I had an enforced ‘rest’ week between my active Paddy’s Day weekend and The Easter Bank Holiday. Close family visiting, a deluge that flooded and blocked the N11 to Wicklow, a truly unseasonal avalanche warning in the snow laden Mournes and a rather nasty tummy bug, all combined to keep me off the hills and out of the gym. Then an invite came to get out on Spinc Mountain on Good Friday with Concern/Uganda buddy Vera Baker, and I decided to push all thoughts of weakness aside and ‘just do it’. I was so pleased afterwards. It was a beautiful day in Wicklow with blue skies and bright sunshine, despite snow and ice underfoot; and it really stopped me feeling miserable and sorry for myself! Vera and her mate Lisa were just starting a new round of training for their latest charity appeal in Kenya later this year, and it was good to be out with them, as they bubbled and planned, all full with the sense of a new adventure.
When invite number 2 came to join Mountain Rescue volunteer Grainne Ryan on a trek up the Galtees on Saturday, again it was hard to refuse. I was probably quite weak after my tummy bug and I decided to take the train to Thurles rather than drive; the guys agreed to pick me up and drop me back afterwards to the station, which I felt was much easier than driving when I was feeling tired. It took the pressure off a bit, but I was still feeling a little nervous. I hadn’t climbed with Grainne or her mate Kevin before, and I wasn’t sure about my hill-fitness or strength. I just hate the thought of getting in ‘over my head’ and slowing people down. It’s always about picking your pace – but it doesn’t stop me getting a bit apprehensive first time out. Grainne reassured me they weren’t planning any hill-running…and off we went!
We headed first for Galtee Beag; intending to then skim the ridge and move on up to climb Galtee More 919m (3018ft) snow, ice and wind permitting. The pace was manageable, the company good, and the scenery stunning. Again another perfect climbing day, with snow underfoot and blue skies above; made all the more special by a natural phenomenon which I hadn’t seen before. As we left lunch and Galtee Beag behind and pushed on for Galtee More, we came out of the lee and the force of the wind hit us. Pushing onwards and upwards the cold was biting and it felt like being in a wind tunnel. I was using walking poles and could actually feel the wind tearing them from me as I walked. But I walked with care, staring in amazement at each footfall. I was nearly crying as I stepped on and smashed through these lovely snow crystals on the way up. Rime, Grainne called them. It was like walking through a bed of brittle diamonds… I’d never seen that before, the delicacy of the wind-blown ice formations on the frozen bog; I felt like an elephant in a china shop…
The last few measured steep steps to the summit; then walking across the flattened top to the cross, straining against the wind, leaning forward into it at an angle and pulling my fleecy buff up around my nose and mouth to try and help me breathe through the frosty air. We scrambled down a foot or two among the rocks and suddenly the wind stopped and I realised it had been roaring in my ears. Suddenly as if someone flicked a switch, we found ourselves in stark silence as we snuggled in to sit down among the frost-sparkled rocks, like ice-thrones in a winter wonderland at the top of the world. Swiftly turned to Ice Princess – I surveyed the 360 views of Tipperary, Limerick and perhaps Cork far off in the distance, with bright sunshine cutting through the bitter cold, now sheltered from the wind and feeling so incredibly grateful to be here.
My perfect Easter weekend didn’t end on the hills. I splashed my way through large waves in Malahide in bright sunshine on Sunday morning with Fergal Somerville and the Low Rock swimmers. I’d actually turned up with a wet-suit, but I was shamed when I saw them all getting into the surf in their swimming suits, so I decided to leave it in my bag and take the plunge – literally. It was icy cold. 4 degrees apparently, but it was beautiful being bounced around by the icy waves in bright sunshine. I didn’t last long; getting through about three swells before turning around and swimming like the clappers for the shore. But as my skin burned with fire afterwards and I drank hot coffee and pinched someone’s chocolate biscuits, there was no doubting I was alive.
Monday the holiday continues and I’m still off work, so I’m hitting the gym in the morning – then meeting the ‘Get Off The Couch‘crew as the six participants in our new TV series on Setanta go through their paces on the track at the prestigious Morton Stadium with Triathlon trainer, Eamonn Tilley. It’s our second session and I’m dying to see if we’ve made any progress. Last time we were training with Eamonn, the wonderful Katie Taylor gave us a pep talk and that really fired us up. The show’s taking 6 men and women from around the country and encouraging them to get out and active in the great outdoors. After my exciting ‘holiday’ break, I’ll have plenty to talk about!
I had a pretty amazing Paddy’s Day weekend. Thanks to the amazing hospitality of mountaineer Tony Nation and the incredible cooking skills of his wife Mary…. I climbed Carrauntoohil in snow on Saturday, and I climbed the Coumshingaun Horseshoe in Waterford the following day – I ate loads of homebaked cakes and bread – with cream – and sank a couple of glasses of red wine… but even the scales gave me a break and I only registered a half a pound increase for all my indulgence.
Then tonight the good times continued at Le Cheile AC in Leixlip.
We are just about half way through their ‘Couch to 5k’ programme and they told us during our warm-up tonight that we’d be running for a full 20 mins without walking. My jaw dropped and to be honest, I wondered if anyone would notice if I grabbed my keys and slipped out the back door! I’d run 20 mins with them last week, but that was running 5 min intervals with a 2 minute break in-between; and I’d thought that was tough!
Setting off into the cold, dark, night, I had a face like a glum trout…. but I concentrated on picking my own SLOW pace and keeping my breathing even. I ended up sort of jogging between two groups, out on my own, but still a part of the gang. I could feel the group ahead pulling me forward and the group behind pushing me on – like I was on an invisible cord.
I realised that if I kept thinking I couldn’t do it, I’d have a mini panic attack and end up walking off. So I started telling myself that of course I could. I told myself I was enjoying it, and matched the words to my pace as I ran slowly along the dark tarmac, occasionally glancing up to see the moon and stars above. At first the moon was ahead but after a while it fell behind and I grinned into the frosty night, thinking I’d just outrun a moonbeam. Do you know, after a while, I really began to believe it. I’m genuinely unsure whether the running became easier, or whether I just convinced myself that it had. All I know is that when the 20mins were up – I didn’t want to stop – and when I saw the lights of the clubhouse up ahead in the distance, I just kept on running – all the way home – on a cloud.
It’s all in the head isn’t it? I said ‘I can’ – and I did.
It was a grey, misty start to my first trip to Greystones – but I didn’t mind, I was buzzing with excitement. I was joining the six participants of Setanta TV and Athena Media’s new programme ‘Get Off The Couch’ for a Triathlon Training session with fitness guru Eamon Tilley, followed by swim-coaching with Channel Swimmer and ‘ICEMAN’, Fergal Somerville. This was the first day of a two-day ‘festival of fitness’ for us, with our first GOTC hill-walk together planned for the Wicklow mountains on Sunday with John and Frank at Wilderness Tours.
We’ve only been filming for a few weeks, but already there’s a huge bond forming among the six participants of the show which follows their journey from Couch to 5k – and perhaps a lot further. If you don’t believe in magic, watch ‘Get Off The Couch’ this Autumn and I’ll guarantee you’ll change your mind. The growing confidence, the physical achievements, the dedication and discipline, the healthy bodies and healthy minds, growing stronger every day before my eyes. I’m already stunned by the power of the great outdoors as a life-changer and worker of miracles.
On a cold, wet and misty Greystones morning, the group’s enthusiasm was warming my heart… and if any of us held any doubts about what we were doing, a true sparkle of gold lit up the morning when our stunning Olympic champion Katie Taylor put her own training session on hold to come over to us on the track and wish us well. That young woman inspires in so many ways and every one of us visibly glowed after meeting her, the rain disappeared and the sun shone in our hearts as our souls soared with a growing belief in ourselves and our team. As Katie says, to achieve your goal you’ve got to “plan for success and then do the work to get the job done”. Easy isn’t it. 😉
Man, did I soaked today – twice. I got drenched to the skin cycling 15k home from work, and then I changed and went out running at Le Cheile AC in Leixlip and got soaked again. The washing machine’s growling with menace and I’m running out of space on the radiator! The cycle home was a bit of an adventure though, the canal path pictured here just this morning, had turned into a mud bath just 8 hours later, and my fairly rugged hybrid bike tyres were churning it up beautifully, so that my hi-vis bright pink bike jacket lost a lot of its glow…
That’s Barry in the picture, a camera man for Get Off The Couch, the new TV programme by Athena Media on Setanta, that I’m presenting this September. Barry and Rob from Athena turned up at my house at 0530 this morning to shadow me heading into work on the bike. The look on the lads faces when they arrived on my doorstep that early was classic. I felt I needed to set up a coffee ‘drip’ before we could start doing anything. lol… Breakfast news isn’t for everyone! It also amuses me to turn the camera on them every so often, so here’s Barry filming me, filming him, at a very early hour, on the banks of the Royal Canal.
I love hiking in the hills in the rain. It doesn’t seem to bother me, which is weird because I really whinge about running in it. Tonight was so different. Driving off to Leixlip for my ‘Couch to 5K’ running session, I felt really miserable from ‘the inside looking out’. But you know, once I got out into the rain, warmed up, and began to run – it all felt a lot easier and a lot better. I was warm anyway! I’m really indebted to the volunteers at the AC who turn up twice a week to see us through our paces – I’m also really grateful for the rest of the ‘Couch to 5k’ gang – because there’s nothing like shared pain to bond new friends. Seriously, I don’t think I’d have gone out in that tonight, if I didn’t have company!
I’m really glad I went too. Because for the first time in ages, I got that “I don’t want to stop running” vibe. It happens infrequently at first, but I know the longer I keep running, the more frequent these good moments will be. Moments when you suddenly feel your breathing and your body agrees a truce; when you realise you don’t want to stop running before you reach the next hill or sign, and when you suddenly realise you’re enjoying it.
Tonight was cold, dark, and the rain ran down the back of my jacket as I ran. It was a tough session. I found it difficult to breathe, I found running 3 mins in sequence was tougher than ever… but I kept up, I kept running, and the biggest suprise of all – I found I loved the road – and the road loved me.
Recently I’ve got quite narky with Nike, because of their lack of accommodation for lady boobs! I’m a size 14 and resent having to battle my way into an ‘XTRA LARGE’ running vest. I mean what sort of message is that sending out, we’re ‘over-sized’ if we’ve got boobs?
Despite that, there’s no disputing the technical buzz of buying Nike gear though, I’ve got leggings that look like something out of a sci-fi movie, and when I get over the embarrassment of wearing them in public, I’ve got to admit they are incredibly warm and super to run or cycle in, during these dark evenings.
My latest gear indulgence is a bargain-buy at the new Nike discount store in Blanchardstown. These narrow soled track shoes. I’ve read all the reviews about footwear moving away from the big high-gel soles, and I’m willing to give these a go. Since I’ve started running in the past year or two I’ve always gone for the ‘big gel’ option, and with my ‘dodgy’ knees, I’m cautious to change what works – so I’ll let you know how I get on with these. So far so good though, I’ve been wearing them around the house and cycling, and tonight I ran with them at my Le Cheile ‘Couch to 5k’ session and felt grand afterwards.
Tonight’s session was a step-up by the way. I ended up miles outside my comfort zone (even though we only covered 5k). We’ve been running intervals of 1.5 mins for the past few nights, but tonight we changed that up to ‘3mins on and 1.5 mins off’. We also split up into two groups. One was running alternate splits of 3-mins and 1.5 mins with a 2 min recovery – the other was keeping it to 3-min only split with 90 seconds recovery.
Why do I do this to myself? I went off with the tougher group. I was too slow to keep up, and too stubborn to stop – so I ended up running my own personal little Everest between the groups. I didn’t really feel alone though, the trainers are great and kept a watchful eye, and I still felt the company of running with a group, even though I ended up in an awkward little trot that fell in between the two. The thing is, I found a rhythm and I found a way to run and breathe, and really that’s what it’s all about. Do what you can do, and then do a little bit more. I ended up delighted with my run tonight, although I found it much tougher than the earlier sessions. I’m also happy in the knowledge that although I’m huffing and puffing in the cold, dark, night air now… by the end of the summer, I’ll be flying down the beach with toned legs, a sun-tan, and the speed and grace of a gazelle…
Well….. that’s the plan! 😉
….and I gained 5lb! Go figure….. ??
Recently the good folk over at Run Kildare asked me to pen a guest-blog on preparations for this year’s event on the plains of Kildare…it just happened that they got in touch as I started the new ‘couch to 5k’ project over at Le Cheile AC in Leixlip. So I had plenty to write about….
I sit in the car with the engine running, the heater fan on ‘full’ and I shiver as I peer out through the foggy windscreen into the dark of the night beyond. It’s 7.50pm and in ten minutes I must head off into the cold and make my way to the club house, or rev the engine and spin wheels in the direction of home. I don’t have the words to tell you how much I want to head for home…
Half an hour later, I’m dragging off my windbreaker and wiping a bead of sweat from my brow as I turn to jog back to the clubhouse. I’m certainly warm now; in fact I’m glowing and grinning from ear to ear. I have company too… There are 30 of us ‘newbies’ out on the road – giving it sox on night one of the ‘Couch to 5K’ programme at Le Cheile AC in Leixlip. I’ve signed up for the next 10 weeks because I’m on a mission; I’ve promised the folks at Run Kildare that I’ll join them again this year.
I’m starting from scratch because I’ve been sick and it’s amazing what a difference sitting at home for 6 weeks can do to a body. My chest heaves and I wonder how 90 secs could ever last so long. 4, 3, 2, 1… the final seconds drag past and we can walk again. That’s the routine for now, run and walk, run and walk, and it’s hard – but it’s very ‘doable’. I have a mental advantage too, because I know how to do this. I’ve done it before. I’ve been 23 stone and I’ve learned how to walk, then to trot, then to run, to climb a mountain, to paddle a kayak, to ride a bike and to live. If I can get fit, anyone can – and if I can get fit twice there’s hope for us all.
The passion and support of other people has helped me to get out there and get active over the past couple of years, and my previously undiscovered love of the outdoors and adventure has brought me all the way to Everest Base Camp, The Alps, and most recently a tri-adventure challenge that saw me climbing an extinct volcano and cycling hundreds of kilometres across Africa to kayak in the Nile. It’s a message in turn that I’m passionate to pass on. The outdoors is for us all, and all you need to do is open the door and walk out into it. It’s waiting for you, and there are so many clubs and organisations that will give you advice and support along the way. Sport is not just for the sporty!
“Get Off The Couch” is a new TV programme that I’m presenting this year, which is built entirely around that message. Screening on Setanta TV this autumn, Athena Media’s GOTC follows the adventures of six participants doing just that, getting off the couch and getting active and healthy. It’s a great team and you can already check them out on Facebook or Twitter (#GetOffTheCouch), or on the programme’s website. You can get involved too and offer us support as we all support each other through a whole range of activities from running and walking to climbing mountains, swimming in the sea and kayaking on the Liffey.
I’m looking longingly at the heels of the other runners as they head off towards the hill-run that we face on the way home. I thought I’d have a gentle night tonight, it being the first session. But the eagle eyes of Irish Ultra Runner John O Regan spotted me walking out; and coaching us for the night, he snaked in like a collie after a herd of sheep, nipping a few of us out of the pack, and putting us through some slightly harder paces. I’m huffing and puffing, but I’m laughing to myself to. It’s a quiet, internal sort of laugh, because I don’t have the breath to laugh out loud. It’s just that he spotted me dossing and he was right, because I’m keeping up with the new pace, even though I didn’t think I could.
Last year I was afflicted with ‘dodgy knees’ but I made it to Run Kildare and thanks to advice and tips from the same John O’Regan on the day, I not only finished, but I enjoyed every second of the run. I’m looking forward to the winds of the Curragh in my face again. Le Cheile’s Couch to 5K will definitely do its job, and I know that if I can run 5k, I can run 8k, and I can make it around the 10k at this years ‘Run Kildare’ on May 12th.
I’ve promised I’ll make it and I’m determined to be there. Those beautiful plains that are normally the reserve of racehorses will open up to us runners this summer, and that’s an opportunity not to be missed. There are three races; a marathon, half marathon and my 10k. So dust off your runners, and ignore the biting cold of these dark winter evenings. Spring is coming and your playground awaits. Open your -door, step out and join me….. c’mon –‘Get Off The Couch’