Ever have one of those days? Friday was like that for me, it seemed like one thing happened on top of another. I was feeling anxious about work (or lack of) and then saw Rishi Sunak on the news, and I was back there feeling really resentful of the Government for not supporting us limited company directors. A puncture on the way home from picking up my bike from it's service, and then majorly struggling to get the new tyre off and I thought I was going to lose the plot! It's funny to think how there can literally be the tiniest thing, the straw that breaks the camel's back. But I remembered someone asking me this week about setbacks and how I deal with them, and my answer had been that I use them as a learning. So this week I learned some techniques on dealing with new tyres (and to turn off the news!)
My little book 'The Daily Stoic' also has some great pieces of advice - one that I particularly liked is 'What kind of boxer are you?'. Based around a quote from the philosopher Epictetus he talks about likening hurdles in life to how you would deal with the punches as a boxer. Would you leave the ring because you get hit? "What advantage would come from abandoning the pursuit of wisdom?" That is the nature of the sport, as it is the way of life. And on that note, back out on the bike on Saturday morning and all was well again in the world!
So onto the distances this week....
This would see me travelling through the Parque Nacional Carrasco in Bolivia. Created in 1988, this 622,600ha park has some of Bolivia’s most easily explored cloud forest. The rainforest hides a vast variety of mammal species, together with a rainbow of birds, crawling reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects. It is probably best to explore this region virtually as access to large parts of the park are difficult and potentially dangerous. The Camino en las Nubes (Walk in the Clouds), a trek descending from 4000m to 300m along the old Cochabamba–Chapare road, is now largely used by drug traffickers and is unsafe for tourists.
Meanwhile, swimming also continues to be a source of joy, even though I am still missing the post swim shivering. I am happy, however to trade that off for meeting my swimming buddy Nerina, complete with some homemade barfi. This is a traditional sweet Indian treat, not to be confused with the Scottish word barf meaning to vomit ;)
We also some more recruits to our small swimming group at Teddington - Cam, and his dog Dash. Seen in a previous post excitedly jumping into the water, I managed on this occasion to capture not only his ball splashing into the river, but also a lesson in doggy paddle....see below.
This image I captured in the Serpentine this week sums up the wonderful serene feeling I have being in the glassy water, and this was definitely the calm before the storm in terms of the mixed bag of weather this week. There have been intensely hot days, clammy nights, and then torrential downpours of rain. Likewise it's been a mixed week of training...higher intensity and lower volume.
The distances are looking like this:
The distances don't convey the sweaty efforts on the bike or the soaking wet run in the rain. Ah but the swims, even doing sprint sessions in the Serpentine feels good.
I managed to capture these shots with my new friend the GoPro during a recovery session.
Keeping with the theme of appreciating my surroundings I couldn't help but think how lucky I am to have Hyde Park as my main training ground/playground. Cycling to the Serpentine one day I felt like I was in the set of a film as I saw horses galloping towards me, with the Shard and London Eye in the background. It even distracts me during the 7am HIIT/HIRT class I do in the park.
This total distance now of just over 4,000km would have me passing a small town called Quime. Located southeast of the city of La Paz at the Khatu River, it lies between the mountains and the tropics. It has a large vegetation, mostly eucalyptus.
I would also be passing (and thankfully not cycling over) the Illimani - the second highest mountain in Bolivia. It is revered in this country and is the subject of many local songs, being referred to as 'Bolivia's Andean pearl'.
This week I also had the privilege of speaking with blind veteran Maria Pikulski. Despite losing her sight to a rare genetic eye condition in 2003, Maria has gone on to embody resilience and embrace challenge. She has undertaken sky dives, wing walks and many endurance events. Here she shares her experiences of the everyday challenges she faced losing her sight, and also some words of wisdom and optimism for others who are thinking about embarking on their own challenges.
To round off the week, I finally had the opportunity to meet up with a friend who I hadn't seen for almost a year. Such has been the affect of Covid that even seeing someone who lives in Surrey has been a challenge. Ah but we did it in style, and went back to two of our favourite haunts, Pix Pintxos in Soho and the epic Bradley's Bar just off Oxford Street. I am so pleased to see that both of these tiny places have weathered the storm and managed to survive the pandemic. Speaking of storms, this photo was taken shortly before the heavens opened, but we were determined to soak up the atmosphere of this little gem of a bar and so stood outside under a brolly (supplied by the bar) as we cheered Scotland on in their Euro game against England.
And to us Scots (i.e never expecting too much) a 0-0 draw against England is as good as a win to us!
After a scaled down week of distance and workload, it was time to up the ante again, both in terms of mileage and intensity. But I also decided to make a conscious effort to notice my surroundings and capture them, like this moment above before my weekly Thames swim.
This week's distances are looking like this:
This would see me arriving at the buzzing city of La Paz in Bolivia. It was founded on October 20th, 1548 under the name of 'La Ciudad de Nuestra Senora de La Paz' (The City of Our Lady of Peace). Located in the Andes mountains, altitude of the city ranges from about 4058 meters (13,313 feet) above sea level in El Alto (where the airport is located) to 3100 meters (10,170 feet) in the lower residential area. It is also home to the world’s largest high-altitude urban cable-car system which extends to eight lines, or 17 miles.
No such luxury of cable cars for me this week though
The bike test brought it's own challenges too as I also decided to do this one outside, rather than inside on the turbo. With a prolonged spell of hot clammy weather over London just now my 20 minute all out effort around the inner circle of Regents Park left me with sweat running into my eyes, just to add to the challenge of pre-empting dozy pedestrians wandering into the road whilst fixated on their phones. Sigh....
A more scenic bike ride was on the cards on Saturday though when my cycling buddies and I took a spin out in the Chilterns. I was feeling the hills on my legs this week, but the views and company more than made up for it. (Yes it's a 'Cookie Monster' cycling top ;) )
In the spirit of embracing my surroundings I also took the opportunity to stop off at the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park en route back from a Thames swim. I can't believe how many times I have cycled around and through this park and never been to see this little idyll nestled in the middle of the park. Just taking a 30 min walk through it and taking in the colours and the peace and tranquility was a like a natural reset.
My week was rounded off with another simple pleasure - a haircut! Between us Ian and I have been doing a pretty good job on my hair over the past months, and being more mindful of money nowadays, I am loathe to go back to my previous hairdresser who now charges what I think is an excessive amount for a short haircut. I now have a new haunt however, the wonderfully named 'Barber Streisand' in Exmouth Market.
Branding itself as 'an offbeat unisex barbershop' it ticked all the boxes for me - lovely people, a great cut and fantastic price! You can take the girl out of Scotland etc.....
I think we can safely say I managed to accomplish my monthly wildcard challenge of 'doing at least half of my usual mileage, and introducing the kayaking element'.
I had to consciously try not to do as much cycling and also turn down an opportunity to go running with a friend so that I didn't tip the balance! The distance breaks down like this:
This total distance adds up to just 85km which would see me passing the city of Juliaca, one of my final destinations in Peru. Like Chicago, it is also nicknamed the "The Windy City" because of the city's location on the windy Collao Plateau. It is also called the "Sock City" or "Knitting City" because Juliaca was a major centre of sock, sweater, and handicraft production. Now the production of clothes, wool and fabrics are industrial processes for the city. It is appropriate that I would also now be crossing Lake Titicaca as I finally introduce the fifth discipline in my pentathlon challenge. This large, deep, freshwater lake in the Andes is on the border of Peru and Bolivia and is often called the "highest navigable lake" in the world. By volume of water and by surface area, it is the largest lake in South America.
My challenge to significantly decrease my mileage was definitely helped by an invitation to a friend's house in Oxford (well, strictly speaking it was a 'houseswap' opportunity) and a rare chance to unwind. This property was located backing onto the Oxford Canal, and came with it's own canoe, what a result! Needless to say I not only jumped at the chance to have a paddle through this stretch of water, but also to have a swim in the stretch of the Thames that runs through Port Meadow. I was in heaven!
It was lovely to have some downtime to spend with friends - the first time in months that I had been in such a group social situation, and a welcome glimpse of normality. Having always been a big fan of Cambridge, I am now very much changing my allegiance towards Oxford as my favourite university city. We had a great walk around the historic centre and of course the plethora of watery locations definitely gets my vote!
And as if that wasn't enough, back to my partner Ian's place in Buckinghamshire for the rest of the weekend, we kept that holiday vibe going. It was a real treat to have dinner out at the wonderful Suum Vietnamese restaurant in Marlow on Saturday night. Highly recommended!
Rounding off the weekend it was then time to indulge my waterbaby tendencies once more with some kayaking. Westhorpe Lake in Marlow was the location for this and we were rewarded with most of the lake to ourselves bar a few paddleboarders, and the odd waterskier going past to create some fun wake to challenge us. I felt like I had been on holiday for the past few days, given my body some well earned downtime and am ready to face the weeks ahead!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.