One Step Beyond...
I'm walking again. Not that I was ever laid so low (thankfully!) that I couldn't get about on foot but I'm now increasing the distances I travel on Shanks's pony, preparing for my first 50 mile challenge walk since September last year.
Over three quarters of the way through 30 sessions of radiotherapy, I have to admit that I'm now experiencing considerable fatigue. This is not the same as tiredness (or even exhaustion) it is a sluggish, heaviness which seeps through the body into the bones and the brain. Sleep is fitful and even with a seemingly good eight hours I've woken up feeling worse than I did the night before. It drains all energy. Self motivation, both mental and physical feels impossible. But unlike plain old ordinary exhaustion (or just simple tiredness) if I ignore it and push myself to get out and (for instance...) walk, it goes away almost entirely. Then I can get myself properly tired (and sometimes even exhausted) and then I (usually) get some proper, sweet, restorative sleep.
All the experts have expressed their approval of my walking (much to the surprise of some of my family and friends who think this relatively newfound hobby is a form of madness or a massive but largely harmless midlife crisis). It's a great way of beating the fatigue and keeping fit and healthy while I finish the treatment and begin to fully recover from the mental, physical and emotional trauma of the last eight months. One of the medical experts I've met with during this journey (unfortunately I can't remember which one) said that if they could prescribe walking as part of the treatment it would be up there (and close to the top) of the list of drugs and interventions used to fight cancer.
How lucky then that I took up long distance walking when I did? I have UK Sport (in particular, Laura King and David Cole with support from everyone else but especially Angela Field) to thank for getting me into this wonderfully therapeutic (but a little bit bonkers) pass-time.
It all started in September 2011 with a valiant but largely unsuccessful attempt by about 20 colleagues and friends at UK Sport, to complete the National Three Peaks Challenge... A tale for another time but for now, suffice to say that's when the bug started to bite.
Someone (David Cole) then suggested some of us might 'like' to attempt the Long Distance Walkers Association 100 mile challenge. In 2012 it was taking place in and around London and the south western Home Counties and was going to be called the Games 100 in honour of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Being employees of UK Sport it seemed only right that at least some of us should take part.
I had never heard of the LDWA. I had never heard of people walking 100 miles 'for fun'. I hadn't even heard that long distance walking was a 'thing'.
In order to qualify for entry into the Games 100, we had to have successfully completed a 50 mile challenge (50 miles in under 20 hours or so) and the only official one on the calendar that we (there were only four of us by now) could all get the time off to do was the Winter Poppyline in Norfolk. In Febuary.
That's the walk when I truly got it. When I discovered that long distance walking was gong to be my 'thing' for as long as I was able to put one foot in front of the other. And I remember the moment when it took root in my soul.
It was night (more than half the Winter Poppyline is walked in darkness due to the time of year). The four of us (David, Laura, Anne-Louise and me) were heading at a steady pace along a slightly raised footpath which cut diagonally across a massive, ploughed field. Anyone who's been to Norfolk will know that in parts the skies are massive (on account of the flatness of the countryside) and on that night, at that point, the sky was clear. By the time we got half way across the field, as far as I was concerned, we could have been at any point in the whole of human history. And I could feel the Earth turning - the sky was so huge, the path was so straight and the stars so clear it was suddenly obvious. And totally wonderful.
From that moment on I was hooked.
I finished the walk slightly behind the other three and in considerable pain. My hips and knees complaining due to my body being a little bit unfit and about a stone overweight. But my mind and soul were elated and so, outnumbered two to one, my body conceded defeat and I resolved to lose weight, get fit and walk 100 miles...
At the end of this month, my first long walk of the year (and since just after the chemo began in September), will be the 2015 Winter Poppyline 50 mile challenge. Once again I am carrying a bit too much weight and I'm not quite back to peak fitness yet...
But that gives me something really good to work towards (so much better than just working away from something bad).