Across the world, people are finding themselves in an unprecedented situation, forced to stay at home with limited outings and isolation from friends and family. For most, this social distancing and isolation is a new concept, but for adventurers, it's a normal part of expedition. 18 months ago, myself and two friends spent 62 days on the Pacific Ocean, in a 24ft ocean row boat with no internet, a living space the size of your bath, rationing of toilet paper and the nearest people to us often the astronauts on the International Space Station. Here's five tips for dealing with social distancing and isolation to keep your spirits high:
'A dream written down with a date becomes a goal, a goal broken down into steps becomes a plan, a plan backed by action makes your dreams come true'
Greg. S. Reid
I spend most days dreaming of adventures I want to go on, following adventurers journeys around the world in some of the most incredible locations and wondering if things are possible. It's funny how when you write a pipeline dream down on paper it suddenly becomes a plan, an idea that has become a possible reality. There are so many things I want to do in life, some I will probably never do, others I hope to do next year, but I like making a list to turn ideas into the start of plans. It hit 100 recently and inspired by some other people I follow who have put their bucketlists out there I thought I would do the same, mainly to hold myself accountable to actually doing some of these and partly because everyone asks what I want to do next!
The ones in bold type are those that I have done - I'll be posting about these on my social media accounts in the coming weeks! If you've done any of the things on the list and can give me any tips or advice let me know!
For the last twelve months my life has been consumed by rowing the Pacific. It became the norm to only get about 5 hours sleep a night (if I was lucky) as my mornings and evenings before and after work became row admin, row prep and training time. If anyone is ever thinking of rowing an ocean, working full time in a stressful and often long hours job up to 3 days before you leave is not a good idea. DON'T DO IT!! I was so in need of money to pay for the adventure due to the ridiculously short time frame we put it together in that I didn't have any other choice but it meant my entire life became about the row. Then I did the row itself and I may have mentioned once or twice but... I BLOODY LOVED IT! Even the days where my bum was being rubbed raw by salt, rain and waves caused a never ending cycle of being drenched and my legs turned more blue and purple than skin coloured due to constant impact from the oars I still loved it. I was happy, I was in my element and there was no where I would have rather been....
As the sun rose on the morning of day 60 El stopped rowing and stared at the clouds on the horizon behind us. 'I can see land' she said, excitement rising in her voice. I turned around to look, and sure enough there, rising out of the cloud, were the faint outlines of the mountains of Maui. 'Megan' we both screamed 'we can see Hawaii!!!'.
'Now don't worry or panic yourselves, but...', cue a suddenly elevated heart rate, concerned glances to the others and a small sweat attempting to break out on my already salt drenched face and body. I was on the satellite phone, ducking in and out the cabin to avoid the waves crashing over the boat whilst attempting to not lose signal and keep a line that was just about audible. The weather wasn't particularly bad, the winds were pretty average at around 20 knots, and we'd started to make some reasonable progress west. The first three weeks were becoming a distant memory and everything seemed to be improving. 'There's a hurricane heading your way' said Stokey - our weather router for the row.
If you've read the previous blogs, you'll know that six weeks prior to flying out to Monterey, California our crew of three became a two. Although it was absolutely the right decision for the crew, it threw our campaign to become the first crew of three to row the Pacific into a slight panic! Cue the entry of Eleanor Carey, a 28 year old Australian who had emailed some months previously when the crew was full, but had a long CV of previous expeditions including a rather impressive solo cycle through Europe. She listened to our story, made a few arrangements at home and joined the crew eight weeks before we would be crossing the start line. Legend!
A few weeks back we received a text from the race directors; “Let us know what race number you want on the boat. First come, first served’.
We replied straight back with ‘three’.
This might seem like the obvious number, a three person crew, the first crew of three to row the Pacific, the youngest three females to row any ocean in the world. But it’s more than that. We’ve always said three is a magic number, you only have to look around to see the power of three. Earth is the third rock from the sun, the perfect position in the solar system for life to thrive. A triangle is the most stable shape in geometry, inherently rigid and strong. Good luck is said to come in threes, and the number three is seen throughout nature. There are ‘oceans, land and sky’ and the ‘Earth, Sun and Moon’. It seems fitting to be a crew of three at the mercy of nature out on the ocean.
But that isn’t where this stops. We are rowing the Pacific for something much bigger than just a personal achievement. We are rowing to champion solutions at source to reduce the volume of plastic that enters our oceans everyday and to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity.
PLEASE NOTE THE BELOW BLOG CONTAINS INFORMATION AND STATISTICS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH.
Well I didn’t think I’d be writing this again….
Last week it looked like our row might have been over. We wouldn’t make the start line, we wouldn’t row to Hawaii and we wouldn’t get the chance to raise as much money for the charities and causes we are supporting. We also wouldn’t become the first crew of three to ever row the mid-Pacific.
My emotions about it were all over the place, I’d put everything into this row over the past 9 months, I’d been kicked out of one crew due to my limited flat water rowing experience, I’d gone through months of trying to sort another crew, and spent hours and hours training in the gym and on the water. I wasn’t prepared to fail this close to the start line, I felt that if we didn’t make it I was letting everyone down that had supported me, and worst of all, everyone who had told me I couldn’t do this would have been right.
Rowing an ocean isn't all about rowing. At times, it feels like the actual rowing will be the easy part of this journey. Everyone I spoke to when I first signed up told me that getting to the start line was the hard part... it is. Early morning and late nights are spent sending emails and letters to companies to source sponsorship that we still need, hours are spent each day in the gym getting fitter and stronger, training courses to equip us with the necessary skills to survive in the ocean fill up the weekends and then endless lists of tasks that need to be done fill the remaining hours. The past few weeks have however been full of good news, including our announcement that we are working with Jack Tompkins from Southpaw Sport to create a documentary of our row, which will be released hopefully towards the end of the year. Here's what the past few weeks have looked like for us...
To enter the Great Pacific Race, a number of qualifications have to be passed before you are allowed to leave. This ensures that should anything happen whilst we are at sea we are trained in how to deal with the situation. I completed my RYA Competent Crew course towards the end of last year, and followed up in the new year with my VHF Radio course (so we can communicate with any other vessels we may see) and First Aid at sea. A few weeks ago we completed the RYA Sea Survival course as a crew, a course although very fun to complete, we hope to never have to use the skills we learnt. We spent time in the pool practicing life raft drills, survival skills and learning all the things that could go wrong with the equipment designed to help us survive, and then got the chance to set off flares - something we hope to only have to use when we cross the finish line in Hawaii! With 5 courses complete, the crew are now part way through completing the final qualification which is the RYA Yatchmaster Offshore Theory course thanks to Kipper Sailing (www.kippersailing.co.uk).
We might still have 8 weeks before we leave for California but Danielle, our ocean rowing boat, has a six week trip aboard a container ship to get to the start line. She ships this week to ensure that she has arrived and cleared customs by the time we get to Monterey. We spent three days at Hamble Point Marina going through all our equipment, checking everything worked and getting in some more rowing hours. Jack from Southpaw Sport was there to capture some footage for the documentry, and created the short edit below to give you a look at what we got up to.
Weather Routing & Navigation prep
We are working with the incredible Stokey Woodall who will be our weather router and on-land support whilst we are out at sea. We will speak to Stokey daily who will advise us on the best route to take given the weather, wind and currents, and will do his best to keep us out of too much trouble. We spent three days on the Isle of Wight planning our route, learning to navigate using the stars should we lose all our equipment, creating our own charts and covering safety and navigation until Stokey was happy we had a good chance of at least heading in the right direction. There isn't much (anything?) Stokey doesn't know so we feel like we are in very safe hands!!
We have all been training hard for the past few months, and last week we were put through our paces at ESPH in a set of fitness tests, to establish our baselines pre-row and also give an insight into what we really need to spend the next eight weeks working on. We did our body composition (turns out the extra kgs I've gained is actually almost all muscle and my body fat % is lower than I thought/want it to be... more doughnuts for dinner for me!!), sub max VO2 testing and strength testing. Overall I was really happy with where I'm currently sat and am confident that myself and the rest of the crew are going to be in a really good place fitness wise when we leave Monterey.
As always, if you want to support our multi world record attempt row raising money for Mind and championing solutions to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans you can do so at www.justgiving.com/PacificTerrific. Getting to the start line is tough (take a read of our blog post on this here), and therefore any support in helping us get there and enabling us to raise significant funds for charity during the row are really gratefully received :)
If you read my last post (here) you will know the journey I've been on to get to where I am with this row. It's been a long bumpy road, but 2018 started with a full crew and the determination to make this year AMAZING. I already feel like I'm winning at life and that for the first time I've truly stepped far outside my comfort zone to push myself mentally and physically and prove what I'm capable of. I'm 99% sure that I bore most people I meet with details of ocean rowing, and many find it hard to comprehend exactly what we are doing, or why. The reality is rowing an ocean is really quite selfish. Myself and my crew-mates are the only ones who will ever appreciate and understand the journey we will embark on. We will be the only ones to watch the sun set and rise over the horizon, witness wildlife up close, and experience the Pacific in all its glory and ferocity. But we have been given the chance to do something amazing, something that very few people have the privilege to even try...
2018, the year I row across the Pacific, fulfill an idea that has consumed my thoughts for a few years and hopefully walk (row?) away with a Guinness World Record at the end of it.
Rowing an Ocean is an odd thing. You train mentally and physically as hard as you can, read and watch as many books and documentaries on previous crossings as possible but you'll only ever realise what you've signed up for when you are out in that ocean. Sleep deprived from rowing 2-hour shifts 24/7, experiencing the terrifying waves that others have told you about, witnessing the sun rise and set over the horizon that never changes and going through the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. Most crews plan and train for a crossing two to three years in advance. I got offered the chance to take the journey of a lifetime 11 months out from the start line and what a journey it has been! Let me explain...
Thankfully for everyone who knows me, you can’t just enter the Great Pacific Race and set off from California in the direction of Hawaii and hope for the best. The organisers require you to undertake a number of courses, designed to help you learn how to appropriately navigate, communicate with other vessels and know what to do should you end up in the water rather than on it… One of those courses is competent crew, a 5-day, yacht sailing course designed to make you, well, competent crew.
'You can never cross an ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore'...
In June 2018, I'll find that courage and wave goodbye to friends and family on the shore of Monterey, California and head 2,400 miles across the Pacific to Hawaii. Myself and the other three ladies in the 2400 miles crew will row in pairs two hours on, two hours off, 24 hours a day. The world record currently stands at 50 days, 19 hours and 14 minutes. Our plan is to change that.
A little over two months ago the Aspire Sea Eagles became the first relay team to successfully cross the English Channel in 2017. The sea state was pretty horrible, the sea was a chilly 12 degrees and it took us 16 hours from setting off to reach the beach in France. I'd trained for it for months, pretty much thrown out my brand new wetsuit I'd bought the season before after swearing to only swim in skins going forward and spent the boat ride back from France thinking 'I really want to do that again'...
Three weeks ago we were all in Dover on our last training weekend when we got a phone call. "There's a weather window... You can swim on Wednesday if you wish". Three weeks before we were supposed to swim, passports all over the country and a date our boat leader couldn't make we had to make a difficult decision whether to take it or leave it. We didn't want to swim without Kay as boat leader as she had been a key part of our team getting to where we were, but we were 4th on the tide for the end of June meaning the possibility of great conditions was down to luck, and if the weather was bad it could get postponed until later in the season. After many discussions, quick trips back home to get the passports and the plea's to work to move the AL 3 weeks earlier than planned, we were back in Dover car park, bleary eyed and wondering why we were about to start swimming to France when everyone else was going to bed.
The sun gods were on our side as we arrived in Dover last weekend. Well actually Hythe... because Dover harbour is being dug up and is out of bounds for swimming on Saturday mornings... however, standing on the beach with France the only thing visible on the horizon, it seemed a good place to start my journey to swimming the channel. First up was meeting the rest of my team (Stephen, Stephen, Kalie, Charley, Polly and our boat leader Kay) and thankfully i couldn't ask for a better group of people to swim with. Friendly, supportive, slightly crazy and inspirational we bonded with our first sea swim. The water was a cool 12.3 degrees (your average swimming pool is at least 25 degrees), wetsuits are banned, and the swell was frankly big enough to have fun surfing in. Have I mentioned I've not (properly) swum in the sea before or swum open water without a wetsuit on...?!?
With just over 3 months to go before myself and the rest of the team take on the English Channel, I've been doing everything possible to make sure I reach the start line in a good condition and can put in strong swims for the team. My swim training has been going well but there's only so much up and down I can take before I start to get bored, lose count of what lap i'm on or get annoyed at the other people swimming in my lane...
I am itching to get into open water, however, the water is still pretty cold, and although good for acclimatizing, it's not going to help in my aim to get fitter, quicker and stronger as I just can't spend long enough in it to make a session worth while. Plus, I really hate cold water and am trying to put off the inevitable as long as possible.. Therefore I've spent the winter 'cross-training', have got a new PT, joined a new (super fun) gym and am running as much as possible to get my cardio fitness levels up.
It's not as simple to swim the channel as just deciding you want to go. For starters, its the busiest shipping channel in the world, with between 500 - 600 ships passing through it every day. Secondly, at its narrowest point it measures 34km (21 miles), so it's not exactly a leisurely swim. Add to that a very small number of boats and pilots who are able to support channel swim crossings, and only operate under good weather and tides to give the best opportunity for a successful crossing and you are soon looking at a rather long wait. Why do you need an official channel boat pilot? The list is endless but they make sure you are swimming in the right direction (there's no black line or lane markers in the channel to help you out here...), they help you cover the shortest route possible with the tides, and probably most importantly, ensure you avoid being hit by a ship which is certainly not going to get out of your way!
As the crow flies its 21 and a bit miles from England to France. Most people choose to take the ferry or the tunnel to make the crossing, but every year a small number of people choose to walk into the sea at Dover and swim. This year that will be me.
This adventure will see me team up with 5 other people, grouped together at a channel swim assessment day to form the 'Aspire Sea Eagles', and we will attempt to make an official channel swim 6-man relay crossing, following all rules as set by the channel swimming association.
It's been a long twelve months, with some massive highs and some massive lows (read breakdowns aplenty on the Isle of Wight) but I can honestly say this past 12 months has been some of the most rewarding of my life. Not only have friends and family helped me smash my fundraising target for the Alzheimers Society, but I've taken on some things I never thought I would be able to do and have learnt so much about myself. Upsettingly, I think my career as an Olympic distance runner is doomed as I'm still struggling through races towards the back of the pack, but running has created alot of joy and happiness over the last year and is something I'm really glad I started. It seemed apt, therefore, to finish this Challenge Twelve with a last 5km with some giant inflatable obstacles added in along the way to make it even more fun. The best thing also happened at this event for two reasons.
I love swimming. When I swim I get that feeling that people who love running talk about all the time, that feeling of freedom and ease and more importantly enjoyment! The only part I don't love so much is following that black line up and down followed by the sudden confusion after drifting off in thought as to whether this is lap 64 or 66... did you already swim lap 65 or was that your next lap?!? Open water swimming solves all that.
I'd never actually swum open water until this event, having been away with work for 6 weeks in the summer in a location where swimming open water would have probably resulted in a visit to the doctor, but for once I wasn't nervous at the beginning of a challenge. I feel at home in the water, able to submerge into my own little bubble and swim my own race, without worrying I'm going to be the last person out there (in hindsight, after 10 challenges and this not being the case once I think i probably need to get over this!). The biggest concern was whether to wear my wetsuit or not. Having just spent a small fortune on a brand new open water wetsuit and feeling like chrismas had come early when it arrived I felt that I should, but it was uncharitalistically warm and the water temperature allowed swimmers to enter not wearing one. I watched a few waves exit the water and decided more people were wearing wetsuits than not, and if I didn't wear it I was required to spend money on a tow float to be allowed to swim... decision made, wetsuit was going on!
"Done much training?" a lady asked me in the start pen, whilst others around us jumped up and down attempting to follow the warm up.
"Well I just did the Isle of Wight Ultra a few weeks back" I replied, attempting to skirt round the question.
She dived into conversation telling me all about her training walks, the distances she had been walking, and how this was her first ultra. I wondered if I should come clean. The truth is I had done little to no training the last few weeks. 8 weeks ago I stumbled over the Isle of Wight finish line and 4 weeks ago I had similarly stumbled over the half marathon finish line. My body was in pieces. One foot was completely missing a big toe nail, the other had tape holding down the big toe nail that was doing its best to say attached on one side (trust me, this is much more painful than it sounds!) and my legs looked like someone had created modern art with tape on them. It's fair to say I probably wasn't best prepared for the next 100km.
I've been wanting to run a half marathon for ages. I had grand plans to be a seasoned runner by now, but 6 months of injuries, crutches, and a 106km challenge less than 4 weeks ago has resulted in me not being in the best physical state. I had even umm'd and ahh'd about whether to pull out and find a new half marathon in a few months, but the good will of everyone who had donated money towards my challenges convinced me to run it. Last week I went on a do or die training run with the intention of running 15km alone. I knew if I could do that and not be in too much pain I could make it round the 21km in Edinburgh. I had come up with an even better plan of paying for Gareths entry fee last minute so he could run with me and help pace, but last minute turned out to be the downfall of that sneaky little plan as Edinburgh Marathon closed the entries...
I learnt a lot this past weekend, but 2 things really stood out. Number one; 106km is a really long way when travelling by foot. Number two; Organisation and pre-planning are not my strong points in life. I'll try and keep the 106km concise below...
The weekend started on the ferry from Southampton to Cowes, with the sun setting over the sea bathing the Isle of Wight in a beautiful glow. Although providing the perfect backdrop for some pre challenge photos, by the time we had disembarked the ferry and driven to the campsite complete darkness had taken over. Armed with two grumpy dogs, limited light, and an awareness that come morning I probably wouldn't sleep for the next 30 hours, the tent was pitched in record time with personal reminders written that next time we would arrive well in advance.
The challenge itself started on the picturesque south coast of the Isle of Wight high on the cliffs and set off west, heading towards the first major rest stop approx 25km away at the needles. I'd been pretty nervous prior to starting as I was a 'lone walker', but Gareth followed my progress in the car and came to walk parts with me, and I ended up talking to and walking with a number of other people who were alone as well. It wasn't until I started walking that I realised quite how hilly the Isle of Wight coastal path was, and at 22km I have never been more happy to see Gareth's parents faces appear at the top of a very long hill that had been started to diminish my good mood particularly quickly.
The last few months haven't gone quite to plan... my ankle had been hurting for a while but the pain didnt stop me from doing anything so it had kind of become the norm. However, turns out all this running hasn't helped and as the pain got worse I found myself on crutches in December with a suspected stress fracture in my foot. Not one to be underterred, a few sessions of physio, a few sessions of accupuncture and a potential different diagnosis gave me belief that I could at least carry on with ChallengeTwelve as along as I was sensible and looked after my foot. The only solution if I was to continue and complete the ultra challenges later in the year was to do three smaller challenges over the winter that my foot could cope with to give it time to heel. Winter is the worst time to find a range of challenges and I was limited therefore to picking running (not great for unlaoding the ankle!) and therefore sticking to a short distance, hence the last 3 months have consisted of three 5km races. Not being able to load my ankle properly has resulted in frustrating training periods and a lack of progression in my running which has really frustrated me. However, my ankle has been getting stronger each week and I had a realisation the other day that I now class a 5km run as a short distance. If thats not a success then I don't know what is!!