Well the challenge is on. In the next two months I need to pour 6-months of training into just 8 weeks. In July, I travel to Russia with Pat Falvey Worldwide Adventures to try and reach the summit of Mount Elbrus – the highest mountain in Europe and one of the Seven Summits.
I’ve been planning the climb for close to a year, but falling and slicing my knee open in February wasn’t part of the plan. At this stage I’m not nearly ready, and have only started to resume the training plan that I should have been working on for the past three months.
I don’t know if I’m going to be ready in time, but the knee has healed well and is taking weight – and with two months left, I’m not saying ‘no’ just yet. Tips, hints, suggestions about rehab and healthy eating will all be very welcome in the coming weeks, as I crank up the race to be fit.
At some point I’ll have to make a decision about the safety of joining an expedition on a mountain where unpredictable weather calls for endurance, fitness and the ability to move quickly if nature throws a curveball – and all this at altitude. For now, I’ll just concentrate on getting fit. I feel like I’m 23 stone all over again. I have a mountain to climb.
Elevation: 18,510 feet (5,642 meters)
Prominence: 15,554 feet (4,741 meters)
Location: Caucasus Range, Russia. On the border of Asia and Europe.
Coordinates: 43°21′18″ N / 42°26′21″ E
First Ascent: 1874 by Florence Crauford Grove, Frederick Gardner, Horace Walker, Peter Knubel, and Ahiya Sottaiev (guide).
Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Russia. At 15,554 feet (4,741 meters) it is also the tenth most prominent mountain in the world, and one of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. Mount Elbrus lies on the geographical dividing line between Europe and Asia, but most geographers consider it to be the highest mountain in Europe.
‘Climbing.about.com reports that Elbrus is considered one of the world’s most deadly peaks with a high ratio of climber deaths to climbers, as many as 30 in a year. Considered an inactive volcano, Mount Elbrus is perpetually snow-covered with an icecap and 22 glaciers. Lava flows cover the mountain as well as 100 square miles of volcanic ash and debris. Pyroclastic flows of ash and mud, indicative of a powerful eruption that melted ice, also drain off the mountain. An 800-foot-wide snow-filled volcanic crater is on the mountain’s western summit. Elbrus last erupted around 50 A.D.
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. 🙂
Well it’s a week to go to Uganda, so if I haven’t trained enough by now, I’ve just left it too late. I’m excited, but I’ve got those pre-expedition ponders – when you just can’t help going over the last few months in your mind, and wonder… if only. If only I’d tried hot-yoga, it would have helped me prepare for the heat. If only I’d spent more time on the hills, more time on the bike, more time in the pool. But in fairness, I drafted a training plan several months ago, and I’ve pretty much stuck to my plan. I’ve cycled 15k into work and back, most days – I’ve lifted weights in the gym twice a week, I’ve joined Wild Water Kayak Club and learned the basics of how to paddle, I’ve got my level 2 cert to prove it. I’ve climbed Carrauntoohil twice, and Purple Mountain and Tomies – as well as several training runs up my beloved Spinc in Wicklow.I’ll know very soon if I’ve done enough to tackle the altitude on Mount Elgon, whether I’ve done enough to keep up with the rest of the group as we cycle over 200k through the African bush, and whether I’ll be able to Kayak well enough, when we get to the Nile and Hairy Lemon Island.
This was my very last weekend for training, and it’s been a howler. A day’s climbing in Wicklow yesterday, followed by climbing at Awesome Walls last night – and a day out on the Liffey kayaking today – and all with a film crew shadowing every move in preperation for “Get Off the Couch”, a programme I’m presenting for Athena Media on Setanta next year, which aims to encourage people to get up and get active and get outdoors into our lovely countryside. Thanks to Barry and Paula and Rob and Helen – you were all brilliant this weekend and I’ve learned so much already from you all.
I really don’t know whether I’ve done enough for Uganda on Saturday – I really hope I have, I hope I do Concern proud. But at least after today, I feel a lot more confident about the paddling. I’ve had a real mental block over paddling over weirs into white water and was gutted last weekend when what should have been my last training session didn’t come off the way I wanted it to. I decided to have one last shot and the guys in the club pulled out all the stops for me and got me in the water again this weekend. Last night I kept telling myself I could do it – even though I didn’t really believe it! Today I told myself the same thing, and eventually when the time came, I popped over Wrens, and stayed upright….then did it again… and again. Andy, my WWKC instructor was with another group downstream, and he told me later they all heard me screaming with jubilation and they laughed as he said “ah, Teena’s made it down Wrens!”
I’m so grateful to Wild Water Kayak Club. To Andy, Aidan and Dave – who first showed me the ropes, to Andy again who never gave up on me, and to John Judge and Sean who took me out today. Thank you to adventurer, friend and mentor Pat Falvey, to Wicklow Mountain Rescue buddy Ronan Friel, ATI ‘City Kayak’ chief Donnchadh McCobb, to gym guru David Dunne, to my own fantastic radio station 98FM, to Howth Coast Guard and all our ‘forces’, to the most patient dad in Ireland, to my brother who’s prepared a detailed list of all the spiders I need to avoid in Africa, to the Albany Clinic who gave me millions of injections for a very tiny price and no bruises, to Great Outdoors who always support me and who are on P41 of my book!, to swimming ‘Chanimal’ Fergal Somerville, and to everyone who hiked and climbed and encouraged and motivated me over the past couple of months. So many friends, including my FB & Twitter supporters, I’m so very, very lucky. And thank you to whoever told me to fake-it till you make-it… ‘cos today I faked my way over Wrens until I suddenly made it! If it turns out that I haven’t done enough for Uganda, I guess I know what I have to do.. 😉
There’s a reckoning a coming, I reckon….
If I’ve had a difficulty with training this year, it’s about balancing multi-discipline sports. Our Concern challenge in Uganda this November requires me to climb a volcano, cycle for several hundred kilometres and kayak the source of the Nile. Well I bought a bike and started clocking up hours earlier this year, and I signed up with the Wild Water Kayak Club on Dublin’s Strawberry Beds and learned the basics of how to fall in the river! (…and of course, more importantly – how to get out).
Now, as you can imagine, this all takes time – hours of time, and the one thing that has suffered is the activity I had previously been very familiar with – climbing mountains. To get hill-fit, you need to be walking up inclines for between 4 to 6 hours, at least once a week….and I haven’t been doing that. I simply haven’t had time for much more than a quick spin up and around Spink in Wicklow, which is a beautiful mountain, but not the most challenging – particularly when you’re only doing it intermittently at best.
So this Sunday, I’m facing the Goddess. Carrauntoohil in Kerry, at 1,038 metres (3,406 ft) is Ireland’s largest mountain, and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I’m heading there this weekend, feeling a bit like a fool – because I know I haven’t prepared, and I know I’m going to suffer. I love this mountain and know her well, but I also know it’s not clever to take her for granted. I’m also pretty certain she’ll be wet and cold and windy. Mountains have a way of letting you know……
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….. 😉
I’m climbing the beautiful Carrauntoohil in Kerry, on September 16th, with the Concern team that are heading out to Uganda for their tri-adventure challenge this November.
The charity has said we can invite some friends along to climb Carrauntoohil with us – if they fill out a sponsorship form and raise some squids for Concern.
It’s the highest mountain in Ireland, so it’s definately worth raising a bit of sponsorship – it also requires anyone tackling it, to be hill-fit with decent gear, boots, waterproofs etc.
There probably won’t be that many spaces available, because we’ll need to match numbers to guides etc… so if you have your boots greased, and you fancy joining me, don’t hesitate, email now and let me know on: firstname.lastname@example.org