Chasing six stars and 7,000m through lockdown

I’ve planned to write a blog for some weeks now but haven’t found the words to share how I am feeling. I didn’t want a blog about my experiences of the current environment to seem frivolous given the hardships that so many are facing.

I know I’m one of the very lucky ones. I have family and friends who are supporting me, a spacious house and garden and a job that I love. I haven’t been ill and anyone that I know who has suffered from Covid-19 has safely recovered.

It isn’t easy though. Each morning when I wake up and think about the day ahead. Each time a milestone happens and I can’t be with the person celebrating. Each time an opportunity to be with people I care about gets cancelled. Each time I really stop and think about what is happening. If I dwell too long on any of these things, I feel tears welling up.

So, I don’t dwell on them. My way of coping is focusing on the positives.

Be the rainbow in someone else’s cloud

On the last day that I left my work building, not knowing when I would return, I bumped into a colleague. As we walked to the train station together, she said that she hoped I would continue using social media to share my adventures and views, to inspire others. Every night since, I have posted on social media a quote that will hopefully inspire others. I can’t tell you if it has worked but I know that it has helped inspire me. I therefore thought I would share some of them with you, together with my reflections.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It is learning to dance in the rain

The period since lockdown is the first time that I can remember when I’ve slowed down. I have always worked incredibly hard – at school, at University and in my career. I’ve wanted to be the best I can be. I’ve always thought that to achieve that, I needed to do as much as possible.

I’ve always felt that time is running out and I wanted to achieve as much as I could in the time I had. I wanted to push myself harder each year. I started twelve years ago to undertake challenges to raise money for charity – my way of giving a very little something back to a society that I felt blessed to be part of. These challenges have increased in difficulty from a 10km run, through marathons to ultra marathons and, more recently, mountain adventures. The training and preparation for these adventures has taken a lot of time and emotional energy. Alongside a busy job and a wonderful home life with a husband I love, family and friends has meant that I rarely sat down or relaxed.

But the last eight weeks have been different.

My job has continued to be very busy, challenging and fulfilling. I’m changing roles and joining a new team has been difficult in the current environment – it’s not easy to build new relationships remotely, particularly for an introvert, but I have been welcomed in and supported, for which I’m very grateful. My work days are therefore full.

But the weekends are very quiet. Normally, I see friends and family every Saturday and Sunday, mixing this with training and the usual home admin. Now, I can’t do this. At first, I found this very hard but I have slowly learnt to relax a little and put the time to good use.

I haven’t changed totally though! I’m someone who needs to have purpose and some structure. So I write a list each weekend of what I want to achieve. But sometimes that includes reading, watching a film I’ve always wanted to or knitting (I’m attempting a jumper which will probably be ready by next winter!). I’m learning how to make the most of this period – to learn new things, to reflect upon what matters to me and to make plans for the future.

Don’t let your dreams be just dreams

When I speak to people, they often ask me about my training and how it is going through this period. As many of you know, 2020 was meant to be a big year for me. I was hoping to get my six star medal in Tokyo in March for those runners who have run the six major marathons of the world and then to climb to 7,100m and summit Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan in August.

The Tokyo marathon was cancelled but I managed to achieve my dream of a marathon run in March and I’m so grateful for that, given that all other marathons since have also been cancelled.

My trip to Peak Lenin hasn’t yet been formally cancelled but I can’t imagine I will be able to go in August so my 2020 plans are moving to 2021. I am however still dreaming and therefore keeping my training going.

I am blessed to live near country paths, which mean I can go walking and I do so with my large rucksack filled with weights. I have now managed carrying 19kg – it isn’t easy for me but I am slowly getting stronger. I don’t see many people at all on my walks but those that I do see often ask what I am doing with the rucksack. Each time I explain, it puts a smile on my face.

I have bought a climbing rope so that I can learn how to tie climbing knots and practice getting in and out of my mountain harness.

I am also running, using different routes and just enjoying being outside, not worrying about times or distances. Oddly, I find I’m becoming slightly quicker and I’m loving the early mornings for running.

I am also doing weight training in my garden – what our neighbours think, I have no idea! Finally, I have taken up yoga. I have wanted to try yoga for years but have never found the time. Now I have some more time, so I’m trying to follow YouTube videos, at first struggling to do even the basic moves but slowly making progress.

Sometimes I question why I am doing all of this, when my next adventure is unlikely to be before next March when I hope to cross the finish line of the Tokyo marathon and collect my six star medal. But I know that it is keeping me mentally well, it is keeping me smiling and it is helping me to continue to dream.

There is magic everywhere, you just have to believe it

Who would have thought that eggs being in the shops would feel so special? Or being allowed out once a day to run would feel like a luxury?

Our lives are very different to usual. But the current situation has made the small things feel magical and special. Hearing the birds sing whilst I am running and seeing the bluebells blossom more each week on my walks. Having a quiz each Friday with my wonderful godchildren, seeing my parents through a zoom call and catching up with friends around the world more regularly than I would normally be able to do. And watching videos of my niece and nephew smiling and laughing on their bikes on the first day that they were allowed out of their house after weeks of lockdown in Spain. These are magical moments that I won’t forget.

The best way to predict the future is to create it

So, will my life be different after lockdown? I am missing many things – hugging my friends and family, travelling, exploring new things and places. But I have also learnt much more about what I value.

There are things that I will rush back to and I will value even more than I usually do – spending time with the people I love and care for, being in the mountains, planning adventures to challenge myself.

There are also things that I’ve learnt that I enjoy and I want to continue to do – keeping in more regular contact with my friends via video calls, yoga and having time to think. I’ve found that I can work from home successfully and whilst I wouldn’t want to do this everyday, I will definitely look to do it more, to help me to better balance all of the things I want to achieve.

There are also things that I will think carefully about. Do I need to travel everywhere to do things or can I do things in a different way? Do I need to eat out a lot to spend time with family and friends or can we find different ways to be together? Do I need to fill up every minute of my life to feel that I am achieving something?

So, yes my life will be different, hopefully even better than the life I feel privileged to have led up to this point.

At first glance it may look too hard. Look again. Always look again

When lockdowns were coming in across the world, I couldn’t imagine working at home every day, only leaving the house to run and not being able to see my family and friends in person. I probably used the phrase ‘I won’t be able to cope with that’. But I am coping, we all are.

I truly believe that when we come up against things that look too hard, we can always look again. We must look again. Because we are all so much stronger individually and collectively than we think we are. It is only at times of challenge that we really realise what we can achieve.

In previous years, I’ve used the quote above to describe the point in a marathon when I’ve felt that I just couldn’t go any further or the moment on a mountain trek when the steep drop has caused my body to shake uncontrollably. This year, in 2020, it is about surviving each day with a smile on my face. And it is still so true.

Chasing six stars and 7,000m via a ten lap marathon detour around a race track

Ten days ago I had never heard of Oulton Park race track but now, having run around the course ten times, I feel that I know it very well! I can explain in great detail the track, the bends and the hills! 

I started the year with a dream to achieve six stars and 7,000m – running in the Tokyo marathon on 1 March before heading to Kyrgyzstan to climb Peak Lenin in August 2020. I am doing both to raise money for the wonderful Cancer Research and am writing blogs along the way to share the physical, mental and emotional journey I am on.

As I explained in my last blog, the Tokyo marathon was cancelled less than two weeks before the event because of concerns about the impact of the coronavirus. My husband and I therefore decided to head north to the only UK marathon on the same day, which was part of a ‘running Grand Prix’ at Oulton Park near Chester. We were two of only 75 runners taking part in the marathon distance. There were over 1,500 runners in total, running a variety of distances – marathon, 20 miles, 16 miles, half marathon, 10km and 5km.

Whilst I was very disappointed at not being able to run Tokyo, I tried to put that out of my mind and focus on the marathon I was able to run. Since the Amsterdam marathon in October 2019, I had run a further 500 miles in training, overcome an injury and most importantly, had been sponsored by so many kind and generous people and I didn’t want to let people down. I had said I would run a marathon and so that was what I would do.

One of the benefits of running a small marathon is that we could sit in our car until ten minutes before the start time! Which was very good as it was bitterly cold and incredibly windy. Storm Jorge had well and truly arrived in Chester and I wanted to keep as warm as I could for as long as I could!

We made our way to the start line next to the pit lane and bumped into someone else from PwC who had also planned to run Tokyo. It was lovely to meet in person and we wished each other good luck.

47911D98-3E85-4925-B9B2-182E38C61669

This time there was no big start, it was simply someone saying ‘off you go’! And so off we went! Normally when I run a marathon, there are timing strips every 5km and I like going over these as I know my family and friends who are tracking me will know where I am. For this marathon, there were only two timing strips, at the start and at the end. I didn’t know if my husband would pass me during the race – he is quicker than me but we weren’t sure if the timings would work to allow him to overtake me. There were only about five people on the course who were doing a great job of cheering us on but otherwise I felt very much on my own. A very different experience to usual but one that I enjoyed.

What I hadn’t appreciated when I booked this marathon was that car race tracks are hilly! I had thought it would be flat but how wrong I was! There was more elevation than any of the major marathons and I am not good with hills! When I had realised this, I thought that at least the downhill bits would be nice. I hadn’t counted on the wind which was so strong in parts that going downhill was a huge effort as the wind was literally blowing me backwards up the slope!

70C78283-098F-4422-8731-CF3B8FDF0896

On lap one, I assessed the hills and ran them all but knew that I would struggle to do so throughout the race. I also assessed the wind and realised that it was going to be a very hard marathon. There were three big hills and it seemed that the downhill bits afterwards were all into the wind and so any benefit felt minimal!

Lap two was interesting as the 20 mile and 16 mile runners had joined us and so there were more of us on the track. By lap three, the half marathoners had joined us and by lap four, everyone was on the course. I liked it as you had no idea what distance anyone was running and so you could just focus on your race. I saw a couple of visually impaired runners and was, as ever, so inspired by them. What strength of mind to run for hours without seeing where you are going.

I passed the half way point, the end of lap five, in two hours, which was quick for me. I felt ok, although still very cold. The wind was bitter and whilst it was a gloriously sunny day, it wasn’t warm!

Laps six and seven were hard. I struggled to run up the hills and decided I would walk up to conserve physical and mental strength. The wind seemed to be getting worse and by now, I felt I knew every inch of the track! I don’t really remember lap 8 apart from the end when one of the amazing helpers cheered me on and I said to him ‘two more laps to go’ and he told me I was doing wonderfully which was a huge boost.

I had read a message beforehand from a friend which had stuck with me. It said that in a marathon, in the first 5 miles you must be patient, in miles 5-10 you must be controlled, in miles 11-15 you must be committed, in miles 16-20 you must be strong and in miles 21-26.2 you must be courageous. It is so true and as I headed off on my ninth lap, I said to myself ‘now is the time to be courageous’.

I never go into a marathon with a particular time in mind as I’ve learnt that, for me, the conditions have such an impact on my performance, that to do so, can often end up in me feeling disappointed despite having run a marathon, which, in my mind, is an amazing feat. This time, my training had gone well and I had  hoped for a faster time than in my last couple of marathons, which had both been 4:40ish. With two laps to go, I knew that if I could continue at a steady pace, I should beat 4:30 which motivated me.

As I completed my lap nine, my husband still hadn’t passed me and so I knew he must be on his final lap which meant he would be about to break 4 hours, which is what he was aiming for. I looked behind me to see if could see him but I couldn’t so I carried on running. I looked down at my watch at the 4 hour mark and a smile crossed my face as I was confident that he would be finished.

I also now knew that I was running well and that I would be very close to my PB. In the conditions, both weather and course, I would never have dreamed that I would be close to my PB. I did, however, feel quite sick and I knew I was pushing myself battling the wind. I therefore was careful until I reached the one mile to go marker. I looked at my watch and knew I had ten mins to break my PB. That speed is hard for me at that stage in a marathon but I ran my heart out. As I came up the final hill (which I ran!) and saw the kind helper again, he cheered me in and I crossed the finish line in 4:13, a minute inside my PB, with my arms aloft. I was exhausted but so elated.

At the finish, my PwC colleague came to find me and congratulate me. He had done incredibly well and had won the race – what an achievement!

I hurried to our car to find my husband who hadn’t expected me to be finished so soon and was sitting in the warmth. He had indeed broken 4 hours and also achieved a PB. I was so proud of him. We had a huge hug, some tears and lots of smiles.

Another benefit of running a small marathon was that I, the slow runner, ended up second in my age category! Admittedly I was an hour slower than the category winner (!) but it was very exciting for me. It was an amazing day and I felt incredibly privileged to experience a different type of marathon. It didn’t end with a six star medal but I hope that will come on 7 March 2021 in Tokyo. It did, however, end with another life affirming experience. We can absolutely push ourselves to do whatever we want to with hard work, commitment, courage and a huge amount of support.

3ED1CED2-1726-444F-BB57-2C1F55857C63One of the quotes on the course said: ‘Your speed doesn’t matter. Forward is forward’. This is so true in marathons, as it is in life. My six star journey may be slower, with another year to wait, but this weekend I moved forward and that was more than enough.

D5FB1DA1-3D2E-49EB-BB43-487BDCECC13C

Thank you so much to everyone for the kind support. Knowing that I had so many people wishing me on made such as difference. It is hard to explain the impact it has but it is wonderful.

And now, the training continues for Peak Lenin! I’ll keep you all posted.

 

When life gives you lemons, you should make some lemonade: the highs and lows of chasing dreams

Last weekend, I headed to the stunning Cairngorm mountains, as part of my training for climbing Peak Lenin in August 2020. I was less than six months away from this adventure and within the last two weeks of training for the Tokyo marathon. 

Up+4W8zlQvC8l%MXHWsRJg

Packing my bag with crampons, ice axes, down jackets, thermals and goggles, I felt hugely excited and nervous! As well as battling my nerves, this weekend I would also have to battle the elements as Storm Dennis hit Scotland with a vengeance!

Over the course of the weekend, I learnt how to dig snow buckets to safely belay someone up a steep slope, how to tie myself in to ropes (I never realised how many ways there were to tie knots into ropes!) and how to find a crack in a rock that could be used to secure myself and a partner as we went up a steep crag. It was exhilarating and, for the first time, I enjoyed a lot of it in the moment rather than when I was reflecting afterwards in the safety of a warm hotel! There were moments of fear but the weather – rain, snow, heavy winds and temperatures below freezing – meant that I wanted to keep warm and so I didn’t allow myself much time to worry, I just kept moving. A technique I’ll need to use when it is better weather!

28e78acb-cae3-4a41-926d-c3510a82f03f

My favourite part of the weekend was climbing up a crag. It was rocky, snowy and steep. I needed to use my crampons and ice axes to secure myself in the ground and I needed to cope with drops to my side. Uncommonly for me, I was with others, which helped hugely as I could see how others tackled the tough parts and had people to talk to. 

Having successfully got to the top of the crag, I stood on the top feeling very happy, until the wind took me…. With 70mph winds, I was literally blown across the top of the mountain and the only reason I stopped was because my crampon got stuck under a boulder, for which I was very grateful! I had never been in such strong winds and it took a huge amount of concentration to navigate down safely. It was a wonderful weekend and I felt elated at how my skills were slowly improving. And, in very good news, my knees were only slightly black, which was a huge improvement on previous visits! 

4a1c0b47-b468-4709-a201-9d68b659a4dc

I woke up on the Monday morning, tired but happy, and looking forward to ten more days of training until we headed to Tokyo to run for my six star medal. And then Tokyo was cancelled…..

When I tried to avoid any long distance run at school, did I ever think I would be in tears because I couldn’t run a marathon? If you had told me that, I would have thought you were thinking about someone else! But that is what happened. 

After spending the last four years aiming for my six star medal and the last 16 weeks training hard to be ready for 1 March, it was incredibly disappointing to hear that the Tokyo marathon was being cancelled for all but the elite athletes (so, definitely not me!) due to the threat of the coronavirus. The news leaked out on social media and at first I couldn’t believe it and then when it was confirmed, I succumbed to some tears.

The next 24 hours were an emotional rollercoaster! With my wonderfully supportive husband and marathon friends, initially we thought we would still travel to Tokyo, as we had flights and a hotel booked, but over the course of the 24 hours, some sanity returned and we decided to look at other marathon possibilities. Having put in all of the training and, for me, having already raised a lot of fundraising from generous supporters, we were all determined to run a marathon! 

The only marathon in the UK on the same day is at a car race track near Chester – Oulton Park – and this is the one that my husband and I have decided to run. It will require us to run 10 laps of the track! I know that this won’t be the same as a finish line at the Tokyo Imperial Palace with a six star medal waiting for me, but it is still a marathon and will no doubt be a tough mental battle given the lap format. I allowed myself one day off of training, with some chocolate (!), before continuing with the training programme for the final two weeks of the taper. I now have one week to go and I’m looking forward to a new format of marathon and to once again testing myself, physically, mentally and emotionally. I’m also very much looking forward to 7 March 2021 when I hopefully will cross the Tokyo finish line and receive my long awaited six star medal! 

Over the last week, I have been overwhelmed by the lovely and supportive messages from family, friends and colleagues, as they heard the news about the marathon. Everyone has been so understanding and supportive. Despite most not having run a marathon themselves and probably thinking that any normal person would be delighted at not having to run 26.2 miles (!), they knew that it mattered to me and therefore they wanted to make sure I was ok. I felt surrounded by care and love and it reminded me again of the ability we all have to make a difference to others through very simple things. Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me this week. I hope to make you all proud through ten laps next week.

As well as reminding me of how lucky I am to be surrounded by so much kindness, this week has taught me that we can choose how we react to things that challenge us. A quote that resonates is:

“Someday everything will make perfect sense. So for now, laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears, and keep reminding yourself that everything happens for a reason.”

Or as my wonderful marathon friend said “when life gives you lemons, make some lemonade!”

Thank you to everyone who has already kindly supported me for my challenges this year. If anyone would still like to do so, I am fundraising for the wonderful Cancer Research UK and you can sponsor me via my my justgiving page.  Thank you very much

Chasing dreams to achieve six stars and 7,000m: making my own path

“If you want to get to the top, you need to make your own path”

I spent last weekend in Spain with my wonderful family and in particular, my spirited and special six year old niece. When I arrived she pointed out to me a small hill on parkland near her house and said that she had climbed that ‘mountain’ and would take me later to climb it. As we went out later, she marched ahead pointing out the route to me. I asked where the path was and she said ‘if you want to get to the top, you need to make your own path’ which made me smile – what amazing words and insight from a young girl! 

IMG_4759

We all have our aims, our dreams of what we want to achieve and, to do so, we often have to make our own path. In 2020, I am hoping to make a difference to my clients and work colleagues in my wonderful job and, in my spare time, train for and run the Tokyo marathon (achieving my 6 star medal for completing all the major marathons of the world) and climb Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan. And, most importantly, spend time with, and be there for, my family and friends. It can sometimes feel overwhelming and I can think that I am trying to do too much but I like to challenge myself and to find my own path. I’ll be raising money for the wonderful charity, Cancer Research, and this is a huge motivator for me, as is the humbling support that I receive from so many people.

My climb of Peak Lenin is now eight months away and my six star marathon in Tokyo is less than 3 months away. I am therefore getting nervous about the amount of training and preparation that I need to do! 

For those who know me well, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that I have created a plan for all the training and preparation, which I have split into several sections – running, walking, climbing and administration. This is helping me to make sure that I capture thoughts as I have them or as people are kind enough to offer their advice. It doesn’t always keep my worries at bay, however!

The running section is relatively easy for me – to plan at least, but unfortunately not to do! I have had marathon training plans for several years now and so I am using my usual plan to train for the Tokyo marathon. But, it is not a usual training time for me as I have an injury. Having had some pain during my training for the Amsterdam marathon, I have been to see a physio and it turns out I have an ‘under active right glute muscle’! To help correct this, I now have to do daily mobility and strengthening exercises, which makes me feel old! But I have ignored the physio’s advice to do these exercises ‘in the office’ as I didn’t think doing random stretches at my desk would endear me to my colleagues! I’m hoping that the pain starts to subside soon and I can enjoy running pain-free.

Walking I enjoy. I love being out in the fresh air with my wonderful husband and other friends who join me. I can happily walk for miles, sharing stories and having fun. The reason for walking in addition to running is that you use different muscles and so I need to train both. I am also going to be using the walks to get used to the kit I will be using on the climb. In particular I have now bought my 70 litre rucksack, which is huge! I am going to be walking with weights in the rucksack to try and build up my strength to be able to carry my own kit on the climb. I need to build up to approx 20kg at altitude which at this stage, seems very daunting. 

The climbing section of my training plan is the hardest for me. I am, as you know, nervous of drops and exposure and climbing usually involves at least one of those, if not both. Over the summer, I spent a wonderful two weekends starting this training, building upon what I had learnt in the winter mountaineering training I had done earlier in the year. Firstly, I spent a weekend in Scotland to learn how to ‘scramble’, which felt at times like hard rock climbing to me! And secondly, I spent an amazing weekend in Chamonix learning more about how to use crampons and how to ice climb in and out of crevasses. 

IMG_6172

I had moments of pure joy and exhilaration on both trips. Confidently scrambling up and down rocks in the glorious Scottish sunshine was an amazing experience, as was having the privilege to walk with my guide across pure white glaciers in Chamonix without being able to see anyone else for miles. There were, however, moments of huge fear too! My second day in Scotland was a more traditional wet and windy day and when I couldn’t see where I was heading due to the mist and when the rocks were so wet that I felt I would slip down into an abyss, my fear returned. In Chamonix, my wonderful guide was encouraging me to climb backwards into a crevasse which meant putting my feet down into the crevasse without seeing where I was going and needing to trust that the rope holding me wouldn’t break. It took several attempts, with my legs shaking and me needing to sit down to get my breath back, but I was determined to do it and was delighted when I did!

IMG_6159

I have more climbing trips planned for the new year and am also going to my local indoor climbing wall which is helping me learn some techniques and importantly build my confidence in abseiling and trusting the ropes!

Finally, my administration is currently involving shopping, something I am very good at! I have purchased my rucksack, my big sleeping bag and ice axes. I am now researching the down jacket and the big winter mountaineering boots I need. I had thought that the winter mountaineering boots I used on my inspirational trip to Mera Peak were as large and warm as you can get but…no! The guide I will be travelling with has told me that they are ‘on the edge of acceptability for this trip’ and as I feel the cold, I should get the even larger version! More walking round my garden with ridiculously large boots will take up time in the spring! I’m also researching less exciting but equally important things like communication devices, insurance and altitude training. 

There’s a lot to do and it can feel overwhelming to try and fit this all in on top of my busy and wonderful job. I am, however, feeling very excited and, as usual, everyone is being so supportive. I am planning to write a series of blogs about the physical and emotional training that I am doing and so will keep you all updated. 

As we head towards the end of another decade, I am reflecting on the adventure challenges I have been privileged to achieve over the last ten years. Ten years ago, I hadn’t even started running and had never been above 2,500m. On 1 January 2010, I would never have believed what I have managed to push my body and mind to achieve over the last few years. We all have marathons to run and mountains to climb, whether literally or metaphorically, and I truly believe that with passion, hard work and a wonderful team around us, we can all achieve much, much more than we are capable of.  Thank you all so much for supporting me to achieve my dreams – I couldn’t do so without you all. Have a wonderful end of the year everyone!

Running 26.2 miles to cross an Olympic Stadium finish line with a smile and some tears

4i4lnnp5TOu7uA%9JQ%FqA

‘Failure I can live with. Not trying is what I can’t handle’ 

When I was a schoolgirl I used to run the 100m for the school. I have always loved watching athletics and have always been entranced by the magic of the Olympics. To have the opportunity to start and finish a marathon in an Olympic Stadium seemed too good to pass up when some good friends suggested running the wonderful Amsterdam marathon which I was privileged to complete last Sunday. 

The training for this marathon has probably been the hardest training round that I’ve ever had and I’ve learnt a lot of lessons from it. 

Firstly, as much as I would like to think that my body can cope with anything, it really can’t! After completing the amazing Race to the Stones ultra marathon in July, I was back marathon training within a week. I also spent most weekends in August doing some wonderful mountaineering training, which was very special but equally very challenging and tiring. My body has therefore been exhausted and I have picked up some minor, but annoying, injuries. This has meant that I am not able to run at my usual pace and so the long runs in particular have been hard.

Secondly, having a purpose is very important to me. The Amsterdam marathon didn’t obviously fit in with my adventure plans. It isn’t one of the six major marathons and isn’t directly helping me train for my Peak Lenin expedition. It was just something that I thought would be special to do. This lack of purpose made the training mentally hard.

Thirdly, there are just some things you can’t control. I don’t get colds very often, maybe one a year, but when I do, they tend to be quite bad and involve an extremely irritating cough. This arrived four days before the marathon! 

+RoHwbxPQs29g+cbZ+s7Hw

So I arrived in Amsterdam with a bad cough, a slight fever and some injuries. Not the best way to arrive for a marathon! I still, however, felt incredibly lucky to be there. So many people aren’t able to do the things they love and even knowing it would be tough, I was excited. The quote at the top is something that has always resonated with me. I would try my best – if I couldn’t finish the marathon, that would be fine but I certainly was going to try!

The morning arrived and the weather was perfect – cold but dry. The start in the Olympic stadium was wonderful. There were lots of spectators and the pens, where you wait to start, were all together in the middle of the track. This meant that I could spend time with my friends beforehand, which isn’t usually the case as we all run at different speeds and so usually are split into separate pens very early. This was therefore special. 

T%v2WEFIQc6fzQh0Rql3RA

We set off and I deliberately went at a steady pace as I wasn’t sure how my breathing would hold up with my cough! It was hard work but I was able to run and so I simply adjusted my expectations for my time and tried to focus on enjoying the run. 

The first half was lovely – the route was great, the crowds were really positive and I felt ok. I looked down at my watch at the 2 hour mark and was, again, amazed at the incredible achievements of Eliud Kipchoge the weekend before when he broke the 2 hour barrier for the marathon. I was at about 12 miles and he had completed the entire race! As he says ‘no human is limited’. I felt very inspired to keep running even when I knew I was pushing myself far beyond where my body wanted me to go! 

At the half way point, my fever got worse and so I stopped and took some nurofen and strepsils… I’m not sure what the wonderful volunteers handing out the water thought as I brought out my medicine cabinet from my running leggings! The second half was therefore very tough. 

There aren’t many hills at all in the Amsterdam marathon, as you might imagine, but there was one at 36km which was incredibly unwelcome! A lovely woman who was running alongside me at that point wouldn’t let me walk up the hill and encouraged me to continue running, and I was so grateful for her support. We didn’t speak the same language but we shared a special moment. 

At about 40km, I started to believe I could finish it, which I had doubted at points in the third quarter, and I started to look at my time. I had hoped to complete it within 4 hrs 45 minutes and I now realised that I could go a bit faster than that. I therefore set myself little targets for the final 2km. When I went under the 500m to go banner, I looked at my watch and knew I could get under 4hr40 if I could run the final 500m in under 3 minutes. Now in my training, that would be absolutely fine but at the end of a marathon when I was ill, I knew it would be hard! But I set off in what I felt was a sprint (although I’m sure it didn’t look like it!). 

The final 300m is very, very special. You run under the Olympic Rings, under the Olympic banner of ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (faster, higher, stronger) written in the Olympic colours on the side of the stadium and then run into the stadium itself. The crowds were huge, made up of friends and family and everyone was cheered on. I was in tears as I ran towards the finish line. Inspired by the crowds, by being in an Olympic stadium and by the support of my wonderful family and friends, I managed that last 500m in 2min30 which is very quick for me!

IMG_1148

It was my tenth marathon and the toughest one I have done. But, goodness me, it was worth it to have that finish! My friends all achieved fantastic times for them and so there was a lot of celebration afterwards! 

I would never have believed I could finish one marathon, let alone ten, and it reminds me that we can all achieve our dreams if we have purpose, passion and, most importantly, a huge amount of support. And by trying, we can often achieve much more than we think we are capable of. 

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me – it means so much. 

Chasing dreams to achieve six stars and 7,000m: the start of my next adventure

Since I completed the wonderful Race to the Stones in July, many people have been kind enough to ask me what my next challenge is. On the one hand I still find it odd that this seems like a question that is relevant to me, as I still feel like a bit of an imposter in terms of running and trekking. On the other hand, I have been asking myself that very question since I got on the plane home from Mera Peak last October. And I have now decided and booked my challenges! 

In terms of my marathon journey, I have talked before about aiming for the six star medal, for those runners privileged enough to complete all six of the major marathons of the world. I have already crossed the finish lines of the Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York marathons but need to complete the Tokyo marathon to get my six star medal and join a group of only 6,000 people globally who have been lucky enough to achieve this. Tokyo is an incredibly popular marathon, being the only one outside of Europe and the US and being held in a country which loves marathon running. One of the most difficult parts is therefore simply getting a place!

I tried unsuccessfully to get a place through the ballot last year and so this year was determined to be more organised about the entry process. This meant getting up at 1.45am one Tuesday morning to be ready for the Japanese opening time for trying to get one of only 5,000 first come, first served charity spaces. When you send text messages to friends at 3am, you don’t expect responses, but I wasn’t the only person up at that hour and there was a steady stream of messages as we all tried to navigate a complex and very slow internet page! When, at 4.30am, I finally got confirmation of my place, I was elated! Now, I just need to train for and run 26.2 miles and I’ll be able to cross the finish line outside of the Imperial Palace and get both the Tokyo marathon medal and the six star finisher medal. It will be incredibly special to do that in 2020, the Tokyo Olympic year. And, to make it even better, I’ll be joined by my husband (aiming for his fourth star) and three of my good friends (all aiming for their sixth star too). 

IMG_4047

Alongside this, the mountains are calling me again. I want to once again experience the amazing beauty and solitude of the high mountains and to once again challenge myself physically and mentally by tackling ever tougher terrain.

The beautiful Mera Peak is the highest mountain that many of the standard mountain holiday companies go to and so, to go higher, I needed to start exploring specialist mountaineering companies. I felt out of my depth in doing so as I’m not a mountaineer by anyone’s description and wasn’t confident in the questions I should ask or the criteria I should be using to make a decision of which mountain to climb. 

I therefore approached it as I would do with any issue. I read up about the subject and, importantly for me, spoke to people who knew a lot more than me and asked for their advice. I learn better that way and I’m very grateful for all the people who have helped me. 

My main criteria was simple – I want to stand at the top of a mountain above 7,000m. I don’t know why that barrier is important to me but, when George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Everest, he said ‘because it’s there’ and I feel similarly. 7,000m is the next barrier for me and so that’s what I want to aim for. 

My other criteria are also important to me – the level of technical difficulty and the amount of time away from home and work. Mountains over 7,000m it turns out are all quite technical in nature! I am very much a beginner in terms of mountaineering and so I wanted to select one that I felt that I could, with training, cope with. I don’t want to have to rely upon others – if something were to go wrong, I want to know that I can look after myself and am not putting anyone else in danger. I therefore want to climb a mountain above 7,000m that is at the easier end of the technical spectrum. 

I will also be going on my own, leaving my wonderful husband at home, and so I want to be away for as minimal time as possible. I also want to minimise the impact on my supportive colleagues at work. 

The mountain I have selected is 7,134m high and requires three and a half weeks away from home and work in the summer. It is called Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan and I know it will be a huge challenge for me, for a range of reasons. 

The altitude will be incredibly challenging, being 650m higher than I have been before. The weather is notoriously challenging, with some years seeing no summits due to very strong winds and heavy snow. It involves some technical climbing, requiring me to use ice axes and crampons. I’ll be camping for three weeks in very basic, and cold, conditions. And, it will require me to carry much of my own load, meaning I need to be much stronger physically than I am today. This will be on top of the usual challenge of loneliness. 

IMG_3923

I have started my training, which I’ll share with you in a series of blogs over the coming weeks and months. So far, I have spent time at a local climbing wall, have had a weekend of ‘scrambling’ (which felt much more like full-on climbing to me!) in stunning Scotland and have been crevasse climbing in Chamonix. I also continue to train for the marathons (before knowing I had a place for Tokyo, I decided to run the Amsterdam marathon which is in two weeks time…!). 

By late August 2020, I hope to have completed my six star challenge and have stood at 7,134m looking out on our beautifully stunning world. I know it is going to be an immense challenge for me. I know I will have moments when I question my sanity, when my body will cry in pain, when I will cry with frustration and when I simply can’t see a way to achieving my aim. But I also know that I will have moments of true fulfilment, surrounded by wonderful support and being privileged to experience things that I can now only dream of. 

I’m doing this to raise money for the wonderful charity, Cancer Research. Everyone knows someone that is suffering or has suffered from this cruel disease and I continue to be shocked and saddened by the impact that it has. I hope that by raising money, I can play a very small part in helping to address this. I know that this will motivate me through the tough training and the challenges themselves. Thanks as ever for all the support and kindness you all show me during my training. I can’t explain how much it means to me. 

Battling body and mind to finish 100km with a massive smile

“You did the hardest thing….you started”

Ten years ago, I walked the 100km Trailwalker challenge with friends and colleagues. It was, to that point, the toughest challenge I had done. As we waited to start that day, we saw some people setting off to run the event. I remember thinking ‘who would choose, or be able, to run 100km?’. Yesterday, that was me! I was privileged to run the amazing Race to the Stones, 100km along the beautiful but tough terrain of The Ridgeway in the Chilterns, with two friends, Jonathon and Leo, and supported by our wonderful other halves. 

d9ef408e-c516-4ad0-b4ab-e171461de25e

Standing on the start line, I was a mixture of nerves, excitement and worry. I had followed the training plan but had no way of knowing how my body and mind would hold up. The three of us ran at our own pace, keeping in the touch via phone which kept me inspired through the event. 

The first 15km was lovely, beautiful scenery and fairly flat. There was a stunning wheat field that we ran through where the woman running behind me said ‘I feel like I’m in the scene in Gladiator’ which made me smile. As the terrain was quite flat to start with, I set off a bit too quickly and so made a deliberate decision to slow down to conserve energy. Leo had said at the start ‘you can’t out run this, you have to out think it’ and that message stayed with me throughout the day. 

DnSmZw0ATjqFdk%wK3jwpg

There were markers at each km which were, on the one hand, helpful to know progress but, on the other hand, were a constant reminder of how far there was to go! I kept focused on the next pit stop or the next time I would see Matt, my husband, rather than on the overall distance, which helped me mentally. I reached the half way point with Matt running the final few kms with me and sat down to get my thoughts in order for the second half. My feet were sore and I was tired but I wasn’t feeling too bad at that stage. 

As I left the half way point, I said aloud ‘the hard part starts now’ and a man in front of me turned around and said ‘you’ve already done the hard part – you started’. I was so inspired by that. 

I was right though – the second half was much tougher than the first half! This was partly due to the tiredness but also due to the terrain, which was much hillier and so required a lot of mental and physical strength. I spoke to lots of people on the way which was a fantastic way of taking my mind off the pain. Everyone is so friendly, sharing stories and keeping spirits up – it is a fantastic environment to be in. 

I reached a pit stop after which there was just under 42km to go and thought to myself ‘only a marathon to go’! I knew my day, and possibly life, had become slightly surreal at that point but it was a huge motivator! I knew how to run a marathon. Admittedly, I hadn’t done one having already run 58km (!) but mentally I knew I could cope with that distance. At the next pit stop, as I was sitting and eating some crisps to get some salt in to me, I got a text from Leo to say he had finished in just under 10 hours, which is an amazing milestone in ultra marathon running and would result in him having a top 15 finish. I was so proud of him and told everyone around me what he had achieved. 

jkcb1tP4TmiyLodySIQ2XA

The stretch from 70 – 85km was incredibly difficult. I was exhausted, it was very hilly and it was muggy. I put some music on and put my head down and marched onwards up the hills. There were people along the route who were so supportive and Matt was halfway along, which was wonderful. I finally reached the last pit stop at 88km and headed off for the final 12km. At about 10pm I put on my head torch and the ground at that stage was quite rutted. It was very dark and I stumbled a lot which at 95km is a bit scary! Finally I got down on the lane to the Avebury Stones. I texted everyone to say I was almost done and got a text back from Jonathon and so I knew he had successfully finished. I was so delighted for him and so proud of him. It inspired me for the final 5km. 

61d05c8e-2c5a-423e-8986-99497cfd0b73

Arriving at the Stones was an emotional experience. They were all lit up and the route takes you along a lane to the Stones, around them and then back along the lane until you turn off for the finish. It means you have people going in both directions and everyone is saying well done to each other. When I turned off for the finish, I couldn’t quite believe this was it. I ran towards the finish line with tears in my eyes, a sore and aching body and an exhausted mind. The crowd was huge, even at 11.30pm, and everyone cheered me in. It was an amazing atmosphere. I fell into Matt’s, Jonathon’s and Hannah’s arms and was absolutely elated – it was a brutal and brilliant day in equal measure. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much at a finish line!

01e83b31-fbbb-49a6-97e3-8a53d4c78da9

I have spent today collapsed on the couch watching sport on the television. My feet are a mess, my energy levels are very low and when I attempt to walk to the kitchen, it takes me a long while! But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. 

As usual, I couldn’t have done this without a huge amount of support. Matt was amazing throughout my training, running miles to support me, and did so again yesterday. Likewise Hannah and Leslie were incredible. We all couldn’t have done it without them. Jonathon and Leo were an inspiration. When we met twelve years ago, I would never have imagined that we would be running ultra marathons together! They have inspired me in my career and to get through feats that I didn’t think were possible. The six of us were a special team that it was an incredible privilege to be part of it. I was also inundated with kind and caring messages of support from family, friends and colleagues, which made such a difference during the tough moments yesterday. A huge thank you to everyone. 

9af80d9c-f31d-43be-8e92-8e8ae91fd787

One of the signs yesterday said: ‘Don’t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits’. This made me smile and inspired me at about 80km. We can all do so much more than we think we are capable of. I feel incredibly blessed that my legs, body and, importantly, mind have continued to allow me to challenge my limits. Yesterday was a very special day and one that I won’t forget.

And now onto the next adventure… 

Feeling oddly excited about running 100km

In four weeks time I am hoping to take part in my second ultra marathon. Last year, I was lucky enough to complete the beautiful Race to the King on the South Downs Way. This was 53.5 miles of painful, exciting, brutal and ultimately incredibly rewarding steps. This year, I am hoping to complete the sister event, the Race to the Stones, on the Ridgeway in the Chilterns. It is a longer distance – 62 miles or 100km – but equally hilly. Over the 100km, I’ll be climbing 1,000m. 

As I completed the second of my very long training runs on Saturday, I was oddly excited about what lay ahead. I also had lots of time to reflect upon why I was excited and how I was preparing myself for the challenge. 

IMG_3794

So, why am I excited about doing this? Many people kindly ask me what my next challenge is and when I tell them I am planning to run 100km, they look at me mainly with bemusement. ‘Amazing but mad’ is the phrase that usually comes next! 

I like to do things that challenge me – to help me to hopefully become a better person. I love running for the feeling of freedom, for the mental space it gives me to relax from a job that I love but one that can be stressful and for enabling me to be outside in our beautiful world. I’ve never been someone to do things simply for the pleasure of doing them – I wish I was sometimes but I like to have a goal. And I like to set those goals ever higher. After being privileged to complete a number of marathons, I ran my first ultra marathon last year and loved the experience.

This year, I am excited but daunted about pushing myself even further. I don’t know if I can achieve it and that is part of the attraction. Knowing I am pushing myself further than I know is possible for me motivates me and frees me from the expectations that I put on myself. I will train as much as I can, both physically and importantly mentally, and will give it my absolute best. I hope it will be enough. 

And, how am I preparing myself for the challenge? 

I have spent the last two Saturdays doing training runs of 23 miles and then 28 miles along the South Downs Way which is beautiful but very hilly. Up until now, my training runs have been on the roads near where I live or on my treadmill, but I knew I needed to head out onto the trails as the experience is very different. 

The terrain is softer under foot but far more uneven and so it takes more mental energy as I have to be alert to avoid tripping on something. I am very clumsy – my mum used to say when I was a little girl that I could fall over a matchstick and that remains true today! 

The terrain is also very hilly and so on the steeper hills, I tend to walk up to save energy, and, to be honest, I’m not sure I could run up some of them! This mixture of running and walking requires a different mental approach to the day. 

I also have to make sure that I eat and drink enough during the run to avoid losing energy at the end, which would be very challenging over such a long distance. 

So, it’s quite a different experience from the long runs on the road. 

I was excited about pushing myself over these two weekends. The last very long run I did was the inspirational Boston marathon and since then I have been following the training programme for the ultra marathon which has involved a lot of middle distance runs. What I didn’t expect when I arrived on the South Downs last Saturday was a 25mph wind in my face for 23 miles. I had my music up to full volume and for some of the route, I couldn’t even hear it due to the ferocity of the wind! This weekend the challenge was driving rain which arrived after 18 miles of running! I was proud of myself as I didn’t allow myself to get down about it but instead told myself that this was great training and that I was lucky to be able to be out in the fresh air doing something that I love. This positive thinking worked for most (but it has to be said, not quite all) of the runs! 

IMG_3792

Whilst I thought that my 23 miles was a challenge, running in the opposite direction last weekend were amazing runners taking part in a 100 mile race. I started to pass the front runners at their half way point and they looked so fresh! I cheered them on and exchanged smiles and thumbs up with each one of them and they all inspired me. 

Both runs were, oddly, enjoyable. I was tired but elated afterwards and only had three blisters and some sore hips – not a bad return on hilly, rainy and windy miles! Next weekend I will be running 34 miles, on top of weekday evening runs. It’s a tough schedule and I’m hoping that my legs and mind continue to give me the strength I need. I’ll keep you updated over the coming weeks. 

I am doing this to raise money for the wonderful charity, Cancer Research. Everyone knows someone who has been impacted by this cruel disease and this year, one of our good friends has been through their own Cancer experience. It has, once again, brought home how terrible this disease can be and has renewed my desire to play a small part in helping those suffering now and in helping to find a cure so that others don’t have to suffer in the future. This is my way of doing that. Thank you for all your generous support, particularly as I have asked for a lot of support in the last few years. 

Feeling privileged to be chasing my fifth star amongst the unicorns in Boston

‘The voice in your head saying you can’t do this is a liar’

This was a fantastic message on a banner at mile 23 of the 123rd Boston marathon, which I was blessed and proud to complete on Patriots Day, 15 April 2019.

Roll back 26.2 miles and I was privileged to stand on the start line of the Boston marathon looking forward to my ninth marathon and hoping to collect my fifth ‘star’. There are six major marathons of the world – Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo, known in the running community as ‘stars’. If you are lucky enough to finish all six you get a special ‘six star medal’ and, to date, only 5,500 people globally have achieved this feat. I would love to be part of that community, to prove to myself and others that you can achieve things that you thought were impossible.

I say ‘lucky enough’ to achieve this because running the six marathons themselves is perhaps the easy part! You need to be able to invest in travelling across the world, which to many would not be possible and I feel very blessed that I am able to do this. You also need to train for six marathons, which means that your desire to achieve this feat can take up a lot of your free time and take you away from your family and friends. I know I’m very lucky to have an incredibly supportive husband, family and friends who cheer me on through my training and the events themselves.

I have never felt more privileged to be on the start line than at Boston. 95% of the runners have achieved an amazing marathon time to qualify for the event. I’m not quick enough to qualify – to put into context how gifted those that qualify are, the qualifying time for my age is 30 mins quicker than my PB. My PB would only qualify a woman aged between 60 and 64! I know that I’ll never be quick enough to qualify and so I feel very grateful that I was given a charity place, making me one of only 1,500 charity runners in the event.

My training had been tough, as usual, but had gone relatively well. The week before the marathon had been spent, as usual, reviewing weather forecasts! The organisers had sent weather warning emails to all runners telling us about forecasts of torrential rain and cold, windy conditions and giving guidance of how to avoid hypothermia! So I turned up with every bit of wet weather gear that I owned!

Travelling to the start line, the forecasts looked to be accurate. It was like a monsoon – torrential rain, thunder and lightning. I knew I couldn’t control the weather and so I tried to focus on things that I could control – eating enough, drinking enough but not too much, being positive and enjoying the experience. I don’t expect to run the Boston marathon again and so I wanted to soak up the atmosphere. Thankfully, by the time I started running, the rain had stopped. It had, however, turned into a very hot day leading to different challenges.

Crossing the start line, one of the amazing volunteers shouted ‘you’re running the Boston marathon today – how cool is that?’ and it brought a huge smile to my face as I set off for my 26.2 miles.

Now, the course is known as the toughest marathon course of the major marathons but I had underestimated just how tough it would be. It is technically a net downhill course but it really didn’t feel like that at all! The first 16 miles are net downhill, there are then 5 uphill miles before 5.2 miles which are net downhill. Well, that is the theory…! Actually the whole course is constantly up and downhill – there is no respite. By mile 9, my legs were exhausted from the hills and the heat and by mile 16, my calves were screaming with pain. It therefore made it a tough day.

The crowds, however, were wonderful. We passed through many residential districts where families were out on the lawns handing out drinks, home made cookies and even beer! We passed colleges where students made so much noise that I couldn’t hear my music. Trains passed us honking their horns to cheer us on. The police were out in force, a poignant reminder of the tragedy here six years ago, and fist bumped and high fived everyone. Unicorns, the symbol of the marathon, were everywhere. It felt like a carnival and I felt truly blessed to be part of it, even through the pain.

The section between miles 16 and 21 was incredibly hard. I tried to run up the hills but my calves were so painful, I was worried about not being able to complete the course and so had to do a mixture of running and walking. I wasn’t alone in doing this and the support from the crowd and fellow runners was inspirational.

Once I’d started on the downhill section at mile 21, I started to pick up my pace, and then at mile 22, the heavens opened and I ran the last four miles in torrential rain and freezing wind. This was mentally exhausting which added to the physical pain!

But then I turned into the finishing straight. For the final half mile you could see the finish line ahead of you, the road lined with the flags of all the runners’ nationalities and with crowds of people 10 deep on both sides who were cheering, waving and willing you home. It was very very moving and will be one of my moments that I remember forever. I crossed the line sobbing with emotion – pride, relief, happiness, exhaustion and disbelief. It was incredibly special.

I hobbled to the hotel where I had arranged to meet my husband and two friends who were both also running. As I entered, the hotel staff cheered me in and I fell into my husband and friends’ arms. We had one aim for this marathon – to all finish with smiles – and we achieved it!

Next year, together with my wonderful running family, I hope to be in Tokyo to aim for our sixth star if we are lucky enough to get a place in that marathon. I never thought I would be able to run a marathon, let alone nine, and there a lot of moments of doubt on Monday. I truly believe a lot of marathon running is a mental battle and you need incredible support to achieve your dreams. I know I wouldn’t achieve marathon success without the support I receive. Everyone is always so generous with their kind words, their interest and their messages. I can’t put into words how much it all means to me. Thank you everyone so much.

Another great banner on Monday was one for ‘Hamilton’ fans which said ‘Don’t throw away your shot’, a reference to one of the songs in the, in my view, inspirational show. The song focuses on the need to take your chances and to make the most of the abilities that you have. I’m not a quick runner and will never be but I worked hard to be in Boston in the only way I could. Even through the pain, I wasn’t going to throw away my shot and all of the runners around me were not going to do so either. Once again, it was a moving and inspiring human experience and one that I felt utterly privileged to be part of.

And now, once my calves are recovered, I’ll be moving on to the training for a summer ultra marathon..!

Pushing through the panic

I spent last weekend in the stunning scenery of the Cairngorms National Park. This was my second winter weekend in Scotland this year, having had a wonderful weekend in Glencoe in late January. Both times, I had planned a weekend with a guide to do some winter mountaineering to try and build my confidence in trekking and climbing on more technical terrain.

After my inspirational trek to the summit of Mera Peak, I am very keen to return to see more of our wonderful world from the beautiful high altitude mountains. I know that in order to do so, I need to be able to cope with more challenging terrain. Whilst I am learning to manage my fears of exposure and drops, they remain ever present and the terrain on the mountains that I am considering for my next trek will push me even further outside of my comfort zone.

To try and keep myself in the happy state of being outside of my comfort zone but not suffering from immobilising panic, I am spending time learning skills to build my confidence. For me, its a difficult balance between challenge and panic!

As I struggled to put my feet on a tiny ledge in a position that I felt would be safe, or as I tried to climb up what felt like a sheer rock face in howling wind, or as I saw what these activities had done to my poor knees, I questioned why I was here, why I was pushing myself so much and why I wasn’t satisfied with having an easier weekend!

But just as quickly as the panic came, it was forgotten when I made the move across the rock face or found a hold for the ice axe. I had a huge smile on my face as I got to the top of the rocks and looked out across the amazing view. The sense of achievement was incredible and my knees will be better in a few weeks….

So why does the panic come? How do I try and manage it? And why am I pushing myself so much?

The panic, when it comes, is hard to describe to someone who doesn’t experience something similar. On the one hand, I know that I am roped up and secure, with an experienced guide on the other end of the rope. If I lose my footing, I logically know that the worse that will happen is that I fall into the rock and bounce off, needing to find my footing again. But my brain also has an illogical part to it, which focuses on the fact that most of my boot isn’t on the ledge, due to its narrowness, and that below me is a drop. What happens if the rope snaps? What happens if I fall into the rock and break something? What happens if…? In the moment of fear, my brain can come up with a huge range of disaster scenarios, causing me to panic. This panic manifests itself in a multitude of ways. I can scream, swear, shake and be convinced that I can’t do whatever I am trying to do and need to give up.

Over the last few years, I have learnt to manage this by slowly pushing myself into more and more extreme (for me) situations. By doing so, I become more confident in what I can do.

Ten years ago, on my first big trek which was an amazing trip along the Great Wall of China, I spent most of the trek in panic mode due to the (to me) narrowness of the Wall. I needed a huge amount of support and coaxing from my wonderful husband to put one foot in front of the other at times. Six years ago, when climbing Kilimanjaro, the moments of panic came when climbing up a rocky wall and descending a steep scree slope. I learnt to accept help from the guides when it was offered and to ask them questions so that I could understand more about what I should be doing. Two years ago, on the way to Everest Base Camp, the moments of panic came when crossing wobbly rope bridges across deep ravines. I learnt not to wait for help to be offered but to ask for it and not be embarrassed to do so – it was always kindly and willingly given. Last year, on my trip to Mera Peak, there were moments of extreme nervousness but I managed to keep the panic at bay by doing a huge amount of preparation and being open with everyone I was with about my fears, which, again, led to wonderful help. Last weekend, the panic was well and truly back again on the rocks! But, if you had told me in 2008, when I struggled to walk along a narrow wall, that just over ten years later, I would be doing rock and ice climbing, I would have told you that you were talking about the wrong woman.

So I have learnt that preparing well, not being afraid to ask for help, being curious to learn about techniques and experiences and continuing to push myself, all help me to manage the panic that threatens to overwhelm me at times.

And why do I push myself? I have a wonderful husband, family and friends and a career that I love. I don’t need to be pushing myself in this way. That is true but what is also true is that I wouldn’t have achieved what I have in my life without pushing myself.

I truly believe that we can all achieve so much more than we think we are capable of. But we won’t achieve that if we don’t push ourselves, if we don’t put ourselves outside of our comfort zone.

So, as I shook with fear last weekend, and asked myself ‘what am I doing?’, I knew the answer, even through my panic. I was pushing myself so that I could, hopefully and eventually, achieve my next adventure goal. I was also pushing myself so that at challenging moments in my life, I knew that I would be able to cope. And I was pushing myself because, deep down (very deep down at times!), I knew I could do it.

I know how lucky I am to be able to chase my dreams, whether the next adventure or the next stage of my career. I know I am incredibly blessed to have the support to do so. I therefore want to make more of a difference to those around me to show how grateful I am for all of their support. I also want to raise more for charity to make a small difference in our wonderful world. And so I keep pushing myself – in life as well as in my adventures. And that means sometimes feeling immobilising panic and somehow finding a way through it.