About siany1

Fitness blogger, travel addict, couch-potato-come-fitness-oficionado, lover of pie and cake (it's a weakness) and hater of bananas. www.dashing-divas.com

Finding my strong

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Earlier this week the thought of having to pack all my things up, leave behind a newly fitted kitchen, and all I have invested (time and money) shocked me to the core. Then I realised that was all just ‘stuff’. It would be easy to think that the last 2 years have been a total waste of time, but I don’t see it like that. I’ve had the best of times and the worst of times, and I have been incredible fun and a nightmare. I’ve climbed mountains, run marathons, travelled, and found a job I’m happy with. I’ve picked myself up from rock bottom after choosing to move on from a life that others would give their right arm for but wasn’t right for me at the time, to be in happy place with myself. What it boils down to is that stuff doesn’t matter – people matter. There’s no point in me staying in a place where I’m not happy and the other person isn’t prepared to take me for who I am – an amazing/damaged/fragile/strong/intelligent/impetuous/determined/messy/loving person. I deserve the best I can get.

I could quite easily resort to eating pizza, drowning my sorrows with alcohol and foregoing my normal exercise regimen, but then the only person that hurts is me. So this week I have lifted weights, ran 13.5 miles, looked at flats, smiled and laughed with friends and family, discussed changes with work, sorted out unnecessary direct debits and I’m making a plan.

I’m focussing on the positives – the time on my own to do things that I haven’t done for ages: blog properly without question or guilt, workout every day, attend classes, learn a language, see friends, visit more places, go vegetarian and do precisely what I want.

This is my time now and I don’t want to waste a single second of it!

sian

Do what you love

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Since the London marathon, I have been struggling to get back the body and the fitness I had this time last year. I was lean, stronger and faster and, above all else, I was happier. I was training up to half marathons, running lots of 10ks and feeling good. BUT, I felt this need to sign up for a marathon. I got sucked in by the other runners at my club and people on Twitter and Facebook – I felt the pressure (albeit positive and well meaning) to join in. Thereafter followed boredom and misery for nigh on 6 months. I felt stressed and irritable, and I was a pain in the backside to be around. I irritated myself on pretty much a daily basis. I had turned into a marathon arsehole – I lived, breathed and slept marathons, and avoided socialising in case it interfered with the dreaded plan.

Then the RUNger set in (noun: the need to replenish energy stores used up after a long run with cake and shit food) and where once I had traces of abs trying to peak through, was a blob of gloop. In essence, marathon training had turned me into a blobby, slow and miserable loser.

Contrary to what others have said I would do, I haven’t come away from the marathon after all of that trauma and all-round bollox and thought ‘hey I’ll sign up for another one'; quite the opposite. I’ve looked at why I feel the need to self flagellate by signing up for things that are frankly horrible and not right for me, and I’ve looked at what I really want to do and what I enjoy. Life is supposed to be about fun after all, and that involves feeling good about ourselves and sharing that positivity with others.

Lately I have been indulging myself in pretty much anything I want to do and it’s been a huge amount of fun. I have been strength training daily with Julia Buckley‘s Extreme Inferno (more on that another time, but it’s great!) and my personal trainer, I’ve gone out and got drunk, I’ve learnt to love cycling and I’m going open-water swimming this week. I leave the watch at home and I’m ok with that.

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I may not be a marathon runner, but I’m a happy, strong and positive runner and that’s what matters to me.

sian

Back to Kilimanjaro

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On a rainy day in July 2010, I was sitting on the train reading the Metro (a free London commuter paper) and I saw a large Alzheimer’s Society advertisement for Kilimanjaro. For some reason this really sparked something inside of me and I immediately signed up on a whim. Apart from hiking boots, I didn’t have one single piece of hiking, camping, exercise-related kit so I had to buy everything from scratch. The other point to mention is that I was really quite unfit and overweight. I didn’t let that put me off though and I did do a lot of hiking training for the trip. When Kilimanjaro came around, it was probably all a bit too much for me – I wasn’t used to camping, not washing for days, drinking slightly murky tasting water and being away from home comforts.

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I was also carrying a bit more excess baggage than I should have been and the rest of it is pretty much a blur. I got quite bad altitude sickness and didn’t make the summit, and when I came back I was broken. For ages when people asked me about the trip and Kilimanjaro, I didn’t have a good word to say about it and now I’ve since realised it wasn’t the mountain I hated, but myself. What I did make though was huge changes to my life afterwards, which you can read about here. The shame and the disappointment kick started this love of exercise and travelling, and in that respect I am thankful, but I have unfinished business with that mountain…

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So I am taking my new-found confidence having taken on Toubkal, Mont Blanc and Elbrus to go back and face Kilimanjaro again, this time for pure fun! Now I know what to expect and I am better prepared. I know that I can do it and, importantly, I can enjoy it this time. I’m also going to make the most of being there by visiting the orphanage and going on safari.

This is who I am now, and I’ve got this!…

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I am climbing Kilimanjaro in August 2015 with Discover Adventure. Come and join me! x

sian

Triathlon training: Why I love cycling

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My Trek Lexa and I have had some fun lately She’s taken me much further than running ever could…

Cycling is scary, it’s complicated (well, for me it is because I previously hadn’t ridden a bike since 1993) and it hurts your bum. That was my previous assessment of cycling and why I got a bike and did nothing with it for a year. This year, after the marathon, I decided I needed to shake things up a bit and get out there doing other things as well as running. I dragged the boyfriend out with me as moral support and we took to the cycle path (one of the few good things about living in Bicester – sorry, Bicester village doesn’t count for locals) and then ventured out towards quieter roads in the surrounding villages. It took me a little while to get used to the gears (I think I have just cracked them now), mainly anticipating hills, getting the speed up and legs turning over, and getting in the right gear. Apart from at busy junctions where I am still really cautious (and rightly so!), the traffic hasn’t scared me as much as I thought it would.

What I love about cycling is the freedom it gives you – it can take you places much further and faster than running ever could. Yesterday I cycled to my work and back (70k, nearly 44 miles) as a test run. It was the furthest I’ve ever cycled in my life and I felt great. We stopped for a cheeky chocolate fudge cake in the local pub and headed back much faster than on the way there. Looking at the stats, we were flying along at 30k/h at one stage! When we started out yesterday I felt tired and my butt hurt at 3k – it didn’t bode well, but then I just got on and did it! I’m feeling so proud of myself today.

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I wanted to share with you some of the tips I have picked up along the way:

- Familiarise yourself with your bike before heading out – don’t do what I did here.

- Find a friend who is a reasonably confident cyclist and get them to cycle along a quiet road (or better still a cycle path) side by side with you to help you get used to the gears.

- Pick a short circular route to start with.

- Think ahead – drop it down into an ‘easy’ gear (ie, one that you can turn over quickly) when coming up to junctions, traffic, obstacles etc. That way, you can get away quicker and easier if you have to pull away from a standing start.

- If you can’t remember which gear is what, then try to logic it out. On my bike, I know that the easy gear (used on hills or at a junction) wiis the small switch (ie, easier to change), the harder gear (one you use on the flats) is harder to change (mine you have to push the break lever side ways). You don’t have to worry too much about the chain stresses as much with road bikes as they have fewer gears than mountain bikes so can readily switch among all the gears while you learn without consequence.

- If you’re in the wrong gear going up a hill, don’t sweat it – just cycle back down and start again.

- Attend a cycle maintenance course (this is next on my to-do list).

- Just go for it – don’t put it off until tomorrow, cycling is so much fun!

So this week I am putting on my clipless pedals and learning how to use them. :-)

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I am training for the Tri For Life triathlon in September – a charity triathlon. You can sponsor me here.  I chose the tri for life triathlon as it looks perfect for beginners, it takes place in the stunning grounds of Woburn Abbey, and, as it happens, it’s organised by a small friendly team of people. It’s also a charity triathlon. It’s been ages since I’ve done anything for charity because running is something I just do it seems rude to ask for sponsorship. This, however, is a major challenge for me. I’ll be raising money for charities such as Great Ormond Street Children’s Charity, Rays of Sunshine and the Teenage Cancer Trust.

You can check out how the competition winners, Lucy and Lozza are getting on here and here.

sian

Elbrus 2014: Why I can call myself a mountaineer

When I look back on my recent trip to Elbrus – Europe’s highest peak at 5642m and one of the seven summits – it will not only be the mountain that I remember, but the people I met there.

Yes it would have been wonderful to have had a picture perfect summit day with panoramic views, blue skies and happy faces holding mascots, but it wasn’t to be. Does it make it all the more awesome that 10 out of 13 of us reached the summit? The short answer is yes and here’s why…

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Rich and I always try and do some sort of adventure holiday each year and this year was all about mountaineering after having a break last year. Being an incredibly neurotic and anxious person, naturally mountaineering scares me, but then so does meeting people in crowded places and bananas. I simply refuse to be ruled by my many fears and wanted to have one last crack at a high mountain. Before Rich knew it, I had booked the holiday and paid the deposit and we were all set for our epic adventure.

Days 1 and 2

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The trip started with a day in Moscow – the thought of flying in to Moscow and then not at the very least seeing Red Square seemed ridiculous so we tacked on a touristy day before heading to the mountains. It quickly became very clear to us that getting taxis around the city is just not feasible (the traffic was absolutely horrendous) so we bought ourselves a Metro ticket and headed towards the city centre. Once you get the hang of the metro, it’s very easy to use. The hardest part was understanding the name of the stops!

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Moscow is extremely expensive so rather than wasting our money on an average lunch for more than London prices, we grabbed a McDonald’s and sat in the park doing some people watching . We spent the rest of the day aimlessly wandering around Red Square taking in the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral.

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Day 3

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After a very early start (something of a theme for this trip!), we jumped on an internal flight to Milneralyne Vody (approx 2 hours’ from Moscow with Aeroflot), after which we were met by our guide for the week Vladimir – a very friendly and charming chap who largely spoke in broken English!

We spent a further 3 hours driving via mini bus to the small village of Terskol, our base for the next few days at the foot of the mountain. We met our first trip companions: 3 lovely Russian ladies named Maria, Daria and Natalia, and the time ticked away as we exchanged stories about our lives back in the real world. We finally arrived at our hotel (a modest, but comfortable place that would soon look like 5* luxury as the week went on) and met with the remainder of our group over dinner – a large group of German gentlemen made up of 6 friends and a father and son team.

After tasting some of the culinary ‘delights’ of Moscow (I would prefer not to discuss the disgusting cheese slice with raisins and broccoli I sampled over breakfast!), my expectations were at an all-time low, but I was pleasantly surprised by the food. Delicious homemade soup made up of vegetables and fresh herbs, followed by chicken and rice, as well as pasta courses were some of the many  dishes we had over the course of the week.

Day 4

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After a delicious breakfast of fried eggs and porridge, we set off on our first acclimatisation hike, which saw us take an incredibly steep and exhausting path up towards the cable cars from the foot of the valley up to around 3000m.  I started chatting with Andreas, who is in fact a doctor and we shared our various healthcare/pharmaceutical experiences, and Alex who had come here with his father. I am so envious of people who do things like this with their parents and siblings. In fact, watch out Alex – I may adopt Heinz as my honorary dad! ;-)

I must confess it had been a long while since I’d hiked anywhere (does trail running count?) and I was feeling quite exhausted after the first hill, which was a little bit demoralising.

Day 5

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Another early start as we set off on our second acclimatisation hike up from the valley this time to the observatory at 3100m. This hike wasn’t quite as steep as the previous day and I found it much easier going. In the evening, Vladimir did a quick kit check and told me that my beloved La Sportiva B3 boots would not be suitable and that I’d have to hire horrible plastic boots as well as a Michelin man-style down jacket and ice axe.

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I felt quite annoyed because I was sure the all this talk of ‘extreme temperatures’ was complete overkill and that he just had a deal going with the hire company. Oh how wrong we were.

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Day 6

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After breakfast, we headed up on the cable car and the chair lift to the infamous barrels at the Bochki camp (accommodation made out of old oil drums) at 3800m (the start of our snow-based trekking) armed with all of our kit and supplies for the week. The weather was absolutely boiling (think sahara desert with snow) and I started to worry that it would be too hot and that plastic boots were a waste of time! We did a short acclimatisation hike to get used to the hideous plastic boots up to around 4100m and returned for lunch in the the battered old caravan.

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Maria our cook (a lady with more gold than white teeth!) managed to cook up a delicious homemade soup in her make-shift kitchen. The lunch also included cheese and ham, bread and sweets to keep our energy levels up. We sat in the caravan drinking tea and listening to dreadful Russian Europop interspersed with the Cranberries until we were kicked out and the next group came along.

It is worth mentioning the toilets, or ‘the spa’ as it was later referred to, at this point. I have seen my fair share of disgusting toilets over the years (most of which have been in France), but these were probably among the worst I’ve had to endure – a smelly hole in the ground. Every time I visited the toilets I wanted to dowse my entire body in iodine.

Day 7

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For the last of our acclimatisation hikes, we headed up from the barrels to just shy of the Pastuckhova rocks at around 4500m. It was a tiring day finishing at around 3pm, but the majority of the group were really keen to attempt the summit in the early hours of the following morning, which actually turned out to be perfect conditions (clear blue skies). Unfortunately, our guide suggested we instead take a rest day at the barrels.

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Day 8

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We had a later start as we were scheduled in to have a rest day and do some ice axe arrest and crampon training for an hour of so. Ordinarily, a rest day would be most welcome, but the lack of home comforts make the barrels an unwelcome place to spend any time. I decided to nap in the afternoon knowing full well that I was very unlikely to get any sleep that night ahead of our start in the early hours of the morning.

Day 9 – Summit day

elbrus-routeOur guide had told us that because of the predicted conditions, we would be getting the snowcat (an enormous snow plough type contraption with seats) up to 5100m (above Pashtukov rocks) and walking from there. This meant a 3am start. I was quite disappointed as I would rather have started where we left off.

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The snowcat seemed like fun for the first 2 minutes, but the novelty quickly wore off when I realised I would have to hang on just to keep myself from sliding down for 10 minutes. Not the most ideal preparation for an exhausting day ahead.

As we emerged from the snowcat it quickly became apparent how cold it was, how high we were and just how steep the section of the mountain was! I was breathing quite heavily for the first 5 minutes and honestly thought I couldn’t go on. I kept plodding along though for what I can only imagine was another 45 minutes and looked behind me and saw that nobody was there. In fact, one of the chaps had gone back down.  As we came over the saddle between the Eastern and Western summit and headed left for the Western summit, the cold and the wind hit me like a thousand shards of glass into my face. My face hurt, my lips hurt, my fingers hurt. In fact, given that the boots were the most uncomfortable footwear known to man, they were pretty much the only thing that didn’t hurt from the cold.

There was absolutely no respite from the biting 50+ km/h winds and every time we stopped everyone chose to preserve their fingers rather than risk taking their mittens off to eat or drink. We pushed on towards what would normally be a narrow very exposed snow path, however, the recent snowfall meant that the path had all but disappeared and we were blindly relying on the grip from our crampons and ice axes. Walking through fresh snow is exhausting at the best of times, but even more so when you are terrified of falling.

A particularly steep section of the path had a fixed rope attached and we clipped ourselves in hoping that the rope would break our fall should the worst happen. I nervously and gingerly worked my way across – by this point there was nobody immediately in front or behind me. I was shaking and terrified – I looked back and I saw Heinz a few feet away and he nodded in approval. I was doing OK.

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Another flat section – phew! I cried with joy, disappointment, elation and fear. ‘What the hell kind of stupid thing am I doing?!’ I asked myself. My fingers were in agony. I felt completely alone – I couldn’t see Rich and I couldn’t talk to anyone as the wind was too strong to have a conversation and I didn’t have the energy to shout. We rested for a while. I sat down and leaned forward and shut my eyes. I couldn’t get up – ‘Maybe I’m going to die here?’ I thought: ‘I’m too tired to get up’. ‘Get your shit together’ a voice in my head shouted and I collected myself. Vladimir came over to ask if I was ok and got my drink out of my bag for me. I took a few sips and it lifted my spirits a bit and I got up. ‘Just another 40 minutes until the summit’ he said. ‘Ok 40 minutes – I can do this’.

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The path towards the summit was relatively flat, but completely exposed to the winds blowing grown men off their feet. At one stage I remember standing watching as Alex stood unable to move because of the strength of the wind. Slowly but surely though we reached edge of the summit. What I can only imagine in reasonably clear conditions would take 2 minutes to walk up, seemed to take a lifetime. I had to crawl up a 3 metre slope to the summit using my ice axe and crampons as the wind was too strong to stand. I was almost there when 2 hands reached out and pulled me up. It was Rich and someone else – I don’t remember who. I had made it. I lay there exhausted for a minute and then stood up. Rich took a picture. My mouth hurt too much to smile.

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This didn’t feel like the summit at all – there was no view to speak of, only snow-filled air all around us. The summit was absolutely crowded with Chinese climbers too. I just wanted to get away. I bashed my hands together to try and get the circulation back into my thumbs. They didn’t feel right and I panicked: ‘I need my thumbs for typing’ I thought.

Given that the guide said it would probably take 6 hours to reach the summit in normal conditions, we had done so in an impressive 7 hours.

We headed back down and the wind was so strong it was blowing my hood off and exposing the side of my face to the biting wind. Back at the fixed ropes, the path looked even less defined than before. I cautiously placed every footstep in the snow and made sure that my ice axe was firmly placed, but the snow was so soft it was giving away and then I fell. Only about 6 feet, but it felt like 3 times that. I dug in my ice axe and crampons and lay there. I couldn’t see or hear anything and then I saw Vladimir come over. He told me to flip over and dig in my crampons. I felt ok on my front and moved across quickly to to next section of ropes. I saw the Russian girls in front of me and then I heard some shouting in Russian. I looked over and I saw that the group of Chinese climbers were practically walking on top of us on what was arguably the most dangerous section. I felt angry as all I wanted to do was get back onto the flatter section, but we kept having to stop to let them pass us. We unclipped ourselves from the fixed rope and the guide fashioned a rope tethering us all together. I didn’t enjoy this at all – I felt like I was being pulled backwards and forwards unable to find any kind of rhythm. I just wanted to walk at my own pace. I heard Dasha cry out in terror and I felt her pain. ‘Should we really be here?’ I thought. ‘If this was the Alps you wouldn’t be allowed up’. We carried on though and it suddenly hit me how utterly freezing I was. As we arrived back at the drop off point at 5100m, Vladimir asked if anyone wanted a lift down in the snowcat. I decided that I was just too cold to carry on and took him up on his offer. This time I sat outside at the front of the snowcat hanging on for dear life with virtually nothing between me and ground beneath me. I was shivering to the core and Vladimir gave me a hug and made sure I was ok. Back at the barrels, I removed the wet clothing, added several layers and lay there in my sleeping bag for 2 hours before the rest of the group arrived back – it took 4 hours before my core temperature returned to normal. I decided to forego lunch and get some rest. By dinner time (8pm) I was back to normal though and just glad the whole thing was over. All I could think about was having a nice shower, wearing clean clothes and proper toilets. We had to wait though until the next morning. For the first time in the whole trip though I slept solidly and soundly for 5 hours!

Day 10

We took the cable car back down to relative civilisation, showered and had some lunch where copious amount of beer and vodka were consumed. Rich and I headed to market to buy some souvenirs to mark our epic adventure. Rich chose a t-shirt and I decided I was more likely to actually use a baseball cap.

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For the celebratory dinner, we headed to a local restaurant to try out the traditional shashlik – Russian shish kebab – and smoke a shisha (first time for me). We all had a very early start so after only a few beers we all decided to call it a night. The trip had come to an end and we were going home.

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Day 11

As we took our flight home, I felt a sense of loss that I would never see these people, who had practically been my family for the last 10 days, again. If I did see them it just wouldn’t be the same. It’s the end of an era and we’re back to normality.

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Looking back now, I realise just what Rich and I have achieved and how amazing each and every one of the group were. There was absolutely no shame in feeling exhausted or turning back – the conditions were like hell on earth. One thing is for sure – we can all call ourselves true mountaineers.

I said no more summit bagging after this, but right now I feel such an amazing sense of pride that I may well go back on my word…

sian

Still time to enter to win a space on a triathlon

If you fancy a chance of winning a place on tri for life triathlon (any distance of your choice) on 7th September all you need to do is:

  • Blog about why you want to do your first triathlon or why you love triathlons (linking to dashing-divas.com and triforlife.co.uk in your post).
  • Or, tweet the following: ‘I want to win a place on @triforlifeuk triathlon with @dashing_divasuk http://tinyurl.com/ndxfqt8′

Check out the post here for more details.