Doesn't this photo look idyllic? Then look at how pink my arms are and you will get a sense of how cold the water is right now, 5deg in the Thames. The weather definitely took a turn at the start of the week and in fact I found myself doing my hill reps in the snow up in Buckinghamshire on Monday. This obviously had an impact on the air and water conditions and the Serpentine dropped below 4deg as a result. I love their commitment to recording the changing temperature on Twitter. I was also delighted to have been one of the 'Serpie Scots' taking a dip on St Andrew's Day!
My Thames swimming buddy Nerina didn't fancy swimming with me on Friday as she had got so cold the day before, but came along to support me anyway and join in the 'whoooo' noises in sympathy as I got in. And then a short clip just to show that I did actually do 'real swimming' too.
This all helped contribute towards my November figures for my 'Jedi Polar Bear' swim challenge as I managed to complete 5,976m of non-neoprene swimming against my target of 3,000m. I also ticked off five of my 'points challenges' including 750m at 9deg or less, down to 375m at 6deg or less (make that 400m at 5deg or less!)
Well that should all help prepare me for the North Sea Boxing Day dip that my Aberdeen swimming friend Allison and I seem to have set ourselves (a Facebook competition that got out of hand...)
So whilst we seem to have got off fairly lightly down here in terms of Storm Arwen, it has still caused unsettled and unpredictable weather. Case in point, a little bike speed test I had set myself for Saturday morning at Regents Park. The forecast looked like it might finally be dry for my 6am start (before all of the delivery vehicles descend on the park). But no, at 5.30am it was peeing it down with rain, not conducive to a top speed session on the road bike, dah! This would normally call for an indoor turbo session in most people's books, but I pride myself on the fact that I have completed the vast majority of my challenge distance outside in all of my disciplines. Rarely one to be beaten, I changed tack and geared up to go out on my trusty hybrid. I did have to slightly question my sanity as I saw more people on their way home from nights out than out on purpose at that time!
Then I thought to myself, hang on, why be miserable when there is an opportunity to see things you might not at this time in the morning....and so I headed down to Oxford Street to take in the Christmas lights. I couldn't help but feel I had cheated myself though with this rather pedestrian 45km ride, albeit in the rain and wind. So I headed up to Regents Park and set myself a 10k all out effort which certainly got the heart rate up!
So as I edge ever closer to the end of my challenge, the distances this week are looking like this:
This would see me around Punta Arenas, (historically Sandy Point in English) - the capital city of Chile’s southernmost Patagonia region, and the southernmost large city in the world. Located on the Strait of Magellan, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, it's often used as base for excursions to the surrounding wilderness and Antarctica.
Founded in 1848 by Col. José de los Santos Mardones, it flourished as a port of call and coaling station until the opening of the Panama Canal (1914) and the replacement of coal (still mined nearby) by fuel oil as a maritime fuel. Now the service centre of a large sheep-raising area, it processes and exports hides, wool, and frozen mutton.
Its port facilities also handle local lumber and petroleum products. The nearby Tierra del Fuego oil fields, the attractions of the free port, and the maintenance of naval, air, and army garrisons have all contributed to the city’s modern growth.
In the city itself, The Plaza Muñoz Gamero has a memorial to explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who discovered the waterway around southern tip of the South American continent. Nearby Museo Nao Victoria features a replica of one of his galleons. There is something about this location that makes me think of Aberdeen....I will say no more!
So there I was wondering when the water in the Serpentine might finally drop below 9deg so that I could tick off my first swim of the Jedi Polar Bear Challenge when it suddenly felt VERY cold this week and my thermometer confirmed that it had actually dropped to 7deg! The challenge dictates that you have to have a photo of two thermometers to confirm the temperature of your swim, so having looked at various recommendations I opted for food cooking thermometers which have a probe that can drop into the water. The only downside of these is that it expects you to input a 'desired' temperature into the device, which them prompts it to beep incessantly when it reaches it. Hence the 9deg on the right hand side of the shot! My neoprene-less hands and feet can definitely confirm that it was 7deg, and in fact another thermometer that day was reading 6.8deg. Add into that the bitterly cold wind and I had the shivers like I haven't had in a long time. But on the upside, we are back into the Serpentine changing room, which makes a difference to be standing on a warm(ish) floor out of the elements. It is a very unassuming space, about the size of my living room, no showers, or mod cons whatsoever, and a decidedly musty smell, but a welcome reprieve from the elements. The shock of the cold from this swim also had the added benefit of giving me that 'endorphin rush' where I realised I was cycling along VERY fast afterwards to get home. In fact I realised I was in a little world of my own as I sang 'Feliz Navidad' to myself cycling through Hyde Park, unaware that I was doing it out loud until a passer by smiled and shouted 'Feliz Navidad!' back to me.
It was also a week for 'heavy lifting' again with Tom which I love doing in Hyde Park. Whatever the weather (and it was definitely one of those days where the steel of the weights felt VERY cold against your hands) I can't quite imagine doing this in the gym anymore. The other immune boosting moment in my week was my Covid booster of Moderna, all good (well, until the next vaccine they now no doubt have to develop given this weeks' news). So, despite the cold, the wind, and at times the sleet, I managed the following distances:
Running (just easing back into it): 4km
At this distance I would be approaching Puerto Natales, having passed through the amazing Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile’s Patagonia region. It is known for its soaring mountains, bright blue icebergs that cleave from glaciers and golden pampas (grasslands) that shelter rare wildlife such as llama-like guanacos. This paradise covers an area of 227,298 hectares of exceptional geography including imposing massifs, virgin forests and turquoise lakes. Some of its most iconic sites are the three granite towers from which the park takes its name and the horn-shaped peaks called Cuernos del Paine. With a strong windgust and an indigo painted sky, Torres del Paine Park reminds us why it is recognised as one of the most beautiful places on the planet. This location in amongst the snow capped mountains seems like the only thing that is reminiscent of the conditions I have been contending with this week. The stunning photos below are courtesy of Olga Stalska from the great free photo website 'Unsplash'. This is definitely another location on my 'real life' hitlist.
In a moment of flashback I realised it was four years ago to this week that I was completing my real Latin American challenge. These photos really remind me of those soaring mountains and the feeling of being surrounded by such remote beauty as we cycled the endless climbs to get past Cristo Redentor de los Andes (Christ the Redeemer of the Andes) and finally cross the border into Chile from Argentina.
As is the tradition, my week had to end on a social note, and this one was a cracker, literally a Christmas cracker! My downstairs neighbours (owners of Pushkin my dog companion) had asked if Ian would consider playing Santa for a party they were having for their three year old daughter and five of her friends ranging in ages up to seven years old. (Apparently her dad had been rumbled the year before by one of the older kids). I never actually thought Ian would say yes, but boy did he embrace it big time! He is never one to do half a job and so he really took the whole thing very seriously, getting all of the kids to shout 'Hello Santa' at the top of their voices, and really ramping up the excitement. My neighbour described the whole experience as A-MA-ZING and said how the kids would be talking about it all of next year. Looks like there may be a new sideline waiting for you there Ian...speaking of careful what you wish for ;)
The week started off with my first puncture of my challenge. In fact it wasn't even on my bike, but on Ian's 'old jalopy' mountain bike as I was doing my now regular hill reps in the Chilterns. Thankfully it was on my seventh rep and just a 20 minute walk back to his flat, but it made me realise why the final couple of hills were quite such a challenge as the tyre was slowly deflating (what's that sort of squeaky noise I thought to myself?)
Slowing things down though became the theme of the week as I was inspired to pick up a book I bought a couple of years back called 'The Art of Noticing'. Ironically, I had been attracted to this book when I was at the RA for an event, but had never had the time to really read or implement it. The introduction starts with:
'Pay attention', Susan Sontag once advised a young audience, she was speaking of the creative process, but also of living 'It's all about paying attention. It's all about taking in as much of the obligations you'll soon be incurring narrowing your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.'
There are a series of lovely little sensory challenges in this book which we could all learn from. I remember ahead of my REAL South American cycling challenge, Joe saying to me "Just remember not to be a tarmac starer". This is something road cyclists can be very guilty of, head down, eyes on their Garmin, intent on the stats and getting the miles in.
So this week I tried to make a point of noticing more. From swimming in the Serpentine and taking time to stop and look around, to cycling through Richmond Park and taking in the deer who seemed to be keen to take part in a game of rugby.
But mindful or not, the miles still had to be done, and my 7am HIIT class on a Wednesday doesn't stand still. In fact I felt a bit of a calf niggle on one of the shuttle runs during the session which made my heart sink. I was making such good progress with my running this past few months, but I decided it was best to ease off this discipline for the rest of the week so it has been very much about cycling and swimming, looking like this:
The water temperature still remains stubbornly between 9 and 10deg which doesn't allow me to record my first 'Jedi' challenge distance of sub 9deg. When I signed up for this challenge I do remember a group of 'Serpies' saying they would do the same, but I wondered where they were most mornings this week as I shivered and did star jumps as I got changed to stay warm after my 1000m swims whilst people congratulated each other for doing 400m - had this been a wind up!? Oh well, careful what you wish for Denise, the temperature is due to take a tumble next week!
At just over 8,330km completed, I would be continuing my journey through Patagonia, arriving at El Calafate. Situated near the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz, El Calafate is known as the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, home to the massive Perito Moreno Glacier, whose ever-shifting icy landscape is popular for hiking and sightseeing. Named after the local Calafate berry, legend has it that eating one of the berries will guarantee your return to Patagonia.
El Calafate experiences a cold semi-arid climate with cool to warm, very dry summers and cool to cold, slightly wetter winters. In fact this would be their summer in November, with temperatures fluctuating between 16 and 22°C. Weirdly we have also experienced 16°C this week in London.
The city's extremes of cold and heat are moderated by the influence of Lago Argentino, the biggest freshwater lake in Argentina, with a surface area of 1,415 km2. Now that sounds like an open water swimming dream. Although that said, the lowest recorded temperature in El Calafate was −17.4 °C! There is some real Jedi Polar Bear swimming challenge right there!
This is an area of Latin America which didn't feature in my actual LA challenge so I am enjoying my virtual journey through this beautiful landscape that I hope to visit in real life.
And segueing seamlessly on the theme of virtual trips, it leads me on to another little adventure this week. Time to use up another of Ian's presents that had been stockpiled during Covid. AKA a present that involves me! This was a VR experience with a company called DNA VR. A very unassuming basement location belied the fun that was about to take place. We had the premium roaming experience and were offered a selection of experiences to choose from. Fight zombies....slay dragons....time travel? We opted for the Manor of Escape experience (why don't we learn from our previous 'escape room' pursuits??). This was SO much fun, with headsets on we could only see each other as bizarre avatars in a sort of crow type masks, with only our hands visible otherwise. We started off in a dungeon waist deep in bubbling brown water, skulls and other things bobbing around us. We soon realised that there was a monster lurking in the water that we had to feed with slugs to distract it whilst we tried to collect cogs to connect to open the gate. It was so realistic I was convinced that I was going to emerge covered in mud. We successfully got into the next room, a sort of laboratory where we had to collect and connect a series of electrode packs. A warning was given that the monster responded to noise so when I dropped a series of glass jars, smashing to the floor, suddenly the monster pounced and there was a large splatter of blood. This happened a few times as both Ian and I crashed into things, broke things and probably said 'SSHHHH' too loudly. Even though I knew what was coming, I screamed out loud every time! And guess what, we didn't get out alive, but apparently got further than anyone else had that day (or was the man just being nice?). A great evening out rounded off by some lovely food and drinks in a twinkly Granary Square. Is it just me who remembers how rubbish Kings Cross used to be? It certainly never used to be the destination it is now.
This week started off on a creative note when Ian and I went to see the Van Gogh Immersive Experience - a little impromptu gift he had booked for me back in August. I had heard of a few people who had been to see it and gave it glowing reports, but he had gone one better and got us the 'VIP pass'. I felt pretty smug wearing my lanyard even though I didn't know what extra goodies it afforded us. After the initial part of the exhibition though, we were about to find out. We were ushered into the virtual reality area and set up with headsets and seated on swivel chairs. A VERY cool 10 minutes followed as we were taken on a trip through the landscapes and scenes painted by the master, it was SO well done. What added to the experience for me was Ian shouting excitedly "Wow, I'm going down the stairs.....I'm outside!" and then at the end "Whoah, I'm going through the painting!". Oblivious to the fact that everyone else in the space could hear him, it only made the whole thing even more fun for me! The final room then showed a 360deg perspective of projections, sound and light illustrating his finest works, all from the comfort of a deck chair. I highly recommend it.
With a week free from the stresses of work ahead for me I was ready to crack on with my training and generally getting my life back. This was to be slightly hindered by my body telling me it was feeling the after effects of recent weeks and a stye started to develop in my right eye :( This is something I don't suffer from generally but I guess these things have to come out somewhere. Thankfully it didn't show itself until after my bike hill reps on Monday, but by my Wednesday morning HIIT class I was realising why my eye had been tender and so I pulled the intensity of my training back for the rest of the week. Well, I say that, I still couldn't resist the pull of the Serpentine for a swim but I compromised by swimming head up breaststroke. Well that was (excuse the pun) an eye opener. I was suddenly more aware of everything around me, the chatting, the giggles of fellow head up swimmers and generally taking all of the wildlife in too. So although I managed less distance at that pace, I am still pleased to see I am already ahead of my monthly overall goal for my 'Jedi Bear Challenge'. What is going to be slightly more of a challenge is getting a cold enough swim in as the Serpentine is still fluctuating between 9.5 and 10deg and I need to get a sub 9deg swim in soon. I never thought I would be hoping for colder weather!
The pressure started to ease on my eye thankfully just in time for my latest heavy lifting session. This week with Tom, he certainly put me through my paces with some sets of squats and deadlifts. I have certainly been feeling the after effects on my thighs and glutes after that lot, as is probably apparent by my gurning face on the squat picture!
Although I eased back on the intensity of my sessions, I still managed a pretty respectable total distance of approx 180km, with the split looking like this:
I am now sitting at just over 90% of my distance goal and would have passed though Valle Chacabuco - a stunning piece of Patagonian Steppe that in recent years has been restored to its former glory. Home to the Parque Patagonia project, the valley offers stunning scenery and is a burgeoning home to wildlife. The history of the valley is linked to sheep and cattle ranching and was once home to a 700 sq km (270 sq mile) ranch. In recent years, the land has been purchased by Doug and Kris Tompkins, US outdoor clothing moguls and philanthropists who have the aim of creating a new national park. After years of agricultural activity, the ecosystem had been damaged and many endemic species had disappeared. The couple set about turning this around, and by including the local community, have started to create a sustainable park that supports both local wildlife and the former ranch employees. Guanaco (closely related to the llama) once again roam free here, a great example of the associated ecosystem that is beginning to return. The long term aim of the project is to hand all of this land and infrastructure over to the Chilean government as a national park for the future.
I also took the time to treat myself this week with a much needed massage and also a singing lesson. It is a real joy to me to sing, although Matt and I did have a laugh at the irony of the song I had been working on "I only have eyes for you" as I squinted at the lyrics through one slightly puffy eye. But I feel recharged now and ready for the week ahead!
So no sooner has my wildcard challenge for October been completed but I am into a new 'challenge within a challenge'.
The Polar Bear Challenge is a cold open water swimming challenge which runs from 1st November to 31st March with the aim of completing a set number of swims and distances outdoors in the sea, river, lake or unheated lido during this period over the winter. The Challenge is run under the clothing rules of the International Ice Swimming Association and the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation which means that the only attire allowed is one standard swimsuit, a single standard silicone or latex swimhat and goggles. Having completed my first full winter of open water swimming last year, I felt ready to take this on. There are various levels involved, ranging from penguin through polar bear and so on. But why not dive in (excuse the pun) and go for the hardest level - the Jedi Bear! I think when I entered this back in early September I had just glossed over the main swimming goals which were 3,000m per month, with at least 250m in a single swim conducted twice a month. Sounds very achievable right? Well it did when the water was 19 deg. But now the water temperature has already plummeted to 9.5deg, I am looking at the additional swims that need to be achieved and thinking I need to seriously stop putting the heating on at home! These range from a 2,000m swim at 9deg or less through to 1,000m at 5deg or less. Uh oh...and to think that this time last year I was donning neoprene hat, boots and gloves. But not to be deterred, as my swimming buddies at Teddington this week were all 'neoprene up' I had to give the thumbs up with my very red hand which belied the sunny look of the day in the very chilly water.
This was a much needed swim with my river buddies after yet another challenging week with a full-on event for Carers UK on Thursday. This was an online conference of unprecedented joint working between health, social care, carers organisations and other local agencies, looking at practice-based success in carer recognition and identification, data sharing, use of technology and personalising care. Reflecting on the last 18 months it was an opportunity to take stock of the challenges faced by carers, but also the new learnings, opportunities and ways of working that developed during the pandemic. It was another inspiring event, especially hearing from carers themselves. After a very stressful day managing some people who seem to be too busy to ever read the briefings you so patiently put together for them, it was really heartening to receive some personal feedback from one of the carers who thanked me for my patience and tenacity 'never giving up on her' so that I could get her technology to work and enable her to speak at the conference and share her story. For me, that made it all worthwhile.
And so onto the training which continues no matter how busy work is. In amongst all of the final speaker tech checks and last minute event changes I still managed to clock up the following:
This would see me around Coyhaique - a city in Chile's Aysén Region, known as a gateway to remote parts of Patagonia for visitors who want to travel through Chilean Patagonia's most beautiful and unspoiled landscapes. Crossed by trails, rocky Cerro McKay looms over the city, and on the outskirts is trout-filled Simpson River. West of town, the Simpson River National Reserve, with its forests and Cascada de la Virgen waterfall, is home to cougars and huemul deer. The commune of Coyhaique spans an area of 43,297 km2. The surrounding mountains are snow-covered throughout most of the year, earning Coyhaique the name of the city of eternal snow.
The centre houses a mix of quirky boutiques and craft beer shops, alongside more practical farm and fishing supply stores. The city is also going through a food revolution, with some of Patagonia’s best new cuisine being cooked up here.
Two hemispheres collide here as the current temperature in Coyhaique would be between 22 and 26deg, whilst here in London it has hovered around 4-7deg. In fact this week four years ago I would have been cycling through the wine growing region of Cafayate in Argentina and so it seemed only fitting to have a few glasses of the red stuff (see left) with a steak whilst reminiscing about warmer climes and a similar wine (see right). The latter photo was taken shortly before being 'removed' from this pocket park in Cafayate by the local police, reminding us that ad hoc outdoor drinking is probably a bit of a British thing.
The week finished off with a lovely ride out in Hertfordshire with Giovanna. This was a new route I had downloaded so was a bit of a mystery tour, coming across little surprises like the Digswell viaduct, and negotiating our way around a lorry that had got himself wedged across a tiny bridge for the past 24 hours. Oops! Made us thankful we had our lightweight carbon bikes to carry and squeeze past. I am definitely feeling the effects of another busy week catching up on me now though, so it is time for some much needed rest...well at least for the next 24 hours!
It's definitely feeling like Halloween!
In keeping with the theme, my week started off with an event that wasn't related to any of my sporting disciplines, but was certainly a challenge! I am a great one for giving gifts to people that are experiences rather than objects. And as the recipients also tease me, they usually involve doing said experience with me too....well I mean what's not to like there? Due to the pandemic restrictions, Ian actually now has a bit of a stockpile of such unused gifts, so it's been time to start cashing them in. Sunday's jaunt was to the AIM Escape rooms in Aldgate and the challenge was to 'Escape the Psychopath's Den'. We had previously done the Sherlock Holmes escape room and had really enjoyed it so I thought this might be fun. I realise now that a lot like watching 'Only Connect', escape rooms require a certain mindset and probably a lot of practice to get the knack of.
Shut inside a dark blood splattered room with the clock ticking, we initially wondered if we 'only' had to get out of this one space, but of course no, we were led into a series of rooms with increasingly sinister subject matter, like dark poems to decipher, jars full of body parts and one of those puzzles where you have to avoid touching the metal with a loop around some copper pipes. Much hilarity ensued as I was rubbish at it and Ian consistently fell at the last hurdle/bend. By the time we got into the last room with only 10 minutes left on the clock, we found ourselves wrestling with a large suspended maze to try and navigate a ball to the centre to unlock the next series of clues. Alas time ran out and we had to be 'rescued' with a couple of elements yet to solve. Of course we said with another 10 minutes we could have done it! (I'm not sure if Ian is pointing to me in this photo as if to say I am a psychopath, or if it was my fault we didn't get out...hmmm).
But that aside, the sporting endeavours continue despite the increasingly dark mornings. I am looking forward to seeing the momentary difference the clocks going back will have on things, especially for my Wednesday morning HIIT class at Hyde Park. There is something quite ethereal about doing kettlebell swings and burpees when it is so dark, but unfortunately there is still no shirking or hiding from the instructor!
This week also saw me undertake my 'wildcard' challenge for this month, which was to do at least one of my sessions off road. Where to do this when you are London based? Epping forest sprang to mind as somewhere that I could get to on two wheels and then tick the off road box. Of course the weather doesn't take into account my endeavours and true to form it was peeing with rain on Saturday, dah! Leaving the house when it is chucking it down takes a certain resolve, but I had someone's words ringing in my head. I was sad to hear on Thursday night that my old swimming coach from Aberdeen had passed away. Dave Olsson was awarded the Best Coach Award at the Aberdeen Sports Awards twice, and also led our swimming club 'Silver City Blues' to an emphatic run of 12 consecutive triumphs at the Scottish National Masters Championships. He was such an influence on me, encouraging me to move to Edinburgh in my thirties for a job opportunity when I couldn't see past my life in Aberdeen. He was also the one that indoctrinated into me the phrase 'winners never quit, and quitters never win'. And so with that in mind I layered up and headed out the door to tackle the elements.
I was absolutely soaked as I arrived at Chingford wondering what the hell I was doing. But once I got onto the forest trails I found it strangely enjoyable trundling through the puddles. there's something that taps into your inner child about being covered in mud.
In fact the rain eased off momentarily as I stumbled upon the lovely Connaught Water. Hello, could this be an opportunity to go for a swim? Sadly for once I didn't have my costume on under my clothes!
But at least this boosted my mileage this week, with the distances looking like this:
Swimming: 3,800m (12.3deg in the Serpentine FYI!)
This would now see me having passed the small town of Trevelin, taken from the Welsh word Trefelin which means ‘mill town’. The story behind this began back in 1865, when 153 Welsh settlers landed in Patagonia aboard the converted tea-clipper Mimosa on the invitation of the Argentine government, which wanted to populate the plains of southern Argentina with European farmers. The settlers landed on the Atlantic coast before making the perilous trek towards what is now Trevelin, sitting in a valley where the first mill was established more than a century ago. With its population of just over 7,000, Trevelin’s tea rooms feel straight out of Aberdare. Few buildings, now dusted with snow in the southern winter, are more than a storey high. Even road signs proudly bear their instructions in Welsh - they are the only people to have trilingual road signs in Welsh, Spanish, and [the indigenous language] Mapuche.” Nowadays, some 50,000 Patagonians claim Welsh heritage.
It's been a mixed week. Mostly highs, I mean what is not to love about this sight that greeted me at the Serpentine earlier this week! It's also been a welcome relief not to have any events to run for another two weeks. Much as I expected to feel on top form after the past frenetic spell though, unfortunately my hormones had other ideas and I felt a bit, well....odd. Fuzzy headed, bloated, a bit off my food. As Ian pointed out, he had never seen me not able to finish my dinner in the three years he has known me! But I recognised these symptoms from about a year ago, and armed with that knowledge and thankful for the research I have been doing into this area, I knew it was just 'one of those weeks'. In true form I muscled it out, quite literally (more on that in a minute) and cracked on with getting some more mileage done. The distances this week are looking like this:
Note to self that this time of year - as the temperature starts to drop is one to really pay attention to when open water swimming. I found last year that a rough rule of thumb for me was that I could stay in the water for about 2mins for every degree. It's amazing the difference it can make, and will catch you out if you outstay your welcome here.
I hadn't really been noting the temperature in the Serpentine for the past week, and I found out it was now hovering between 12 and 13deg. It explains why I had to frantically do star jumps to get the feeling back in my feet after a 28 minute swim the other day!
This distance would see me on track completing 83% of my goal in 80% of the time available. I would now be arriving at El Bolsón - a town situated in the southwest of Río Negro Province, Argentina, at the foot of the Piltriquitron Mountain. Due to a series of valleys through the mountains of Chile to the Pacific Ocean, El Bolsón has an unusually mild climate for its southern location. El Bolsón area's first non-indigenous inhabitants were German immigrants that arrived to the valley from Chile as an offshoot of of the colonization of Llanquihue. In the 1970s hippies from Buenos Aires migrated to the town, which continues to be a popular destination for Argentinian students, and gives the town a bohemian feel. Known for its artisanal food products and for its abundance of outdoor activities in proximity, there is something for everyone in this charming town and its environs. I feel a certain affinity with this quirky place. For those who know me well, I was very much a hippy between the ages of about 13 and 16 - Afghan coat, CND pendant, leg warmers, the whole lot. I have to admire my younger self for standing out so much in my style at that age - when everyone else was adopting the New Romantic look I was definitely an individual! Now where are those photos I wonder.......?
I'm glad I was starting to feel more on form as the week wore on as there was an opportunity for not one, but two dinners out with cycling friends. On Friday Nikki, Giovanna and I had a really good catch up over a lovely Turkish meal. It was a chance to have a proper chat, without having to think about keeping your eye on the road when out cycling at the same time.
Wednesday night saw me meeting up with Joe, the man behind the actual Andes trip four years ago. As an events specialist, like me he has been reinventing himself over the past difficult 18 months and he and his family have now relocated to Catalonia, prime cycling territory! He was telling me about the new bike model they have launched -the Rakaposhi. A titanium frame with ERA forks and a Reverb dropper weighing in at just 13.64kg, yes I would be very happy to come and visit your Spanish pad and give this a spin Joe!We also discussed some female focussed retreats along with his wife Laura, which really excites me. It's always great to spend time with like minded entrepreneurs, talking through ideas, and it's one of the things I have missed most over the past couple of years. Sometimes a Zoom call just doesn't cut it.
But back in the virtual world, I was delighted to round the week off being invited to talk on a panel at a webinar for a private members club to give my insights on maximising your sports performance during the peri and menopausal years. I am looking to deliver some of my own panel events on this early next year, so watch this space...
And that, as they say, is a wrap. I can't quite believe I have delivered four events in eight days, something I would never imagine doing in the 'real world'. Yet, as I have said before, I have realised that online events are in actual fact more time intensive, and anxiety inducing than in person ones. This week's event for Carers UK was their Members Conference, a chance for some 300 carers to connect, albeit virtually, and hear from the CEO and other team members on the developments that are in process, and being campaigned for on behalf of unpaid carers. There was so much content for this event, not only the main 'stage' sessions, but also some networking or 'Care for a Cuppa' rooms, and activities aimed to support carers in looking after themselves. As ever, it was emotive and inspiring to hear from a panel of carers from across the UK as they shared their individual stories, especially given that we only just emerging from a pandemic. Then totally heartwarming to see the supporters who delivered some 'Keeping Well in Your Caring Role' sessions such as yoga, book readings, orchestral music, and my favourite, latin dance with Mauricio! As ever there were those heart stopping technical moments, frantic reshuffling of content and speakers, and times that I was glad I wasn't there in person so people couldn't see the expression of panic on my face. But in the end, the long hours and moments of stress have been worth it to hear the feedback from carers who posted their appreciation to be able to get together in this way. Not to mention a personal shout out from the CEO of the charity which was lovely.
But amongst all of this of course, there is still just over 2,000km of my challenge to be completed, so training can't stop for that! I think there is something twisted in my DNA that means I almost relish beasting myself on every level. I'm not sure that watching back to back episodes of 'Squid Game' this week was helpful given my state of anxiety over work, but I comforted myself in knowing that if anything went wrong that I wouldn't get shot? Hopefully!
I am very much into my new training regime focussing on high intensity intervals complemented by strength training. I was also pleased to see (frantically touching wood) that my achilles niggles haven't been flaring up now for a while and I am getting my running back on track. Interval runs had started to be my nemesis for a while, but I was pleased to be able to do these at a pace of around 5.15km pace which is heartening. The distances this week are looking like this:
This would now see me arriving at San Carlos de Bariloche (commonly called Bariloche) - a town in Argentina’s Patagonia region. It borders Nahuel Huapi, a large glacial lake surrounded by the Andes Mountains. Bariloche is known for its Swiss alpine-style architecture and its chocolate, sold in shops lining Calle Mitre, the main street. It's also a popular base for hiking and skiing the nearby mountains and exploring the surrounding Lake District.
Chocolate did you say? Well funnily enough I had been holding onto a bar of Turkish delight chocolate that Ian had discovered, and was focussing on that as a wee treat after my event. So Thursday night saw me doing my regular (and by now much needed) Yin Yoga session online with Dawn, by light of the 'Night Swimming' candle, followed by some of the Eastern promise - perfect. Friday was a long awaited trip back to Teddington to see Nerina and some other swimming chums for a river swim. This was a double whammy, an opportunity for a 50km round trip bike ride, and an awesome swim in the Thames. Saturday was an opportunity to meet up with Giovanna after a Serpentine swim and clock up another 40km. By that night I was ready to really let my hair down as we headed out to the lovely Sushi Masa restaurant in Willesden Green with friends. This little Japanese restaurant is one of the first places I went out to eat when I moved to London 17 years ago, and is a firm favourite.
Of course no blog post would be complete without a dog photo, and so here are two of Mira, our 'Lifeguard on Doody' as she watched over us doing our Thames swim..
Well I am glad I am feeling better this week as I have needed all of my stamina to get through the delivery of three large scale virtual events for Carers Scotland, and continue prep for another couple of upcoming events. It has been a week of 10-12 hour working days but I have to reflect back and see that is has been such a worthwhile experience. Being able to be so instrumental in delivering two days of discussions with unpaid carers and then putting their questions to the Ministers of Social Security and Mental Health and Wellbeing in Scotland on the third day made me feel very grateful. When I think of the time I put in to my work, I then put it into perspective to see how some of these people even have time to come online and make their voices heard given the commitments they have on a day to day basis. Let's just hope that these conversations can facilitate change. More of this to come in next week's event with Carers UK.
Meanwhile, feeling physically better, it was back into clocking up the mileage for my challenge. With the constraints of time, I am sad to say that the turbo trainer became my cycling friend this week as I know this is always an effective way of clocking up some quality training and miles when time is tight. I did manage to get a few swims in though at my beloved Serpentine too. Water temperature fluctuated between 12.9 and 14deg this week, having taken quite a tumble in the recent week or so - even Duncan Goodhew had his neoprene cap on! Not me though, I need to acclimatise for my monthly challenge which starts in November...more info on that nearer the time. As the picture above shows though, at the end of the week I was relishing in this lovely environment and not putting myself under the pressure of race training.
The distances this week are looking like this:
This would now see me around the city of Los Ángeles in Chile (not to be confused with California). This is is the capital of the province of Bío Bío in the commune of the same name. It is located between the Laia and Biobío rivers, and has the highest absolute population of any Chilean municipality. To the north of the city is Salto del Laja (Laja Falls), one of the great tourist attractions for travellers to the south of Chile. Then roughly 100km to the east is the 2,979m high Antuco volcano in the Andes mountain range. The city is a gateway for tourists visiting the nearby Laguna del Laja National Park, the location of the volcano. This turbulent environment is reminding me of my week!
But then to try and balance things off, I made sure I was able to take out little Pushkin for some walks, now without his head cone, his paw healing nicely. We also had an unexpected meeting with Yana, the lovely labradoodle guidedog who I walked every day for about five months during lockdown last year for my neighbour. It was so nice to see that she hadn't forgotten me and was keen for some ear rubs! Then the week rounded off with a trip to see friends for a leisurely lunch (actually over 7 hours long!). We realised we hadn't been to their house for two years, in which time their lovely golden retriever Honey had grown a bit, and so another canine interaction brought the week to a close. More long days ahead next week....
Yes, much as I hate to admit it, apparently, like my little friend Pushkin here, I am not titanium and am also open to illness or injury. Pushkin is the miniature Schnauzer who lives downstairs who I take for walks most days. He is a funny little thing, barks at nothing, can be scared of a carrier bag being carried away in the wind, but is a loveable character really. I was sad to hear at the end of last week that he had to have something removed from his paw and so was wearing the cone of shame. It broke my heart to see how he reacted to this, not even barking at delivery drivers, generally feeling a bit confused by it all. Whilst he was getting better, I was also missing my afternoon walks with him which make me take a much needed break from work.
So as if in sympathy with my furry friend, earlier this week I started to feel really under par, sore throat, constant headache, shivery and a bit achey. Could it be Covid?? I tested negative so that was a relief. More likely the recent weeks of high intensity everything had caught up with me and I was being told to slow down. I can't remember the last time I was ill (well actually I can, but more on that in a minute). I usually manage to carry on through anything, and training never makes me sick. But the past while has been pretty stressful, particularly as I try and make up for lost work and I have been overdoing it. Having my own business, there is no phoning in sick to work, so that carried on and my training had to take a back seat. So this week it is a rather pitiful:
42km walking (had to get the miles in somewhere!)
5km running (quite a good one too, just before I got sick)
Yes I had been missing my swimming most of all this week, but on what was supposed to be a bike ride in Hyde Park I couldn't help but go for a little dip in the Serpentine. As my good friends know, I am always prepared with my swimming cossie under what I am wearing (well, not ALL of the time!)
So not too much to write home about in terms of where I would be in South America this week, hopefully more of a landmark by next week when I make up some ground!
But that additional time gave me the opportunity to keep on top of my Spanish, reaching a milestone 500 day streak with Duolingo (there's a lockdown habit that I have kept up and will come in handy when I actually DO get to go back to South America).
I think I beat myself up about how well I do in things, especially with work, and striving for perfection can be exhausting. I added up that I spent more than 40 hours rehearsing and tech checking more than 50 speakers for upcoming events over the past week and a half, so it's no wonder I was finding it stressful trying to squeeze the rest of my work in! This little board at Willesden Green tube station the other day was a reminder that whilst I might be beating myself up about how well I am doing with work etc, hopefully it is being appreciated somewhere!
But the highlight of the week was celebrating three years that Ian and I have been together. It is funny to think that half of that time has been during the pandemic, so I think we can survive anything! We usually celebrate this anniversary by going back to where it all started, Baker Street station and then to the Prince Regent in Marylebone for a pre dinner drink. In fact, reflecting back on the last time I was ill, it was actually the day before our first date three years ago when I had a bad cold and thought I might not be able to meet Ian. But, much like this weekend, I had definitely perked up and really enjoyed our nostalgic night out, followed by a lovely Greek dinner at Ousia in Charlotte Street.
Now steeling myself for the week ahead, three events for Carers Scotland's 'Scottish Carers Parliament'....
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.