Sunday, 20 December 2015

One final ounce of suffering!

It's with a sense of relief, but also slight disappointment, that I sit down to write this blog.  It's been a whirlwind year; full of great memories and plenty of high points, although not without a few disappointments and lows to accompany it.

Yesterday could be seen as another low; another unsuccessful challenge!  I tried to run the Tour De Helvellyn; a tough 38mile ultra-marathon that circumnavigates Helvellyn; on the shortest Saturday of the year; in rather sub-optimal conditions.

I love the Lake District, Ullswater in particular, having spent plenty of time up here with my husband and his parents.  His Dad and partner live in the valley; as I type I can see out of the kitchen window and down to the lake.  My idea of heaven!  Mountains to climb, lakes to swim in, nice roads to bike on; what more could you want in life??

After swimming the length of Ullswater in October, I decided I needed a final challenge to finish the year off with; when I heard about the TdH (after checking with Tom) I quickly entered; we're up here for a long weekend of family Christmas celebrations anyway.  How tough could it be??  It didn't go over Helvellyn, only around it!

I came up a few weeks ago to recce the route, and ran the middle section (with most of the hills), finishing in the dark, and thoroughly enjoying the solitude and clear starry skies.  I was feeling nervous but hopeful.

Yesterday morning, after a fitful night of sleep, I was driven around to Askham by Tom and his Dad, ready for an early start.  7am, and after a kit-check, I was to of the door, and off into the dark, in heavy rain and gusting winds.  Fortunately Will was running with me over Askham Fell; definitely appreciated as I hadn't recce-ed this (was due to when the floods happened), and the nav would have been tricky in the dark, made worse by cowering inside my hood.  Within an hour it was getting light and head torches went off.  As we descended towards Howtown it was impressive (not in a good way) to see the mudslide from flooding which had blocked the road and completely covered the path in deep mud.

Leaving Askham with the father-in-law!

Dark & wet in Askhm at 7am!
I left Will behind after Howtown ("I'm jiggered" he said!  Apparently shortly after this he fell over face first; shame I missed it!).  My legs felt good and I was warm enough as I headed past Martindale church (the first check point), and then along Boardale and up over Boardale Hause.  You can start the race any time between 7 and 9am, but the second check point doesn't open until 9.30am.  You don't want to arrive early, so faster runners set off later.  Because of staggered starts, I had Boardale to myself, which was beautiful.  The fields were waterlogged and the river overflowing, but what a stunning bit of the Lake District in visit in almost complete solitude.  After climbing up onto Boardale Hause, it was a rocky, slippery descent down into Patterdale, and Side Farm; check point (CP) no.2.  Fortunately half way down the descent someone haired past me; this meant I could follow them in to the CP, as I wasn't completely sure which building was the CP.  A quick bite to eat and a bottle re-fill, then I was back on my way, into Patterdale, then round to Glenridding.  Glenridding was hit hard by the recent floods, but the clear-up job looks to have been amazing.  It was quite depressing to see the large village Christmas tree on it's side on top of a pile of rubbish.

After Glenridding it was an uphill slog up and over Stick's Pass, the biggest climb of the route.  This was in snow last time I had been here, but now it was just very, very wet!  I passed CP3 in reasonable time, but was moving slower than when I had recce-ed this part of the course.  I was feeling pretty bad, and was debating whether to turn around and head back to Patterdale, or keep going; if I kept going I would have to get around the 16 mile loop back to Patterdale.  I decided to keep plodding.  Reaching the top of the pass, I managed to tag on to the back of a couple of girls and followed their footing downhill into Thirlmere, managing to descend 10 minutes faster than when I had last been here!  As we descended the rain stopped and the clouds parted, revealing Thirlmere.  Absolutely stunning!  In Thirlmere I headed south to CP4 in Swirl How car park, arriving just as Tom and Will pulled up, a surprise visit, but quite a relief!  30km done, in 5hours.

I had a pounding headache (possibly a migraine), and was feeling rather rough.  I had been drinking well, but had messed up with food, and had not eaten enough for the 5 hours of running I'd already done, or the 5+ hours I still had to go.  I made what I think was a sensible decision to stop; the preceding hour of vomiting confirmed I'd made the right decision (and that I probably had a migraine).  I headed home disappointed, and cold, in soaking wet clothes.  A shower, then a bath, and then into bed, and I was feeling much better by the evening (in time to go and see Star Wars with Tom!).

So another unsuccessful challenge; 19 miles in wet, windy, rather grim weather!  I'm not too achy today so clearly didn't try hard enough! Ha!  I won't be rushing to enter next year's race, unless I can seriously focus on running over the next year.  But it's not all negatives; it's always good to have a reason to get out in the mountains, and despite the weather, that was still great!  I've spent a few sessions with Pippa, one of the A&E nurses who ran along the Thames Path with me in November, trying a bit of hypnotherapy to be more positive and have more self-belief!  I've also learnt I need to sort out my nutrition!

I'm now looking forward to a couple of weeks of rest, and a chance to do some reading about nutrition and training, before kick-starting the training in late January.  Next year we're moving to Chamonix for 6 months (from February to July), and I'm having a much-desired break from work!  Apart from lots of ski-ing (whoop!!!), I'll be trying to focus much more on triathlon, and be a bit more dedicated with my training.  Hopefully that should be a bit easier without working the 65- 70 hour weeks I have been will my current rotation!!

To finish, I'll just remind you all that I've been fund raising for Orchid, a male cancer charity!  So many of you have already been so so generous in sponsoring me; thank you!!!  If you still haven't (and have any pennies to spare to Christmas time; I know how expensive it can get!) and would like to you can at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers thank you :).

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Great news at Christmas time!

After a year of tough challenges, we've had some really good news this week!  Dad had his first scan last week to see if his cancer had come back or not; this is the first scan since January, where he got the all-clear after finishing chemo.  Thankfully it's great news!!  The scan is clear!  Last Christmas Dad was looking rather rough!  He had no hair, and had his final dose of chemo on Christmas eve.  This year I suspect he'll be looking a bit better!  Phew!

Me & my Dad! :)
It's been a hard year, full of challenges, as I've raised money for Orchid, a male cancer charity.  At the moment I've raised £2,600, but would love it if I would creep a bit closer to £3000!  If you want to sponsor me you can at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers thank you!

This weekend I'll be running my final challenge; perhaps my hardest yet!  I'll be trying very hard to finish the Tour de Helvellyn; this is a hilly 38 mile ultra-marathon in the Lake District; currently the weather forecast is for heavy rain.  I'll feeling quite nervous and rather reluctant!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Almost there...

As December speeds away quickly, it's always a good time to reflect on the year gone by.  It has been a fairly epic journey, with challenge after challenge of pain and suffering.  Unfortunately for me, it's not quite over yet!

The idea for this year of suffering started in January after my Dad had the all-clear from metastatic testicular cancer.  On Friday he had his first repeat scan to check things are still ok.  We'll get the results in another week or two; hopefully good news.  It's certainly a stark contrast to last year; he finished his last chemo on Christmas Eve.

After news of bad flooding in the Lake District, I'd been waiting nervously to hear from race organisers.  Next weekend I'm due to run my final challenge; a 38 mile ultra-marathon in the Lake District (the tour de helvellyn).  The roads in Ullswater and Thirlmere have been badly damaged, so I had been expecting (and hoping, if I'm honest!) to find out the race had been cancelled.  On Friday the organisers sent an email out confirming their intentions to run the race still.  GULP!

Well, I'm not one to do things in halves anyway.  It would be sensible when thinking about a first ultra to perhaps run something a bit easy; maybe a nice undulating coastal route on big trails, in nice weather, with a decent amount of daylight.  You certainly don't think of 38 miles of hills in the Lake District, on the shortest Saturday of the year!  I had wanted to do something on the winter solstice, to contrast to my Froggatt Everesting in the summer; I had debated a winter Everesting, but decided against it due to logistics and support the weekend before Christmas.  Instead I'll be dragging myself around the Lakes.

The course runs from Askham to Patterdale; Glenridding to Thirlmere (via Stick's Pass); along Thirlmere and back up to Grisedale Tarn; back down to Patterdale; back over to Askham.  I managed to recce the middle loop around Helvellyn, but haven't managed to recce the out-&-back from Askham to Patterdale (I was due to do this when the floods were bad).  I'll be starting in the dark, and almost certainly finishing in the dark as well (unless I am miraculously quicker than hoped!).

Regardless of how the race goes, it'll be great to have another day spent surrounded by beautiful mountains.  My only aim is to finish; that in itself will be a big accomplishment.  Then I'm looking forward to a few weeks of decent rest!  It's been a long time waiting for the end of the season!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Suffering & The Thames Path

It was a frustrating decision not to continue this morning.  After a lovely night spent with Stella and Eugene (Bee's brother and wife) in High Wycombe, I had set an early alarm to get up and see if I could manage to plod around the block to test out my left calf.  Unfortunately the answer was no; walking was painful, let alone running!  So there was my answer; adventure over!

The last 4 days have been great fun.  Well, yesterday less so; having to stop running in a random village, somewhere you don't know, with minimal phone signal and certainly no 3G, by yourself in the rain... not fun!  Fortunately I managed to call Tom to work out where to catch a bus.  I'll re-phrase that!  Day 1-3 have been good fun anyway!

This challenge was always going to be tough.  7 marathons in 7 days?? Ha!  I've enjoyed parts of the trip.  I actually have enjoyed the running, although not the slipping and sliding on mud.  Mostly the aching has been tolerable, and blisters haven't been too bad.

I was really looking forward to the later days, running past Eton, and running through London.  I was also looking forward to finally getting to meet Doug from Orchid, the charity I've been fundraising for.  Unfortunately this one is over for me, but I'm really glad that Bee is continuing on to London, and Pippa will be coming back for the final day as well.

98.4 miles in 3.5 days... that will do for now!

Now to rest and recover.


Looks simple!
Day 1; an early start in Sheffield with Pippa.
Day 1; the source of the Thames

How far???
Day 1; it's raining in Cricklade!
Day 2; starting off in Lechlade with special guest Duncan!

Duncan even stopped to take pics of bridges!  Tadpole bridge.
Day 2; Phew!  It's lunch time!

Day 2; Eynsham Lock at 25 miles, feeling tired!
Day 3; saying goodbye to Pippa after another 29.5miles!
Day 4; Hello Bee!  New company :)
Day 5; Bee goes solo!  Outside Windsor Castle

Day 5; heading home, broken.  Hard not to smile at this though :)
I'll finish quickly by telling you all about Orchid again (in case you've forgotten... sorry!).  Orchid are a cancer charity focusing on male cancers; testicular, penile and prostate.  But I'm a girl; why am I supporting them??  I'm supporting Orchid because last year my Dad had metastatic testicular cancer.  Fortunately he received quick and effective treatment (both surgery and chemotherapy), and is currently doing very well.

Orchid help people like my Dad in a few different ways.  Firstly they offer support services to people like my Dad and their families, providing information and support.  Secondly they aim to increase awareness, running education and awareness campaigns.  If caught early testicular cancer has a significantly better outcome; so "check your chaps".   Thirdly Orchid funds a world-class research programme into male cancers.

I know so many of you have already sponsored me; thank you so so much!  It means so much to raise such a large amount of money for Orchid.  If you have a few pounds to spare and would like to sponsor me you can do so at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers.  Thank you!  I really appreciate it!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Thames Path Day 4; not so successful...

After a good night's sleep in our B&B it was an early start for breakfast (followed by a quick nap whilst breakfast went down).  We headed out into Goring to a grey day and made our way to the Thames.  After heavy rain overnight we faced waterlogged paths that had already been muddy but were now much worse.

Things started off steady, and my legs seemed to be working ok.  My arches eased and right Achilles pain settled after a bit of stretching. The miles ticked away nicely until Reading at about 9 miles.  From then on things seemed to get worse, and I was really struggling with my left calf.  

We stopped to refuel in Reading, before continuing onwards.  The rest didn't help, and at 13 miles I decided to call it a day.  My run was barely a shuffle and the pain was enough to make me feel sick.  Bee continued onwards, but I hoped on a bus towards High Wycombe, our bed for the night with Bee's relatives.  Bee did great in muddy conditions and rain, making it to Hurley in good time.

We've had a lovely dinner and now I need to do some stretches and see how I feel about continuing in the morning.

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Thames Path Day 3; goodbye and hello!

Day 3 has been another tough one.  No surprise there then!!

29.5miles of mud... An awful lot of mud!  After catching a bus back to Oxford (to yesterday's finishing point) we started running at about 9.30, heading out of Oxford.  It was interesting to run past all the different university boat houses, and see people rowing on the river.  Initially the path was good, but before long it became muddy and treacherous.  It's hard to stay upright when your legs are so sore!

At about 9miles/16km we decided to stop for coffee and cake; rather than one big stop two short ones seemed more preferable.  I was massaging my arches when a man had the cheek to suggest my feet were smelly!  As Pippa pointed out afterwards, he should smell my armpits!!  My socks were clean on today, my top definitely wasn't!

Back to running and the path was definitely less muddy.  We continued to struggle on.  I was feeling painful and wondering again why I was doing this.  I walked a kilometre at 22km, and again at about 30km.  We thankfully had our second break at about 34km (sorry to flit between miles and km, I work in km, Pippa in miles).  Heading back out again, we were all too aware of fast-approaching darkness and we neared the end.  We felt rather hard-done by when the lights we thought were the end turned out not to be.  Cruel!

The last 2km in the dark were tough!  But we made it in Goring, 29.5miles in about 6hr30.  Hard work with the muddy conditions, and being day 3.  Yesterday the map had over-estimated the mileage by 2miles; unfortunately that wasn't the case today!

So that's 84miles done, and 100 to go.  Tomorrow is slightly shorter at 24-25miles.

Pippa has left now to go back to work, but will be returning on Thursday evening to run the final day with us.  Fortunately a fresh dose of positivity has arrived in the form of Bee, so hopefully the next few days will continue to sail by!

It's interesting watching the Thames grow, and seeing all the different birds on and around the river.  I really want to go for a swim but not sure that's a good idea!  I'd only end up even muddier and cold.

That's all for now; thanks for the messages of support; they do help!

And again, if you want to sponsor me to help raise money for Orchid you can at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers. Sorry to keep banging on about it, but it's a great cause!  And I'd love to reach the £3000 mark!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Thames Path Day 2; How far???

It's been another tough day along the Thames today.  Day 2... Of 7; it's going to be a long week!!!

This morning started with a good breakfast on our hotel in Lechlade.  Then Duncan, one of my regs, turned up for the day ready to get running.  After going over the map with him and explaining that whilst we were staying in Eynsham, I'd messed the mileage, so we were going to keep going to Oxford (31 miles instead of 25...) and then catch a bus back to our hotel, we got started with a creak or two!

We headed out into the wind, and fortunately had it strongly behind us!  That was a relief!  With dry trainers (that I washed in the shower the night before), we were off!

Thankfully today the rain has stayed away.  We managed to have dry feet all day long despite impressive amounts of slipping and sliding along.  I had hoped Duncan would impress us with his musical prowess (I've heard excellent Disney renditions at work).  Sadly he was too busy trying to run and breath so I broke up into song with a bit of Elton John (yes, I am that cool!)

The miles ticked by comfortably once our aches had eased away and we stopped for lunch at Newbridge, 16 miles into the journey.  In fact Newbridge is the oldest bridge over the river and has some historical importance too; some battle or another fought here many many years ago.

After a sandwich and a drink we were back on our way.  I seemed to have found a new burst of energy and skipped through the fields for a moment or two ("who gave her lemonade??" they said...).  Disappointingly it didn't last long. By the time we reached Eynsham lock at 24 miles (where our day should have ended) my legs were feeling the pain.  Another 5 miles to Oxford had me shuffling in a pretend run (quite similar to my ironman run), before switching to a power walk for the last couple of miles.  A quick call to the husband; my legs hurt; why am I doing this?; I could have had a week off at home with you.  He laughed.

I was relieved to make it to Oxford at 29 miles (rather than the 31 miles on the map; unsure if this is because map distances are inaccurate or because of Pippa's incredible corner-cutting skills; the former I think).  We picked up snacks for tomorrow before hopping on a bus back to Eynsham, to our beds for the night.

I've showered and had a soak in the bath.  Now it's almost time for tea!

So today's thoughts from running...  It hurts!  Why am I actually doing this?  It seemed like a good idea on a night shift.  But then it wouldn't be suffering and worth you sponsoring me if it was easy would it??  Realistically I knew it would be tough, but I like tough.  I like suffering and seeing how far I can push my body.  I don't want to sit around for a week off.  I want to get outside and push myself further and further, away from work, emptying my mind.  I want to live for now.  I can switch off from life for a while, concentrating on the next few metres of ground in front of me, where to put my feet to avoid nettles or brambles or slipping in the mud.

Anyway, that's enough of that for now!  It's time to eat, then sleep!

Tomorrow is another long day at 29 miles (after catching a bus back to where we finished today).  We'll be heading to Goring-on-Thames, at which point I'll say goodbye to Pippa and Bee will join me ready for the next four days.  I've already pre-warned her that I'll be slow!

Just a little reminder that I'm raising money for Orchid, a male cancer charity.  I know it's an expensive time of year with Christmas fast approaching (feels smug inside; shopping all done!) but if you have a pound or two to spare I'd love it if you could sponsor me at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers to help me get that bit closer to my target of £3000.  Thanks to everyone who already has!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Thames Path Day 1; mud, mud, and more mud!!

It's been a wet and muddy today, slipping our way around 24.7miles of the Cotswold countryside, from Kemble to Lechlade.

We had an early start, with a 6.50am train from Sheffield, arriving into Kemble at 10am.  Having read an article in the guardian (see here) about 3 Londoners running the Thames, I was rather apprehensive about finding the source of the Thames, a headstone in the corner of a field.  Fortunately we had no problems; Pippa pointed out that this is likely due to the fact that we aren't those London types!!

There isn't any sign of the Thames at the source, but before long a small stream appeared.  "Is that it?" Pippa exclaimed loudly.  Yep, that's the start of the Thames!  We've followed the Thames on and off through the Cotswold countryside, over many muddy fields and meadows, along bridalways, tracks and small country roads, plus a rather hair-raising 2km along the very busy A631!

We stopped for a quick lunch in Cricklade after 22km, in a quaint local cafe.  After lunch we re-appeared into heavier rain with waterproofs on, ready to face the world and keep running!  The mud certainly slowed us down, slipping and sliding across fields, following the river.  We both chose to wear our road shoes.  I had bought some trail shoes which might have been more preferable, but hadn't done enough mileage yet in them and didn't want to risk sore feet.

We rejoined the Thames just before Lechlade to find the river looking much bigger and muddier now.    I could see the church spire in the distance and knew that our destination for the day wasn't far away! Phew!  As my legs were feeling tired, I was slowing down and my right glut was feeling pretty tight!

We staggered into Lechlade after 4hr 32 of running, much quicker than I'd expected.  It helps that Pippa is faster than me so I just followed behind, just keep on plodding!  I've showered, cleaned some stuff, and stretched.  Now it's time for dinner!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Running The Thames Path; Pleasure or Pain?

It's a grey, drizzly afternoon in Sheffield, and I've climbed back into bed for an unsuccessful afternoon nap.  It's been another tiring week at work, with seven 10-hour late shifts in a row.  Finally I am off!  I am exhausted!

In two days time (well actually one-and-a-half) I'll be heading down to Kemble, a small village in the Cotswolds, to start yet another of my foolish challenges!  Fortunately I have today and tomorrow to rest, and organise a few final bits and pieces.    Hopefully I won't be too tired!

I'm now off for a whole week from work.  I had intended to go and do some relaxing cycling somewhere warm.  But Tall Mark found out that he had to go to the Falklands and couldn't come anymore, and Clare then realised she should probably use her annual leave to go away with her boyfriend (pfft!).  So during a set of A&E nights in August I was looking at different ideas, and chatting to 2 nurses (Pippa and Bee) who are both big runners.  Well it's fair to say running is definitely my weakness in triathlon!  What better way to improve than spend a week running!

After looking at various options, I decided I'd run the Thames Path.  Its 184 miles long, so approximately 7 marathons in 7 days.  Yes it's flat, yes it will not be as interesting as Scotland, but it's November!  Really???  Scotland in November!!!  Have you seen the weather forecast??

Well in fact I have seen the weather forecast, and am all too aware of the fast approaching 'Storm Abigail'.  It's been a mild autumn so far, but it looks like I'll be in for a damp week!

I will be running from Kemble, the source of the Thames, all the way to London, finishing at the Thames Barrier.  I returned to work with my grand idea and a map purchased from a local outdoor shop in a state of night-shift delirium; that was me committed!!  I told Pippa and Bee about my big plan, and was very surprised when they said they would like to come too!  So no more solo-suffering for me!  I've got company!  Pippa will be joining me for day 1 through to 3, and then also coming back to run day 7.  As Pippa leaves, Bee appears to keep me company for the rest of the journey all the way to London.  Duncan (one of my seniors at work) is also making a guest appearance on day 2 as well!

A diagrammatic representation of our week... how hard could it be?? ;)

I'm not sure what to expect with the running.  I know I can keep going when I hurt; I've done that enough times this year already.  Multiple marathons though?  I don't know how my body (my knees in particular) will cope... but I have ibuprofen tablets and gel ready to go.

I'm pretty much sorted now, I just need to pack my bag.  I've written, and then re-written a kit list, and have even practise-packed with Bee!  Here's hoping the weather turns out better than it looks, and our tired bodies can just keep on running!  I'm looking forward to a gin & tonic on the train home next Friday.

I'll be running in my Orchid vest again, hoping to raise a bit more money for Orchid.  Thanks to everyone who has already sponsored me; so far I've raised a massive £2,369!  But I'd love to reach £3000, so please help if you can!  Orchid are a male cancer charity, who aim to raise awareness of, support people with, and carry out research about male cancers; testicular, penile and prostate.

This time last year my Dad was undergoing chemotherapy for metastatic testicular cancer.  He had his last chemotherapy treatment on Christmas eve, and looked rough over Christmas.  It was good news in January when he got the all clear!  In a month's time we go back to hospital to find out the results of his annual CT scan, to check that things are still ok.  As a medic, and as a worried daughter, I'm obviously anxious about this, but hopefully everything will be fine.  

In the meantime, if you want to help make my suffering more worthwhile, and help support Orchid's awesome work, you can sponsor me at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers.  Thank you!

Dad & myself at the end of Cotswold 226

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Just keep swimming...

When I started planning my year of suffering, I quickly decided I wanted to add a long-distance swim to the list of pain.  Unfortunately (due to rubbish rotas and a hectic life), I wasn't able to sign up to an organised swim, and this challenge almost slipped by unnoticed... almost, but not quite!!

In late August I remembered I hadn't set a date (or for that matter done any training whatsoever), so after discussion with the parents-in-law, I decided I was going to swim the length of Ullswater, and the only free date that I had, where one of them was also free to support me, was the 10th October... possibly a little late in the year... Brrrr!  I was all too aware of falling water temperatures and a need to get this swim out of the way before things got too chilly!

Swimming is one of my favourite activities.  I love floating around in the middle of a lake, surrounded by mountains.  Relaxed, feeling at one with the water.  Ok, so I love open-water swimming, preferably in beautiful places... I'm less keen on pool swimming.  I learnt to swim as a child, but never really had any technique.  When I moved to North Wales I bought a wetsuit with my first pay cheque, and conquered my fear of open water.  That was just over 4 years ago, and I haven't looked back.  My technique is still somewhat lacking, but is certainly better than it was!  I do swim in a pool now too (begrudgingly), although purely as a means-to-an-end, with great coaching from TnT and also Swim Revolution.  Sheffield is not the best place to live as a passionate open-water swimmer.  I do enjoy swimming in Harthill with YOS, or in the river Chatsworth, but mostly I miss the stunning views when I pop my head up to breath!  I was spoilt in North Wales!

Before this challenge, I think the furthest I have ever swam is about 3 miles; the length of Llyn Padarn in Llanberis; and even that was a couple of years ago!  I have been open water swimming reasonably regularly over the summer, and have started regular pool sessions again now winter is approaching, but it's fair to say I haven't been training for this; the longest I've swam leading up to the 'big' swim was 3.8km, and that was for my IM race in July! :S

But I'm no stranger to suffering (haha), and know that I'm not a quitter!  A quick google and a read of a few articles told me all I needed to know about nutrition for long distance swimming (i.e eat and drink regularly or else...).  I picked Ullswater simply for convenience given that my father-in-law still lives next to it, and hadn't quite realised how long it was (somewhere between 8 & 9 miles depending how you measure it, but I'm going with 9!).  Maybe I should have opted for Coniston instead... whoops.  So my big swim was going to be almost 10km longer than I'd ever swam before.  Hmmm.

After a busy week at work (70 hours worth of busy to be precise, because I'm a lazy, under-worked, over-paid junior doctor don't you know Jeremy Hunt?? Don't get me started...), the car was packed, and I headed up to the lake district with Tom ready for my next dose of suffering.  The weather forecast was for cloud, but minimal wind.  Despite extensive searching, I couldn't get an estimate of water temperature for the lake.  Food was purchased and prepped (flapjacks, sweets, energy gels, plus carbohydrate powder mixed into my water), and my kit sorted.  After an evening in front of the fire we had an early night, which was followed by an even earlier alarm.  Still dark, I rolled out of bed to eat breakfast, and the rest of the house started to wake up.

We (myself, my husband Tom, and my wonderful father-in-law Will) left the house about 8am, and drove down to Patterdale, unloaded the canoe, and I climbed into my wetsuit.  I also chose to wear neoprene gloves, socks and hat (as well as a normal swim hat).  You can debate the ethics of swimming in a wetsuit/gloves/socks all you like, but given that I wasn't swimming in skins (i.e. no wetsuit), the rest was irrelevant; it was about getting to the end in one piece, without bad hypothermia.

Tentative first steps into the water at Patterdale.
Getting started.  Flat water!

At about 8.45am I entered the water at the bottom of the lake, in Patterdale.  It was a stunning start to the day, with no wind, and completely flat water; the surrounding hills reflecting beautifully upon the lake.  The water didn't feel overly cold, and I got on my way.  It would be wrong to say I quickly made progress; there is nothing quick about swimming at an average of 1.5miles per hour, but progress was made regardless!  I knew the only way I would succeed would be to relax and enjoy the journey, trying to have a smooth and efficient stroke, rather than tiring myself out and fighting with the water.  I planned to feed every 30 minutes, each time taking on carbohydrate water, plus either flapjack and a gel, or a handful of sweets.  The first feed went well, and then I would count in half-an-hour chunks, with no idea of time between my feeds.  I would swim, hoping that Tom and Will would gesture towards me that it was time to eat.

The first feed.

Beautiful.  Just beautiful.

Just keep swimming...

By about 2 hours I had swam further than I ever had before.  By 2-and-a-half hours my arms were starting to hurt, especially my right shoulder.  (I have a habit of breathing to the right every 4 strokes; I can bilateral breath but when relaxed I fall into this habit, which wasn't helping!).  By 3 hours I was cold, and shivering when feeding.  At somewhere between 3 and 3.5hrs we reached the shores of Outward Bound Ullswater (Will works for OB), and I was feeling particularly cold.  I decided to pull over on to the beach and drink some hot squash in order to warm up.  Definitely a good call!  When I stopped, I wasn't shivering, possibly because I was too cold... fortunately a warm jacket and multiple cups of hot squash warmed me back up.  In my head (as a medic with a bit of knowledge about hypothermia) I was debating whether I should be getting back in the water again.  I know I'm stubborn and don't like quitting, but equally I needed to finish the challenge alive, not in a hypothermic mess somewhere further up the lake.  I also had to be well enough to get back to work the next day (due to a shift swap).  After about 20 minutes on the shore I felt much better and decided to get back in.

Tom, my husband.  Trying not to steer the boat straight into me.

Will, my father-in-law (doesn't stop working, even in the middle of a lake!)

A quick pause to rewarm at OB Ullswater.
After about 10 minutes more of swimming we rounded the corner and I could finally see Pooley Bridge and the end of the lake.  Suddenly, despite the tiredness and pain, things felt achievable again.  I still had a long way to go; over 2 hours in fact, but I kept swimming... just keep swimming.

The last half an hour was tough.  I started to get cold again, and started to feel sick, and then vomit in the water.  The end of the lake seemed to refuse to get closer!  After what seemed like forever, the shore finally got closer, and the lake got shallower, until I could not longer swim and had to stand up (queue falling over multiple times in the water!).  Tom and Will landed the boat, and Will waded in to help me.  Utter exhaustion!  But I'd done it!!!  6 hours and 5 minutes!

Yes!  Emerging from the Lake at Pooley Bridge

Phew!  I've done it!

Tired?  Me??  No!  Absolutely f**ked!!

A tough challenge, which I thoroughly under-estimated and definitely did not train enough for.  A great day out, a great experience in a beautiful lake with stunning surroundings and very fortunate weather.  I won't be in a rush to do another long distance swim, although I would certainly contemplate swimming Ullswater, Windermere and Coniston all in a single 24 hour period (with training, obviously...) at some point in the very distant future.  I couldn't have done it without the support of my wonderful husband Tom, and my super father-in-law Will; thanks for spending all day on the lake in a boat feeding me and making sure I didn't drown!

Extensive chaffing from my wetsuit and neoprene hat around my neck meant I spent Sunday at work getting funny looks from my patients ("No, I haven't been strangled, I just swam in a wetsuit and it rubbed a bit.").  I've been off this week, although have been unsurprisingly exhausted, so have spent a lot of time attempting to relax and recover.  I'm unsure if the exhaustion is due to the swim, or my work rota; a combination of both I'm sure.  I've been back in the water, swimming in Llyn Padarn and at Fairy Glen on Thursday and Friday respectively.  My arms still worked, although they do feel a little heavy!

When I've been doing my challenges I've spent a lot of time zoning out, relaxing and trying to forget about any pain.  It was hard to do during the swim, as I had to keep focused when tired to swim 'properly' and try not to be totally inefficient!  Concentrating and zoning out don't seem to go so well together.  When my arms were particularly painful, I thought about Dad having surgery and then chemotherapy last year, and about how rubbish he must have felt.  It helped me put things in perspective a little bit and forget about my own pain.  After all, I had chosen to inflict this pain upon myself, so had no right to complain.  Just keep swimming!

Thanks to everybody's generosity, I've already raised an incredible amount of money for Orchid, a male cancer charity.  But its not too late to sponsor me if you haven't yet!  (Sorry, I don't like begging... but it's a good cause close to my own heart!)  You can sponsor me at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers to help me reach £2500, or maybe even £3000 by the end of the year!

I have 2 more challenges left now.  In November I'll be running 7 marathons in 7 days, along the Thames Path.  I did think this was quite exciting, but have just read about a man who has run 90 marathons in 90 days and now feel very inadequate!  Then in December, to finish the year off in style (I hope), I have just entered my first ever Ultra Marathon; the Tour De Helvellyn!  It is a 38 mile run around Helvellyn, on the shortest Saturday of the year, in potentially bad weather.  It's reasonably hilly as well.  Oh dear!  Wish me luck!

Monday, 14 September 2015

Suffering Part 8; Swim Run UK (plus a few days in the Orkney Islands)

Swim Run UK

Last Friday, after a tough 4 weeks on a new rota at work, I finally started a week of annual leave!  Obviously I'm not great at just 'relaxing' so this involved a swim-run race in Loch Lomond, followed by cycling from Inverness to John o'Groats, before then heading up to Orkney for a few days of exploring.

So what even is a swin-run race??  I'm sure you are all wondering!  Don't worry though, it's a relatively new type of race, with this being only the second held in the UK to date.  The original swim-run race (the ö till ö; meaning 'island to island') started in Sweden; it was actually a challenge between friends, thought up during a stag-weekend!  It involved travelling from one end of a chain of islands to the other, by running across the islands and swimming between them.  The ö till ö is particularly gruelling, with 10km of swimming, and 65km of trail running.  Swim-running is increasing in popularity quickly in Sweden, with more and more races springing up.

I first heard about the ö till ö in July last year when my friend Nicky gave me a book of 'the world's hardest challenges' after I completed my first ironman.  We were both very excited about the prospect of such a race!  When I heard about the Loch Lomond Inch-by-Inch race I couldn't wait to enter!  Unfortunately Nicky wasn't so keen (I really don't know why??) so I was desperately trying to persuade one of my friends to join me as it involves racing as a pair.  I couldn't persuade anyone, but then a friend suggested someone else; 'she loves crazy stuff like this!!  It'll be great!'  A few messages exchanged and we'd signed up!  What wouldn't be fun about running in a wetsuit and swimming in your trainers??

A couple of training weekends together to get to know each other and come up with a plan, then the race quickly came upon us.  We had opted to swim (and run) attached to each other by a bungee cord.  This meant we stayed together, could draft each other in the swim and didn't split up on the run.  We both had different strengths, Anna being a strong swimmer, and myself being the stronger runner.  I think this must be the first race I've raced as a pair, and it didn't exactly go to plan.  We finished, and we weren't last... that's something at least!!

I guess it's hard to race with someone you don't know; I wasn't sure how much I could push Anna on the run; I'm sure she didn't appreciate being pulled up Conic Hill; I like to think I was giving positive encouragement, although I'm sure Anna would disagree!

The race was in beautiful surroundings, and it was a real privilege to be racing over and around the islands of Loch Lomond.  The race was well-organised, and on a whole a great experience.

Lessons I've learnt?
  1. Don't race with someone you don't know.  Working well as a team is key to racing well.
  2. I'm more competitive than I like to admit.
  3. Stick to triathlons/solo events next time!!
Meeting Ruth & Cate on their way down Conic Hill

Running towards Cashel Campsite

At the end of the longest swim (I think)

We did it!!!  7hr42... phew!

The Orkney Islands

After Loch Lomond I headed north, and spent the night in Helmsdale with Jan & Barry, the lovely B&B owners who looked after me last time I was up, when I became unwell during day 7 of LEJOG and had to stop.  The next morning I continued further north to deposit the car in Thurso (left headlights on; idiot!), and then back down to Inverness, ready to re-ride Inverness to JOG in the next day (see previous blog post).

On Monday evening, after 9 hours in the saddle I arrived in JOG, before continuing on to Thurso to discover a flat car battery, pick up a rucksack of stuff, and head onto the ferry for Stromness.  Arriving in Stromness shattered, I met a Kiwi who insisted we must celebrate my finishing LEJOG!  A couple of beers later I was well and truly ready for bed!

I had been up to Orkney and Hoy in May to climb the Old Man of Hoy and had been dying to return.  I don't know how to express it, but there's something about the Orkneys that I find so thoroughly relaxing.  I find the peace and solitude amazing.

Tuesday meant a ferry over to Hoy.  I cycled across the island to Rackwick; a stunning bay surrounded by hills on either side that roll down into the sea.  There are a few cottages, but mostly the bay is quite remote and isolated.  I headed over to the bothy and was disappointed to see smoke coming out of the chimney; I'd hoped to have a few days by myself.  Instead I met David, a czech guy who had been travelling around Scotland.  After a quick sea swim, we headed up Ward Hill; this is the highest point in all of Orkney, with views over all of the islands (on a clear day...), and then stopped for a second swim in Sandy Loch, a small loch on the way back to the road.  A quick cafe stop too, before heading back across the island, picking up dry wood along the way.  David managed to get the fire lit (very good considering how wet the wood was!), and we sat up chatting by the fire for a few hours.

On Wednesday I headed around Hoy on my bike, biking down to Lyness and then Longhope, and back up to the ferry at Moaness.  The roads were stunning to bike on, and incredibly quiet!!  They were surprisingly smooth given the little amount of traffic, so I had a fun 45 miles blasting around on them.  Wednesday afternoon I caught the ferry back the Orkney mainland as high winds were forecast for Thursday, and I didn't want to risk getting stuck on the island if the ferry couldn't dock the next day.

Back in Stromness I spent the night camping with David.  We had cooked inside the town hall to avoid the wind, and stumbled upon a church singing group.  Their hospitality was touching, offering us to use the kitchen and making us tea and coffee!

On Thursday we headed in different directions; David off to Kirkwall, to continue on to Shetland, and me off on my bike.  I had planned to do a long ride around the mainland, but the headwind plus tired legs meant I was going nowhere fast!  Plan aborted after only 25 miles, I spent a nice afternoon in Stromness instead.

After hearing rumours of the northern lights, I had an early start (3am!) to try and catch them on Friday morning, before catching the first ferry back to Scotland.  I was sad to leave Orkney, and I'm sure I'll come back again and again.  The islanders are so welcoming, and the surroundings so beautiful.  It's hard not to feel at home.  I've had a look and there is a hospital there; it even has a small A&E I think!  So maybe I'll come to live and work for a period of time in the future.  I'd strongly recommend a trip up there with bikes to explore to anyone with some free time.

As always, it's the people you meet that help make a trip what it is.  Jan, Barry and Rob in Helmsdale were incredible (again).  Sharing the bothy with David was good fun; it was refreshing to hear about his dreams and aspirations for life.

Friday involved a long drive home!  I stopped in Edinburgh to ride over the Forth Road Bridge as it had been shut to bikes when I rode through during LEJOG.  I joyously broke the 15mph speed limit for bikes, and felt happy knowing I had cycled every little bit of LEJOG now!  A short run around Edinburgh to wake me up, then I picked up Dan, my co-pilot, and kept driving, arriving home at about midnight... a long day!!

Now it's back into another 4 weeks of rota, before my next chance to escape!  I'll be heading up to the Lake District to swim the length of Ullswater, then having a few days in North Wales catching up with friends and during various forms of exercise (you know me; you can rest when you are dead!).

Theodore waiting for a ferry on Hoy (shortly before getting soaked by waves)

Looking over to Hoy from Orkney mainland.

Sunrise over Hoy as I sailed away :(

Dawn over Orkney mainland
The final piece!  The Forth Road Bridge

Big grins!!
Edinburgh from Salisbury Crags; an evening run.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Unfinished Business; LEJOG Day 7; Inverness to John o' Groats

After failing so close to the end during my LEJOG attempt earlier in the year, I knew I had to come back and finish what I had started!  In June I became unwell on my final day, managing only 70 miles from Inverness, before having to end my journey early in Helmsdale, only 51 miles from the end.  As soon as I got my rota (with it's fixed annual leave), I started planning a trip back up north.

After a night in Helmsdale with Jan and Barry (the lovely B&B owners who looked after me when I was unwell in June), I had a day of logistics, taking my car up to Thurso* before getting a train back to Inverness.  Sunday night, 3 months after my previous stay, and I found myself back at Inverness youth hostel.  Fortunately I was feeling somewhat better than last time!  I met Mark and Bella to go out for dinner again (as I had done in Perth), but this time we avoided an Indian, and went for Italian instead.  I didn't dare risk another bout of D&V!

Since my LEJOG trip, I now have a new bike; Theodore; a custom built steel-framed beast!  He is a stunner!!  Felix has taken a fair hammering over the last few years, and with multiple bolt-holes failing, I felt I could finally justify a new stead (don't worry, Felix hasn't been retired, he is still being used for commuting!).

Introducing Theodore...

An early alarm (5.50am!!) on Monday morning saw me climb out of bed, scoff some porridge, and roll out of the door by 6.30am.  So began my journey north.  The miles rolled away easily as I watched the sun come up.  It was a stunning day as I followed the A9 north surrounded by beautiful scenery.  (Forecast black clouds and a strong head wind!)   To an extent I remembered the roads as far as Helmsdale, although any hills seemed much easier this time!  After a quick toilet and bottle refill in Goldspie I arrived in Helmsdale at 11am, ahead of schedule and pleased with my speed. The roads had initially been busy (well, it was a Monday morning before 9am; to be expected), but they soon quietened down.

Dawn start in Inverness

In Helmsdale I headed to Thyme and Plaice.  This is the cafe where my journey ended last time; I was in tears and absolutely broken!  Rob, the kind cafe owner, had tried to feed me, then recommended a B&B, and driven myself and Felix up the hill to said B&B.  The cafe was closed today, but being the super kind Yorkshire man that he is, Rob came to meet me anyway and make me some lunch.  "Bloody Doctors, they're always early" he said!  Perhaps the Scottish NHS is better than in England??

I was on my way again by 12 o'clock, with 50-55 miles to go (depending on which signpost you used!), and the real hills started!!  I climbed up out of Helmsdale, stopping to remove a layer, before eventually whizzing down into Berriedale.  Of course this is followed by a big up (with hair-pins and everything!!!).  It was stunning!  Retrospectively, there was no way I would have gotten up here last time around.

Up until Helmsdale I had been fortunately sheltered from the forecast Northerly winds, but as I progressed further north they began to rear their ugly head!  Leaving Wick with about 20 miles to go, I really felt their force, and my speed definitely slowed (but not too surprising given I was past 100 miles already for the day).  I had generally not been paying too much attention to the ascent profiles of each day of LEJOG, but had been forewarned about the final hill before JOG.  It isn't steep, but man is it a slog!!

Coming over that final summit, and seeing John o'Groats in the distance was emotional to say the least.  I spent most of the day smiling, really enjoying the ride (even in the head wind).  Speeding off downhill towards John o'Groats I had tears in my eyes.  Reaching the end meant a lot to me.

YES!!!

Big grins :)
Setting off 3 months previously, to cycle end-to-end in 7 days, I think I had underestimated the seriousness of the challenge I had set myself.  125 miles a day, for 7 days.  It was tougher than I thought!  It was hard to fail last time, but I know I could not have tried any harder or gone any further on that final day.  It is a relief and a joy to have finished the journey finally.  I haven't put it to bed though (so to speak).  As Tom reminded me, I've done the final day on a different bike!  And I haven't done it all in one go.  I'll definitely be back to ride the trip again.  Maybe I'll go solo over 6 days next time.  Or maybe a more leisurely schedule with Tom for company (not on a tandem, sorry!).  This trip helped me to realise what is physically possible.  For me the answer is more than you think!  It also helped me to raise A LOT of money for Orchid, a male cancer charity, as my Dad had testicular cancer last year.  Thank you to everyone to sponsored me; if you haven't yet but do want to you can at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers

Now I'm sat in Orkney, drinking a pale ale from the local brewery, after a blustery day on the bike.  Once back to city life I'll blog about my swim run race, and also about exploring Orkney and Hoy.  I'll also add some pictures of Theodore looking good at Inverness and JOG!

Still to come in my 'year of suffering', I'm planning to swim the length of Ullswater (approx 8 miles), and then in my November week off I am hoping to run the Thames path over 7 days (so approximately a marathon a day for 7 days).

*If you wonder whether you have left your car lights on or not, don't reassure yourself that you haven't, go and bloody check!!!  My car is currently parked at Thurso train station with no battery...

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Suffering Part 7; Climbing in the Alps/ Rest & Recovery!

Only 5 days after my ironman I found myself in our packed car, driving south towards Folkestone, and then on to Switzerland.  After a busy week at work (with minimal recovery time), I had squeezed in a sports massage before getting in the car to drive for hours on end.  Having left home at about 4pm on Friday, we arrived in Saas Grund eventually at 8pm on Saturday.  To say I was tired was an understatement!

We had been planning a trip to the alps for months; in fact it had been on the calendar since last autumn.  It wasn't until January that I entered the Cotswolds 226 race, only a week before the holiday.  I entered the race whilst away on a ski holiday without Tom.  When I rang to tell him he was far from impressed, all too aware of how tired I would be on holiday.  "I'll be fine" I told him!  How wrong was I...

I had bargained for a rest day on arrival in Switzerland, but the forecast was looking iffy.  We had an ambitious tick list of multiple 4000m peaks building up to the Italian ridge on the Matterhorn (one of my challenges).  Sunday afternoon and we walked in to the Almagellar hut, ready to climb the Weismeiss the next morning.  In reality I'm useless with altitude, and already had a headache at the hut!  We had been banking on my fitness to cancel out the altitude... unfortunately I was exhausted!!   An early start on Monday morning had us heading up to a col in the dark, ready to head up a ridge on the Weismeiss.  My legs were not working!  This was not going to be a good day!  We made a decision to turn around and head back to the valley.  Even just descending to the valley with walking poles was hard work.  Perhaps all my challenges had taken more of a toll than I expected.

After this we packed up and heading around to Chamonix instead, where Tom had other friends to climb with, and I had a chance to rest and recover; phew!!  I read a few good books, including a book by Dave Gill about cycling around the States.  Very inspiring!  I struggled to walk; stairs were horrendous.  My quads were absolutely wrecked.  The roads up and down the hills looked beautiful; I was envious that I wasn't here with my road bike.

Towards the end of my enforced rest we spent a couple of days over in Italy, as Tom climbed the south ridge of the aiguille noire du peuterey with Matt.  Unfortunately they got caught in a storm and spent an unplanned night on the mountain.  I spent a sleepless night in the valley, worried sick.  I was extremely relieved when they made it back down at 8pm on the Monday (rather than late on the Sunday).  I felt justified in buying (very cheap) gin as treat for myself!
I don't know why Tom wouldn't let me buy this cute critter!!


Our plan for the remainder of the trip had been to head on into Italy a bit more to climb the Gran Paradiso, and then the Italian ridge on the Matterhorn.  Unfortunately this wasn't to be.  It has been an incredibly dry, warm season in the Alps, with lots of rock fall.  The Italian ridge was closed indefinitely due to significant rock fall.  Another failure in my year of suffering, although this time out of my hands.  It will still be there next year though.

Instead we headed back round to Switzerland to be greeted by yet more changeable weather and had to readjust our plans yet again.  We climbed the Allalinhorn, my only 4000m peak of the holiday; a rather nice snow plod from a high lift, with some LARGE crevasses!!  I finally faced my crevasse fear and feel somewhat more relaxed!  We followed this with a nice multipitch rock route on the Jegihorn; a great way to finish the holiday.  Then a long drive north...

On top of the Allalinhorn

Alpendurst on the Jegihorn.

Back in the UK and it is 'Black Wednesday'; changeover day for doctors in the UK.  I have spent the last year in anaesthetics and ITU, with a really nice (too nice??) rota, with lots of weekends off.  Unfortunately I have now changed back to A&E (my chosen career path), with a not so desirable rota!   The last 6 months have been incredible!  I have trained harder than ever before and seen my fitness and race performance improve in leaps and bounds!  I just hope this doesn't go backwards too much during the next 6 months.

The weekend after returning from the alps I entered an Olympic distance triathlon at Whitchurch, along with a load of awesome people from TNT tri club.  This was supposed to the national club championships, but ended up not being.  We still had a great weekend!  The race was awash with a sea of orange triathletes!  This has been my best race of the season yet; I finished 7th female, and won my age group too.  My first age group win!  I put in a strong swim, a good bike, and an unsurprisingly appalling run (haha!).  What a great end to the season!

If Carlsberg did Tri Clubs... the awesome TNT!

TNT wiping the floor in women's age group categories!

I still have 2 more 'challenges' to come.  In 2 weeks time I'll be up in Scotland competing in the Loch Lomond swim-run race with a friend Anna.  This should be good fun, but a completely new experience, so we'll see how that goes!  I've then finally set down a plan for a long distance swim, and am hoping to swim the length of Ullswater in early October (hopefully before it gets too cold).

Ullswater at dawn on Monday morning.

Thanks to everyone's generosity I have already raised £2200 for Orchid!  In case you've forgotten, Orchid is a male cancer charity, and I am raising money for them because my Dad had metastatic testicular cancer last year.  If you fancy helping me reach my final target of £2500, you can sponsor me at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers.  Thank you so much to everyone who has helped me raise this much already!