As I am surrounded by friends turning 50 this year, I seem to have absorbed the hysteria and have been referring to myself as the same age. "No, wait a minute, I'm 48!", I quickly correct myself (ok I am 49 now, but only just). I wonder then if the selection of activities I have undertaken in my final week of being 48 was a subliminal reflection of this "must do everything" attitude?
So, firstly, Tuesday (aka B-DAY minus 5) saw me on a 6am train to the Peak District to meet my colleague Joe for a challenge events recce. I am an early riser by nature, as I usually try to squeeze in some form of training before work, but getting up at 5am does seem particularly painful. However, I have to say if ever an early start was rewarded, this would be it. Our starting point was Edale, in the centre of the Park, east of Sheffield. I have only once been to this area before and forgot how breathtakingly beautiful it is. As we drove through sweeping ranges of hills and peaks I immediately wished I was spending more than a day there. Now I am sworn to secrecy on the nature of the event and the client, but suffice to say we have created a gem here. These are the parts of my job I particularly love - when you can really get creative and start with a blank canvas to build an exciting event. Watch this space for more updates as it goes public,,,,
Of course all of that work and fresh air calls for some serious refuelling and what better to do that with than a traditional Bakewell Tart? We convinced ourselves that a trip to Bakewell wasn't really out of our way, was it? Like excited kids we firstly went into a Bakewell gift shop, all ready to buy all manner of Bakewell novelty items, when the lovely woman behind the counter said that they weren't the REAL Bakewell tarts, and that shop was further down the road. How refreshingly honest. Although that said, I wasn't quite expecting to pay £5.50 for this hallowed item....but I have to say it is delicious!
Wednesday (aka B-DAY minus 4) dawned an altogether very different kind of day. I started with a training session with my training guru, ex-Marine Mark. After he had put me through my paces at Primrose Hill, I cycled home to get ready for a day out to celebrate my good friend Cath’s 50th birthday. I have known Cath since I was in 'Amdram' with her aged about 17, and although we lost touch over the years, as fate would have it we ended up sharing a flat together coincidentally when I moved to London in 2004. Having this wonderful familiarity around me when I moved to this vast city was a real blessing. Cath’s partner Nickie had arranged a celebratory day out to remember. We started off in the wonderful Skylon Restaurant on the South Bank. We lamented how much we loved London as we ate the most amazing food whilst gazing across the Thames at various iconic landmarks. I am lucky enough to be working on an amazing event at Royal Festival Hall in October - A Jacqueline du Pre tribute concert for the MS Society, and never tire of this fantastic venue. True to her poetic nature, Cath shared some lovely stories with us of how she knew everyone and how much they meant to her. Not a dry eye in the house! In total contrast to this we then headed off to Karaoke Box for a session of cathartic singing for an hour. Karaoke is not something I have done very often, let alone at 5.30pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Ah, but if you thought a rousing rendition of '500 Miles' sung by a group of Scots was good, the highlight of the day was yet to come. We set off to Cahoots - a little gem of an underground bar on the edge of Kingly Court, where passwords and bookings are essential. This is a step back in time to the second world war, in a disused underground station cum air raid shelter. As an events planner I was seriously impressed that I hadn't been there yet! I was about to be even more impressed by their extensive cocktail list. I indulged in The Bombardier, The Drambuster and the classic, a Negroni. My friends and I did our best but there was no way even we could work our way through the menu of over 70 cocktails (though we did our best). All accompanied by cheese and marmite toasties and crumpets with syrup served in ration tins. The air raid siren signalled our time to leave before too much damage was done..
And from the sublime to the ridiculous. I gave myself two days to recover from the birthday shenanigans to then go into my very own birthday on the Saturday. How else would you start your special day but with a 5am start and a drive to Dorney Lake to do....a duathlon! Now if truth be told I signed up to this madness on Black Friday when offered a massive discount to sign up. Yes, whilst everyone else was snapping up cheap electrical goods and gadgets in November I bought myself an 'exercise extravaganza'. This was to consist of a 10k run, followed by a 40k bike and then another 5k run. (Why do you have to run twice I asked myself??) I had been at this venue last June to do my first triathlon and soon realised that the windy conditions on that day were not a one off. Dorney Lake seems to have a headwind whatever the time of year. This is not ideal when you have to do 14 laps of cycling and running into it! We were given the briefing indicating that those doing the Supersprint distance would start with 1 lap of the run course/2 laps of the bike course/ 1 lap of the run course. Sprint distance, double all of that....and so on. Yes you can see where this was going, considering it to be a real bargain I had signed up to do 4 times all of that. Oh dear! it all started quite well considering and I managed to do the first 10k run in 50mins - quite pleased with that. Now I had to get on the bike. Now I could talk you through a blow by blow account of the mental torture of anticipating the headwind every time I turned the corner at the 2.5k mark on the bike, or how I was a bit sick in my mouth (too much caffeine gel) or how I felt like I ran the first 500m off the bike almost bent double, but lets cut to the good bit. I finished it, now there was an achievement in itself. Next big tick was that I had my sights set on sub 3 hours...and I finished in 2.46 - whoop! So in the absence of my usual support team/friends, here is a pic of me taken by a fellow knackered finisher. Tired, yes. Smug, definitely!
As I unearthered my mobile out of my kit bag I was greeted by endless birthday text messages from friends, to which I replied I was ready for a celebratory drink. I was unaware that it was only 11.30am - it's amazing how much you can achieve in a day if you set your mind to it. Ah but there was time for a 'proper celebration' that evening. Some friends had booked the rather lovely Opera Tavern in Covent Garden for some tapas - my favourite style of food. It was my first time there and it certainly didn't disappoint. They offer a bit of a fusion of Spanish and Italian tapas, but most importantly the essential pimientos de padron.
Sometimes referred to as 'Russian roulette peppers' I have only once had a really firey one. However, best not take a chance, so I made sure I was well oiled with lots of cava. As the first day of a new year goes, this one had been pretty memorable. Hmmm, just think, this time next year I could enter the duathlon in a new age group...i wonder how I'd do? No, Denise, no!!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.