I remember at the end of the C2C last May, thinking “I’ve not been this fit since I left school”. I used to run cross country for the school at 13 or 14. However, between then and the age of 40 living on a diet of beer and chips and doing bugger all exercise left me at around 24 stone and unable to walk up a flight of stairs without becoming breathless.
My epiphany is documented elsewhere on this site (click here) so I won’t go into that again, but to cut a long story short, I lost a fair amount of weight, so now I’m just overweight and not morbidly obese 🙂
I did this by walking, firstly around the local area and later on the hills and fells of the Peak District and Lake District, all leading up to my C2C crossing in May 2005. At which point I realised I was as fit as I’d been in nearly 30 years – quite a shock when you think about it like that.
When I had completed the C2C I weighed 17 stone 8 lbs or there abouts, which didn’t look too bad on my 6 foot 4 inch frame and I was hopeful of getting down to the “16 stone something” level before the end of the summer. However my success went to my head – that’s the only way I can describe it – and I started walking less and less in the week after work and eventually I was just going out on a long hill walk on a Saturday.
Combine this reduction in exercise with the picking up of some bad habits, which I thought I’d left behind, like snacking between meals, eating biscuits, the occasional chocolate bar, eating before bedtime, larger portions (and so on) and the result was a gradual build up of weight again, and a general loss of fitness.
I could see I was doing it and that didn’t make any difference, I did nothing to stop the general decline. The problem, I think, stemmed from a rather fraught conversation with Chris, my wife. I was accused (and probably rightly if I’m fair) of ignoring her and spending too much time either out walking, or planning walks – to the detriment of the time we spent together.
I felt incredibly guilty and of course in trying to compensate, probably went too far the other way – isn’t life like a supertanker, its so difficult to make small corrections to the course of ones life. As already mentioned, I cut back on the walking and made the Saturday walks much shorter.
The result was a disasterous drop in fitness and stamina, brought to a head over the Christmas holidays where I struggled up the path alongside Stickle Gyhll in an attempt to walk to High Raise and Harrison Stickle but feeling so bloody drained by the time I reached Stickle Tarn that I only just managed to limp across to Blea Rigg to bag at least one Wainwright before traipsing back down the hill before most people were even starting out.
I fared no better a few days later when I tried to walk up Whernside, although on that day it was easy to blame the weather, which was howling a gale and still a mile or more from the summit I gave up and went back to the car. I was pretty exhausted, but put that down to the headwind. I went back a week later and fared little better, this time without the weather to blame, I realised that something had gone seriously wrong. Both these walks and the Blea Rigg walk had been totally joyless – I hated nearly every minute of them – thats part of the reason why I never finished them – thinking what’s the point in doing this if I’m not actually enjoying it.
I’ve never been great going up hills, but have been able to maintain that slow and steady (what I call a grinding) pace that eats up the altitude. Now I couldn’t even manage that – gasping for air and sweating buckets only half way up Whernside I decided I had to get back to basics and try and get my fitness levels back up. I also had to rekindle the spark of enjoyment – the satisfying feeling of hitting a peak – the meditative ryhthm of putting one foot in front of the other – the emptying of the mind – the freedom of walking! God, I’ve missed that!!
I had an honest heart-to-heart with the wife and told her I would have to get back into the walking, but that I would not let it come between us again – she’s a very uderstanding lady and knows that I enjoy the hills and the solitude, but asked me not to let it become an obsession that took me away from her like it did before.
In early January 2007 I got on the scales and was a bit gutted to see them stop at 19 stone and half a pound (digital scales!). I started walking the dog again, around one of my old local walks, its about 2.7 miles and takes me exactly 45 minutes at close to full pace – which has always been about 4 miles an hour on the flat. I stopped the pointless trips up big hills and for a few weeks concentrated on doing 12 – 15 miles on a Saturday around Cheshire. I used the Sandstone Trail as a backbone for a few walks, it follows the sandstone edge that runs north to south through much of Cheshire and consequently has quite a few small ups and downs along its length. Its also a doddle to follow, so I don’t have to worry about navigation, I can just get the miles done.
The problem with walking in Cheshire is that the paths are generally through fields and woods and consequently very muddy, especially with the ridiculously wet winter we’ve had. Apart from anything else, this means slipping and sliding across fields and paths and thats demoralising and tiring. But it has helped. I can feel the fitness returning.
I treated myself last Saturday and returned to a part of the Peaks I’d not been to for a few months, alongside Ladybower reservoir. I parked at Fairholmes and walked up to Alport Castles and then along to the trig point about a mile and a half further up the edge. I returned through the valley with a last long pull back up to the hostel at Lockerbrook. It couldn’t be considered as a tough walk by any standards, but its a total ascent of about 2200 feet and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole walk – even the wet and windy start to the walk did not dampen my spirits.
Now this is how I remember feeling about walking, the feeling I had missed for so long – it seems to be back. Maybe it was the weather – the second half of the walk was done in bright sunshine – maybe I’m getting ahead of myself – I guess time will tell.
I’m down to 18 stone 6 lbs now, my target is 17 stone dead by the middle of August, which is when I hit Offa’s Dyke! But that’s another entry…..