I’m finding things quite hard at the moment, and am desperately trying to focus on the positives. There are a lot of positives, and in the bigger picture, I have a lot to be excited about. But in the day to day, it can be hard to keep mentally healthy when external factors can trigger spiralling thoughts without a moment’s notice.
But enough of the self-pity and negativity. I want to focus on the pure adventures I am working towards in the coming months, and how, despite the challenges in my head, 2017/2018 are looking pretty special.
I’m trying to make the transition between being the kind of adventurer who joins an adventure tour and has a keen time in a comfortable, safe space, and being the kind of adventurer who pushes to the limits of her own capabilities.
This was instigated by an evening of adventure talks I attended, run by a real hero of mine, Al Humphries, organised for the charity Hope and Homes for Children. In a cleverly curated series of presentations, I heard from two women who travelled around the USA for 5 months without spending a cent, a woman who did the world’s first stand up paddleboard descent of the Ganges, a man who took his entire family (including 5 and 7-year-old) sea kayaking from Denmark to Greece when he lost his job, and many more.
It was one of the most inspiring evenings of my life. I went home, eager for my own turn, and regularly started checking the Explorer’s Connect boards – a place where people seek out teams for their adventures.
Not long after, I saw an advert to apply to be a part of an all-female team who would be hiking the equivalent ascent of Mount Everest, but using the peaks of the Lake District. This seemed like the perfect thing for me – bloody challenging (I hyperventilate going up hills), cheap, local and specifically for women.
I worked hard on my application, and tried to be really honest about the things I have overcome in my life that have brought me to the point of trying to get the most out of my time on earth, and why adventure is so important to me. I talked about my teamwork skills, my positivity and my determination.
I didn’t think I stood a chance though, as I often feel like an imposter in the adventure world. I’m not confident, I get lost all the time on hikes, I’m a bit chubby, I wear the cheapest gear I can get my hands on and my marathon times are super slow. I love adventure, but in a world of athletes, record breakers and first time achievers, I am probably well below average. And that’s okay, but I didn’t think I would be picked.
When I discovered that I had been offered one of the 8 places from over 100 applications, I was over the moon. Of course, I worried about letting people down, being the slow one, but it was a huge motivation to get my act together, train for something I cared about, and be a part of a team of inspirational women.
When I have something to train for, I’m at my happiest. When I was building up to London Marathon in 2014, I had such a sense of purpose, and was devastated when an Achilles injury got in the way. Since then, I have taken different exercise classes, done a bit of swimming, lifted a few weights, hiked at the weekends and done yoga, but without anything specific to train for, it has really been quite half-assed.
Now I have a goal to work towards, I am in the gym 4-5 times a week and walking at weekends. At the moment, I am getting my base fitness up before the targeted training plan begins.
Things are going really well as a team too – we have a kit sponsor, a nutritional sponsor and have been shortlisted for a couple of adventure grants.
However, one adventure clearly didn’t seem like enough for me to train for. Somewhere along the line, through the Love Her Wild community I got involved with, I heard about an exciting challenge – being a part of the world’s first known all-female team to cross the Finnmark Plateau. It is a cross-country skiing expedition, where 5 women will be dragging our belongings behind us on a pulk over 17 days in temperatures that could get as low as -40 degrees. (In fact, the coldest temperature recorded there is -51).
So I have my work cut out for me. Training for this challenge is a different kettle of fish, as I have never cross-country skied before, and I probably won’t get a chance before I go. Dragging the pulk and getting the balance are all about the core strength, so I have been doing gymnastic conditioning classes and endless planks in preparation. It is recommended to run along a beach dragging a tyre along behind to train, so that will be on the cards soon. It’s tough training for 2 such different adventures, but it will be so rewarding to complete them.
As someone who really struggles with self-esteem, these challenges are helping me feel more positively about myself. I know I will need to train and train and train and push myself physically, but I also know that it is grit and determination that will really get me through these events.
My usual thought processes aren’t going to get me through the long and challenging days. Negative self-talk makes me feel safe and it’s what I’m used to, but it’s going to take some relentless positivity, determination and self-belief to get me through 8,840metres of ascent or 16 hour days in the Arctic snow. My thought process won’t change overnight, but I’m working on rewiring my brain a bit.
At the moment, I’m watching TED talks, reading books, scanning the internet for things that will help me improve my self-esteem. I’m working on my grit, for example, I read that taking cold showers is good for resilience, so I have started doing this. (it’s hard).
My mental health hasn’t been at its best, so I’m trying to be kind to myself, but also throw myself into my job and my training, which helps me feel more worthwhile.
These challenges have given me a focus, a purpose and something to fight for. When I complete them, I just think of how proud I will feel, and what a sense of achievement it will be.