I did it!

I’m currently house-bound with an annoying dose of (wo)man flu.  This is frustrating me more than anything, because on weekends at this time of year I should be out selling my craftwares at various Christmas markets; and sitting at home, feeling crappy, when I know I should be out working hard during one of my busiest times of the year is quite infuriating!

However, I am finding time to get to things that have been neglected recently, not least of which is this blog.

Today, keeping me smiling through this fat-headed, blocked sinus feeling, is the knowledge that on Thursday, before this cold virus descended onto my chest and effectively put the brakes on any exercise plans, I finally reached my magical 500 miles goal!

500 miles

Not only did I reach the goal I set myself last January, I’ve done it with a full month to spare!  This being week 48 on the calendar, makes a rough average of 10.4 miles a week.  I’d love to say that I could pull off another 40 miles before the year’s end, but with my chest rattling like a bag of spanners, I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back walking…fingers crossed its very soon though!  Always happy to be corrected, especially if it means I can head out again; but I was recently advised that if my cold was a head cold then I was fine to exercise, but as soon as it hit my chest I should stop…and so I stopped.

Happily I can at least spend my downtime searching online for some new trainers to do my daily walk in.  I think achieving my goal is a perfectly fitting milestone upon which to retire my current pair of trainers.  If I may propose a respectful moment of silence for these absolute road warriors…

trainer stats 2
They were overdue for replacement a few months ago in fairness, but I never seemed to get around to it…maybe I was waiting for this day?  I’ve tracked 847 miles on Runkeeper since January 2013, and I think it would be fair to say that these poor trainers have done at least 600-700 of those miles!

My beloved hiking boots do sterling work on the hills and trails at the weekends when we get the chance to head out for a decent hike; my hiking boots have even come into service whilst I’ve been trading at festivals during the summer when prolonged wet, muddy conditions have made my other footwear unwearable during the weekend.  However, these mighty little trainers have pounded the local lanes with me 5 days a week, 50-52 weeks of the year. On icy roads, on muddy roads, on sticky hot roads, into brambles, into ditches (narrowly avoiding local rally drivers neighbours speeding around the lanes, practising their Scandinavian Flick technique on the bends), through puddles, through cow sh*t (whichever way I turn at the end of our lane I go past a dairy farm!).  They’ve had an awful lot of abuse and, for what were a relatively cheap pair of Skechers, I have been extremely impressed at how durable they were.  I only hope that my next pair of trainers fully understand that they have a tough job to do, and a lot to live up to!

 So now, I have a quandary.  Obviously I will keep walking every day, religiously tracking and logging my miles on Runkeeper, up to the end of the year (and beyond, of course!).  But I have really enjoyed this challenge: its been something to aim for throughout the year, and some months where real-life has got in the way, and I haven’t been able to get so many miles in, I’ve been crunching the numbers, working out my averages, and checking my events calendar to see if I could still pull it off.  Daily walking is a great habit to have for numerous reasons, with the most obvious being the health benefits…and I always feel a million times better after I’ve come home from a walk, no matter how crappy I was feeling (either mentally or physically) before I set out, or how crappy the weather was…and this challenge has made it more fun, and made me more determined to get out walking as often as I could.  This, however, is my quandary: 2015 – should I re-pledge for another 500 miles…or push myself even harder and go for a higher target?

If you’re familiar with the SMART acronym, you’ll know that a goal needs to be:
Specific – Measurable – Attainable – Realistic – Time-bound
I’d love to try for 600 miles, but realistically, I don’t think it would be attainable in the time.  If I’ve learned nothing else this year I have learned that sometimes life gets in the way, and trying to hit an average of 50 miles a month would be a tough one to face, especially if halfway through the year, after a couple of months of not getting out hiking at weekends due to weather or work commitments, you can see that you’re way off mark, and have an almost impossible mileage to make up.  This year we haven’t managed to get out hiking nearly as often as we’d hoped to, as has possibly been evident by fewer blog posts this year.
If I’m honest, 500 miles has been a decent challenge for me, and at the beginning of the year I did wonder more than a few times if making my pledge public was a wise thing to have done.  Keeping it secret would have made it so much easier to give up.  Fortunately as the months passed by, and the miles ticked off, it looked more and more achievable.  But, I’ve shown myself that I can do 500 miles, with a consistent walking schedule, and some determination on those days when you just can’t find the motivation to put those trainers on in the morning.
I am leaning towards 550 – I may make the final decision at the end of December, when I see what my total for the whole year is.  I know I am highly unlikely to make 550 miles this year, December is a very busy month for my business, but I may well convince myself that with a little extra effort and determination, I *could* do it next year…

Would welcome your thoughts on this 😉

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Goal setting

Today I did a short walk along the lanes, with two of our older dogs.  It wasn’t a complete amble, but I wasn’t really pushing myself for a mins/mile pace either.  I hadn’t really done much for the past four days, for various reasons.  I wasn’t home for three of them, and then yesterday, doing something really simple, I felt a sudden spasm in my back.  I could barely stand up straight, and taking a full breath was agony.  The spasm was in my upper back, level with my chest.  With painkillers, duvet and a hot water bottle pressed against the sore part of my back, I spent the afternoon on the sofa, watching crappy films, and feeling guilty that I wasn’t out there walking, or on the computer working.  My back felt better this morning, not back to normal, but more available movement and less pain.  I hesitated whether to walk at all this afternoon, but I felt a hundred times better afterwards, and my back felt more supple, so I guess it was the right decision. Sometimes I despair that I’m wasting my efforts, that I’m never going to get really fit, that I’m never going to do the ascents & distances I aspire to.  Then I just have to look back at how immobile I was when I started, how gasping along a mile on good ground in 40 minutes felt like a major achievement, and then I can appreciate how far I’ve come.  I do feel on the whole I am making some progress and feeling more confident about trying longer distances each time we head out.

Up until now I’ve just been working on getting out walking, both on the lanes locally during the week, and also out exploring the all the local walking havens that have been almost on my doorstep all these years.  However, the idea of tackling a proper long-distance route keeps popping up, and subconsciously I keep finding myself travelling over to the ‘waymarked trails’ sections of various Irish walking websites, instead of keeping myself firmly on the loop walks pages…on a recent trip to the Ridge of Capard, I was delighted to stray on to the Slieve Bloom Way for a while.  Turning back and heading home, given our time restraints that evening, was the sensible thing to do, but I dearly wanted to just keep going, to carry on from finger-post to finger-post, and just not stop.  A new and refreshing outlook on my walking, and a notion I am happy to welcome into my head space!

National_Waymarked_Trail_Waymarker_(Ireland)

Waymarking sign, comprising an image of a walking man and a directional arrow in yellow, used in Ireland to denote a National Waymarked Trail.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I primarily talked to myself about doing a decent day walk, confidently planning a full days walking for some mythical future date, and initially looked at the Offaly Way, even though it is 38km in length and more importantly graded ‘easy’ – the perfect introduction to the world of long-distance hiking.  Its local enough that I figured we could split it into 2 days, and drive home each night, or throw everything into the camper van and make a weekend away out of it.  However, I then found a review somewhere hinted that at least half of it was road work, and I faltered a little there, as I think I would find 17km or so on roads fairly boring?  I should add, that the roads are local roads, and I’d know them well from driving them fairly regularly – so it’s not as if the road routes are showing me new sights etc – does that make sense?  I’d probably be happy to do all that road work in an area I’d not visited before. (But I do find I struggle on roads at the best of times, with shin pain and sore ankles after a mile or two, regardless of my footwear).  I should also add that the Slieve Bloom website has stated that no dogs are allowed on the Offaly Way, which is an additional black mark against it in my book.

With all that in mind, I moved on from the ambitious day hike goal.  I incorporated the camper van firmly into the planning process and I’m now tentatively looking at a good 3/4-day hike, or just a few days walking in another part of the country.  Next Spring or Summer looks like a great target to aim for.  I’m not generally a weather wimp, but the thoughts of dealing with wet, mucky gear & equipment, along with wet, cold us, in a small VW camper, over several days, in the winter, is not something I could honestly or easily look forward to.

Potential places and routes on the list so far include the Kerry Camino, the Great western Greenway and the Beara Way

I feel the Slieve Bloom Way itself is more than worthy of a mention in this planning phase too!  It feels less adventurous, mainly because it’s on my doorstep, and an ‘adventure’ is something you do or have somewhere else isn’t it?  But that is a silly way to look at it.  It is a well-respected 60km waymarked circuit over, across and around the Slieve Bloom Mountains, typically done over 4 days, and is a perfectly acceptable long-distance trail to add to the list of potential goals.  The fact that it is local is totally irrelevant.

Obviously 3/4 consecutive days of long walks are a far cry from what I’m doing at the moment – so this is a goal.  But if I don’t set myself a goal, and a date to work towards, then I fear I will just find a rut I’m comfortable with and stay in it. For example, I’m quite happy with 5-10km ‘moderate’ trails at the moment.  They are hard enough that I’m finding them a challenge.  It is satisfying to return to the car park, in one piece and I feel that I’ve achieved something.  It would be all too easy to just stay there, and not consider longer, harder trails when planning our outings.

Galtymore from the Black Road ascending Galtybeg

Galtymore from the Black Road ascending Galtybeg
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are hoping/planning to do the Slieve Bloom way over 4/5 weekends this autumn, doing a section in a day, each weekend, and I think this will be great for me to see how I cope mentally and physically with the longer distances on a one-day hike.  I also drove past the Galtees on the M8 the other day, and caught an enticing glimpse of Galtymore amongst the low clouds – which has inspired me to try at least one silly ascent this coming winter, and take myself completely out of my ‘Moderate trail’ comfort zone.

Do you have any specific walking/hiking plans or goals for this coming winter or next summer?