Out of the Comfort Zone – Spine Challenger

11/01/2017

Within anything there can come a time when you wonder “what next”. That can apply to your job, your home, your relationships… we get comfortable where we are, we feel safe… the parameters are pretty much “known”. It can be good to stay here to absorb everything we’ve learnt in life, to enjoy, to rest… but what about if you want “more”… if you want to challenge what you’ve become accustomed to, want to grow… well beyond that “known”… that’s when you go out of your comfort zone.

Change … It’s scary

Out of the comfort zone is not supposed to feel warm and snuggly and known. It’s most likely going to feel uncomfortable, hard… awkward… it’s going to trigger a whole heap of negativity as well. It can trigger self-doubt, anxiety, fear (whether that be emotional, mental, physical)… it makes you question what you’re doing, why you’re doing it… and all of this can mean we can set ourselves up to “fail”… it’s too hard, too scary… the goal might not be achievable… it’s easier to stay where we are… it’s where we feel strong and not weak, safe and not vulnerable…

And so it was that I decided to sign up for another race which would be a challenge. After all, if that’s what clients can do as I sit alongside them as their counsellor on their personal journeys… how can I not challenge myself from time to time, albeit in my own way? Walk my talk as it were… and in this case, it’s going to be quite literally! I’ve run in a bit of heat, and I’ve run (ok there was a lot of walking 😀 ) some long distances over the past few years. It’s been quite a journey. To go out of my “known” zone now, I need to do something I’ve not done before, and aim for something that may not be possible. After all, you can’t know what you don’t know (thank you Tom Jones for that little gem!).

I now find myself facing the very daunting task of setting foot on the start line of The Spine Challenger this weekend – have a look at http://thespinerace.com/msc/.

spine

For those that haven’t heard of this, it’s the first 108 miles of the Pennine Way, in the UK. In winter. It’s the “smaller” aka baby version of the main “Spine Race” which is the full Pennine Way of 268 miles. Now that’s a crazy race!! This should be sane by comparison right? I don’t do cold. I don’t like being cold. I’m one of the first to get the scarf and gloves out and layer up for the commute to work and one of the last to let them go. To willingly go into a cold race where risks include hypothermia (very common), ice burns on skin and frozen corneas (yep one guy was medically removed from the race for this I believe), where the temperatures are going to drop below freezing, where you could be wading or falling waist deep in snow… and do all that over 108 miles… it sounds pretty terrifying. An attritional hike is how one friend described it. And that’s without the sleep deprivation! You get 60 hours to complete the race, and that sounds way more than enough. It’s not. People DNF on the cut-offs due to the terrain, and the risks already mentioned. I’ve heard for the main Spine Race, one winner didn’t sleep for 2-3 days. How is that even possible?

The stats for Spine Challenger are:

Distance: 172km
Ascent: 5637m
Descent: 5636m
Max elevation: 695m (Pen y Ghent)

There is one checkpoint at 73.9km in. You have to run with a pack with a lot of mandatory equipment, which is due to the safety requirements (I’m dreaming of around 6kg at the moment) – haven’t dared weigh my pack properly because I know it’s likely to be much heavier, and am just praying I can get everything in. I may have to sit on it as I did with my suitcase for the dropbag stuff. I’m not even sure if there are a couple of points for water… the streams are going to come in handy, as is the water filter I rapidly bought – there’s a lot of sheep out on those hills.

Did I mention the route marking? There is none. This is a national trail and you have to navigate, map and compass. Handheld GPS is also required, and often needed due to the fact you could be on a whiteout on some of the “hills” and can’t see the occasional flagstones or “trail path”… or pretty much anything to be honest!

Kinder Scout – Peak District South 2 North, Ranger Ultras
Photo credit: Peter Owen

A lot of runners who enter this race have either years of running experience or a background of being outdoors, hiking, mountaineering, love the cold etc… so how does a townie with only a few years of running prepare for something they know nothing about? I take you back to the post about accessing your tool box or “kit list” (which can be found here). So in this case it’s:

Physical:
Training – sessions with my coach and following my training schedule that he writes for me
Testing kit – there’s a lot of kit, and then there’s even more. You need to test what you’re going to be using in as similar conditions as possible
Recce – checking the route you will be running, although it could look a lot different depending on the weather conditions

Pyschological:
Goal – you have to know what you’re aiming for and set a realistic goal
Expectations – modifying these as you learn
Self-awareness – know your weaknesses and strengths and how to minimise/utilise to your best advantage

Knowledge:
Past experience – use what you already have as a foundation
Learn – get help where you feel you have weaknesses

Emotional:
Support – ensure you have the right support around you, from those you learn from to those in your inner circle as it were
Positivity – if you’re around people who bring you down, how will that help you? Be around those who encourage, want the best for you
Drive – call it what you will… the human spirit… a yearning… a chest-thumping feeling in the very heart of your self… that call to adventure… it’s what can carry you through some of the dark parts…

My coach has been fantastic with numerous pep talks and encouragement, and he (alongside others) have also reminded me about the positive skills I have from the past (basic navigation and first aid (should the worst happen) from the Army, albeit a few decades ago), just over 3.5 years of running, 3 stage races… numerous other ultras/challenges… I’ve also finished two Centurion Running 100 milers now so it’s only (ha!) another 6ish miles longer than my longest race. I’m also hoping to run this alongside one of my tentmates from the Marathon des Sables (he couldn’t get time off to do the full one, crazy man!). I have the experience of few severe “hills” from a recent race which I didn’t finish: the CCC (more on that in another post).

The Spine Race also hosts a training weekend so I trotted along to the Peak District for that, where I met some really great people for the first time and got the chance to catch up with another MdS tentmate who’s doing the full race. They had various speakers (Richard Lendon in particular stuck in my head – “it’s not a race” complete with pictures of several full Spine Race starts where he’s flying over the start line!) over the weekend, plus the chance to get out on a nearby training loop, and where they test you on a variety of skills (such as bivvying out, distance & timing, the use of your stove – I think I nearly blew mine up – first time I’d used it *oops*). The coordinator for the Spine safety team (Stu Westfield) also hosts races, training, and guides expeditions, see here for his website. His courses includes Spine specific ones. Due to my nervousness and lack of experience especially around navigation, I wanted to attend these, but unfortunately time and travel didn’t allow. However there’s usually a second option, and in this case I booked Stu for a 1-2-1 over two days up in the Peak District. This was very good and I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone considering doing the same. Usually you’d go away after a day of full on navigation and absorb before going back and putting into practice, but I didn’t have that option. So the second day out, the aim was to move and navigate a lot faster. Which it was. Although compared to most, I’m probably still extremely snail-like 😀 But that, combined with Stu’s everlasting patience, meant that I got the train home feeling more confident, and meant some of the more “negative voices” were being drowned out. Every little helps!

Fast forward two weeks, and there was a race to be used as a “training run” – the Peak District South 2 North, which is a 100k self-navigational race over two days. A local running friend who has also signed up for Challenger had highlighted this to me a while back, so I agreed to run the second day (Dark Peak Challenge) with him as it was on most of the route for Challenger. However two days before the race, he had to pull out due to injury, so I trotted off on my own. Daunting was an understatement. It was an utter and complete wake-up call, plus the weather was so bad that they had to abandon the wilderness sections and we followed just the Pennine Way. Over 13 hours to get through less than 29 miles, lack of visibility, waist deep snow in parts, icy rocks, windy, not much to run on and no lovely flagstones in sight. See the picture above for the beginning up on Kinder! There was also lots of falling over, breaking new trail, sliding down parts on my backside for safety and at one point in the dark we got lost and ended up on the edge of what appeared an abyss… looking down into a sheer drop of blackness. I refused to go down for fear of injury and never getting back up! Thanks to the navigation skills of the guys I was with, we ended up contouring round and got to where we needed to be. When I say huge wake-up call, what I really mean is had I done this before signing up to Challenger… I wouldn’t be hitting the start line on Saturday because I would never have signed up for it! So for anyone who wants a “taster” be sure to try Stu’s race first!

Another tool that was due to be added into my “toolbox” was a recce on course, however the person I was meant to be going with, and who would be driving, dropped out. Extortionate train fares (everyone in the UK would probably nod their heads in agreement at that description)… meant I then had to forgo this, so instead I figured some more nav awareness would be key. Luckily the director of a race I did only a month earlier, and who coincidentally is also on the Spine safety team, lives not too far a distance from me. If you’re in the Essex area you have probably already come across, or heard of, Lindley Chambers of Challenge Running. Lindley came down and helped me to work out how to use my handheld GPS, how to load up the gpx files, and how to plot some of my own basic courses. Highly recommend his tuition, which can be booked via his website. Unfortunately I’ve not had much time to practice with it, but again… every little helps and you have to start somewhere!

And then there’s support: well as I mentioned earlier, I’m planning on doing this challenge with my tentmate from MdS, James (front of picture)… and there will also be two others doing the full Spine (Lee (behind me) and Gwynn (number 501)) so hopefully we will get the chance to catch up pre-race…

329Half of Tent 117, Start Line
Charity stage – 30th Marathon Des Sables 2015
Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

… and The Spine is up North… not too far from where a certain incorrigible person lives, who helped to start me on this whole ultra running lark. Had I not had Helen’s support in Sierra Leone (and encouragement to switch races), who knows whether I’d have moved up to ultras at all! She and her other half are coming down to see us off the start line, and (hopefully) over the finish line. Then there’s all the others who have helped and encouraged along the way, fellow competitors who have emailed and offered advice and help… this race creates a family where everyone wants everyone else to do their best, and do not hesitate to look after each other (and rescue them *eek*) when things get bad!

So now race day approaches rapidly. Reality is kicking in especially when it comes to expectations. Doing the PS2N means I am being very realistic about chasing cut-offs yet again, the wake-up call regarding terrain was much needed however as we are now only days away, there isn’t much more that can be added into the toolbox. The weather is predicted to be snowy, wet, gale force winds, black ice, gnarly, boggy and with plummeting temperatures… aka a nasty start. Winter on the Pennines… why would you expect anything else 😉

For anyone that wants to track some sane (Challenger) and crazy (Full Spine) racers, check out http://spine.opentracking.co.uk/race/ – it starts with the Challenger on Saturday at 0800 hours, and the full Spine on Sunday! I’ve already started carb-loading… or as one friend literally said to me this afternoon when she read my draft post… “Have you ever stopped!”… how rude 😀

When it comes to goals… to challenges…

Dare to dream it, plan it… learn, grow… you never know where one decision may take you… just who you might inspire… who might think that “because she or he can “do it”, so could I”.

Challenger start line… here I come! Please don’t be too cold…

Wishing you a great week ahead 🙂
Michelle

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Song of the Week

15/11/2015

Seal – Life On the Dancefloor


HARP – Southend’s Homeless Charity, Running and Christmas Meals

30/10/2015

As the nights now draw in and the the colder, darker and wetter weather kicks up another notch, it’s perhaps rather timely that the next Charity I wanted to add to the list on this site, and one that I had a leaflet to hand about, was HARP.

The Charity

harp

HARP is an action-based charity that is located and works in the town where I live, Southend. It aims to help the local homeless by providing essential services and emergency housing and works with people on a long-term basis so that they can hopefully get off the streets and rebuild their lives. They have two charity shops, offer emergency services including a drop-in centre for advice, hot meals and washing facilities and also offer supported accommodation. When someone is feeling hungry, alone, vulnerable… when they have no home and no shelter… when they feel lost and have no hope… HARP is there to help.

From their website, the services they offer:

  1. Emergency Services at the Bradbury Centre: advice, support, a hot meal, help in finding emergency accommodation
  2. Acorn Housing – a supported housing scheme for single people;
  3. HARP Restart – supports ex-offenders who are receiving treatment for substance misuse with not just hostel accommodation but rehabilition programmes;
  4. Learning for Life – provides accommodation and life skills to support those who have difficulty maintaining a tenancy, including support for the long-term homeless who often have very complex needs.

They do amazing, and staggering, work. From their website, the following facts:

  • HARP provided 3,900 food parcels and night packs in 2013, and over 4,500 in 2014/2015;
  • HARP’s volunteers are crucial to keeping the charity afloat. We have approximately 60 volunteers across our sites including our charity retail shops in London Road and Hamlet Court Road (both in Westcliff), including kitchens which are all run by volunteers,
  • All food donated to HARP is used in food parcels, night packs and for meals at The Bradbury Centre, the emergency hostel and our other specialist hostel;

As with any charity, help from the general public is vital to their ongoing work. There are many ways to help, from donating money, donating goods, fundraising and volunteering by donating time.

The Running

And for those runners who visit here, please note that they also have a local annual run… Harp24! This is a 24 hour race for either relay teams or solo runners, of 4.2 mile cross-country loops , and which raises a lot of money for the charity… so the more entrants, the more money it generates to help the charity provide the above services within the Community. The first of these races was in 2012 and it has grown in size every year since… over 300 runners for 2015! I had the pleasure of participating last year as a solo runner, one of only two idiots who ran with a weighted pack… and what a fantastic party atmosphere it had… friendly competition, camping, friends, families, children playing… unfortunately it clashed with my 8in8 marathon challenge this year so I couldn’t go.

Fab race reports available online from a variety of clubs, including one from Flyers Southend which can be read here and one from Rochford Running Club which can be found here, you might even spot me in one of their 2014 photos!

So for those of you who fancy a challenge, why not keep an eye out for next year’s event… enter a team or go solo, run for fun or use it as training for an ultra or stage race… and for the seriously crazy (or normal, depending upon your perspective 😉 ), how about going for a 100+ mileage and becoming a centurion?

And so to the last part of this post’s title…

Christmas Meals!

It’s a little while off, but at the beginning of December, HARP will hopefully be kicking off their yearly Christmas Meals campaign/appeal again, which I participated in last year. I know that there are many appeals at this time of year, but imagine being on the streets with absolutely nothing, which is awful enough during any day… but at Christmas when homes light up with their decorations, trees and families gathering… when wherever you go, you hear about people’s plans for eating, drinking, having fun… belonging, being cared about, being loved, being wanted… what about those who don’t have food or a roof over their heads, those who don’t have any of this, have no-one? HARP aims to provide all who turn up a christmas meal at their Centre and these are funded entirely by donation. A donation doesn’t just provide a meal though… it also gives people access to the Charity’s full range of services which in turn can then ripple out to create new beginnings for them. So, for those who are interested, this is a heads up to please keep an eye out for when that appeal happens.

And lastly,  for those that would like to help this fantastic Charity in any of the ways listed above, please click here for their website and here for their Facebook page, where you can find further information on doing just that.

Wishing you all a wonderful Friday and week ahead 🙂
Michelle


Challenge 2 of 3 – Done!

18/09/2014

I don’t have a lot of time tonight as at the time of drafting this, it’s only a matter of hours before I’m off to the airport… time to get to the States for the next part of my challenge, so a brief update really.

Racing the Planet / 4 Deserts – Roving Race – 250 km across Madagascar

WOW!

If you had to sum up a whole experience into one word, that is what springs to mind when I think of what I’ve just done.  Followed by silence as I think of how to adequately describe what has been just an absolutely amazing time in my life.

It was not easy and I think that overall, it was a good job I had no experience to base my expectations on, because if I’d known quite how tough it would be, how ill I would feel in parts, and some of the mental challenges, then I may not have been so quick to sign up.  That being said, I think it went really well for my first stage run… and yes, I finished it.

One thing I really liked was the comms/cyber tent package… it meant that not only could you read emails from people who wanted to send you support and to let you know they were thinking about you, but I also had a blog, so folks back home could not only see updates from Racing the Planet/4deserts, but also get to have a brief snapshot of what you were experiencing.  We didn’t have access to it after the end of Stage 5, so if anyone has sent emails that I haven’t acknowledged, my apologies.  They will be sent to us once the admin staff get a moment to catch their breath.  If anyone hasn’t read them, wants to, or wants to read my thoughts during the stages, as well as an extra one I added last week once I was back in the country, please go visit this page, and click on my surname:

http://www.4deserts.com/beyond/madagascar/blogs

It wasn’t all running… on some of the terrain that was not possible… there was walking, a bit of climbing, wading through rivers, trying not to get stuck in mud and rice fields, fall off log bridges, and hopping around on the spot when stung by some kind of buzzy thing… there were tears, laughter, a lot of smiling… there were falls, injuries, sickness… there was walking and star gazing through the night, fantastic awesome scenery, there were blisters… my god how many blisters… nearly everyone I think had some and by the end of the week as everyone went to get hot water for drinks and dinner, it seemed as if everyone was hobbling.

100

But over and above that, I believe there are two things which make these events what they are… one being the individual’s drive to challenge themselves, to not give up, to achieve… to battle whatever dark moments they have, to enjoy the lighter ones and then often reaching out to others to help them do the same… and the main one, quite simply, the people.  Because it’s the people you meet, how you get on, that create the whole experience: both the individual aspects and the collective: your tent mates, the people you talk to a little bit, the people you talk to a lot, those you help and those who help you… an experience like this, it seems to strip everything away… all the materiality, the day to day aspects of life that often we allow to pile on top of us until what we truly want, who we truly want or crave to be, gets swallowed whole by responsibility, belief patterns, expectations of the self and others, by the necessities of the life that we have created. On an experience like this, we can strip that away and see who we truly are… it allows us time to be reflective and face our fears, our worries, our demons… it gives us space to think, to feel… to just be.  Is it like that for others? I don’t know… these are just my thoughts as I type… I’m sure there will be many more once I actually take time to “stop”, let everything assimilate and review the whole journey I’ve been on.

I am extremely glad I jumped into this, and that Madagascar was a starting point for me… what a wonderful adventure to start with! The memories it has given me, the experience for what I am thinking of potentially doing in the future… but mainly, the amazing people I’ve met and become friends with and who I hope will be in my life for a long time to come, and not forgetting the overall memories that I am left with. If anyone is considering doing something like this, then I would say absolutely, go for it, without a shadow of a doubt.

Now, it’s time to get psyched up and ready for Grand to Grand! 273km from the Grand Canyon up to the Grand Staircase. The feet are still somewhat painful… the shoulders are still bruised, and the pack this time seems even heavier… I blame the increase in my blister kit rather than sweets in my daily rations 😉

And once again a reminder… that I am also trying to raise funds and awareness for the UK charity Refuge… who help people get out of domestic abusive / violence relationships and to safety. If you would like to share on social media, with friends, with family… my charity page link is: http://www.justgiving.com/michelle-payne4.

Wishing you all a great week ahead.
Michelle

© September 2014 Michelle Payne


My Child

20/08/2014

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My Child

You jump, you spin, you hop
the delight on your face
when the music starts
as you wiggle and try to bop.

Such enthusiasm
such glee
it’s a joy to behold
to witness
to see.

Once upon a time
I too was like that
a long time ago
before I encountered
some of life’s little mishaps!

To have such innocence
to feel so free
to dance
to move
without caring who may see.

You grin
spin round and round
arms whirling
legs twirling
until a stagger
a misstep
a fall to the ground.

I gather you up
your bottom lip starts to quiver
you sniff
and give a little shiver.
I wipe away the falling tears
and try to calm your fears
a sniffle, a snuffle, a little sob
such tears and hurt
make my heart throb.

Your friends start calling your name
they want your attention
they’re playing a game!

You look up at me
as if to ask
if I get down
will you take me to task?
Or is it ok?
Will you wait
sit there
while I go and play?

These moments I will remember
as I age and become more grey
no matter your age
my child
you will always stay.

Words © July 2014 Michelle Payne
Picture found circulating freely online


School holidays

25/07/2014

It’s Friday at long last… you can almost hear the sighs of relief as this day dawns each week and at this time of the year, this week usually signals the start of the school summer holidays… the time when air fares and holiday prices escalate to such a degree you almost have to re-mortgage just to spend hours queuing and waiting at airports, then there’s the dodging of traffic jams… and of course the endless ways that the little ones (or not so little) need to be entertained!

Still the “season” has only just begun so all is (hopefully) positive: sighs of relief at the forthcoming lie ins, no school runs … anticipated rest & relaxation, so looking to the end of six weeks seems far away, although its’ approach will be inevitable… do you already have a plan in action for the whole holiday period? Where you don’t end up grumpy, frazzled and glad for the return of school? Where activities are already noted on the calendar? Or will you wing it… be impromptu… see what each day brings as it unfolds?

And I’m pretty sure that for parents, mostly everything will be geared around the kids. But what about you? Your daily life interrupted… the house not run on the usual routine… peace and quiet (if you ever get any)… gone!

How are you going to look after yourself at this time? Because although a lot of people consider it “selfish” to put themselves first… if you don’t look after yourself properly… and that includes some time out… how can you give the best of yourself to others? Is it better to run yourself down so as to be “on call 24/7” or to take a half hour once a day just for you?

Comments and thoughts, as always, welcome 🙂

Happy Friday everyone!
Michelle

© 2014 Michelle Payne


The Forest Path

13/02/2013

Wishing you all a wonderful happy Valentines Day tomorrow filled with love for your self and loved ones!


The Forest Path

Oh, the charm of idle dreaming
Where the dappled shadows dance,
All the leafy aisles are teeming
With the lure of old romance!

Down into the forest dipping,
Deep and deeper as we go,
One might fancy dryads slipping
Where the white-stemmed birches grow.

Lurking gnome and freakish fairy
In the fern may peep and hide . . .
Sure their whispers low and airy
Ring us in on every side!

Saw you where the pines are rocking
Nymph’s white shoulder as she ran?
Lo, that music faint and mocking,
Is it not a pipe of Pan?

Hear you that elusive laughter
Of the hidden waterfall?
Nay, a satyr speeding after
Ivy-crowned bacchanal.

Far and farther as we wander
Sweeter shall our roaming be,
Come, for dim and winsome yonder
Lies the path to Arcady!

~~ Lucy Maud Montgomery ~~

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