Back in February, six ordinary people from around the country met with myself and a production crew from Athena Media. We went for a short walk in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, while we discussed our plans to get out and get active in the great outdoors. It was our first day of filming for a six-part television show that will be broadcast on Setanta TV this September. In the months that followed, we ran and trained, climbed mountains, cycled bikes, learned to swim, took part in triathlons and became firm friends.
When I started this project, I was widely enthusiastic, exhilarated by the opportunity to preach my message once again – that if I could lose 13 stone and get healthy, anybody could. For me, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle have exploded into a life full of passion and colour and I can’t help but get carried away when I talk about the joy of waking up each day with my new-found health. I hoped my group of six ‘Get Off The Couch’ participants would have a similar experience; but I could hardly have imagined the outcome.
I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re not just talking about six people who got fit and healthy, we’re talking about new jobs, a return to college, a major sports deal, giving up smoking and whole families changing the way they spend their leisure time together.
Strictly speaking, we finished filming back in June. But on Saturday we met again, to catch up, and because I wanted to show them my lovely Spinc Mountain that I had been bragging about throughout our months of training together. They were invited to bring friends and family, but I was a little concerned when I saw the youthful bunch that turned up – our youngest walker was just 4-years-old, and I confess I didn’t think they’d last 5 minutes. To my amazement, they hopped around the mountain covering a 9km hill-walk with a climb of 380m in just under 4 hours; and 4-year-old Charlie was the most energetic of all of us. It just goes to show that sometimes our kids can be limited, not by their lack of strength or maturity but by the preconceived and erroneous notions of us boring old adults.
Thanks to my GOTC gang for a fabulous day – to the kids for the life lesson – and to Joan Kavanagh (local historian and member of the Glens of Lead Project) who met us on the trail along the way to introduce us all to ‘Paddy Byrne’ (wooden miner model) and to tell us about the history of the old lead workings and mines at Glendalough.
After a ‘Last Supper’ with the team, several of us went back out on the hill again for a night climb on Spinc – as part of my climbing mate Vera Baker’s preparations for a Concern hike to Kenya later this year. Staying in Wicklow overnight, the Concern trainees were back out on their bikes for some cycling exercise on the Sallygap on Sunday, and then I was back up on Spinc for a 3rd and final climb on Sunday afternoon, before I returned to the city and prepared for work and the gym on Monday.
My own training intensifies next week. I’m preparing for the Liffey Descent kayak and cycle challenge that I’m doing this September with ‘Mr Kayak’ Kipper Maguire, to raise funds and awareness for LauraLynn Hospice – Irelands ONLY childrens’ hospice. If you have a few bob, please drop it into our MyCharity page here – and please pass it on….
I ‘Walked The Line’ and I proudly get to wear the T-shirt, and raise the mug – thanks for a brilliant workout from Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue. Their mega annual fundraiser had two challenges, a navigational chase and a straightforward 25k hike for those who were willing to follow the signs! I chose the latter, but the physical demands were no joke. It was a tough, long day out and I came home delighted in just over 6 hours. To be honest, I had a secret weapon, the latter part of the hike was down through Spinc – my favourite mountain. I was actually heard to say ‘this is my patch’ as I trotted down the stones towards the Miners’ Village – and you know I meant it. Yep I guess I’m declaring it. Spinc is MY mountain – so there! (I’m not actually being facetious – that mountain rescued me from being 23 stone and stuck in a cell of my own skin, and my own making. I owe a lot to that mountain). The other benefit from ‘Walk the Line’ was accidentally turning up just 2-minutes before registration closed, and ending up ‘walking the line’ on my own, which I hadn’t really planned. It left me picking out way-paths and finding my way around the hills in a way I hadn’t done before – and I learned a lot – lessons that came in handy later in the week….
A trip to Lough Sheelin cooled my heels after Wicklow – when I turned up to provide boat cover for my brave ‘Get Off The Couch’ colleague Karen Bowers, who swam her first 1k ‘wild swim’ in the beautiful County Cavan lake, surrounded by master swimmers and the fantastic long-distance swimmer, Fergal Somerville, who turned up to coach her, after recently adding an elusive North Channel Crossing to his previous English Channel crossing. That man is inspiration in a set of speedos, and I have permission from his wonderful wife Margaret to say so. (Incidentally that woman is the best power-bar chef this side of either channel!).
A couple of days later I was back in the water again – this time in Donegal. In bright sunshine, myself and buddy Vera Baker ‘Girls on Tour’ headed north with kayaks strapped to the roof of her heroic Jaguar and two bikes jammed inside, along with wetsuits, paddles, running gear, hiking gear, and high heels. What other way to travel? Well as Vera’s son commented wryly as he saw us reverse out – “it wasn’t that we couldn’t do it – but probably that we shouldn’t“!
We hit the ground running when we arrived in Donegal in bright sunshine and instead of heading for shelter and our lovely home for the next three days, we made straight for the beach and launched the boats. It was a good call too; we woke up to winter conditions the following morning, with the mist so thick we could hardly see our boots as we made our way towards Errigal. That solo-navigation stuff in Wicklow helped with my confidence, as we strolled back down the mountain on a bearing and walked straight into the car park to our absolute delight. Boasting to my Mountain Rescue buddies may have been a calculated error however – I’ve been told I’m navigating next time out!
Lots of thanks are due to lots of people after my last set of adventures. Love you all and hugs will be distributed in due course. x
Oh my gosh – what have I done?
In 12 hours’ time I jump off O’Connell Bridge and into the Liffey! I’ve taken the leap from higher heights from that, but usually I’m attached to a rope. My poor head for heights is kicking my butt already over this one, and I haven’t even reached the bridge. For some reason the idea of stepping off into emptiness is freaking me out. Aggghhhhh….. it’s for Cystic Fibrosis though – so at least the fact that it’s such a good cause, should help stop me from running away.
It’s been such an intense couple of weeks, very busy at work and very busy with the camera crew for ‘Get Off The Couch’ the TV show that will broadcast on Setanta later this year. My gang of hardy participants have completely transformed themselves into athletes, and we all took part in their first Sprint Relay Triathlon last weekend in my hometown, Blanchardstown. They had a 750-metre pool to contend with, in our magnificent Olympic Distance pool at the National Aquatic Centre. I personally got a PB cycling the 15k – but pushed myself so hard, I could hardly walk afterwards, not to mind run the 250 metres in the transition back to rack my bike. We’re all competing in a Sprint Triathlon on June 1st, and I’ve learned my lesson – I’ll have to pace myself when I’m doing all three disciplines, so my time won’t be as good for each section, but my motivation will be to complete all three parts. So complete rather than compete will be in my mind – we’ll see how the times work out afterwards!
We’re coming to the end of filming for GOTC, but as usual, I’ve found this latest adventure is really only the beginning for something totally new. Joe, Maryanne, Cathy, Karen, Eamonn and Damien are the participants. When you watch the programme, you won’t believe how far they’ve come; not just in changing their physical fitness, but their entire lifestyles. It’s been a roller-coaster ride full of hard work, injuries, recoveries, bravery, camaraderie and craic. If these last 6 months had never made it to the screen at all, it would still have been a magnificent project to be part of, simply to see where we’ve all come from and gone to. Most important of all, I’ve made 6 new friends, which is such a heavenly gift from the world. Will everyone continue on their athletic journey? Well we’ve all discovered some sports that we liked more than others, and we’ve already made plans for getting together for sporty adventures in the future – without the cameras.
The best memories? Carrauntoohil is high up there (excuse the pun) I was hoping that people would like it, but was quite prepared for the likelihood that they wouldn’t. I’m not going to tell you who did and who didn’t – have to leave you SOMETHING to watch the programme for… lol. The Galtymores and the Mournes were both very special, running with Catherina McKiernan was extraordinary and probably life-changing for me. Running the Ballintotis 4-mile in Maryanne’s home town was incredibly memorable, including the fun and laughter before and after. Joe coming back to run alongside me on the track, training with Eamon Tilley in Greystones was pretty special, and Olympic Champion Katy Taylor coming over to help us train was extraordinary.
I’ve a feeling that Sunday’s gig will be another special moment – when Channel Swimmer Fergal Somerville takes the gang out to swim in the sea at Malahide. I’ll be doing boat-cover for that, paddling alongside in my kayak (Saffron). That brings my mind back around to tomorrow and O’Connell Bridge. It’s Fergal that’s talked me into making the ‘leap of faith’ off the bridge and into the Liffey. I walk the plank at 12-noon – but someone may need to give me a sharp push. No doubt Fergal will gladly oblige! OMG. :/
I moaned about the wind, the rain, the dark nights… the wind, the rain, the dark nights… and always the cold – but today in bright evening sunshine, running into a sunset, it all paid off. Thanks so much to all the trainers and volunteers at Le Cheile Athletics Club in Leixlip, especially Irish Ultra Runner, John O’Regan, who is so generous with his knowledge and time – and Sharon Ashmore (above), who quite literally ‘dragged me off the couch’ on occasion. I don’t find running easy, but after 10 weeks training, two nights a week, I finally made it from Couch to 5k and today I ran the distance without stopping, and even managed a wee sprint at the end. So the runnin’n’walkin thing is over – I’m a runner now! I’ve no excuses left, and the mental block that stops me running after 4 minutes has finally been lifted. I’ll be back at that start-line on Saturday for the Leixlip 5k, and now I know I can do it…
I joined Le Cheile’s Couch to 5k programme to get in shape for Run Kildare which is hurtling towards us on May 12th. I ran and walked the Run Kildare 10k last year and I wanted to return and do a better job in 2013. Ironically, the Television Programme I’m working with ‘Get Off The Couch’ has scheduled filming that weekend in Kerry. We’ll be bringing the team down to Carrauntoohil to climb with renowned adventurer Pat Falvey, and camp out at his Mountain Lodge. I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to share this beautiful mountain with my GOTC buddies who have now all become firm friends as well as colleagues. However it does mean I’ll be skipping a super weekend of running – or shall I say postponing it until next year, when hopefully I’ll be fitter and faster…
Along with a choice of distances to try in Run Kildare on May 12th – you can also have a go at the wonderful ‘Darkness Into Light’ 5k for Pieta House at 4am in the morning on May 11th – in Dublin’s Phoenix Park and right around the country. It’s a beautiful, inspiring walk/run, which begins in the dark hours of the morning and runs into the dawn and the brightness of a new day, in support of suicide awareness and prevention. I’ve done it for the last few years with good friends and I’ll miss being there this year. But I’ll be thinking of you all from the summit of Carrauntoohil and sending love and hugz… 🙂
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!
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. 😉
Despite illness, wonky knees, cartiledge problems, and consultants telling my I wouldn’t…… I’m running again. Well, if you call putting one foot in front of the other at a slightly more animated pace than walking, then I’m running again.
It’s all coming together rather nicely. I’ve had a couple of sessions at Le Cheile AC and each session felt better than the last, the lovely folk at Run Kildare have invited me back again this year, and I’m off to Limerick this weekend with ‘Get Off The Couch’ participants, Karen and Cathy to take part in a triathlon workshop.
I really believe in learning about technique. When I started getting out into the great outdoors and trying out new, activity based hobbies, I was on my way back down from 23 stone. I really didn’t think I’d be able to do anything, and as soon as I discovered that I could, my whole world changed. Training helped though, and I’ve a huge amount of people to thank, for sharing their knowledge and passion for sport and the outdoors. I will be thanking people for the rest of my life, and whenever I catch up with the thanking bit… I have a whole new wave of people and blessings to be thankful to and for.
One of those people who helped me then and is helping me now, is the hugely generous Irish ulra runner John O’Regan. We’re pictured here at Run Kildare last year, when he spotted me about to jog out – knowing darned well that I’d just been told I shouldn’t. Thanks to John’s advice on the day, I got around the course without further damaging my knees – and he’s been giving me great advice ever since.
Starting back running again 2 weeks ago wasn’t easy. It hurt, my chest heaved, I couldn’t breath and I really wondered if I’d just imagined being able to run. But this week felt better. I know it will take many more weeks to get back to anything like the fitness I had before. But something wonderful happened this week, as I ran I remembered that I like it. I got that feeling that runners get, where your body does what you ask, you find a rhythm and you’re suddenly confident that you can run for ever.
Even on a rainy day, you feel the sun on your face in those moments.