path you taken, what was it like. If you were with people going the same direction was more a case of comparing blisters….which I didn’t have! I did meet a few other solo women walking but the thing that probably surprised me more was the average age of the walkers I met.  Whilst there were a few younger groups most of the people walking were I would say between 50 and 70 years old.  In fact I met a few rather elderly people up on the high section and I was amazed at how they got up there!

A week on and my thoughts have turned to other long distance walks I could do. I read somewhere that you can get hooked on this long distance walking lark and I think I am. I had a great time and really enjoyed the experience. I was more than happy walking on my own although I appreciate that not all long distance walks might be quite so easy on your own. . My experience of bunkhouses was fine as well as everyone else is there because they are doing what you are. My rest day didn’t quite work out as I planned as I changed accommodation that day so yet again a day spent sitting around. Still I learn a lot from this trip that will prepare me for any further ventures.

I am proud of myself for this achievement.  Not bad for someone with my BMI.  I did lose about a stone immediately after the walk although some of that was definitely fluid.  I am still about half a stone lighter now.  All that exercise mind you and I still get breathless going up the stairs!

You are stronger than you think – Hadrian’s Wall preparation

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Last week in preparation for my Hadrian’s Wall walk I put a lot of weights into a rucksack to get a feel of the weight I could potentially have on my back. I put 2 stones in weight in the rucksack and tried to lift it. It was so heavy.  That really hit home because I’m more than 2 stone overweight and yet I can carry that weight up and down mountains. That was the point at which I realised how strong I have now become.

When those of us who are overweight walk we burn off more calories than our slimmer walking friends for the simple reason that are bodies have to work harder.  My leg muscles are now strong enough to lift and carry my weight up and down mountains with very little discomfort.  I no longer get aching muscles although I do get some nerve pain in my joints. I’ve had a conversation with my doctor about pain to identify the point at which I should stop. At my doctors request I will be carrying out this walk taking pain killers but he is 100% behind me doing this walk.  Those of us who are overweight do have to listen to our doctors.  This is not about being reckless in pursuit of a goal.  This does not mean you have to give up on the goal.

Hadrian’s Wall is often done in about 5 days.  I’ve decided to do my walk in 9 days.  My first days walk is my shortest and also on the flat.  This is so I can ease myself into the walk and get use to walking with the heavier rucksack. My second day is a bit further but still well within the distance that I know I can walk comfortably.  The next part of Hadrian’s Wall is the steepest and I have planned 2 days to complete this section.  I have then planned a day’s rest. After that the walks do get longer.  My second to last day is the furthest and 2 miles further than I have ever walked.

One of the reasons that I prefer to walk rather than go to the gym or run is because it’s too easy for me to give up.  I am basically lazy if I can be. You can jump off a treadmill or you can slow to a walk when out running.  When you walk you have to get back to the car or get home so you just keep going. Most of the time, you have no choice.  That is the way that I have actually built up the distances that I walk.

Last year is when I really started planning to walk Hadrian’s Wall.  I bought a guide book and a map and started reading about other people who had done long distance walking. Not necessarily Hadrian’s Wall but the process of doing a long distance walk is much the same whichever one you do.  There were recurring themes I found in these books.  This isn’t just about being physically fit it’s also about being in the right mind set.   If you believe you can do something then the chances are you can.  If you have doubts you will fall short. Even with the best will in the world there will come a point on this walk when I will doubt myself, when I’m tired or hungry I will be very close to giving up. Every one of those books who describe this say just sleep on it.  When you’ve had a good meal and a good sleep the next day you can start the walk and you will undoubtedly find you will feel different.

On that first walk up Helvellyn that I did training for the 3 Peaks I doubted my ability to get up that hill.  It was harder than I imagined and I reached that point. I didn’t give up however and when I reached the top I was amazed at how good I felt.  My recovery rate was actually really good.  You do get an adrenaline high yes but I wasn’t breathless anymore, my joints felt great and I felt that I could have continued for miles not just the descent.   When I choose mountains to climb now I try and choose a route where you might have a very steep climb, then a flatter section to recover before a final steep ascent.  That is what works for me.  That is why I have chosen to have that recovery day.

I have not had a specific training regime in preparation for this walk.  From reading the books I knew that I had to walk between 8 to 15 miles a day to complete the Wall. I knew that some days would  be up and down hills and some days are flat and mainly by road. I also had to be able to walk on consecutive days.  The day that I achieved my first target of 8 miles last year was a major achievement.  I have walked 8 miles before but it’s always been up a hill and then down.  This 8 mile walk was up and down hill all the way.  The final section of that walk was uphill and the hardest section.  By this time I was tired, I was cold and also wet….it was August bank holiday!  I found that I would walk a few steps and then collapse to the ground unable to walk, then I would pick myself up and then do a few more steps before collapsing again. It doesn’t matter if you have to stop several times getting up a mountain the point is eventually you will get there.  For me it’s about controlling my breathlessness. That has and is still my biggest struggle. That is why when I walk up a hill I plan how many steps I want to do before I’m going to have a stop.  After a while you realise that you hadn’t even noticed that you were going uphill. It’s taken me 2 very long years to get to that point.  I still stop on the steepest hills of course.

The hardest and most painful walk I have done was actually a 14 mile walk on the flat.  You think walking on the flat is easier on your body but it isn’t.  It can be more of a strain on your joints plus you don’t have anything particular to stimulate my mind.  When I walk up hill I stop and look at the view and I get immersed in that.  Walking along a flat path you often have very little to see.  My solution to that is either to walk with others or listen to talking books on my iPod. I do belong to walking group and I find that you will often get immersed in conversation as you walk that you don’t realise how far you’ve walked or in some cases again that you are going up hill.  When I’m walking on my own I do listen to a talking book.  Yet again my brain is immersed in the story so I’m not thinking about how far I’m walking. On this flat 14 mile walk I was 2 miles from home when I could feel a pain in my hip.  With nothing to distract me that’s all I concentrated on for 2 miles.  By the time I got home I was in agony and my first thought was that I had done too much.  Yet I knew I could do that distance.  I’ve done it before.  After a few days rest I decided to do a similar walk but this time with a talking book.  I walked totally pain free for 9 miles.  I then decided to walk the same distance but over hills without the iPod and again pain free.

My planning of this walk along Hadrian’s Wall has been a journey of mental and  physical preparation.  I do have contingency plans in place in case something goes wrong but I really hope I don’t need to take that option.  I have at this moment a mixture of fear and excitement about the trip. If I don’t succeed then I’m still the fittest I’ve been for a very long time and I believed in myself.

This fat lady can walk!


Many years ago there was a television programme on Channel 4 Called “Too Fat to Walk”. When I watched that programme I was filled with admiration and complete amazement at those who took part. It also planted a little seed of thought. Whatever my weight I could walk; and I don’t mean just round the corner.  As a kid I loved sports but as I got older I felt that my weight stopped me from doing what I wanted.

Like many women in their early 50s I’m overweight – quite a lot overweight I admit it. I’ve tried every yoyo diet out there but this isn’t about diets – it’s about feeling good and enjoying something that I wanted to do whatever my BMI was, or my age.

About five years ago I was walking up a little hill near my home and I was shocked by how much I struggled. I thought ‘what has happened to me?’ I was even prepared to accept that this was my life from now on. However, I did decide that I would try to do a little bit more exercise and get a bit fitter.  My idea of a little exercise was a little exercise, but then I had this absolutely crazy idea: totally off the scale crazy.   At work they wanted to do the Three Peaks Challenge and I decided I wanted to as well.  The first walk we did I thought I was dying going up Helvellyn.  If it wasn’t for the fact that some of the younger walkers had been drinking heavily the night before and struggled as well then I think I would have given up.  Except, I didn’t actually feel like giving up. I’ve always said that it might take me a long time but I’ll get there. I soon realised distance wasn’t the issue; it was the incline that was my problem as at the end of the walk I felt great. We did a lot of other training walks and I got to go up Snowdon and Scafell several times, getting fitter every time. The total elation I felt on reaching the top of those mountains was amazing.  For the actual challenge I fell and hurt myself on Ben Nevis. Then a friend of my daughter, a young fit experienced walker died walking on Snowdon round about that time.  That put me off walking for a while, plus by this time my kids had left home and I’m a single so I really wasn’t sure it was sensible to walk on my own.

One beautifully sunny Sunday I randomly decided to walk up Kinder Scout from Edale.  It was on that day I realised you are very rarely on your own out walking.  Not in the Peaks anyway.  It was a lovely day but there were so many walkers up there that when it came to stopping for a lunch break I struggled to find a rock to perch on.   From that point I stopped worrying about being on my own.  I’m sensible and always text my son or daughter my route when I start and confirm with them again when I’m finished – It’s not about being careless.

A couple of years ago I started wanting to do one of the long distance walks. It’s taken me a few years to get to my current fitness but I finally feel I’m ready.  It actually doesn’t matter if I do it or not; it’s the walking and the scenery I enjoy.  It doesn’t matter how long I take. I’m still very overweight so on really steep hills I have to pace myself.   I just tell myself I will walk so many steps and then I’ll stop to get my breathe back and I can look at the view.  If I’m aiming to walk a long distance I very rarely look at the distance until i‘m nearer the end of the walk: I judge how far I can walk on how I’m feeling.

Occasionally I get the odd comment from other walkers who see my weight first and think I’m crazy.  I might be but I love it.  Plus as my doctor said to me this week ……keep on walking!