Hypermobile elbows (& other joints of the body) are sometimes really visible in a Pilates class. I wanted to look into the topic in more depth than we can easily cover in a group setting, as information for those affected.
The human body is an incredible thing but sometimes we need to take back a little bit of control for ourselves. Just because we can ‘stretch’ (ie. over-extend) at a certain (or all) joints of the body, doesn’t mean it is helpful to do so.
The most common examples of hypermobility I see in class are:
locked-out knees in a standing position – where the back of the knee is pushed as far backwards as possible – and
locked-out elbows in a quadruped (all-fours) position – where the upper arm becomes rotated and the inside of the elbow joint turns forward
Of course, if you are hypermobile (or tend towards it) you will often be hyper-mobile at many joints in the body, but these are the two that are most visible in class.
What is joint hypermobility?
Joint hypermobility is often hereditary and cannot be prevented, but it can definitely be managed. It is caused by a weakness in the soft tissues that support the joint, and specifically a difference in the collagen. If you are hypermobile, it may not cause you any problems or it may cause pain in the joint itself or in surrounding areas of the body.
What happens when we hyper-extend?
When we go to the end-range of movement in a joint, it gives us a feeling of stability, which is great. However, when the joint hyper-extends, it means that the stability isn’t coming from the supporting muscles but from the joint itself. Over time that is likely to create wear & tear on that structure and other compensations in surrounding areas of the body – eg. if you lock out your elbows, you are very likely to experience associated neck and shoulder pain issues; if you lock out your knees, you are very likely to experience hip and back pain issues.
Just because you can hyper-extend, doesn’t mean you should!
What can we do about it?
The ideal is to learn to stop short of your end-range point (keeping the affected joint ‘soft’) so that the supporting muscles surrounding the joint can get stronger. To start with it will feel unstable, but your body will gradually adapt and build stability in the muscles, so keep giving it the opportunity to do so.
I will keep reminding you about this in class because even if you feel like I’m nagging, I believe that I would be negligent if I didn’t bring your attention to it. You might not be ready to hear the message yet, and that’s ok because it is your body, but I’m going to keep on mentioning it when I’m teaching, and hopefully that’s ok too.
In the case of hypermobility in your knees, ankles or hips you may also be better avoiding fast-paced or high-impact exercises where the joints will hyper-extend without you having the chance to control the range of movement, and where the added impact will place extra load through the (already compromised) joint structure.
Although you can’t change your physiology, you can work on creating a stronger support system to protect your joints if hypermobility affects you. It may seem frustrating & like a backward step to begin with, but further down the line you will be so glad you made some changes and created a stronger body, especially if it avoids/delays your need for invasive surgery.
If you’d like to know more on this topic, Jeannie di Bon is a Movement Therapist who works extensively in this area. She directed me towards a blog post she wrote a few years ago:
This Pilates-flow sequence is a mat-based session focusing on
smooth, flowing movements using core control for stability, combined with a
relaxed breathing pattern. Slower is generally better so that you can concentrate
on each part of every move rather than rushing ahead without control.
When we did this in class we practiced each move on its own
before adding it into our flow sequence – you might like to break it down like
that at home or if you are familiar with the moves, you may prefer to go
straight into the sequence. All the moves are done in a supine (lying face-up)
position. You may like to have a folded towel or a cushion to support the back
of the head.
Begin by spending a few minutes grounding and settling into
your breath, letting go of your day and connecting with how your body feels in
I’ve added different sequence options below – sequence 1 has the more basic moves, sequence 2 has a mixture of basic with some options and sequence 3 has all the optional extras.
Here are your 5 basic moves:
alternate knee lifts (starting in relaxation position) > option to progress to alternate knee lifts coming into table top position by lifting and then lowering one foot at a time
abdominal curls (starting in relaxation position) > option to add oblique twist
knee rolling (starting in relaxation position with feet and knees close together) > option to bring top foot off the floor OR start in table top position with both feet off the floor
alternate leg slide (starting in relaxation position) > option to add leg abduction (thigh moves out to side with no rotation)
shoulder bridge (start with feet hip width or wider and close to your bottom) > option to change to single leg shoulder bridge
How to create your sequence:
sequence 1: knee lift (single leg) – hold – abdominal curl – oblique twist towards the leg – uncurl – lower leg – repeat on other side – knee rolling with feet on the floor – alternate leg slide – shoulder bridge – start again
sequence 2: alternate knee lift into table top – hold – abdominal curl – oblique twist x each way– uncurl – lower legs one at a time – knee rolling with feet on the floor – alternate leg slide with abduction – shoulder bridge – start again
sequence 3: alternate knee lift into table top – hold – abdominal curl – oblique twist x each way– uncurl – knee rolling with legs in table top position – alternate leg extension with abduction – lower legs one at a time – single leg shoulder bridge x each side – start again
I haven’t specified number of repetitions so that you can add
as many or as few as you want. You can of course also do as many or as few of
the different moves as you want – if there’s one that you don’t like, miss it
out because life is short!!
You can see me doing each of the three sequences here:
You can print this Pilates-flow sequence as a pdf here
(PS let me know if you’re not sure what any of the moves are & as always, check with your health care professional if you are unsure whether these exercises are suitable for your body right now)
Here’s a quick article and short video with some ideas of squat & lunge variations that you can use to make your home workouts more effective. If you’re currently doing my #tmf60x60 challenge these are ideal for you…
Body weight exercises are a great way to train because you can literally do them anywhere – at home, in the office, on holiday, in the park, while you’re filling up with fuel…ANYWHERE! If you have a body you can do body-weight exercises…
Basic lower body movements:
There are three basic lower body exercises and pretty much everything stems from one of these:
squats – usually with both feet on the ground, but can be done as single leg options instead; can include propulsions eg. jump squats
lunges – starting with both feet on the ground but moving one foot to a new position; can move in any direction
split squats – looks like the end position of a lunge (ie. one foot further forward than the other) but without any stepping movement; can include propulsions eg. split jumps
There are some really easy changes you can make to these basic moves which will each target the muscles differently and give a different training effect –
foot position – you can change the width of your feet for all the basic lower body moves – a narrow, neutral or wide stance will vary how the exercise feels; in particular lunges & split squats will be more challenging with a narrower stance
angle of the feet/knees/hips – a neutral angle is where your feet, hips and knees naturally live; internal rotation brings your toes closer together with your knees & thigh bones rotated towards the centre; external rotation takes your toes further apart with your knees and thigh bones rotated away from the centre; your internal and external rotation will vary but should always feel comfortable in all the associated joints
speed of movement – changing the speed of any exercise will obviously change how it feels to your body; here are some common speed variations based on an 8-count phrase which is used for teaching exercise to music –
single count – one down, one up
double count – two down, two up
slow count – four down, four up
three & one – can be three down, one up or one down, three up
pulses – smaller range of movement, usually bottom half, twice the speed of a single count
move & a half – full range down, half way up, all the way down, all the way up (or easier to think of as bottom, middle, bottom, top)
Once you have had a play with the basic movements, using different foot positions, angles and speeds, there are a few more things you can try if you want an added challenge:
alter the surface you’re standing on – bare feet will feel different to trainers; a yoga mat will feel different to a hard floor; airex mats are great for giving you less stability
have one foot higher than the other – try any of the basic moves with one foot on a low step; with split squats & lunges you can either have your front leg or your bag leg on the step – it will feel different each way
add some balance – all the basic moves work really well with a balance move added in between repetitions eg. squat & knee lift, side lunge and leg abduction, split squat and hip extension
try single leg squats – a split squat is almost half way between a full squat and a single leg squat, but to really load the front leg, take the back foot off the floor completely!
try repeater lunges – this is a great way to overload one leg; simply repeat all of your repetitions on one leg and then swap over to the other leg; works really nicely with some added balance work too eg. reverse lunge repeater with knee lift
add some power – propulsion (or jumping) will take your squats & split squats to the next level BUT only do this once your legs are strong enough and if your core, pelvic floor and joints can manage the extra load (ie. if jumping causes stress incontinence, don’t do it until you have resolved that issue first); remember that you want to land softly with soft knees and quiet feet; use your arms for extra drive; examples of propulsion include, jump squats, jacks, spotty dogs, split jumps, tuck jumps, skipping, etc. etc.
Body weight exercises are easily accessible and make a useful addition to any fitness routine, but it can be easy to get stuck doing the same things over & over again. Hopefully these ideas will gives you endless options to pimp your home workouts for the foreseeable future. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list so feel free to add any other variations that work for you.
Remember to listen to your body – harder exercises are only better when they serve you. Always seek professional advice if you need help with your exercise programme or medical advice about suitability of an exercise for you.
I’m not ready Christmas this early in the year, but I have had some questions about gift vouchers so here are the options available in case you like to get organised in advance.
Massage gift vouchers & packages:
Regular massage offers many benefits including reduced pain, improved mobility, stress-reduction, better sleep and a sense of general well-being. Giving the gift of massage will definitely improve your popularity!
I have three options available for sports massage vouchers –
I have created a 4 session package which is great for someone who has an on-going soft tissue concern, where an initial course of several treatments within a shorter space of time will help to reduce symptoms.
This voucher will give the recipient four treatments over the course of 10-weeks, taken at intervals to suit their schedule, and it will earn you a whole lot of brownie points! If you are buying this as a Christmas gift, the voucher can be dated to start from 6th January 2020
I also offer a 10 session package which can be a gift voucher for someone else, or a gift to yourself! I have a special offer available when one of these options is purchased by 29th November, giving 11 sessions instead of 10 at no extra charge.
If you are buying it as a Christmas gift it can be dated to start from 6th January 2020; if you are nearing the end of a current block of 10 sessions, the start date can be amended to follow-on immediately afterwards, so that you can still take advantage of the 11 for 10 price.
I can also set up a gift voucher for any specific amount to be off-set against future treatments. Please get in touch to arrange this bespoke option.
Personal training packages:
I have recently introduced a 10 session package for personal training and this can also be purchased as a gift voucher. Please make sure your recipient will appreciate your gift before purchasing! Please get in touch to discuss and purchase this bespoke option.
Please let me know if you have any questions at all about any of the voucher options or packages available Jx
We are half way through November so I thought I’d add a quick update on the tmf 60 x 60 challenge and check-in with how you’re going with creating new exercise habits.
How are you doing?
If you have you managed to do 60 reps every day this month you are already well on the way towards creating new exercise habits. All these small changes really do add up to a much bigger whole, even if they don’t feel like much right now. Getting into the habit of adding some movement into your day is a great place to start. Of course, you can add more reps later on if you want to or when time allows, but just being here, right now, doing this one little thing everyday is awesome!
If you didn’t start yet, or if you started and stopped again its all good – because every single day we have the chance to start-over. The challenge of this challenge is not actually the exercise itself – the priority is creating a new habit. It doesn’t matter when you start to create that habit – it only matters that you start. It’s never too late to start. Why not decide to start today and see what happens…?
In need of inspiration?
In case you’re out of ideas or need some inspiration to keep you going, I thought I’d share my 60 reps so far. [I have a brain that is easily bored so I like to change the equipment every time. I realise that not everyone has a range of different fitness equipment to hand, but all of these can be improvised to suit what you have available]
Squats have featured several times – usually when I am short on time because they are quick and easy to do anywhere (including in the lounge while I’m watching ER!) They are also easy to vary by changing the position of your feet, the depth of your squat & the speed of the movement
Push-ups and shoulder bridges
Lunges – again easy to do anywhere & easy vary by changing the direction of the lunge
Shoulder exercises – I used dumb-bells for this one and did 6 different moves x 10 reps each (narrow shoulder press, bent over row, front raise, side raise, wide shoulder press & bent over fly)
Burpees, triceps & chest press (full disclosure: I was aiming for 60 burpees but 20 was enough so I added in some upper body moves instead!)
TRX squats & lunges
Step up, knee lift, step down – I used a fairly high step for this (you could use your second stair or a sturdy chair)
Triceps exercises using a weight
Barbell exercises – I loved this one because it took me back to the days when I taught Body Pump (bent over row, clean and press, deadlift, triceps extension, chest press & triceps press)
Chest & triceps – another barbell workout this time just focusing on upper body (chest press, triceps press, triceps extension, triceps pull-over)
I hope that helps to give you some new ideas, but remember that you don’t need to make it complicated. If you only do 60 squats every day for 60 days you will be creating a positive change in your body which will take you through the end of 2019 and into the next decade with stronger legs!
Find out more about the tmf 60 x 60 challenge here
The Hundred is probably one of the most classic Pilates mat work exercises and one that we often include in class.
Here is a short video to walk/talk you through the key stages in preparing for the exercise and how to make it best suited to your body by adding in various progressions or regressions.
As with any exercise (Pilates or otherwise) the key factor is your ability to manage intra-abdominal pressure. When this pressure is not well-managed, we place undue load onto the pelvic floor muscles, and/or excess load into the abdominal wall. The potential issues from repeatedly exercising without effectively managing intra-abdominal pressure include:
a weakened pelvic floor, which over time will contribute to continence issues
a weakened/lengthened/protruding abdominal wall
changes to posture which can contribute to low back pain, hip pain, neck & shoulder pain, etc.
When performing the Hundred, try to stay mindful of what is happening in your body so that you can make suitable adaptations to improve the effectiveness of the exercise for you. For example:
move your legs one at a time rather than both together (you’ll see this is what I do in the video)
leave your head and shoulders on the floor instead of adding the abdominal curl
support your head on a cushion or with one hand
only hold one leg off the floor, instead of both
work with bent legs rather than extending them to the ceiling
hold the position for fewer breaths instead of the full ten breaths
Remember that you are aiming to feel your abdominal muscles working more than any other muscles in the body – if your neck is hurting or your legs are holding on tight, take it as a sign that your abdominal muscles are not able to effectively cope with what is being asked of them. When this happens, rest and start again when you’re ready, using a regression to keep the work in your tummy muscles. Sometimes, less is more!
I hope the video helps you to get your head around the preparation stages and get more from the Hundred as an exercise. Please ask if you have any questions at all Jx
(PS if you are new to exercise, recently post-natal or have any doubts about whether this exercise is suitable for you at this time, please seek appropriate advice from your medical practitioner or a qualified fitness professional)
This month I’m sharing some simple home workouts with you to keep you moving in between classes.
The moves can each be adapted to suit your body and fit the equipment and time you have available to you. My goal is that anybody can do these workouts but of course, if you have any health concerns please check with your medical practitioner before under-taking any new exercise routine.
Week 1 – 1st October:
This one is super-simple –
squat & shoulder press
bent over row
deadlift & upright row/front raise
Do as many reps & sets as you choose, vary the order if you like, substitute other exercises if you need to. Aim to do these moves every day of the week if you can!
I did 1 set of 10 reps each on the first day; on the next day I did two sets of 10 reps each; on the third day I literally didn’t have a moment when I wasn’t working or prepping for work; today is day four and I haven’t done it yet but I’m aiming for four sets when I do…it’s not perfect but it’s better than not trying at all.
Week 2 – 8th October:
This week it’s a really effective format borrowed from Metabolic Effect – an up-chain workout. The idea is to sequence together several exercises and then add an extra rep for one or two of the exercises each round. To make it even more effective, go with a dumb-bell weight that challenges you…
I chose the following exercises for this up-chain workout, but feel free to change them to suit you (those marked with the * are my up-chained moves):
lunge & biceps curl
biceps curl and shoulder press*
bent over reverse flye
Last week I aimed to do the workout every day, but work overtook me and I managed only three days out of seven. So far this week I’ve managed one, but there’s still time to fit in a few more. My mindset is that anything is better than nothing so I’m not going to be upset if I miss a few along the way…
Week 3 – 15th October:
This week I have chosen four Pilates-inspired floor-based exercises, with options to add equipment for extra ooomph… It’s a slightly longer video so that I could include more detail on each exercise. Once you have nailed each move, you can put them together as a floor-based core workout or add them onto the end of another workout.
Week 4 – 24th October
This week I’ve put together a simple upper body workout using dumb-bells. It’s six upper body exercises and then some optional squats to give your arms a rest ready for your next set!
As always, change any moves that don’t feel comfortable for you and vary the number of sets & repetitions to suit.
Please let me know how you get on & ask if you have any questions at all.
& don’t forget to send me a photo of you doing your workout for a chance to win #goldstaraward1
Obviously I’ve been walking pretty much all my life, and I walk the dog every day, but I’m a relative newbie to full-day-walking and have just completed my first long distance walk. To start with I was a bit self-conscious about buying walking ‘gear’ – I felt like an imposter – but over recent months I’ve started to see the benefits of having the right kit.
One of the things I knew I wanted to try was walking or trekking poles. I had previously enjoyed some Nordic Walking sessions from a fitness perspective, and was keen to feel walking as a whole-body (and a mind-body) process, rather than just being all about my legs and buttock muscles. Luckily I have a trekking friend who kindly lent me her poles for a prolonged amount of time while I was training, and I acquired my own poles just before I set off to walk the South Downs Way.
Over the course of a week filled with some long & challenging walks, I weighed up the pros and cons of walking poles as I see them. These are my thoughts as a walker (carrying an 11-12kg pack over 8 continuous days), but also as a fitness professional and massage therapist with a good anatomical knowledge-base and a sound understanding of posture & movement. These observations are not scientifically tested, and you may not agree with all of them, and I’m OK with that because you can write your own blog if you want to!!!
using poles creates less muscle tension in the legs and buttocks because the body is working as a more integrated system, which incorporates more core & upper body engagement. I got back from eight days walking an average of 18 miles a day with no aches and pains at all in any part of my body and I think the poles are largely responsible for that
there is less load on the hip and knee joints, because the impact is absorbed through four points of contact (rather than two) and comes into the body via the deeper core (postural) muscles and then to the limbs of the upper and lower body
walking poles remind me to walk with a tall, open posture which means that all the systems in the body (muscles, connective tissue, joints & circulatory system) are in the optimal position to work well with each other
the poles give extra drive on uphill sections and added stability/deceleration on downhill sections, enabling the body to maintain this open, upright posture even when the walking becomes more challenging
as someone who experiences vertigo, I found that walking poles gave me a greater sense of connection to the earth on high and exposed areas, and they especially gave me the confidence to stand, catch my breath & enjoy the view when my brain was yelling at me to keep moving in case I fell!
even without vertigo, I feel that walking poles give a feeling of confidence in relation to balance in general, and particularly on loose scree or where there is a noticeable camber – they don’t take away or reduce your body’s natural ability to balance, but I think they definitely enhance it
I find that the rhythm of walking with poles is quite meditative – it actually helps me to get into a smooth striding pattern and also helps me notice if I’m not walking evenly on each leg
although not something I can personally vouch for, I understand that using walking poles can help to reduce oedema (swelling) in the hands and forearms over prolonged walks, which makes sense because they keep the arms active rather than passive
walking poles are also great for bashing nettles, moving brambles out of the way, testing the depth of streams, checking the stability of stepping stones, propping up lightweight canopies and redirecting spiders & caterpillars that are descending from the trees and floating across your path …
I had to wrack my brain for these as there really aren’t many negatives – here’s what I came up with:
poles are another thing to carry in your kit (even though they don’t weigh much) and if you find yourself not using them for long stretches of your walk I guess that could become annoying (although my preferred poles have found a genius way around this)
if you’re walking a dog on a lead it is much harder to get the benefit from walking poles – you can make do with one pole but I think many of the benefits are lost in this instance; I tend to stow them when the dog is on his lead and use them while he is running free, but will also look into a lead for the dog which goes around my waist so that I can keep poling …
they can become a potential trip hazard… more than once, on tired legs, I have almost caught myself on one of my poles, but it is usually a case of not focusing on what I’m doing at the time
it is harder (but not impossible) to check a map/phone/watch, blow your nose or eat a snack while walking with poles in your hands – I get round this by either stopping and resting my poles against a fence or tree or by tucking them under one arm (like an army sergeant!) while I walk, until my hands are free again
using poles can leave your hands & forearms more exposed to the weather conditions (sun, rain or snow) but sunscreen, sleeves & gloves will obviously help you to get around this issue
Which poles are best?
There is a wide range of walking poles available to buy, to suit different needs and different budgets, and I don’t pretend to have tried them all by any means! I have however tried two different styles and have found a firm favourite.
Most poles have a foam, upright grip with a webbing wrist strap. With this style of pole, you slide your hand through and over the strap, and rest your wrist onto it whilst lightly holding the handle. As you walk your grip stays light and you keep the weight of your wrist on the strap.
I used this style of pole for nearly all of my training and had only one problem with them – on longer walks (bearing in mind that it was spring so I wasn’t wearing gloves) I would start to find that the strap irritated the heel of my hand and my wrist and this would gradually niggle me more and more as the walk continued. On a positive note, there are many brands that offer this style of pole and they are easily found in outdoor shops so you can have a try before spending your money.
Once I started researching my options, I saw lots of positive reviews for Pacerpoles but wasn’t entirely convinced that they would be better, until I tried them. They arrived a few days before I set off on my first long distance walk and I was slightly anxious whether I would get to grips (no pun intended!) with the slightly different technique in time. On the third practice day I felt much more confident with them, but in hindsight I realise that actually I didn’t fully find my rhythm with them until a couple of days into my walk. And then there was no going back!
These Physiotherapist-designed poles have a unique moulded handle which is fantastic. Pacerpoles rely on the angled, shaped handle rather than a webbing wrist strap, and as a result they feel really light to hold and much more comfortable.
The handle is held between the thumb and first finger and the heel of the hand then comes to rest on the ledge of the handle as you move forward. The idea is to move from the elbow, lifting and lowering the forearm with each step, rather than swinging forward from the shoulder. It is hard to describe the movement but once you try Pacerpoles you’ll get it!
I honestly believe that I couldn’t have walked the South Downs Way without poles and I firmly believe that Pacerpoles were the best choice for me.
There were sections that were so steep (up and down), and sections that were so windswept, that I would not have felt safe walking without my Pacerpoles. Even more importantly though was the fact that I never got tired heavy legs – even on days when I felt mentally fatigued and close to exhaustion, my legs never struggled. My pack was heavier than I would have liked (about 12kg with enough water for a full day) but my posture still felt great. Every time I put my poles in my hands I remembered to ‘walk tall’ so they acted as a great prompt as well as a physical support.
Is it ‘cheating’ to use poles?
A few months ago, I had a conversation with someone who said she would never use walking poles because she liked to feel that she was using the strength of her own body for balance and support. She suggested that for her it would feel like ‘cheating’ to rely on poles.
This conversation was a real turning point for me early in my training, when I was still undecided about using poles, because it had me really pay attention to what difference (if any) they made.
I honestly believe that poles help me to walk further (and faster) without any muscle or joint pain. I can feel that my core muscles are providing me with stability and that my leg muscles are then able to work efficiently without any tension. I also no longer feel a long-term persistent niggle in the attachment point of my left hamstrings. (I hadn’t realised that this had stopped being an issue, until it cropped up again when I walked without poles one day after having used them for several weeks)
My goal when working with my fitness & pilates clients is to have them experience movement which is generated from their core and then outwards into their peripheral limbs, without holding tension in any area of the body. Using the core muscles as the base for stability, allows the arms and legs to move more freely, and so it seems natural & obvious to bring this principle to my walking as well. I think this is where Pacerpoles make the difference.
Anything that helps the body move well is definitely not cheating in my eyes! I don’t think using poles is cheating any more than wearing walking boots or waterproof clothing is cheating…it’s just sensible.
My body simply feels stronger and more efficient when I’m walking with poles. I walked a total of 146 miles over eight days, with a pack, at an average pace of about 2.6 mph, and didn’t feel the need to stretch out my legs more than once in that time. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have been true if I’d been walking without Pacerpoles.
Of course we are all different so I will leave you to make up your own mind about what equipment to use for day- or long-distance walking. But if you are a regular walker and you haven’t tried walking poles, I would suggest that you borrow a pair (preferably not mine because I will be using them!) to see how you get on…you might be surprised at the results.
If you want to read more about my adventure on the South Downs Way, start here with my notes from day 1
[In the spirit of openness, I want to let you know that I was gifted my Pacerpoles, for which I am truly grateful. However, in writing this post, I have been entirely honest in my appraisal of them and other walking poles. If anything, I have been more analytical in my assessment of them, to satisfy myself that my views have not been unduly swayed as a result]
I never listen to music, audio books or podcasts while walking because I just love the connection with all the sounds in nature and the chance to let my mind gently process thoughts as I go. I have to admit though, that before I set off to walk the South Downs Way, I did wonder if eight days alone with my thoughts would drive me mad!!
I started to notice what I was thinking about while I walked and there were definitely some recurrent themes:
1) Not surprisingly I thought about my Mum a lot, still processing my grief for her and trying to understand the huge shifts in my family since she died. I think that her life outside her career was quite ‘small’ which is not intended as a criticism of her choices, but more an observation that she perhaps wasn’t a brave woman and never sought adventure. I honestly don’t know if this was her choice or just how life turned out for her. Realising this about her over the past 18 months, has made me very determined to not live small – I do want to have adventures, I like to feel challenged, I’m ok with feeling a bit uncomfortable or scared (within reason!) and when my time comes, I want to know that I have lived before I die. I thought about this probably every day as I walked – in fact, I’ve probably thought about it every day since she died. I didn’t reach any earth-shattering conclusions about how I’m going to live a bigger life, but I definitely made a bigger commitment to doing so…
2) I thought every day about vegetarian food!! I was astounded how difficult it was to find good vegetarian food options along the South Downs Way. Admittedly I don’t eat out very often at home so maybe it is the same in pubs everywhere, but the lack of choice or the lack of simple meals was really bizarre. Even shops didn’t seem to stock vegetarian sandwiches, which isn’t exactly hard! One shop had eight sandwich options, all of which included meat or fish. Unbelievable!! One pub had the choice of potato & aubergine curry, vegetable chilli or teriyaki salad – ie. two versions of sloppy spicy stuff or the most disgusting salad imaginable (I know, because that’s what I ordered and it was truly vile). I will happily admit that I’m a tad fussy about food, but a range of options isn’t difficult – something spicy, something bland, something with pastry, something light, something traditional, something exotic… exactly the same as you could reasonably expect for non-vegetarian options. And my biggest gripe was this: if you are a pub serving a (meat) burger in a bun, with fries and salad, why on earth can’t you keep veggie burgers in the freezer and offer a vegetarian version of the same thing??? You already have the other elements of the dish, there is nothing extra to make and zero wastage – so SIMPLE!!! There were of course some exceptions along the way, but they were few and far between and the lack of good nutrition made a significant impact on me. If you’re a pub on the SDW, please add a veggie burger option to your menu…
3) I also wondered every day why the ‘downs’ are called ‘downs’ when clearly they are higher up than nearly everything else and when walking it seemed that I spent far more time going up than down!! I Googled it when I got home…apparently the name comes from the Old English/Gaelic/Welsh name for a hill or hill fort – ‘dun’. So now you know…
4) Whilst walking, I was surprised to see so few other walkers (it was mostly cyclists) and then it occurred to me that there were even fewer women. I felt like I had entered an alternate universe – a giant boys playground! I did see women walking their dogs but it took until day 4 to see another woman hefting a backpack. There were sometimes female cyclists, but always in the minority amongst a pack of male riders. Is it just that women generally don’t want this kind of adventure or perhaps were they at home enabling the men to enjoy a few days of testosterone-fuelled escapism?? I honestly don’t know the answer but as a lone-walking woman I would just say to other women that the South Downs Way is too beautiful not to get out & enjoy, that it never felt anything other than safe and that adventures are not just for the boys. We need to even-up the numbers ladies – let your men stay at home while you go out to play!
5) My final ponderance came after a great meal in a pub, which was then sadly followed by one of the worst chocolate brownies I’ve eaten…why is it so hard to find a really good, made-for-you chocolate brownie? I’m not the best at baking by any means but I think I can make an ok brownie. It’s not really rocket-science after all… The one in question was too light and sponge-cakey, with no chocolate chunks (or actually any real chocolate at all) and it tasted a bit plastic and burnt. I think it is true of chocolate brownies perhaps more than any other cake-thing, that they so often look really tempting, but nearly always fail to deliver – and yet I can’t seem to stop myself trying them out. But not any more! I hereby swear that I will not eat another chocolate brownie unless I know that it has been home-made (not necessarily by me) and has real chocolate incorporated beneath it’s soft delicate crust…
So there you have my top five thoughts-while-walking. You probably didn’t even want to know what they were, but if you’ve read this far, you do anyway – and at least you now know why the ‘downs’ are called ‘downs’ Jx
When I went to bed on Tuesday night I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to get my boots on to walk one more day. Even though I didn’t sleep the whole night through, I managed to get enough sleep to make me feel more human again and I was surprised how well I felt when I got up. I decided that I would do this last day for as long as I could.
I am very fortunate that I have no real experience of pain but I can report that the pain from the blisters on my heels was pretty bad! Once I had left Eastbourne behind me – and wobbled my way over the bridges across the marina – I made my way onto the beach where the tide was receding. Oh happy days!! Firm sand was so much more forgiving on my feet than paved pathways or pebbles.
I walked at a gentle-ish pace and stopped every so often to eat something (lesson learned from the day before) or rest my feet, although actually it felt more painful to get started again than to keep plodding along.
As I walked I was negotiating with myself how far I would be able to go. The options, in case I couldn’t keep going to Hastings, where to pick up a train at either Cooden Beach, Bexhill or St Leonard’s. I decided to aim for Bexhill, buy a portion of chips and then see if I could keep going the rest of the way.
By the time I reached Cooden Beach, the sand was more shingle and walking was becoming less comfortable again so I went up to the road and went on from there. Even though the pavement was hard underfoot it was at least consistent and the pain was just about bearable. With one mile to go to Bexhill I was struggling but seeing the DLWP was a great motivation.
On that final stretch I realised that I was done! I would buy my chips and hobble to the station to start heading home. The end of my adventure!! I was a bit disappointed not to walk all the way to Hastings Pier but it seemed foolish to go on causing damage to my feet when I knew I had nothing to prove to anyone. I decided that it was definitely a good time to listen to my body…
The chips: I had been dreaming about buying a portion of chips in Bexhill for several days. The chippy there is fantastic and I thought they would be the perfect energy source. I ordered a large portion and dived in hungrily as I set off towards the station. They tasted amazing – hot, salty and vinegary – perfect…but possibly a little more than my stomach could stomach!
After several days without hot food, and actually very little food altogether, my body suddenly went into shock and I honestly thought I was going to vomit in the street!! I hadn’t even eaten many but they were determined to come out. Happily the nausea gradually subsided without me making a show of myself and sadly my perfect chips ended up in the station bin. What a sorry end to a wonderful walk!!
My total distance was 146 miles over eight continuous day. My highest hill was Butser Hill at 270m (even though it didn’t actually feel like the highest one). My lowest point was probably lunch in South Harting on day three. My favourite hill was Old Winchester Hill. My favourite bed was in a shepherd’s hut called Dolly.
My biggest regret is not doing it sooner but better late than never?! This plaque on a bench at Bo Peep Hill says it better than I ever could:
So now to rest a bit, pop my blisters (I know it’s not advised but it feels so much better!), have hot baths and early nights, cuddle my dog, see my girls, find my appetite, cut the lawn and do some more walking!!! Jx