“Pedal, pedal, pedal – good girl”
A few words of self-encouragement as me and some mates go on a beginner spin with the Godfather of Irish Mountain Biking, Richie Byrne – and the amazing Carol Farrell – at Ballinastoe Mountain Bike Park in County Wicklow.
I’ll say one thing: “Keep an eye out for the tree trunk”…
Thanks to Richie, Carol, everyone that turned out on a very, very, wintry day – and to all the lads at www.biking.ie
For more adventures check out the January archive: http://www.teenagates.com/2014/01/
A crisp, fresh, winter morning saw the ‘Get Off The Couch’ crew piling out of their cars at McDonalds – but it wasn’t to share a mac – it was to park across the road and share a raft on the River Liffey for our first ever competitive raft race with www.rafting.ie. The day’s sport was arranged to raise funds for Concern’s Philippines’ relief effort. A good cause, a beautiful day, fun on the water…. all reasons for me to smile deeply. But I also had a warming glow at seeing my new adventure friends getting active in the great outdoors, long after the TV cameras have stopped rolling. Yes, we made a television programme, but more importantly, the team and all our participants, have made a difference. They and I have both experienced the benefits of stepping outside the door into the beautiful, stunning, inspiring country that we live in – and now they continue to spread the word, about the joy of nature and the joy of being healthy. Rock on Ireland, or roll, or climb, or or or… well you get it. Here’s how some of our clever friends captured a little bit of the day….
There were winners in the all male, all female, and mixed crew categories, while GOTC came ahem, 4th last. You’ll get all the results and a whole host of pictures on rafting.ie’s facebook page. It was also great to welcome Santa and his helpers along on the day.
Saturday’s rafting was merely a warm-up for what I had planned on Sunday. I huffed & puffed & made it up, only to plunge down the rough rocks into the forest. Do I really want a mountain bike aged 48? Mountain Biking rock star, the legendary Richie Byrne and his angelic partner in hardcore biking, Carol, took me out for a beginner spin on Ticknock. All I can say is that this sport doesn’t let you hide for a second. It’s intense from the moment you start spinning those pedals, and it’s a rush right to the very end of the ride. I was soooo slow and sooooo clumsy, but I loved it. In fact I loved it enough to get fitter enough, so that I can judge how I like it when I’m not completely annihilated by the hill climbs. Mind you in fairness, I kept spinning, so there’s hope for me. If I have a word with Santa, I wonder if I’ve room for another bike….?
Around this time last year I took my brand new bike on the road and I blogged about how slow I was, how it took an hour and a half to get into work, how I was overtaken by an octogenerian riding a rusty Raleigh, and how I expected to be overtaken by a mum pushing a pram!
Today I felt just like that again. I huffed and I puffed as I slogged into work against the wind – and the rain caught me just before I reached the quays. As my mind drifted, I suddenly realised I was headed for my old radio building near the mouth of the Liffey, and not our new offices near Stephen’s Green. Cursing into my soggy buff, I swung around against the traffic, trying to figure out how I’d just managed to put another 10 minutes on my journey. Later, after finishing work for the weekend, I growled again, when a perfectly dry and bright day disappeared into a snarling storm just as I pushed my trusty steed out into the evening rush-hour.
As I heaved against the uphill homeward haul through the Phoenix Park, I reminded myself that I’ve been here before, and today doesn’t feel quite as bad as yesterday, and Monday won’t feel quite as bad as today. I’ll get there.
The rain eased and so did my mood. I didn’t even curse when my chain jammed as I switched down gears on Castleknock Hill. So nice of the Prince Charming who came to rescue me. The poor chap abandoned his own bike to help me in the fading light, and when he failed to free the pesky mechanism, he left with good advice to bring it to the experts, and try using oil in future! He was right of course, as I looked at my once shiny chain looking sadly back at me – but you know that female thing, where you just can’t give up and you just have to have one more bash… 5 minutes later I’m cycling down the hill at Castleknock with a sneaky, self satisfied grin.
Apart from showing off my technical expertise with a jammed chain and a handy rock, I’ve just remembered another reason why I keep on doing this. In the dark hours this morning, just before the rain got me. I pedalled out of my estate, gazing in disbelief at the frosty brightness of the moon and stars; and as I headed towards the park my arrival was heralded by the dawn chorus. The birdsong swept out of the darkness with it’s cheerful embrace, the first time I’d heard them singing this year.
Early morning commuters may not have noticed it as they drove into town or listened to their iPod on the bus or Dart – but today, February 1st, Spring arrived in Dublin – and I was there…. 🙂
Well it’s been an interesting few years. In 2009 I was 23 stone and dangerously ill. By 2010 I was heading to Everest Base Camp to raise money for kids in India, after losing half my own body weight. A year later I was climbing Grand Paradiso in the Alps for Chernobyl kids, and this year (2012) I took part in the first charity multi-adventure challenge in Uganda for the Irish charity Concern, climbing a volcano at altitude before cycling 200k to the Nile where the team took turns in kayaking down a grade 3 rapid. I kept a training blog here for my African Adventure, and now I’m back in training for a whole new challenge.
Throughout these adventures I learned to love our beautiful mountains and stunning seas, and to forge an ever-growing respect for our bodies, which can do so much more than our minds believe.
In 2013 I want you to come with me.
I’m inviting those of you who secretly dream of being adventurous to leave the TV remote behind, and come out to explore the great outdoors. I know how scary that can be, but I want to share how wonderful it is to break down those walls and find the inner you, the inner explorer. So if you’re looking for a life-changing New Year resolution – come and join me – and “Get Off The Couch”.
Updates from the Uganda Challenge…
My big brother Raymond knows how to fly – a real-life pilot. He did some gliding too and once when I was a little girl, he talked to me about turbulence. He explained it was like driving a car fast along a bumpy bog road. Even though you bounce up and down, you’re not going anywhere, just bumping up and down on pockets of air. I was really glad we’d had that chat, as with my eyes closed tight, my stomach lurched again, as the plane bucked and plunged, ploughing through pockets of air somewhere between Frankfurt and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia
Several hours of snatched sleep and three movies later, my climbing buddy Vera grabbed my arm excitedly to show me the dawn through the window. Such a pity I couldn’t see it from my seat! Yawning and putting the seat back up for arrivals, I stretched out cramped legs and thanked the universe for making me a shorty.
The boys looked like their knees were wrapped around their ears. Off the plane into a cold, crisp, but sunny morning. No rain here in Ethiopia, that’s waiting for us in Uganda. Two buses later, we piled out onto the Tarmac a five minute walk away from the plane we just left….and minus one member of the team.
Subsequent inquiries suggested James, or ‘Jam’ as we call him, was on a different bus. It’s been 20 minutes now and we’re still waiting for the bus to transport Jam the five-minute walk from the plane, which has now taxied away. But it’s pleasant sitting here on the runway in the early morning sun. Can’t really go much further without him really. After all, Jam’s leading the expedition….
Well it’s taken over 2 weeks to get myself back on the bike. I wimped out one morning during that heavy rain we had, and the bike’s been sitting forlorn and mud-caked in the hallway ever since.
I tried to cycle into work on Monday, but couldn’t bring myself to start off the week that way. I tried to cycle into work yesterday, but listened to the voices in my head telling me I was too tired (after a good night’s sleep too!)… Then finally this morning, when the alarm went off at 6am, I grudgingly dragged myself away from my pillow, struggled into my padded lycra shorts suit (this so wasn’t designed for my body) and after finding every reason not to leave the house, I eventually edged my silver dream machine (Les bike) out the hall door.
It was damned cold this morning, and I realised that as I wheeled off down the end of my cul-de-sac, my nose was already weeping, and my ears were cut to shreds with the breeze. I grumbled for the next 5 mins or so, and then I suddenly realised that I was in top gear, flying like the wind, and absolutely loving the freedom of whizzing down the road into the dark morning.
There’s a lesson here. I avoided cycling for 2 whole weeks and convinced myself I hated it. I don’t. I love it. I loved cycling in this morning, I felt really good and strong – and I got into work in 45 minutes flat – without pushing the pace. As it turns out, I hadn’t lost a minute on my time for the 15k cycle. I’m thrilled – and I’m back.
It’s 6 weeks now, to my Concern/Uganda challenge; and the training is stepping up in earnest for myself and my WeightWatchers’ buddy Vera Baker. We’re off to Kerry and Limerick this weekend to climb and hike. Personally, the plan from here on in, is an hour of heavy-lifting in the gym twice a week. Cycling the 30k round trip into work 5 days a week. At least one swim at the weekend, and as much kayaking and climbing as we can fit in, between now and the off-date.
I’ve also started my injections and have Hep A and the first of THREE Rabies shots done. They warned me it would hurt – it didn’t. Hope that continues, and I hope I don’t start howling at the full moon…. wuff wuff folks…
My ‘Happy Feet’ relay team for the Lough Key triathlon was waiting for me at registration when I turned up, shoulders shrugged high, to stop the torrential rain running down my neck, realising the futility of keeping dry – when I was just about to jump in a lake!
As I walked up to the girls, I couldn’t help gawping at the big yellow markers on the water, that were clearly marking the swim. To my eye, the markers seemed far too distant from the shore; surely they’d made a mistake? It looked so much further than I thought 740metres would look like. There were shrieks and hugs as we met up and shared training disaster stories from the past week; but all the time I felt butterflies the size of bats in my gut. I shouldn’t have eaten breakfast, I knew I shouldn’t. The egg and ham and goats’ cheese and spinach soufle that my host had made me, was now hanging heavily on my mind.
I was doing the swim, Teresa the cycle and Anna had been roped in at the last minute with a dodgy knee and very little notice, to cover the final 5k run. It had all seemed so simple to offer to swim the 750m for team Happy Feet, until I read the briefing notes with just a week and a half to go, and realised there was a 30 min elimination time on the swim! Pressure, and not enough time to train. If you followed my training blog here, you’ll know I tried to short-cut my lack of speed-work by swimming without a wet-suit, against the tide at Malahide Beach in North Dublin. I suppose I thought that if I made myself suffer as much hardship and discomfort as possible, I might feel more comfortable, and swim faster, when I had to get in the lake. Well it was a theory at the time, and the only one I had! My big problem was that although I was comfortable doing the distance, I had no speed and was planning to complete the distance in 40mins. The briefing notes blew that out of the water – if you’ll excuse the pun.
Well I put my shoulder to the wheel – or tide – and soaked up all the tips I could drag from my Hi-Rock swimming friends in Malahide, and in particular ‘Chanimal’ – Channel Swimmer, Fergal Somerville. Deep, even breaths – long, measured strokes, no panic. Now today was the day.
As the other athletes gathered in the holding pen, adjusting swim caps and goggles, stretching to warm up arms and legs and shoulders; they looked sleek and professional, I sneakily looked around comparing the size of my belly with everyone elses. I thought mine looked much bigger, and I grimaced. A throwback to my days of being 23stone. These days I’m just under 12 stone and still a bit on the curvy size, but despite no longer being morbidly obese, I still have body-image flashbacks, especially when I’m standing on the shore in a screamingly tight wet suit along with 300 taller, slimmer, fitter looking people. I just had to remind myself that I was strong and healthy and capable of taking them all on. (I just didn’t really believe it).
The Public Address speakers crackled into life and there were speeches and applause as the rain continued to fall and we stood, shuffling our bare feet in the wet grass, wishing for the start. Eventually we got the nod and as one, we swimmers moved towards the water. It was all new to me, we were to get into the lake and swim to warm up, before the start was called. I followed the leaders and reached the water’s edge, noting the lack of reaction from the other swimmers and imitating their composure as I stepped calmly into the lake, biting down a gasp at the cold. Up to my ankles, my knees, my chest and finally I’m swimming, then finding some space to keep treading until the race ‘got the off’. This part was unexpected, and I felt a tremor of adrenalin or something close to fear. I was out of my depth, I couldn’t swim out with a proper stroke or I’d crash into the swimmers ahead. I was just bobbing about getting cold, and I didn’t like it. I determinedly removed my mind from the lake and imagined I was going through my yoga routines in the sun, and felt the warmth and the calm flood through my legs and up through my body to my arms. I relaxed. We’d go when we’d go – and finally the human wave washed back towards me, as the race began.
I reached out into the dark waters of the lake, pushing my head under water and noticing the pink hue of the feet in front, dyed red by the peaty flood waters. I had taken the other swimmers’ advice and kept out of the crush at the start, for fear of being dragged or accidentally thumped in the fury of the moment. I took my line against the yellow marker out near an island in the lake and just swam. I didn’t try to go fast, hearing Fergal’s comments a week before, telling me that trying to go fast was the fastest way to slow down. I wasn’t sure if he was right, but I was taking his comments on board. After about 250 metres, the 1st marker was drawing close and I realised there was a crush emerging as the swimmers tried to get a tight line around it. I didn’t. I pulled left and gave it – and them – a wide berth. I think I actually gained time instead of losing time, as I swung wide arount the buoy and the human soup, and took my line to the next marker.
I had told myself that if I was comfortable after the first 250, I would step up the speed on the 2nd leg. It worked fine, I stretched out and increased my speed, breathing deeper into my lungs and concentrating on rolling smoothly to catch my breath, keeping my face down between strokes and pulling my arms smoothly through the water. Quicker than I expected, I reached the second marker, and swept around to face back into the shore. I looked up, and saw swimmers far ahead and far behind. At my right was an orange kayak, on hand to help if I needed it. I didn’t need it. I saw the last marker, saw the shore, put my head down – and bombed it. I gave the last 250 every last bit of energy and strength and felt excitement well up inside me. I’m not sure why, I just felt powerful and thrilled because whatever the time on the clock, I wasn’t the last person in the lake, and I knew I had the energy to get me back to shore. Stumbling out of the water, I took the waiting helping hand eagerly and pulled myself free of the lake, then sprinted to the holding paddock and my teammates. Pulling the electronic tag from my left ankle and passing it to Teresa, I recognised she was excitedly shouting at me about the time. I felt tears well up as I realised I’d made the 30 minutes…. and more.
Later, with the time confirmed at 22 minutes. I joked that it was the egg and spinich ‘Pop-Eye’ breakfast after all (thanks Mary) but I was humbled. This body of mine, that I have so abused in my lifetime, again pulled out a blinder for me. With less than 2 weeks to prepare, it had delivered all I asked, and I had smashed my own time. I felt like one of our Olympians, I could proudly say I had a PB and I’d smashed it! It was hard work getting here; swimming in cold, choppy, waters off Malahide, hours of weight training in the gym on our few sunny days, and a lot of self doubt. But the help I got, the support from my friends, from FB and Twitter, and all the generous tips and training swims I got from Fergal and his Hi-Rock mates, had paid off. I’d made it – and Team Happy feet could run and cycle the rest of the way, without being disqualified by the swimmer!
You know, when I started training for our Concern/Uganda: hiking, cycling & kayaking challenge in November, I never thought I’d end up long-distance swimming too. But I suppose it all helps with general fitness. What’s next? Well, the whole Concern group is due to climb Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain this Sunday; and that’s going to hurt – because with all the time I’ve spent cycling, swimming, working-out in the gym and learning to kayak, I’ve somewhat neglected my hill climbing. There is a reckoning a-coming on Sunday. And do you know? there’s a 750m sea swim in Killiney on Saturday….. 😉