Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Suffering Part 2; The Old Man of Hoy

After weeks of preparation, the day was finally here!  We were off to Scotland for stack fest!

I raced down to the station in Leeds (after a really interesting day on a trauma course) to meet Tom, heather and Jonny.  In a rare show of perfect timing, tom and heather arrived in the car from Sheffield just as Jonny got off his train, and we piled into the already quite full car, ready to drive north.  17.15 on Thursday and we were finally moving!

A long drive through the night ensued, and we arrived at Scrabster at 3am.  The drive was made easier by excellent tunes (think Frozen blasted out at full volume with passionate singing from me and heather- I think the boys were asleep at this point..., Spice Girls and Acril Lavigne) and good conversation.  Thanks Heather and Jonny; couldn't have got that far without you both!  The sky was just starting to get light.

We rolled our mats and bags out next to the car (under a very convenient pub verandah!) and grabbed a few hours of sleep in the port.

Alarm at 7am but I'm already up (put it down to nerves), make a final pack and check of our bags (climbing gear, food, warm clothes, guidebook, money, sleeping bags), the next part of our journey is about to begin!  From now on we're on public transport, boarding the ferry as foot passengers to Stromness.

On the ferry and there's all-you-can-eat breakfast!  The staff were great and turned a blind eye to the obvious consumption of 2 plenty-refilled plates between 4 people!  But what a mistake!!  The sea was rough, I was exhausted and before long I was bringing it all back up!  Nevermind...

The ferry to Orkney rounded hoy, and we were given our first glimpse of the Old Man, majestic next to the large towering sea cliffs.

A few hours to burn in Stromness (time to buy anti-emetics), then on to a much smaller ferry over to Hoy.  We jump off the boat full of excitement and energy, and get a taxi across Hoy to Rackwick bay.  Alba, the driver, has spent most of his life on Hoy, is a farmer and drives the school bus; this doubles as a taxi too!

Rackwick bay is stunning!  Large waves lash the shore as a north westerly wind howls across the island.  It feels bleak and remote.  We don't envy the other 2 climbers we met who are biking across the island to the same bothy with heavily laden panniers!  The bothy is beautiful; simple but perfectly situated next to the shore.  It's almost a shame not having it to ourselves.  2 other climbers have already beaten us to it, but they aren't climbing today due to the high winds

Unfortunately we're on a tight schedule, hoping to catch the boat back the next morning to continue on for more adventures, so dump our bags, sort out our kit and then set off towards the old man, Hiking up the hill and around the headland.  The wind continues to blow, but the Old Man looms into view as we round a corner.  Arghhh!  A team decision, the wind isn't THAT bad, and we're off, slipping and sliding down the treacherous descent slope to the bottom of the stack.

Gear on, legs out (check out our sexy stack leggings!!), it's 4pm and the climbing begins... It doesn't get dark til late here right??

Pitch 1; good.  Nice rock, not hard, not sandy.  Enjoyable!  A long time spent on the first belay though as tom battles his way up the next pitch (a steep, sandy, wide crack, out of site, around a corner).  Thank god for the company from Jonny and Heather, because I am now freezing!!!

I head off up pitch 2, but really I mean down!  As it starts with a scary down-climb before a scary traverse!  Glad of the back rope I've got on me that we leave in situ to help with the ab.  I then disappear into the chimney above my head, pushing and fighting my way up.

Pitch 3; lovely!!! Nice rock again, much easier, although I do have my first experience of fulmar vomit...  The sea birds are scary and I've not such a good aim with a hex and sling so need to keep moving on past!

Pitch 4; we go the wrong way (my fault!!) up a dirty, steep corner to find an ominous hex belay and a dubious traverse* to get back on route. Instead we lower back down to the previous belay, and go up the correct pitch 4!  Although I am yet again faced with vomiting fulmars!!  Think large open beaks with bright orange stomach contents projectile vomited towards you....

Back on track, and the final pitch.  WOW!!!  Why aren't they all like this? A perfect corner, full of big jugs, lots of ledges, and no sand!!  I clamber my way onto the top and feel overwhelmed.  I am hungery, thirsty, absolutely shattered, emotional, happy, and scared!  I've done it!  I've climbed the Old Man of Hoy!!!

The problem with climbing is that there is often the issue of getting back down again...  4 abseils later and we're all back on the ground.  What an awesome team ascent of the the old man!  Shoving food and water into our bodies, we repack and get head torches on as dusk is approaching.  We head back up to the top of the cliff (back up the treacherous descent slope), and I am relieved to be on more solid ground!  It's 10.30pm, and we walk back to the bothy in the dark with our torches on, dreaming of dinner as we go.

Saturday morning; a slightly later start of 8am after a night of deep, refreshing sleep, and we are up, repacking bags, then a quick brew next to the sea.  Alba meets U.S. At the road to drop us back at Moarness pier to catch the return boat to Orkney.  Only 20 hours on Hoy, but a truly unforgettable experience.  I know one day I'll be back to enjoy the beauty and solitude that the island has to offer.  But for now we must keep moving.

Back on Orkney mainland and we refuel with copious cups of tea and wander around the coast before catching the afternoon ferry back to Scrabster.   We scoff fish and chips in Thurso before heading over to Stoer; another night time drive down narrow winding roads in the rain, arriving late to yet more howling wind!  We pitch our tent in the lee of some ruined buildings, fully aware of the dubious forecast for the morning.  The Weather continues to be unfavourable in the morning but tom, heather and Jonny are much braver than I am, and make an ascent of the Old Man of Stoer as well.  Very impressive given the intermittent rain and high winds, and not without event (8b Jonny took a lead fall into the sea!!!). I must admit I was relieved when they returned to the car to one piece! 

The plan had been to continue further north to climb Am Buchaille, the third stack of the weekend, but feeling cold and wet, and knowing the forecast remained questionable we instead opted to drive south and head for a warm bed near fort William.

We topped the weekend off with a swim in loch lomand today with my favourite llama, then dinner at the in-laws this evening.

I'm disappointed at not having climbed the old man of stoer.  The fear and adrenaline after Hoy, combined with the bad weather meant I just couldn't face another harrowing experience.  I started climbing after watching a BBC documentary of Tim Emmitt climbing Stoer with Julia Bradbury, so for me this was where my climbing began!  8 years later, I was finally there but wussed out.  Hopefully I'll be back with better weather and a better head next time!

Despite not doing Stoer, it's fair to say the trip was a success!  I climbed the Old Man of Hoy, and suffered doing it.  Another challenge to tick off my list of suffering!  (Thankfully I only included Hoy on the challenge list so I haven't failed, phew!).

If you want to sponsor me to help support Orchid you can do at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers

*in case you don't know already; I am petrified of traversing!

Raring to go at Scrabster!

We WILL be first in the queue for breakfast once boarded... Mmmm!
Breakfast; what a mistake!  Feeling worse for wear after a ferrry journey full of vomiting.
Rackwick Bay; beautiful!

Team leggings at the base of the Old Man!
Heather can't wait to get climbing!
Freezing cold on belay no.1
Scuttling off into a dark, sandy chimney.
Success!!!  On top of the Old Man of Hoy!

Team 'suffering' on top of the Old Man!
Abseiling back to the ground as darkness approaches.
Tranquility at Rackwick Bothy
The second stack of the weekend; the Old Man of Stoer
Team Stoer!  Including Jonny '8B' who took a swim off pitch 1!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Suffering Part 1; the running

Challenge numbers 1 and 2 for me this year have been running races; a half marathon on Anglesey called 'The Island Race', and then Paris Marathon.

Anyone who knows me will know that I hate running!  I now like to think I have a slightly better relationship with running (although this weekend's triathlon would suggest otherwise...).  As a triathlete, unfortunately running is an important part of racing.  I don't know why they don't just do swim-bike races these days, I mean they do swim-run and bike-run races.  Hmmppfftt!

I made a decision late in 2014 that the only way I was going to improve my running was to train for and race a marathon.  And being my competitive self, I wanted to run a sub-4hr marathon.

This year I am on an anaesthetics and ITU rotation as part of my A&E training.  I miss A&E but I do not miss the rota!  I have had a rota for this job for the whole 12 months right from the start, and only work 1 in 5 weekends; talk about easy!  It's been great to have so many free weekends to have adventures on, and this also explains why the bulk of my challenges are before August (at which point I change rotations back to A&E, work LOTS of weekends and don't yet have the rota for, so am trying to avoid planning my weekends yet to save disappointment!).

So last summer I got my rota and started filling the gaps with holidays, races and other fun adventures!  I looked at a list of marathons and picked Paris; I was off and it is flat; winner!  I then entered the Island Race 6 weeks before as a good training race as well.

Despite doing triathlon, I am shockingly bad at running.  My run training previously has been more ostrich-like; burying my head in the sand and pretending it doesn't exist.  Well things had to change!  I finished my last set of exams in October, and the training began.  I went for a program of 3 runs a week, running a short, fast run, a medium distance, medium paced run, and a long, slower run.  I have actually really enjoyed running!  My mileage built easily until January, when up to about 26km I started to have knee problems, having inflamed my patello-femoral joint from the sudden increase in running (see!  It is bad for you!).  After this I saw a great physio, my knee settled, but my running plateaued off, then went backwards.

The Island Race came around first in March, whilst my knee was settling.  It was a cold, windy day in North Wales, but it always a pleasure to go back, especially since the race starts on the Menai Bridge where my husband proposed to me!  It's a mostly flat course, with a couple of hills hidden in there to surprise you, running around the coast to Beaumaris and back.  Running felt comfortable, my knee held up, and I got around in 1hr51; a half marathon BP for me.  I felt fresh afterwards which was good too.  Thank you to Nicky C who came along too; company on the drive always appreciated!

Paris crept closer, and I was struggling with longer runs.  I managed two more big ones though which felt ok.  I was still hopeful that I might be able to run sub-4hrs, but I just didn't know.  It's hard to judge in your first race I guess!  (I have run a marathon at the end of an ironman but that really doesn't count; it's more of  shuffle than a run!).

Paris arrived; a good excuse to go to a new city (we don't do city breaks normally, we stick to mountains and big open spaces).  It was exciting getting the Eurostar, and we had an apartment close to the Arc d'Triomphe.  Race day arrived, and I headed down to the start with Caitlin (my sister-in-law), plus our family.  It wouldn't be a race without a lack of toilets!  But thanks to a long black bin bag I managed to use a male urinal!  Problem-solved!

Lining up on the start line in my Orchid vest, the anticipation was growing.  I was aiming for sub-4hrs still, but had also been challenged to run sub-3hr50; I should have ignored this!  I eventually got off the start line and got running past the tourist sites of Paris.  The first 10k flew by, legs feeling good (perhaps flew too fast...), the next 10k weren't too bad either!  I was half way about 1hr55-ish I think, still on track.  But then the wheels fell off!  Far too early!  My hamstrings were tight and I was struggling.  Except for a couple of stretch stops, I managed to keep going and got round in 4hrs17.

Paris was disappointing!  A beautiful place to run, but slower than I have hoped.

Everyone who sponsored me or text me; thank you!  Your support made a big difference in helping me get round!

Things that I have learnt:
-Don't set such an ambitious target for your first race; just go and enjoy it!
-Take a black bin bag to the start (thanks for that one Dr Marks!)
-I like running!*
-I actually love running! (I need to say that twice but I do!)

I struggled to run again after Paris; the psychological block from the pain was hard to get over!  But I've been out a few times.  I just need to keep going and keep loving it now (and fit it in around everything else as well!).

*If anyone wants to remind me of this in the future that would be appreciated!

And a reminder that if you want to sponsor me you can do so at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers thank you!

Just keep running...

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

An introduction to suffering.

The state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship.

In case you don't already know me, I'm Nikki.  I'm 26, and work as a doctor in Sheffield.  In simple terms I am a climber and a triathlete, or maybe a triathlete and a climber (I used to eat, sleep, climb until I lost my leading head so started doing triathlon to fill in the gaps!  Thankfully I'm increasingly getting back into climbing.)

As you may know, I'm no stranger of suffering, having done my first ironman last year.  I think it would be fair to say I like a bit of suffering (type 2 fun and all that).  It's good for the soul!

So why a year of suffering?  And what will that entail?

Last year my Dad had an aggressive type of testicular cancer which had spread to his lymph nodes (retroperitoneal for any medics reading this).  Thankfully, after surgery and a tough few months of chemotherapy, Dad was given the all clear.  What a relief!!

Male cancer (testicular, penile & prostate)  has a really low profile compared to female cancers such as breast cancer.  I think it would be fair to say women are good at checking their boobs regularly.  Campaigns such as www.coppafeel.org and all the high profile work done by breast cancer research means this is never far from our minds.  But how often do you hear about male cancer??

Orchid (http://www.orchid-cancer.org.uk/) is a British charity which funds research into the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of testicular, penile and prostate cancers and promotes awareness about the disease.  If caught early testicular cancer has a very good prognosis; often just an orchidectomy (removal of testicle) is curative.  I'm fundraising for Orchid to help other men who might find themselves in a similar position to my Dad.

I'm not too sure how the year of suffering came about.  It started with me signing up to run another ironman triathlon (sorry Tom; I know I promised not to...).  Of maybe it started with me climbing Mount Kenya in January.  Although Kenya didn't involve too much suffering, except for the 35 kilo bags we carried up the mountain...  Anyway, my Dad got his all clear in late January, and I decided I wanted to do something for Orchid.  Unfortunately what started as an ironman has become a serious of progressively more ridiculous challenges.

What I've signed up to:

1) The Island Race; 1st March 2015; DONE
2) Paris Marathon; 12th April; DONE
3) Slateman Triathlon; 17th April; DONE
4) Climb the Old Man of Hoy; May bank holiday (a.k.a stack fest)
5) Bike Land's End to John O Groats; early June
6) Cotswold 226 Ironman triathlon; July 12th
7) Climb the Matterhorn; late July
8) Inch by Inch swim run race; Sept 5th
9) long distance swim; date TBC; autumn
10) Everesting Froggatt hill climb; date TBC; possible late June, or in August.

Normally I hate asking people for money.  I suffer for my own good after all!  But this seemed too good an opportunity to miss.  I'm hoping to raise £2000 for Orchid.  If you can afford to, I would be so grateful of any sponsorship, however little (or large!).

You can sponsor me online at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers

I'll be posting updates as the year goes on, including retrospective reports from my first 3 challenges when I get round to it.

Until then, I'll finish with a few pictures to inspire you!

Green Light; a VS at Gogarth; possibly type 3 fun!
Pain? What pain??  My first ironman.  UK (Bolton) 2014.

Climbing Neilion on Mount Kenya

The summit of Mount Kenya; our first married adventure!

Route Major on Carn Etchican; winter suffering.