Walking the Essex Way

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

One of my favourite sources of motivation is the Tough Girl podcast which features interviews with inspirational women overcoming great challenges. As a offshoot to the podcast, the host Sarah Williams created the Tough Girl Tribe, a closed Facebook group for listeners. This tribe is full of amazingly supportive women who are preparing for a huge variety of challenges all over the world. I got talking to one of these women who turned out to be local and was planning her own challenge in our home county.

Juliet was aiming to hike the entire length of the Essex Way in four days. The Essex Way is a 82 mile long trail leading from Epping Station to Harwich Old Lighthouse. It crosses the entire county from the borders of London to the coastline. The route takes you through woodland, villages, country lanes and farmlands. I must admit I hadn’t heard of the Essex Way before speaking to Juliet, but I knew it was definitely something I wanted to get involved with.

Like myself, Juliet is proud of being born and raised in Essex and keen to remove the stereotypes. She is involved with the Essex Women’s Advisory Group or EWAG. This is a group set up to support the wellbeing of women and girls living in Essex. The group aims to challenge negative stereotypes by promoting the confidence and achievements of Essex Women and Girls, and supporting those in need. Their fundraising efforts have benefited local women’s refuges as well as supporting confidence-building projects for female school students and Girl Guides.

Fittingly, Juliet began her walk on Wednesday 8th March which is International Women’s Day. I followed her progress on Instagram as I prepared to join her for the final 21 mile section on Saturday.

Wearing my This Girl Can Essex T-shirt, I arrived at mile 63 to meet Juliet where she had left off the previous evening. She was looking very fresh for someone who had walked 63 miles! We were also joined by Tina who is involved with the Girls Guides of North East Essex and we set off along the trail.

I immediately noticed how clearly the path is waymarked, it was fairly easy to spot the red poppies on white discs which guided us along the route. After getting our legs warmed up for the first mile, we stopped briefly to stretch at the beautiful medieval church in Dedham. This area is known as ‘Constable County’ as the painter John Constable favoured Dedham for much of his landscape work.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Moving on, I got to know more about Juliet and Tina and their work supporting teenagers in the local community. We were keeping a good pace, but were wary of starting too quickly and burning out towards the end of the walk.

Manningtree was the next notable point on our walk, it’s known as the smallest town in England. We admired the Georgian buildings and brightly painted houses, before walking into Mistley the next village on the route. These places seem a world away from the busy urban towns in the part of Essex where I am from.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

From here, the route took us through mostly rural areas across wide open fields and enclosed woodland. We would often have to hop over stiles or through gates and recheck the route map. The mud was thick and slippery in some areas, I was glad of my new walking boots which were holding up nicely.

We met up with the River Stour again and followed the path into the saltmarshes and mudflats of the Wrabness Nature Reserve. The area is full of wildlife, particularly birds. We stopped for a lunch break on a large log in a bay looking out across the incredibly still water. The cranes of Harwich, our final destination could be seen in the distance and I joked that I might swim the rest of the way.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

After passing through the tiny village of Wrabness, we decided to make a very slight detour in order to see something quite special. A House for Essex was commissioned by the artist Grayson Perry and stands as a homage to “the single mums in Dagenham, hairdressers in Colchester and the landscape and history of Essex”. It’s golden roof was visible from way in the distance and as we got closer we could see the green and white tiles embossed with motifs. It really is an awesome building and it’s bizarre how it’s placed in a cabbage field in rural North Essex. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open as I would have loved to see the interior. As the theme of Juliet’s walk was to support women and girls from Essex, it seemed fitting that we spent some time admiring Grayson Perry’s tribute to local females.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Joining us at this point was the current Miss Essex, Emily Evans. Another local woman who is smashing the stereotypes, Emily told us about the intelligence tests she passed to be crowned winner of the beauty pageant. Since earning her title, Emily has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and volunteered with the Brownies.

From here the trail veers away from the River Stour, seemingly taking you further away from the finish line. Essex lived up to it’s reputation for being very flat as there had barely been an incline throughout the walk. We stood and watched a group of horses who were being moved from one field to the next. It was lovely to see the sense of freedom and excitement as these horses stampeded into their new pasture.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Stopping for a quick toilet break and drink at a pub in the village of Ramsey, we rested and prepared for the final push into Harwich. We realised we would be arriving at the finish line almost an hour sooner than expected. Juliet was keeping a great pace despite having been on her feet for 75 miles at this point.

Brightly coloured huts and a pebble beach signalled our arrival into Harwich. Huge tankers were delivering their cargo into the port. Looking at the sea, I thought of my upcoming Solent Swim and felt the nerves bubbling up. We followed the promenade searching for the lighthouse which indicates the end of the Essex Way. We saw several smaller lighthouses, but they were not the correct one! The finish seemed so near, yet so far!

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Finally, the Old Lighthouse rose up from behind a playground. We sped over to the plaque on the wall and hugged each other. Juliet had finished her epic 82 mile walk! It was a great feeling to share this moment with these women I’d met only hours earlier. We climbed up the flight of steps for some photos as Juliet’s husband appeared. The day was rounded off with some food from a nearby fish and chip shop, the ladies serving us couldn’t believe Juliet had walked 82 miles for chips!

Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

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Walking the final section of the Essex Way, an 82 mile long trail from Epping to Harwich. Getting outdoors and supporting local females for International Women's Day.

Supporting another woman’s personal challenge as well as experiencing the great outdoors in beautiful Essex is what made this day really special for me. Despite living in this county all my life, I’ve never really ventured to the rural parts North Essex. Juliet has raised almost £1800 for EWAG to date, I’d love to see her reach £2000- you can donate here.

Have you ever done a point-to-point trail walk? Did you do anything for International Women’s Day?

6 Track Sessions to Improve Your Running Speed

Track Sessions to improve your running speed

Since last September, I’ve been attending a track running session with Dagenham 88 Runners. Thursday evenings at the track have quickly become my favourite session of the week and I’m beginning to notice improvements in my speed.

The track is a perfect place to practice speedwork on a smooth, flat, well-lit surface away from traffic. Our sessions are structured and challenging, but they vary each week keeping things interesting. Intervals are a chance to push your limits and test your speed- I love the feeling at the end of the session knowing I’ve given it my all.

However, track workouts seem to divide runners- you either love it or hate it. The sessions are not supposed to be easy and the intervals can be very intense. The track can be intimidating to beginners, so I’d highly recommend finding a friendly running club open to all abilities.

If you are thinking about trying a track session, here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • The track is 400m around the inside lane. Two laps are 800m, three laps are 1200m and four laps are 1600m (approximately 1 mile).
  • We always run anti-clockwise, except when warming up and cooling down.
  • We do our hard efforts in Lane 1, then move out the outer lanes to recover.
  • We overtake in Lane 2 or 3, then move back into Lane 1 when safe to do so.
  • We always start with a few easy laps to warm-up then go through some mobility drills before starting the main session. It’s essential to warm-up properly for tough sessions like this.
  • Track sessions are suitable for all abilities. We are usually split into three groups based on our 5k time and the session is slightly modified for each group.
  • Know what your 5k time is before arriving at the session, to help decide which group you should join.

If you are going it alone at the track, you’ll need to be prepared with some session plans to avoid running mindlessly. For some inspiration, here are some of my favourite sessions:

Track Session 1

8 x 800m
2 min recovery jog between each interval

Track Session 2

600m at 5k pace
300m recovery jog
300m at 3k pace
1 min 45 second walking recovery
Repeat 4 times

Track Session 3

400m, 800m, 1200, 1200m, 800m, 400m
1 minute recovery jog between each interval

Track Session 4

4 x 1500m
100m walking recovery between each interval

Track Session 5

800m at 5k pace
400m recovery jog
10 x 300m at 90% effort
100m walking recovery between each interval

Track Session 6

6 minutes, 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 3 minutes, 6 minutes, 4 minutes, 2 minutes, 2 minutes at 5k pace
2 minutes walking recovery between each interval

Do you run at the track? What’s your favourite session?

The Pioneers of Disability Sport

I never take for granted the fact that I’m fortunate enough to able to take part in sport and exercise. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to walk, run, swim, cycle and generally move around independently. Since signing up for my swim with Aspire, it’s reminded me that debilitating injuries can happen to anyone at anytime. In fact, every eight hours someone is paralysed by a spinal cord injury.

People living with disabilities still face many challenges to getting involved in sport, such as such as accessibility, transport, prejudices and financial issues. The findings of a survey by Parallel London revealed 69% of respondents with a disability faced barriers in accessing fitness and leisure facilities. People with disabilities can be made to feel unwanted and unwelcome at venues which are not designed with accessibility in mind.

The number of organisations and associations supporting disability sport has increased greatly in the past four decades, both at grassroots and elite level. Awareness of disabled people in sport is at an all time high after the Rio Paralympic Games, raising the profile of disabled people and shifting attitudes. Bristol Street Versa have created the below infographic highlighting the key athletes and campaigners involved with the development of disability sport.

the-pioneers-of-disability-sport

Post written in collaboration with Bristol Street Versa who provide wheelchair accessible vehicles.

 

Swimming the Solent with Aspire

Swimming the Solent with Aspire

I’m not sure where I first came across the idea of swimming the Solent, but I knew immediately that this was an event to be added to my bucket list. I’m fascinated with channel swimmers and I’ve followed the journeys of Adam Walker and Beth French on their Oceans 7 challenges. Swimming the English Channel not something I’m anywhere near ready to attempt, but the Solent seems far more achievable.

If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough….

I’ve got several sprint and olympic distance triathlons lined up this summer. I’m completed these distances many times before and whilst they are still a challenge, they no longer scare me. I needed something which would push me out of my comfort zone and really test my capabilities. The Solent swim presents me with that challenge. It’s a busy shipping lane, swimmers need to negotiate around ferries and hovercraft travelling to the Isle of Wight. There will be strong tides, jellyfish and the water could be as cold as 15 degrees. Just thinking about it gives me butterflies in my stomach so I knew I had to do it!

I did a lot of research and spoke to several people who have completed the Solent swim. Aspire came highly recommended as the charity who have the most expertise in organising these events. I’ve already completed a pool-based swimming event for Aspire, so I’m familiar with their work. After more months of deliberation, I finally signed up to do the swim with a planned date of 2nd September 2017.

The swim goes from Fort Gilkicker in Gosport to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. It’s a distance of 2.5-3 miles depending on tides and I will be escorted by a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) and a kayak. I will definitely be wearing my wetsuit! There is a training day in Dover in July where I will be completing a 2 hour sea swim as preparation.

Swimming the Solent

Aspire is a national charity that provides practical help to people who have been paralysed by spinal cord injury. People affected will lose muscle and sensory control and the majority become full time wheelchair users for the rest of their lives. Through its projects and programmes, Aspire offers practical support to the 40,000 people living with a spinal cord injury in the UK so that they can lead fulfilled and independent lives in their homes, with their families, in work places and in leisure time.

Before the date of my swim, Aspire require a guaranteed £750 in fundraising. I’ll be honest, I was unsure that I could meet this target and I hesitated to sign up incase I fell short. However, swimming for a charity is going to be an incredibly rewarding experience, it’s a chance for me to make a real difference to people affected by spinal cord injury. It is also extra motivation to train and complete the distance on the day.

On that note, if you would like to make a donation to my fundraising target I would be eternally grateful. You can donate via this link. It is difficult at this time of year when so many people are running marathons for charities, so even the smallest donation would be appreciated.

What did challenge are you taking on this year? Do you have any fundraising tips?