I love to walk, losing myself in the surroundings and seeing my dogs enjoy themselves. One of my favourite walks is a combination of woodland, sand dunes and grass, ending with a river on the beach where the dogs can have a paddle. When I’m walking, I can easily while away 3 or 4 hours.
Over the years, I’ve completed some long walks. I walked up Snowdon when I was 12, and I started to walk further when I had my first dog at the age of 14. Some of my happiest times have been with a rucksack on my back and my dogs running around a beach.
‘Nothing unusual in that,’ you might think. But for me, walking is a challenge.
I’ve had Crohn’s disease since I was four years old and Crohn’s related arthritis since I was fifteen. After every hospital stay, I’d start my recovery with a small walk and increase the distance as I got stronger. When I had my stoma surgery, I borrowed a friend’s dog to walk. At first, I walked short distances and would get the bus home. I actually walked back sooner than I had initially anticipated because the dog seemed to suffer from wind – rather embarrassing in the confined space of the bus!
A year after my ileostomy, I walked a half marathon, and I’ve done some hiking with friends and our dogs. More recently, I’ve been introduced to the world of virtual racing, where you enter a ‘race’ online. Once you’ve paid an entry fee and recorded the distance, hey presto, you get a medal! There’s no pressure or special equipment required, and you can race alone or with friends. You can cover the distance as fast or as slowly as you choose, and you can choose when to complete it. It’s a great way to challenge yourself, and the feel-good endorphins make you feel fabulous.
In June, I will be racer number #001 in the ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ event. I’m always slightly nervous when I commit to a race. I remind myself that even athletes must feel this way when they prepare for a big challenge. I’m more a fair-weather walker, I’ll admit. The cold and damp don’t help aching joints, but I’m hopeful that in June, the sun will show its face for long enough that I can cover the distance without getting soaked.
So where should I complete my athletic milestone? It won’t be walking up Snowdon. I don’t feel like going far, so I will be walking one of my dogs around our local jaunt, a circuit of just under two miles. I will walk the distance because running is out of the question. Besides anything else, my balance isn’t good enough and I don’t want to find myself in an ungainly heap in the gutter.
The distance for this race is 5k (3.1 miles in old money). I despise the arthritis pain I get in my feet but it won’t stop me from getting my medal. I’ll record my walk with an app on my phone, setting it up with my last-minute checks at my front gate. Harness, lead, walking stick, keys. Beyond the gate, the sunshine bathed hills are dotted with sheep. I take a deep breath and smile.