This is how my bucket list read as I approached my 50th year…
1) Run a marathon
2) Bake a cake (successfully)
3) See the northern lights
I always thought that marathon running was for athletes, not for folk like me but I can’t bake, I wasn’t planning a trip to the Arctic (at that point) and running a marathon had been on my bucket list for 25 years so it was now or never!
Feeling ridiculously optimistic and naive, I entered Trail Marathon Wales, downloaded a training plan and I launched my fundraising campaign for a local special needs unit. Standing on that start line was extremely frightening and every one of those hilly 26.2 miles felt absolutely brutal! It was the hardest thing I’d ever done but with my husband, Ian bedside me and my lovely mum and daughter at the finish, I crossed that line uttering the words “Thank God that’s over, I NEVER EVER want to do that again”. On reflection, and knowing what I know now, this was probably my proudest ever running moment.
I have no idea what changed in my psyche but I kept running, entering events and gaining confidence along the way. I met people who inspired me, and in another moment of madness I entered ‘Race to The Stones’, a 100K endurance event along Britains oldest path.
Race day was blisteringly hot and at the half way point the wheels fell off, I passed out and spent the next two hours in the medical tent, I didn’t pee for nine whole hours and when I did it looked like black tea which was a tad alarming! Now all of this sounds like it’s getting pretty serious but just to clarify, I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, I don’t care about personal best times or winning age categories so I don’t do any of the stuff that I don’t like, the stuff that makes you faster like hill sessions, fartlek training, efforts…it’s all about the SMILE MILES for me.
Once I was back home (and I’d had my kidneys checked out!) I was back out on the trails and was enjoying exploring our beautiful Welsh coastline and mountains again. Always on the lookout for seals and dolphins, listening out for the glorious song of the skylarks and watching red kites soaring overhead and putting in the smile miles!
More running events came and went and although a dodgy ankle kept putting me on crutches, I was getting more adventurous and Ian surprised me by booking a trek in the Arctic Circle to see the Northern lights. Those lights that feature so high up on my bucket list eluded me (as they had in Iceland previously) but I gained something far more valuable in the friendships I made on that amazing trip.
It’s such a cliché but it really is all about the people you meet along the way and no more so than when I was invited to join a small private Facebook group to become a ‘Dapper’. I had no idea how influential and important this running ‘family’ would become despite its members living all over the country. In fact I was with two of my dapper family when I got lost for 4 hours and timed-out in the Welsh Mountains on last years attempt at the Snowdon Ultra 50, which was not my finest hour!
Now I’m no cyclist but to mix things up and give my dodgy ankle a rest from all the running miles I was putting in, last year Ian persuaded me to do ‘Ride London 100’ on a tandem with him! On race day, it was miserably cold, really wet and we had no brakes on our borrowed tandem which added an additional element of fear into the 100 mile challenge! I don’t know why we were surprised, the ‘bicycle made for two’ had been a malicious beast throughout our entire training journey! All that being said, it was a fun day out and despite Ian forgetting to warn me about the potholes, we’re still married and we’ve just bought our own tandem for our next 100 miler next month!
More running…more events…some amazing volunteering…and even more miles have been completed since I took that leap of faith and signed up for my first marathon as I approached the age of 50! The latest being the totally awesome and very hilly 53 mile Highland Fling Ultra Marathon along Scotland’s beautiful West Highland Way three weeks ago. I just love these longer events, there is something really pretty special about them or maybe this is the onset of senility as I’m often told!
I could waffle on and on about what running has brought to my life and everything these amazing challenges have given me over the years and frequently do but on reflection I’ve not yet successfully baked a cake that anyone would cheerfully want to eat and I have yet to see the Northern Lights so there’s plenty more things to aim for and work to be done!
I’m super excited that Ian and I are off to Nepal for The Manaslu (multi stage) Trail Race in November of this year. My precious Mum was and would be so proud of me. Sadly she only ever accompanies me in spirit now as I lost her to cancer last year but she’s always with me and I hope my adventures will continue to make her smile and make her proud.
Just say yes to more adventures and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve, the amazing people you’ll meet and the fun you’ll have along the way!
*As this blog is being published, Karen is currently out in the Welsh Mountains for 5 days volunteering at the legendary Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race, the toughest 5-day mountain running race in the world…go Kaz!