The Million Steps Challenge Squeezing in the steps

5 July 2019

Now the Million Steps challenge has officially started so every day I’m walking a long loop to the shops rather than going straight up the hill. There are a few variations to choose from, each adding both distance and time to my walks. Some days though, time is at a premium. This was the case on Wednesday. Commando was taking advantage of the hot, dry weather by painting the decking and I was supposed to be helping. To save time, I did a dash straight up the hill and back again, stopping only to snap a couple of pretty flowers along the way. The steps I lost from not taking a long loop were more than made up by all the steps I got painting decking though.

There was also a fair bit of walking in the evening during the Hamwic Harriers training session on the Common. It felt like quite a landmark for the club too. The brand new flag had arrived and, after a bit of faffing about putting it up, it was unveiled.

The hot, muggy weather continued all week. It made walking something of a chore but, determined to get the steps in, I kept on going anyway. There was a hot, sticky return to the preschool on Thursday to take some extra photos. On the way over the train bridge I paused and looked down at the station, remembering all the times Pappy had sat me on the wall when I was small. Back then we’d try to guess if the next train would be steam or diesel.

It didn’t take long to get the photos I needed and, on the way back, I stopped again and looked over the bridge. This time a train came past.of course, these days they are almost all electric. Sadly, this is not nearly as exciting as steam.

In the afternoon I added to my steps with a walk up to the village with Commando. He needed to get an issue with the smart key for our car checked out and I needed the extra steps. Our walk took us past the church in the village so I stopped for a quick photo.

There were two walks today too. The first was a variation on the long loop to the village. This time I went up the hill through Hum Hole. This was mostly to keep out of the burning sun as long as possible but it did add to my steps total.

The afternoon walk was a little more interesting. Commando had an appointment at the Running School so I went along to walk while he was being tortured. There were two things I was hoping to find. The first was that pavement down to the church would have been finished by now. There was no sign of any progress at all though. The second was that the church door would be open. Sadly, it wasn’t.

This left me at a bit of a loss. Walking past all the building work again felt as if it would be too depressing so, on a whim, I decided to head for Lakeside instead. When I came through with Kim on our marathon training walk we hadn’t had time to stop and walk around the lakes and I had an idea there might be some cygnets to be found.

At least this time I knew I could get down to the end of the lane and across the road by the Monks Brook ford without too much trouble. It still seems very odd to be walking on the old road without any traffic though, especially as the old road signs are still there.

The fields on the other side of the ford were bursting with wildflowers and buzzing with bees. It was too hot to hang around for long taking photos though so I hurried on towards the shade of the trees around the lakes.

Looking at the beautiful lakes today it’s hard to imagine they were once gravel pits. As Eastleigh is a railway town, presumably the gravel extracted was used for the railway. The fact that the powers that be chose to turn the area into a lovely, semi wild country park covering sixty acres, tells me the council back then was far more environmentally aware than they are today.

As I only had an hour I knew I wouldn’t be able to explore the park very thoroughly. If there were cygnets to be seen, I had an idea they’d be in the lake with the little island nearest the new visitor centre. This always seems to be the wildest lake to me. It isn’t used by the fishermen, the kayakers or the model boat enthusiasts and it is usually teeming with birds.

Today though I walked around the edge nearest the visitor centre without seeing a single bird. There were no birds to be seen as I rounded the bend and crossed the lovely little wooden bridge either. For a while I stood, peering at the island, wondering where they were all hiding?

On the far side of the bridge I turned right and slowly began to walk around the fisherman’s lake. There were quite a few fishermen sitting on the banks but no birds at all. It seemed very strange but I kept on walking, expecting to come upon a whole mass of birds at any moment.

When I reached the giant chair I turned right again and took the path that runs between the fisherman’s lake and the boating lake. Several years ago I saw nesting swans here but today there were no swans, nesting or otherwise. As I walked my head was going from one side to the other, peering through the trees looking for wildlife. There was none, not even a greylag. I was beginning to understand what the sailors who discovered the abandoned Mary Celeste must have felt. Maybe all the Lakeside waterbirds were in the trees on the island laughing at me?

With more time I might have walked around the boating lake but I had to get back to meet Commando. It may not have been the most successful walk but, as I made my way back up the new footpath on Stoneham Lane, I consoled myself that I was, at least, getting some steps in.

With two days left until the end of the first week of my challenge I am well on track to hit my target. As there is a ten mile walk planned with Kim on Sunday, I’m fairly sure I will not fall short.

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Lots of small steps

29 June 2019

This week I have been getting my head around the enormity of the two challenges I’ve undertaken. The Million Steps Challenge doesn’t begin until 1 July but I’ve worked out I will need to walk around eleven thousand steps a day. Training for the Clarendon Marathon should more than take care of that.

When people learn you are walking a marathon, they often think it must be easy. This is especially true of runners, who usually say, “but you’re only walking it,” as if walking makes covering twenty six point two miles somehow easier than running it. The fact is, however you do it, it’s bloody hard. As a non runner, I can’t imagine running that distance and I have every admiration for anyone who can. Even so, I know from experience walking it is equally hard. You are on your feet twice as long for a start and, unlike running, where quite a bit of time is spent mid air (as anyone who’s seen my photographs of runners will notice), walkers always have at least one foot on the ground supporting their weight. It seems to me that the extra effort involved in running is cancelled out by the extra time and stress on the feet walkers suffer. Commando agrees, having run long distances and walked a few with me, he says running is actually easier over the same distance.

Anyhow, the upshot of taking on the Million Steps Challenge and the Clarendon Marathon is that I need to get walking. Getting the miles and steps in is going to be about lots of small steps rather than one big one. This week that has mostly been about tweaking my normal routine and changing my normal route to the village a little to add a few more steps. Some of these steps have been quite literal, like those leading from the bypass, others more figurative, like walking a longer loop instead of straight there and back.

A couple of appointments helped me fit in quite a few extra steps too. The first was in Woolston on Tuesday, giving me a nice four mile round trip. As usual, paranoia about being late meant I left with plenty of time and had a nice gentle stroll down Peartree Avenue past the little church on the green.

On Bridge Road I spotted a ghost sign on the front wall of a shop. Quite how I’ve missed it before is inexplicable given how often I’ve walked past over the years. It was badly faded but I could make out the words ‘manufacturers of fine..’ and ‘coke and briquettes.’ Perhaps it was a coal merchant at one time? Kelly’s Directories list it as William Barrett boot maker from 1925 to 1964, so maybe that is where the manufacturers part comes in?

On the corner of Lake Road there is another ghost sign. In fact it looks like several business have painted over it over the years. Sadly, this makes it almost impossible to decipher. I can just make out the words ‘sport,’ ‘engineers’ and ‘overhauls,’ though so I’m guessing it might have been a garage or bike shop at some point.

There was even time for a little wander around what used to be Vosper Thorneycroft. The sculpture outside Metricks is a favourite of mine and it was interesting to look down over the next phase of building work and wonder what it would eventually be like.

The meeting went much as I’d expected. I was left full of coffee with a list of things to do for a new copywriting and photography project. Walking home, the ghost signs were fresh in my mind and, as I walked, I couldn’t help looking out for more of them. Back on Bridge Road I noticed one on the side wall of the memorial mason’s shop. As the shop is still in the same hands though I’m not sure that really counts as a ghost sign.

A little further up the road I found more signs above the Co-op. Sadly, one was obscured by a satellite dish and both were so faded I couldn’t make anything out. Even so, I took a photo. These little mysteries always make me smile.

There was a bit more walking later in the day too. Commando was running the Lordshill Magic Mile on the Common and I was tasked with taking photos. Quite a large group of Hamwic Harriers turned up to run. Their bright red shirts made them nice and easy to spot.

On Wednesday night there was more walking on the Common when I went to take photos of the Hamwic session. This involved running laps of the boating lake so, while everyone went for a warm up run, I headed straight for the lake. It must have been my lucky night because, when I got there, I found two mute swans and two fluffy cygnets. When the runners arrived they couldn’t understand why I was so excited. Then again, I don’t think the swans understood why all the runners were going round and round their lake either.

On Thursday the weather suddenly got very warm. It was as if we’d gone from late winter to full summer overnight. After slathering on lots of sun cream I managed a long loop to the village but it felt like tough going. The bees on the roses by the bypass steps seemed to like it though.

Friday was also very hot and, following on from my Tuesday meeting, I had another appointment, A new preschool is opening close to Bitterne Manor and part of my job was to go down and take some photos to use on their website. The walk involved another slathering of suncream and lots of dodging from one patch of shade to the next. It also took me past the funny castle like house on the corner of Vespasian Road. Bitterne Manor is built on the site of the Roman fortress settlement of Clausentum and Vespasian Road is named after the Roman emperor of the time. The odd little house, built in the style of a Martello tower, is on the corner where the defensive ditch would have been. It is not a defensive tower though, or even of any great antiquity. It’s just a folly, built in the mid nineteenth century. Even so I love its quirkiness.

Somehow I made it to the new preschool without expiring from the heat. Luckily no one commented on my red face. After a bit of chat about what was expected and a few photos of the charming garden, complete with an old boat for the children to play in, I was given a tour. This was when things got very interesting.

When I was shown the small back garden, where the children will one day be growing vegetables, I spotted a section of ancient looking wall. This was very exciting. Clausentum was the forerunner of the town of Southampton. It was built in around AD 70 or so using the sharp bend in the river and ditches to enclose the settlement. Inside wooden huts and wharves were built. Later stone buildings replaced the huts and, in around AD 350, a bath house with four rooms was built and the whole area was enclosed by a stone wall. At the other end of the building I discovered another section of wall. Could these be part of the original wall?

Clausentum was abandoned about three hundred years before the Saxons settled in Hamwic on the other side of the river. The Manor House was built using some of the old Clausentum stones and masses of artefacts have been uncovered in the area. In fact there are restrictions on digging anywhere in the surrounding roads, even in gardens. The remains of the bath house wall are in the grounds of the Manor House but they aren’t accessible to the public.

The pieces of wall I found are certainly very old. Whether they are actually connected with Clausentum or not remains to be seen but it felt like an exciting discovery all the same.

Once I’d taken all the photographs I needed for my project I decided to have a wander along the shore before I headed home. There was a cooling breeze ruffling the long grass and the tide was low so I walked right down onto the slippery shingle. There’s an old iron boat abandoned down at the water’s edge. I’m told it is the remains of a Royal Navy Harbour Defence Launch. Whatever it is, I do love the dilapidated look of it.

Even with the breeze the heat was getting oppressive and I was wishing I’d brought a water bottle with me. It felt like time to head for home. Rather than go back the way I’d come, I decided to walk back through the woods beside the Manor House.

At first this seemed like quite a good plan. Then I reached the gate and had to leave the shade and walk along the road. It was not the most pleasant walk I’ve ever had. In fact I felt as if I was in serious danger of melting. Every step was a struggle but I did make it home eventually.

It was just as hot this morning when we went to parkrun. The cool of the Old Cemetery was very welcome. Commando had told me a bench, like the one in the village, had been installed near the chapel so I had a mission to keep me amused.

There are actually three chapels in the Old Cemetery. For some reason I’d been expecting to find the new bench outside the Church of England chapel, just inside the gate. It wasn’t there so I kept on walking.

This was no real hardship, even in the heat. There were wild sweet peas, clambering over the graves near the Non-Conformist chapel. When I straightened up from taking photographs I caught a glimpse of something bench like near the chapel door. Moments later my mission was complete. I’d found the bench.

For the next quarter of an hour or so I wandered slowly through the shady cemetery, dreading going back to the flats where the finish funnel would be scorching hot with no shade at all. It had to be done though and I comforted myself with the thought that all these little bits of walking will probably pay off when I’m struggling my way through the Clarendon Marathon, even if none of my steps this week will actually count towards the One Million.

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Two challenges

21 June 2019

A little while ago I saw a Facebook post about a challenge to walk one million steps between July and September this year. Thirteen weeks walking around 11,000 steps a day seemed doable and the money raised would go to Diabetes UK. As my wonderful Mother in Law, April, suffered with type II Diabetes, it was a charity close to my heart so, on a whim, I signed up.

A few days later a Twitter post from my lovely friend Kim said she’d signed up to walk the Clarendon Marathon in early October. It wasn’t really a surprise, she’d been talking about it for a while and had even asked me about my two Moonwalk marathons. What was a surprise though, was the reply from Commando saying he’d signed me up to do it with her! Luckily both things worked together rather well but it meant I really was going to have to up my game and get some miles in.

Commando, possibly feeling a little guilty, bought me a brand new Garmin so I could track my miles and steps better. Armed with this and a training plan, the walking began in earnest this week. It started on Monday when I added a bit of extra distance to my normal daily walk up the hill to the shops by taking a longer route. On Tuesday I walked to the big supermarket in Portswood to get my daily milk and newspaper rather than just up the hill. This more than doubled the mileage but there was a bit of an issue.

Not long after I left home the rain began to fall. This wouldn’t normally have been a problem as I was wearing a light mac, but I was also wearing leather sandals. By the time I was half way across Cobden Bridge my feet were soaked and I could feel the burn of a blister starting on my left foot. As a start to a walking marathon training programme it wasn’t great.

A packet of blister plasters was swiftly added to my shopping list. I sat on the steps just inside the door of the supermarket to put one on. Then I went back out into the rain and walked home again with my four pint carton of milk and my newspaper.

On Wednesday I added miles to my normal up the hill shopping walk by going through the local woodland called Hum Hole. All the rain we’ve had meant it was extra green but the normally slippery path has been resurfaced since I last walked this way. Rather than being slightly slimy and slippery in the wet it is now grippy and beautifully spongy underfoot. Commando thinks they may have used recycled tyres, which seems like a brilliant plan on many fronts.

At the very top of the steep climb I paused to get my breath and looked up into the dripping trees. When I saw a woodpecker I could hardly believe my eyes. Often I’ve heard them pecking away in the woods but this was the first time I’d ever actually seen one. Of course, by the time I’d raised my phone to take a photo it had flown away so all I got was leaves and a moody looking sky. On the way home I spotted a new commemorative bench at the top of the hill. It’s really rather beautiful with its red poppies and it must be very new because I’ve not noticed it before.

Thursday saw me back on my Monday big loop up the Hill. There were different gardens to look at and one, filled with poppies caught my eye so I stopped to take a picture. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at it properly that I noticed the tortoise hiding amongst the flowers!

To add a little more distance I stopped off at the Village church and visited Pappy’s grave. Walking back through the precinct the clouds ahead looked threatening so I upped my speed on the way home. Luckily it’s all down hill. Unluckily, I didn’t beat the rain and got quite wet.

Kim and I had come to the marathon training game a little late to fit in a full training schedule but, luckily, we both walk, or in Kim’s case, run, a fair few miles every day anyway. The plan was to walk alone as much as possible but to have one long walk together each week. As Kim works shifts, it wouldn’t be the same day each week but today was our first.

The plan was to start from my house and walk to Southampton Common by way of Eastleigh, a distance of around eight miles. Commando and Rob would meet us in the Bellemoor for lunch and a Hamwic Harriers brainstorming meeting. It was a beautifully sunny morning, far warmer than it has been of late, and it looked as if we might even get there without getting wet.

Walking across Riverside Park towards Woodmill, I hoped I’d see the mute swan cygnets again. Today they were on the far bank though, just grey specks in the distance. There were a couple of black swans a little closer and they, and the good weather tempered my disappointment a little.

This walk reminded me of all the long walks I did to train for the two Moonwalks. Both times I’d taken a route along the river, adding a little more distance each week until I finally ended up walking to Winchester then turning around and walking back. The memory of all those lonely miles reminded me of the enormity of the task ahead. A few doubts began to creep in. Now I’m much older and probably not as fit. Will I really be able to do it all again?

Of course this time I wouldn’t be doing it alone. As I didn’t want Kim to start having doubts too, I painted a confident smile in my face, put an extra spring in my step and pretended I wasn’t worried. We walked together along the riverbank towards Mansbridge chatting away as if this was just any old walk. We laughed at the haughty looking greylag geese and reminisced about the day of the kayaks.

About half way to the bridge we came upon a family of mute swans with four beautiful grey cygnets. Seeing them certainly made up for my earlier disappointment. As we walked on I told Kim about the orphaned cygnets at this exact spot a few years back. We both wondered if either of the parents was one of those same cygnets? It was such a lovely idea we hoped we were right.

In no time at all we’d reached Mansbridge. From here I’d normally take the trail along Monks Brook towards Eastleigh but, with so much recent rain, this didn’t seem like a good idea. It’s muddy along there at the best of times and neither of us fancied a swim in the brook. Instead we walked along Mansbridge Road, just as I used to do when I was Moonwalk training. In fact, I probably haven’t taken the road route since then so it added to the deja vu feeling I’d been having on and off since Cobden Bridge.

Before I knew it we were passing the airport, stopping briefly for a picture of all the poppies on the verge by the Spitfire sculpture. The miles really seemed to be going far quicker with a little company and some chat.

We finally departed from my old Moonwalk route at Lakeside. Rather than carrying on up the road to Eastleigh we headed across the park towards North Stoneham. There was a quick stop for a toilet break in the fancy new building and a brief sit down on a bench for a snack. Snacks are an important part of long walks. Not only do they give you energy, but they also give you something to look forward to to break up the miles. Today I’d brought some of the chocolate salty ball running snacks I make for Commando. They’re basically dates, peanut butter, coconut oil, cocoa powder and oats with a few extras thrown in. Kim loves them so she was delighted I’d brought them.

We stopped for barely five minutes and then we were off again. The next part of the route had been worrying me a little all morning. In the past I’ve often walked across Lakeside, taken the bridge across the Monks Brook ford and crossed the road to Stoneham Lane. Now though the whole road layout has changed and I wasn’t sure if we could still get through. If we could it might not be as easy as it had been.

In the end my worrying was all for nothing. There is a new pedestrian crossing, albeit temporary, just the other side of the bridge. It took us to the beginning of Stoneham Lane, at least what used to be the beginning before the new part of the road was built. This part of the lane was always the most difficult to walk because it bends sharply and there aren’t even any verges to jump on if a car comes. Now though, there are no cars so it has basically become a very wide footpath. Today it was lined by big orange barriers and cones. What purpose they served we never did work out.

Once we’d passed St Nicolas Church it was fairly easy going. There’d been no more progress on the pavement since I last came this way but almost all of the lane did have a pavement and, in no time at all we’d reached Burgess Road and the Common felt very nearby. Of course it is all uphill but, with someone to talk to it didn’t seem too bad.

By the time we got to the Common there were a few worrying looking clouds on the horizon but we didn’t have far to go by this time so we just kept walking. We made it to the Bellemoor before the rain fell and discovered we’d also beaten Commando and Rob. Not bad going at all for our first marathon training walk.

Annoyingly I accidentally stopped my Garmin atLakeside so the walk is in two parts
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Slip sliding to the final running school 28 August

28 August 2018

Today was my final Running School session and I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or sad. The previous sessions had all been extremely tough, pushing me to my limits but there was something almost enjoyable, in a masochistic way, about being tested and getting through it. Maybe enjoyable isn’t the right word and maybe the joy part when they were over was more about having survived. Either way, I set off this morning with mixed feelings. For once there was a good chance of getting wet along the way and I was actually wearing a thin raincoat. Continue reading Slip sliding to the final running school 28 August

Lymington, parkrunning and fairy doors

25 August

For three whole days after my last Running School session, I could barely walk. On day one, Commando laughed every time I groaned and winced as I tried to get out of the chair. It was slightly better on day two but I still looked like an elderly lady who had lost her walking frame. Yesterday I managed to get up the big hill without stopping, but it was slow, painful progress. Oddly, my Achilles hadn’t hurt at all, throughout this epic DOMS extravaganza, my calves were the problem. Today, apart from a little residual calf tenderness, normal service was more or less resumed and we were off to Lymington for another spot of parkrun tourism.   Continue reading Lymington, parkrunning and fairy doors

More parkrun tourism, Moors Valley revisited

18 August 2018

Now we’d been bitten by the parkrun tourism bug we couldn’t seem to stop. Rob said we should declare August parkrun tourism month and try a new venue every week. Everyone was talking about where to go next. The popular vote was Moors Valley and, even though Commando and I had been there last summer, we didn’t want to miss the fun so decided to go along too. Poor Kim had to work so couldn’t join us but our numbers were swelled by Ian and Kate.  Continue reading More parkrun tourism, Moors Valley revisited

Setting up camp at Thunder Run

20 July 2018

Frankly, a three hour drive to Walton on Trent was probably not the best thing for my back. Two or so hours in, when we reached Warwick Services, I could barely get out of the car. There was some hobbling around, a loo stop, some much needed food and coffee and then it was back to the car for another interminable, painful hour. At least there was a hotel at the end of it and a chance to walk around, albeit like an old lady who’s lost her walking frame. No photos were taken, apart from one of the hotel door so I’d remember the number when I came back from my hobbling. All this, was yesterday and it was just the precursor to Thunder Run, a twenty four hour endurance race. As far as I could see, at that point, I’d already endured quite enough and it hadn’t even begun yet.  Continue reading Setting up camp at Thunder Run

Fifty miles

27 January 2018

On a normal Saturday morning I can usually be found hanging around on the Common while Commando runs parkrun. Sometimes I volunteer, sometimes I just go for a quiet wander. For three weeks in a row though I’ve been conspicuous in my absence and it’s all down to Commando’s friend Rob and a harebrained scheme to run fifty miles and raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK. Continue reading Fifty miles

December miles

The beginning of December and my virtual challenge was nearly at an end. Gibraltar and the ferry to Tangier were almost in reach, but December isn’t an easy month to fit in walking miles. The weather is often bad and far too many seasonal things get in the way of going for a walk. Would I get there or would I fall short?  Continue reading December miles

November miles

In the world of virtual walking November began in El Calon, Spain. In the real world it began with a particularly nasty stomach bug, caught from CJ, that laid me low for almost a week. This was not good news for my mileage but I limped along anyway and walked as much as I could. Continue reading November miles