Sometimes friends and family are not your best allies in the battle to get fit and healthy. Suprisingly, I don’t always NEED encouragement to take the easy option and sit on the couch. Instead I need encouragement to get moving, or even a friendly boot up the bum…and I would have been a long time waiting last year, if I’d hung on ‘for better weather’. I would never have trained and would never have made it to Africa to cycle and hike and kayak and do all the exciting things I got to do last November.
After 2013 kicked off with the doc banning all exercise for close to a month, I got on my bike, literally, this morning and battled the storms and the darkeness to cycle 15k into work. As I pushed my pedals through the Phoenix Park, I was cynical enough to ponder whether the wind blasting me in the face would refuse to play fair, and be mean enough to swing around and crucify me again on the return. I was right. It took 50 minutes to cycle into work this morning, which is 10 mins longer than usual. But eight hours later it took me a whole hour to cycle home…
It wasn’t quite home either, I was hitting the gym on the way. With the doctor also ordering lighter weights for the next week or two, I had somehow told myself I was in for an easy session. I don’t understand why I keep believing that gym guru David Dunne will go easy on me – ever! Instead, he doubled the reps and extended the circuits. Ignoring my groans and heavy breathing (behave), he grinned wickedly as I crawled away after an hour, to wriggle back into my wet cycle shorts and return to the rain.
Finally I made it home and parked the bike in the hall to a chorus of sympathy and recommendations about taking it easy, minding myself, and taking the car tomorrow. I settled for a hot bath and a steamed chicken dinner. I’m eternally grateful that this body of mine lets me do stuff like cycling and hiking, after all the abuse I’ve chucked at it over the years. But I’ve learned I’ve got to do my bit too. It may not always be pleasant, but you can’t cycle in the heat of Africa, if you’re not prepared to cycle through the brunt of a dying Irish winter. When it feels too tough, you’ve got to remember the goals and the rewards.
Tonight I’m definately ‘On the Couch’ – but tomorrow, the car will stay on the driveway….. 😉
Saturday was a really ‘Nice’ day. It should have been an ‘Ice’ day. The Eastern Bay swimmers had been training for months for an ‘ice-swim’ off the Bull Wall, and after all the snow and storms, everything was shaping up nicely for a bitterly cold swim on Saturday morning. Unfortunately for the lads, it wasn’t cold enough – they needed 5 degrees or less to make it official, and they got a tropical 7.2!
Despite the swim not being official, the hardy souls still got in, and swam a freezing mile, while onlookers wrapped their fleeces around them, pulled down their woolly hats over their ears, and clapped their glove-encased hands together in warm encouragment.
Boat cover was courtesy of the 5th Port Dollymount Sea Scouts, there was a whole host of medics and helpers at hand, and I got to get Saffron my kayak back into the water, to see if my stomach muscles were still working after my recent bout of surgery and immobility. They were, and it was good for me to feel useful again after a month of inactivity. My Channel-Swimmer buddy Fergal Somerville, has blogged magnificently about the passion that drives these swimmers to such extremes. Check it out by clicking on the photo above.
On Sunday, I took a flying dash out to Wicklow in between the storms, and caught a blue skied but blustery morning that certainly blew away the cobwebs. It took me 2.5 hrs to trek around the Spinc loop. I used to be able to do that in 1.15. I’ve a lot of work to do. If I pay much attention to how much my fitness has slipped, I could feel fairly miserable. So I’m not going to do that. I’m back – and I know what I’ve got to do, and that I can do it.
Doc says I should be ok to exercise and return to the gym from Monday; and so we’re off. Here we go, here we go, here we go.
Today kind’ve hurt the body, but fed the soul. But I knew in advance it would be like that, and it was a glorious day in the snowy Wicklow hills. I’d been sick and my fitness left a lot to be desired, but the snow was here and that was just too good an opportunity to miss.
A group of hardy hikers, we set off from the Glendalough Visitors’ Centre, trekking through the parkland then across the carpark and back out to cross the road, and then simply headed up into the woods in the direction of the snowline and the Camaderry summit.
The first incline through the trees was pretty steep and pretty slippy, and I danced over my boots, carefully picking where I placed my feet to avoid an unexpected slide. My breathing was pretty rough, a witness to my lack of presence of the hills lately. My dodgy knees felt well though, although I was using sticks to help them and I could feel the tension in my shoulders from the poles and my rucksack. But as we found our rhythm, old muscle memories came back and the skills picked up in the hills in the last couple of years kicked in. I shortened my stride, relaxed my shoulders and lifted my head a little to help the air to reach my lungs. I’d forgotten how good this felt, when your body lines up with your mind and works as a team, at one with yourself and the mountain around you.
As we reached the snowline, the chance of slipping eased and the new challenge was to step over the deep snow and into the footprint of the climber ahead. The snow was 9 inches deep in places and the joke was who would come looking for me, 5″foot tot that I am, if I completely disappeared in the snow. Such sympathy and empathy from my climbing buddies!
We got the ‘science’ along the way from Everest Summiteer Ian Taylor and Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue buddy Ronan Friel. As we got higher, our boots crunched through hard-crusted snow to sink deeply to the ground below. The height and cold was freezing the top layer of snow, and the lads explained how layers of soft and frozen snow can build, become unstable, and depending on the incline and what lies below, can cause an avalanche. But not today in 9 inches of snow in Wicklow. Thankfully.
As we left the treeline the mist cleared and gave spectacular views across Glendalough. I always think views like these are the reward for the hard slog, but you don’t always get them, and that makes them extra special when you do.
Within moments the snow had descended again and we pushed on towards the summit in a white-out. I’m always hugely impressed at the skills of people like Ian and Ronan, who can unerringly find their way to a chosen point regardless of the weather and visibility. I’ve got my MS1 and should be able to navigate, but I’m not; mainly because I’ve been too lazy to practice. That’s something I must tackle this year.
On cue, the stones that mark the summit, pushed up through the snow covering them and the mist surrounding them. Time for snow angels and lunch, as we grab fleeces and layer up. So quickly the chill sets in when you’re not moving and before long we were striding out again, back towards the treeline.
Today wasn’t a long hike and it wasn’t a particularly hard one, but it was hard for me. I wasn’t panicking about that though. I haven’t been able to exercise properly for nearly a month, and I realise that it’s natural to expect a lack of energy after surgery, a fever, and weeks of drips and pills. The main thing is that the mountains haven’t gone away and there’s a whole year ahead to get fit and strong again and enjoy these hills and others.
Today was a very good day.
I’ve just finished my last procedure at Dubin’s Beacon Hospital after my Kidney Stone drama over the New Year… and now another ‘beacon’ is calling me. The lure of my mountains is proving almost irrisistable. I sometimes can’t understand how I spent over 40 years on this planet without realising how much I love the hills and how good and strong they make my spirit feel. I may not be physically at my peak right now, but I know that a day out there – regardless of weather – will renew my heart and mind and shape me up for the weeks ahead. I’d hoped to head up Lugnaquilla tomorrow (Leinster’s highest peak), but the roads are icy and as the rescue services are busy enough the hike’s been changed to the more easily accessible Glendalough, climbing Camaderry and Turlough Hill. It’s still a 5/6 hour hike, and will probably push me a bit after weeks on drips and painkillers etc.. but I know in advance, that however hard it is, it will be good to be back.
I’m recovering well after surgery to remove a troublesome kidney stone that fired up and kicked me into touch on New Year’s Eve. I have a stent which will be removed shortly, and I’m not allowed back into the gym until 10 days after that. I’m learning that sometimes you just have to have to rest up and let your body repair and recuperate. After being housebound for weeks I got a bit of cabin fever though, so an invitation from a friend to go to the Alps for the weekend, really hit the spot. I reluctantly avoided the temptation to take some skiing lessons, but did have a go at snow-shoeing, which was good exercise and great fun. I also took the ‘making snow angels’ beginners course… not terribly elegant! 😉