South Downs Way – notes from day 4

(Cocking to Houghton)

The hospitality last night was wonderful and made up for a tiring day. A good meal, good sleep and good breakfast have helped me feel more human again today.

The long down hill section that nearly finished me yesterday!

This is a shorter day and not too many hills so far. Highlights so far have been an early trig point and stunning views across the south coast, including the many wind turbines off-shore from Shoreham [which I saw every day onwards from here].

south downs way trig point
trig point near Cocking
RIP Rolo

I came off the route to visit the Roman villa at Bignor – light lunch (aka a stodgy scone, bag of crisps & slice of fruit cake!!) and a bit of culture before I head back up again. Bizarrely the site here has no electricity so the urn & fridge run off gas cylinders! They do however have some pretty amazing mosaics from the original flooring – and the slightly macabre remnants of the bones of two babies. 

I’ll add more later when I’ve picked the cherries out of my fruit cake and taken photos of mosaics….

Bignor, South Downs Way
Dining room floor, with underfloor heating obvs!

Cultural interlude complete – a 3-mile, 2-hour round-trip – I headed back up the very steep hill to the SDW and got back on with my stroll through this green and pleasant land. My Pacerpoles have been put to good use every day so far – there have been gradients that I don’t think I could have done without them – except maybe by sliding on my bottom going downhill!!

I only got these poles three days before I left home, having used different poles while I was training, but I am really pleased I switched. The design of the handles is brilliant – light and comfortable to hold with no straps to irritate my hands and wrists – and I now feel well-practised in the different technique required for Pacerpoles. I’ll write more about them later…

Nothing much to report – more stunning views, more hills, a few more people out and about today – and I arrived at my home for the night at 4pm.

South Downs Way near Bury
south downs way views

An hour later my bed is made, I’m clean, my clothes are clean and going through a spin cycle in the washing machine and there’s green tea in my mug – happy days. 

I felt like a more seasoned adventurer today – I remembered to buy water when I stopped to eat and unlike every other day so far there were no careless wrong-turns made immediately after lunch. Feeling proud!! 

Today I’ve been dreaming of a veggie burger, in a bun with fries on the side. I’m sending vibes to the pub down the road as I post this…[I had to settle for a halloumi burger which was pretty good!]

Tomorrow, just after I leave here I will hit the official half way point for the SDW, although my mileage is already more than that…

South Downs Way – notes from day 3

(East Meon to Cocking)

I was definitely ready for my bed last night after 21 miles with my boots on. I could have done without the 4 & a half mile round trip to the pub for dinner, but the food was great, the WiFi & phone charging were useful and walking without a backpack was quite nice! And I saw a deer on the way home (it’s not in the photo – I just wanted to share the golden light with you)

Woke up to the sound of the dawn chorus at 4.30am then managed to doze a bit longer until the sounds of the sparrows in the roof space became too loud to ignore. I went to sleep as the sun was setting so I guess it’s ok to wake as it rises – although a later start would have been very nice.

Since it’s going to be another hot day an early start on the road might not be a bad thing, but my planned breakfast stop (an hour from here) doesn’t open until 10am. By 7.30am I’m ready to go but hanging back a little longer just to let the air warm up a bit and because my legs aren’t quite ready to start walking again yet. Was just thinking what I’d trade for a cup of hot water right now!! 

Dolly the shepherd’s hut has been very comfortable – I think this might turn out to be my favourite sleep of the whole week. Tonight is my only b&b and then I’m staying in hostels all the way home. 

South Downs Way mileage post

Set off at 8am so now I’m waiting at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park for the cafe to open – I really need a mug of green tea and some non-snack-bar breakfast. Had a weird moment with vertigo/jelly legs coming down Butser Hill – it wasn’t a very steep descent but there were signs of cows which made me extra nervous. Met a lovely old man on the way down and chatting with him helped me to settle into my legs again.

I have driven along that stretch of the A3 many times but today was my first time seeing it from above and walking underneath it. Lots of memories of Portsmouth University years today… 

Long morning, not many views but beech trees everywhere – plenty of shade but the air feels steamy & stifling. I’m definitely feeling the effects of yesterday’s miles but my PacerPoles have been a great help in getting me up & down some very steep inclines! Every time I use them I remember to ‘walk tall’ and seeing these tress today reminded me to do the same.

As I left the QE Country Park behind me, I saw this fabulous honesty table by someone’s house – what a thoughtful thing to do:

Honesty table along the South Downs Way
flapjack, water & glasses, dog biscuits & a dog bowl and a jar of wild flowers

I took a turn off route for lunch in South Harting. It was a memorable meal, not because it was nice but because it has been repeating on me ever since… ‘vegetarian’ seems to be a slightly alien concept hereabouts – I’m craving simple food, vegetables, fruit and cheese. 

After lunch I walked around and then up the second Beacon Hill on the SDW – and when I got to the top I burst into tears! Not sure if it was the sheer exertion of the climb, the after effects of lunch or the breathtaking views to the Solent but either way I decided it was time to break open the Kendal mint cake to calm my soul and soothe my guts. Seems to have worked but I need to get moving soon – the flies are buzzing around suggesting that perhaps I need a shower?!?! 

South Downs Way trig point

Today was a really long one. The afternoon miles went on and on and on – rough ground, loose flint and chalk, short sharp climbs, long steady climbs, steamy heat and my first time running very low on water. The guide book suggested a distance of 13.5 miles on this stretch but I finished on 18.6 miles! I went off piste for lunch, had an initial climb to re-join the route this morning and made a few wrong turns, but there’s no way they added up to 3 extra miles so I’m not sure where the other 2 came from??! 

On the South Downs Way near Cocking

I trudged along dreaming that there would be a bath at my b&b, and THERE WAS. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see a bath in all my life. Now I’m clean and well fed the day doesn’t seem so bad after all so I might carry on a bit further tomorrow Jx 

South Downs Way – notes from day 2

(Beauworth nearly to Butser Hil)

Day one felt like I was just getting myself in the right place to start in earnest. I had high hopes that from today onwards the views would be spectacular…and they were!

On the road by 8.30am and reached my first trig point within the hour.

Also hundreds of cows so I decided the cycling route into Exton was a better option than the walking one. Took a stop at Meonstoke post office – an apple and a cheese & onion pasty gave me a welcome ‘bag break’ sitting in the shade for a while. I even had a moment with a dog lead in my hand – looking after Raffi while his dad went inside for a newspaper.

I’m feeling good walking today – I’ve settled into wearing my pack, boots feel good and I’ve found a good pace so far. 

Old Winchester Hill was brilliant – felt like I was standing on top of the world. Met two ladies at the top, one of whom has been going there since she was a child and now takes her grand-children there – how wonderful.

It’s way too hot but there’s patchy shade a lot of the time. Sitting inside at Meon Springs enjoying a cup of green tea, crisps and a chocolate brownie – slightly odd lunch but very welcome chance to sit and talk trout with the fishing crowd, as you do.

Added another 6+ miles after lunch, including a missed turn, some long climbs, amazing views over the Solent, more cows (happily behind a fence) and a shepherd’s hut to sleep in.

A good day today – everything I dreamed of and hoped for. Currently enjoying gnocchi and the first wi-fi since Winchester Jx

South Downs Way – notes from day 1

Departure!

Awake at 5.10am & too edgy to enjoy breakfast but left on time with 2 pyjama-clad girls. Finished reading ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ (Anthony Doerr) on the way to London & found a grateful recipient who told me her son would be very envious of my walk & that she’d pass the book on when she’d read it.

Glad I had extra time at Waterloo to find toilets and buy some breakfast. 1st drama was realising phone was only 40% charged – maybe I switched of the socket last night?!! Or actually, maybe it wasn’t plugged in – doh! No sockets on train to Winchester so already making use of portable battery pack… 

My pack is heavier than I might like (11kg with water) and the weather is a tad warm but I’m ready…

The walk:

Winchester was horrid – I just wanted to get in a green space but it seemed to take forever! Wandered towards the cathedral (didn’t actually see it); bought a spinach & ricotta pasty (it was actually a folded pizza filled with peppers); took it back but failed to find another savoury vegetarian option so left with nothing; missed the official start point, went back to find it and then started – beautiful but short stretch along the river; and then seemingly no signs! In hindsight I think they’d been turned around but still annoying. Once I found my way it seemed an age getting out of Winchester and then the road noise could still be heard for a few miles. Finally, after a few tears (thinking about all the things last year that had brought me to that point, missing my mum, tired & a bit frustrated at the patchy start) I took a few big breaths and found my feet.  

Met a ginger Archie and had a brief surge of homesick-for-my-pooch tears. Stopped to apply my first compeed (left heel) and ate my cheese roll from home. Stopped again the take out toe spacer. Realised I was going to reach my destination before 3pm!!!

I deliberately planned an easy day to start with but I think the desire to get going took over. Note to self – next time, set off later or sit and have lunch in Winchester! No matter – sat in the shade with water, book and snacks waiting for the pub to open. Remembering that this is a holiday and sitting down is permitted.

The evening:

The accommodation was fairly basic but the bedding and towels were clean and there was the unexpected bonus of a TV & a bath. Neighbours watched; clothes and body washed. I’d planned an early dinner but once I sat down I didn’t want to move, and then a big group of Harley’s rumbled into the car park and jumped ahead of me in the dinner queue!! It made for a really nice vibe in the bar though, as I half read, half eavesdropped, and ate a really delicious spinach & ricotta cannelloni.

When I woke at 5am to the calls of the peacocks next door it occurred to me that their owner must be the same man who had remonstrated with the bikers as they left at 8.30pm last night, presumably about the noise they were making! 

A beginner’s guide to preparing for a long distance walk (part 2)

my top 6 tips for planning any long distance event, new activity or life in general.

Here’s the next section of my beginner’s guide to preparing for a long distance walk, created as I prepare to embark on my first one. In case you missed it, you can read part 1 here

Consider what you need to spend money on:

When I started walking in January, I was wearing jeans, a cotton t-shirt, a cotton hoodie, a vaguely-showerproof dog-walking coat and some vintage walking boots I found tucked away in my shed! On long walks I was covering 13 miles so the lack of ‘proper’ clothing didn’t stop me walking, but I realised fairly early-on that I would need to up my game a bit…

My first purchase was a pair of decent walking socks. Unfortunately they weren’t the right ones for me, but the second pair was much better and I’ve stuck with those ever since.

The thing I resisted buying for longest was a pair of walking trousers, just because they seemed so geeky!! Happily I found a pair that weren’t beige and I haven’t looked back since!

NB If you’re buying new clothing for your event, don’t do what I did and buy three pairs all at once, only to find that loose and comfortable at home = chafing and uncomfortable over a longer distance. I have had to buy a couple more pairs, a size smaller than I would instinctively go for, to get the right fit. I’m hoping the larger size will come into their own in the winter as I’ll be able to fit a pair of leggings underneath, but I could have done without the additional expense.

The first time I wore ‘all the gear’ I felt like a potential fire-hazard, dressed head-to-toe in man-made (aka technical) fabrics, but over the past few months I have appreciated the benefit of said fabrics many times over.

all the gear…in all the colours!!

Finding the right footwear was a bit of a mission but now that I have ‘the ones’ I am glad that I didn’t settle for those which just didn’t feel quite right. The difference they make is huge and it is so good to feel confident that my feet will be ok, especially when I’ll be relying on them as my sole (see what I did there?!) mode of transport from the moment I step off the train in Winchester until I arrive on Hastings pier. If you only get one thing right for your event, make sure it is your footwear!

pair of boots #5

Unexpectedly, my best purchase to date has been a rain poncho. I’ve learned that the thing which annoys me & slows me down the most is faffing on and off with my backpack to put on/take off a waterproof coat when the weather just can’t decide what to do. The rain poncho goes on over everything (including my pack) so on days when I think I’ll need it, I hang it (rolled up in its little bag) from a hook on the front of my pack, ready to pull out and throw on at a moment’s notice. I believe that it is also the most truly versatile piece of kit – ground sheet, canopy, one-woman toilet-tent, hammock, curtain (for my dorm-room bed), talking point…I tell you, it is genius & I love it!

Of course you don’t necessarily need to spend money on everything – ask around and see what you can borrow, even if it is just to try things out before you buy. I have borrowed a sleeping bag for my event and have borrowed a trekking-friends’ poles to train with. In truth I could have used them for my walk too, but I had the romantic notion that I wanted my own pair of poles so that they would be with me for all my memorable walks, now and in the future. Daft I know, but that’s the way I roll!

[I’ll write a separate post about trekking poles soon…lots to say!]

Test everything:

Once you have acquired your kit, or as you are busy acquiring it, get it on and test it how you will use it for your event. Test it in every type of weather, over different distances, with different loads (if you’ll be carrying a backpack) and at different times of the day. Even if you feel silly walking the dog with a 50 litre backpack on, do it anyway! It will create no end of interest from your neighbours, but more importantly it will tell you what, if anything, you need to refine.

Things to consider (obviously the specifics will vary with each type of event):

  • does your underwear chafe? (it’s important to find this out early on)
  • how do your feet feel after  x-hours or x-miles?
  • are your waterproofs waterproof?
  • how does your backpack feel on your back/shoulders/hips?
  • how easy is it to get your gloves out when a sudden cold wind whips up a hail-storm without warning? (answer – far too long, but lesson learned!)
  • how quickly do your clothes dry off after walking through a field of long grass right after a heavy downpour?
  • how easily can you access the things you might need frequently? (in my case the things I like to have in easy reach at all times are lip salve, tissue, phone, map, snacks & water, plus gloves, hat & sunglasses accessible without needing to take off my backpack)

Use every training session as another chance to test out your kit, as getting things right will make the biggest difference for your actual event. Feeling confident before you start is one less thing to worry about when the time comes.

Work out the right fuel & hydration for your body:

This has probably been my biggest lesson.

When I started in January, I was covering 13 miles without any snacks (except for Christmas cake on one joyous occasion) and only rare, brief stops for sips of hot water. I didn’t think I needed any food because I wasn’t getting hungry, and I only noticed how thirsty I was at the end, but what I did notice was that I became very cold as soon as I stopped walking, and then felt totally exhausted for the rest of the day (and sometimes the next day too).

Over time I have experimented with different fuel options and have found a formula which seems to work for me, while I’m walking and afterwards. For a long walk I now carry:

  • a 2 litre water-bladder in my backpack, from which I take small and frequent drinks (I also have two 1 litre collapsible bottles for the SDW so that I can carry extra water on the really long days/in hot weather)
  • an insulated bottle with hot water in it for when I take a break
  • a nut bar or sesame seed bar for protein and energy
  • a raw fruit bar/snack for energy
  • a packet of oatcakes for slower release energy (and because sometimes I want something savoury rather than sweet)
  • Kendal mint cake as a back-up / treat towards the end of my walk
snacks for walking

snacks that work for me –
what are your favourites?

I won’t necessarily eat all of these things (it will depend on time/distance/exertion) but I now have a better understanding of the fuel I need to get me where I need to be and in good shape when I get there.

Giving some focus to this area of my preparation has been very important. To start with I didn’t like drinking cold water (because I don’t like how it feels in my stomach) but I have adjusted and become comfortable with the stomach-feel during recent weeks, spurred on by the knowledge that sipping hot water wasn’t giving me the hydration I needed. The benefit of testing out lots of different food options, has been that I now have four go-to products which my body copes with well.

There was a near-choking scare along the way – I was eating nuts and raisins, whilst walking and talking to a friend; as I did so, I partly inhaled a half-chewed nut, which got a bit stuck in my throat for a few worrying seconds, while I coughed and spluttered and my friend tried to work out how she would be able to perform a back slap while I was wearing a backpack!!! That one incident (and visions of choking to death alone on the SDW) did more to focus my mind on potentially suitable snacks than anything else.

As with your kit, test out your fuel options every time you train for your event – it is another area where confidence in a tried-and-tested approach will make a huge difference when it matters most.

When I started thinking about walking the SDW, I thought it was just about doing the miles and had no idea how much I had to learn, but the process of getting ready has been as positive as the practice walks and physical & mental health benefits. I am feeling slightly nervous about what I’m about to do, but so excited that I have this opportunity to challenge myself in this way.

I’ll report back soon to let you know if all my planning came good and to add anything new that I haven’t learned yet!

A beginner’s guide to preparing for a long distance walk (part 1)

my top 6 tips for planning any long distance event, new activity or life in general.

I’m not sure what age I was when I started walking (I think I was the child who was happy to sit in one spot for hours at a time?!) but given that I’m 53 now, I reckon I must have been on my feet for about 52 years. Over the past 18 months, walking has helped me process grief and hormone-related depression and has increasingly become an inherent part of me. There’s something in the rhythm of walking that makes me feel truly alive, which is why I’m about to set off for my first long distance walk (LDW) next week…

Earlier this year I decided that I was going to walk The Pennine Way (a vague dream I’ve had since I was a teenager) and then I looked into it in more detail and got a bit scared. It’s not my style to do an organised walk, with baggage transfers and plush b&b nights, so I realised that I wasn’t quite ready for this particular challenge for my first solo LDW. Instead, I set my sights closer to home, with a shorter, less challenging walk – The South Downs Way (Winchester to Eastbourne) plus an added day to get me to Hastings.

It occurs to me that this might be the most planning & preparation I’ve done in a long time, largely because this is the most I’ve stepped out of familiar territory for a long time too. I’m not worried about the walking itself, even though my longest distance so far is not equal to my longest days on the SDW, but I wanted to feel confident about following a map, having everything in my backpack where I can access it easily, staying dry in the pouring rain, not looking like a total novice, etc, etc.

rain poncho happiness
the joy of a waterproof
rain poncho 🙂

I’ve been thinking about the process of preparation a lot over the past few weeks and as result I’ve written my beginner’s guide to preparing for a long distance walk.

Although it is about walking for me, I think that many of these stages are relevant for any long distance event, new activity or life in general. I’ve tried to put them in some sort of order, but of course many will overlap. This post covers the first 3 tips (the getting started stuff) and I’ll share the next 3 tips (the practical stuff) tomorrow.

I hope you find something useful, whatever you’re planning.

Start where you are:

It sounds obvious, but it is too easy to wait until everything is in place before we start doing something new or challenging. We might wait until we have all the right equipment, or until we have lost weight, or until we feel fitter, or until the weather is better, or until someone can do it with us…but actually what we really need to do is just start.

I wanted to do a LDW so I started by walking further:

  • I signed up to #walk100miles which has been a great source of motivation and information
  • I began adding extra distance whenever I walked the dog (walking around an extra field, or going twice around the local woods instead of once)
  • I started planning longer walks on the weekends, discovering new footpaths near my home
  • I set up an informal walking group every Wednesday morning – making a commitment to be there for other people has helped me to make a commitment to myself
  • I have made more effort to walk instead of using the car for local trips, eg. going to the library, collecting parcels form the post office or a quick visit to the supermarket

The best thing is that over the past few months, walking has become such a great part of my day that it no longer feels like an effort to do it.

Plan your event:

Give yourself time to think about what sort of an event you want to do and then take time to research the various options available.

I knew from the start that I wanted to do an independent, unsupported walk – ie. not a pre-planned, organised walking holiday. For me, walking has been about learning to believe in myself, and so it feels important to do this by myself too. It wouldn’t be everyone’s choice, of course, so I think the first thing when planning your event is to know what is right for you.

Once you have decided on your event, and made some initial plans, step back a little and take time to review and re-plan as many times as you need. For the SDW, I bought a book which covers the whole walk plus lots of advice on suggested daily distances, places to stay, etc. I went through it in fine detail and planned out my daily schedule and places to sleep. The next week, I looked it over again and re-scheduled the whole thing. And the next week, after reading another book on the subject, I did the same again! Only then did I feel ready to book my accommodation and arrange time off work.

My main focus in the planning stages was:

  • getting the distances right (not too short – arriving by lunchtime – and not too long – arriving after dark)
  • guessing my likely average pace with a backpack (not something I had practiced at this stage)
  • sticking to a budget (ie. finding the most cost-effective places to stay without resorting to sleeping under canvas)

Try to plan well-ahead of your event so that you have plenty of time to review and reschedule if necessary.

Create a training ‘schedule’:

As a fitness instructor, this one is an obvious consideration but actually I only recently realised that I have been doing it all along without having specifically planned it out from the beginning.

Since I planned my event, I have gradually increased my weekly distances; walked over different terrain (to more closely replicate the terrain on the SDW); gradually added weight to my backpack; trained in different weather conditions; mixed in shorter, faster walks with longer, slower ones; and walked with and without the dog (he’s not coming with me on the SDW so I needed to check how it would feel – in truth quite lonely, but much easier to only think about me and not him too).

Archie’s face when I told him he wasn’t coming with me…

A few weeks ago I increased my weekly mileage by 50% and experienced my first (and only) blisters. It was quite an important lesson and luckily gave me time to review and change my boots while I still had time to do so.

Once the boot issue was resolved, I upped my mileage again for one week just to see how it would feel doing three long walks in a row; and since then I have tapered off again in the same way that I might if I was training for a marathon.

If you’re not sure how best to train for your event, get some help – talk to friends, look online, find a trainer, join a club or read-up on your activity. Training is not rocket-science but you don’t have to learn everything the hard way – unless you want to!

empty plate
scrambled eggs be gone!

With one week to go I am now focusing less on distance and more on making sure I eat and sleep well. I know I can walk, and I’m confident in my kit, so now I need to make sure that I’m in good shape to do it well.

Tomorrow I’ll add my next 3 tips focusing on what kit to invest in, how to check it’s the right kit for you and how best to fuel your body…

Walking…

Just to let you know I’ll be hijacking my blog with walking posts and updates over the coming weeks…

pair of boots #5

In 8 days time I’ll be setting off on my first long distance walk (the South Downs Way) so I’ll be covering some walking-related topics and blog posts before and after my adventure. I probably won’t add much during my walk because a big part of it is about going off-grid, but I’ll try to keep a journal every day so I can share later on.

Someone asked me this week if I was walking for charity and I told her I’d share the details here. There have been some very generous donations already but no amount is too small and every penny will be put to good use. I truly appreciate all your support.

There is still time to make a donation to my JustGiving page if you would like to support The Sam West Foundation, who provide in-school mental health support for children and young people. And as it is Mental Health Awareness week, what better time to support their work?

Thank you in advance Jx

5 pairs of walking boots & a few life lessons:

When I started upping my walking mileage at the start of the year, I found an old pair of walking boots that I had long-since stored in the shed, and decided that they would be okay for the time-being.

old boots - too short

As the miles stacked up I realised that the boots were slightly too short for my slightly-too-long second toe, and so the search began for my perfect pair of walking boots.

I had no idea it would be such an arduous process given that I don’t have any problems with my feet. They are slightly wide, but not excessively so; my arches are naturally self-supporting; I don’t roll excessively onto either side; and I roll relatively well through my big toe joints. It seems that maybe boots are designed to address common foot issues, and since I don’t have the issues, the boots don’t generally suit my feet, but regardless of the reasons for the problem, here is my journey through 5 pairs of walking boots:

Pair of boots #1 was a traditional-looking, brown leather walking boot. Sadly size 7 was too small, so I was sold a size 8. Once I got them home, I soon realised they were way too big and creased across the wrong part of my foot.

Back I went to the same shop and was steered towards pair of boots #2. These were the only pair I tried in that shop which felt comfortable when I put them on – a nice rolling sole, breathable leather & fabric upper, comfortable around the ankle, lightweight & blue. In hindsight they did feel slightly snug, but it kind of felt like they were hugging my foot gently, so I decided they would be good.

pair of boots #2

Over the next 3 weeks I walked over 100 miles in my #2 boots – and then I got my first blister! After that every time I tried to put them on I realised just how much they were pinching my toes together, and I knew I had not yet found the ones…

At this point I realised that maybe it wasn’t going to be as straight forward as I thought, so I read everything I could find about wider fitting boots, looking at different brands, the pros and cons of different features, rands, soles, lacing systems…you name it, I researched it! Armed with my latest Intel, I tracked down a pair of wide-fitting boots in a store in Faversham, which proved to be a total waste of time and no wider than the narrow-fitting boots I already owned…  Having already driven to Faversham (on Good Friday which was actually turning out to be a not-so-good Friday) I diverted to Maidstone, to Cotswold Outdoor which was open until 6pm (on a bank holiday!)

And this is where I found pair of boots #3 – tan coloured nubuck leather, good ankle support, firm sole & pretty pricey, but seemingly comfortable…until I wore them around the house and decided they weren’t actually comfortable at all. The heel was set way higher than the forefoot (not a good thing for a barefoot shoe wearer) and they didn’t roll smoothly from heel to toe. Even walking around the house I could feel that my hip joint was starting to jar with each step.

By now I was getting pretty annoyed, but I did further research & went back to exchange them for pair of boots #4…which was even more pricey but a beautiful ‘espresso’ brown leather boot. If looks were the thing, these would be the ones. On this trip to CO I tried on 5 or 6 different pairs of boots before settling on a men’s size 7 which felt roomy for my toes although a little loose on my heel. After two days wearing them around the house, I just knew that these were not going to be my boots.

Arrrggghhhhhhhh…

I was starting to lose the will to live, and thinking that maybe I should give up the search & walk the South Downs Way in my slightly-too-short old boots which let the rain in. I decided to give it one more try, not least because I had to go all the way back to return pair of boots #4 anyway, so it seemed that I may as well have another attempt at finding the ones.

On Wednesday morning (whilst walking) I spoke to a lovely man on the phone, who not only ordered in a selection for me to try on, but also arranged to come in to work on Thursday (his planned day off) so that he could make sure they were a good fit. I think he just ‘got’ what I needed from my boots (and very kindly gave me an extra 5% discount too).

Pair of boots #5 has a wide-fit sole AND a wide toe-box AND a women’s size heel. On top of that they are blue, comfortable around the ankle, waterproof, light-weight and they have a little hook in the middle of the tongue to stop it creasing at the ankle. I’ll admit it wasn’t love at first fit but by the second fit I realised they had potential & in the end I decided they were so nice that I nearly asked if I could wear them home (do you remember doing that with new shoes when you were a kid??)

pair of boots #5

As I’m writing this, I am 99% sure that these boots will be the ones that walk the South Downs Way with me in less than three weeks’ time, but I guess I won’t know if I made the right choice until then…

So the moral of this story?

I think most of these are true for life in general as well as for buying walking boots:

  • ask for help when you need it – do your research, be clear about what you need & get an expert opinion
  • ask for more help if you don’t think you got the right help to start with
  • ask again if you are still not confident about the advice you’re getting – basically keep asking until you find someone you believe in to help you
  • don’t settle for something because someone else thinks it’s right for you – take advice but then listen to your gut/heart/head and always go with them
  • looks aren’t everything (otherwise I’d have kept pair of boots #4 – and I’d never have married the man I did, but that’s a whole other story!!)
  • wear something comfortable on your feet – at all times – because life is too short for sore feet and you’re going to have to live with them a long while
  • if you’re looking for walking boots, go to Cotswold Outdoor in Maidstone and ask for Ian – he’s definitely your man!

Just goes to show, yet again, that every day’s a school day?!

Jx

PS I’ll be testing out ‘the ones’ in the outdoors over the weekend so wish me luck. My plan is to do three consecutive longish walks in them as my last bit of serious training, and then I’ll back off the miles a little bit for the last two weeks before I leave for Winchester on 22nd May.

If you’d like to, there’s still time to make a donation on my Just Giving page, where I’m raising money for the Sam West Foundation – I know that every penny donated will help them to do even more to help children and young people coping with mental health issues, and I know they will truly appreciate your support.

Thank you xx

compound workout

A compound workout uses complex, or layered, moves to create powerful, effective exercises which can be adapted to suit you.

kettlebell triceps extension

In a nutshell, you will start with a basic movement (eg. a squat) and then layer in extra movements (eg. a calf raise and shoulder press) to increase the load on your body. By working-out in this way, you will increase your heart- & breathing-rate and add extra work to your muscles and bones, whilst decreasing the amount of time you need to exercise for. If you are time-poor, this style of workout is ideal for you!

The other great advantage of a compound workout is that because there are layers added-on, you can easily adapt it by taking away (or replacing) anything which doesn’t feel right for you, without having to miss out on a whole exercise.

For example, in the case of squat, calf raise & shoulder press:

  • if you had an issue with your shoulder, you could continue with squats & calf raises but leave out the shoulder press; or you could substitute a biceps curl in place of the shoulder press
  • if your feet were not comfortable with calf raises, you could do just a squat & shoulder press; or you could do a squat, shoulder press & triceps extension

The key to layering in movements is to find ones which flow together fairly easily so that the workout doesn’t feel awkward to do, but other than that, the only rule is to listen to your body and change anything that doesn’t feel right for you. And don’t feel that every exercise has to be a compound one – mix in a few simple exercises too for more variety.

I’ve put together a simple compound workout to get you started and I have filmed all the exercises, to go with the notes below, so that you can see how they look. You can find a pdf version here

Compound workout:

  1. squat, calf raise & shoulder press – start with your weights by your shoulders; sit into your squat to begin and then as you stand rise up onto the balls of your feet and press your weights towards the ceiling; bring your heels to the floor and lower the weights back to your starting position before starting on your next squat
  2. diamond push-up – this is a variation to target your triceps, but you can change to a wider push-up or a standard narrow push-up if you prefer; focus on your range of movement and adjust your position to allow a deep push-up
  3. alternate forward lunge and row – have your weights at your sides; step into a long, deep lunge, pressing your front heel on the floor with both knees bent; bring your chest to your thigh if you can before starting your row; the longer and lower you go into your lunge, the more energy you will use to come back to standing; reverse lunges are a little easier and are also kinder on sore knees so try those if you need to
  4. walk-out to stand – start as if you were about to perform a gymnastics floor routine; say ta-dah if it amuses you to do so; bend forward and walk your hands along the floor until you are in a full plank position; hold for 2-3 seconds; walk your hands back towards your feet, bend your knees & stand; ta-dah; repeat (NB if your body doesn’t like the motion of going up and down in this way, either come down to the floor and stay in a plank position for the whole time or miss this move out altogether)
  5. repeater reverse lunge to knee lift & hold (x each leg) – I love single leg work because it really loads the big muscles in your standing leg; go as slow as you can on this for extra core-control and as a contrast to the next exercise which will ideally be fast & light; step back into your lunge position; as you come back to standing bring the knee up to hip height; try to step straight into your next lunge without tapping your foot back to the floor; add a tap down in between if you are feeling unstable
  6. knee/tap repeater (x each leg) – this is a sped-up version of the move above, without the lunge; you will need to lean slightly forward to keep your weight on your standing leg; try not to transfer your weight back into the tap; go as fast as you can without losing control
  7. upright row and front raise – in the upright row make sure your elbows lift higher than your hands; in the front raise maintain a neutral posture through your torso – ie. no arching in your lower back and no flaring of your ribs

Watch me doing all of the moves in the video here:

I added some afterthoughts on push-ups here:

As always:

  • spend some time mobilising and warming-up your body before you begin your workout
  • pay attention to your body and change anything which does not feel useful for you
  • either use a timer for each exercise or count repetitions – whichever you prefer

Please ask if you have any questions at all

Jx

(this workout is  aimed at regular tmf clients but it is generally suitable for everyone; however, if you are new to exercise, recently post-natal,  or have any health concerns please seek medical advice or professional guidance before embarking on a new exercise routine)