Bump-starting the engine

My running – and writing this blog – stalled so badly after the pot-hole marathon in January that a bump-start to the engine was needed.

What better way to get the pistons firing again than two marathons in two days along the glorious South West Coast Path, involving 10,000 feet of climbing, as part of the Votwo events Devon Coast Challenge

Never mind that the furthest I’d run in three months was 13 miles, the thought of two whole days with nothing to think about but putting one foot in front of the other, whilst savouring fabulous scenery, was enough temptation to test whether the sparks were still working.

Thankfully they were, I loved every step of those 52.4 miles. The fantastic weather was a big plus, perfect for going out for an open-top spin. Once I got going, the miles melted away, each steep climb or descent rewarded with another spectacular view.

The first day from Braunton Burrows to Combe Martin was seven and a half hours, 4,000 feet of the climbing, the second day on to Porlock, just over 8 hours, 6,000 feet of climbing. The aim of this race though was not a fast time, but a good time.

I was also keen to get marathons 68 and 69 under my belt, in advance of Sunday May 26th, for the third, and what is to be final Women Can Marathon, which will by my 70th. I’m looking forward to being the official back marker sweeper marshal, a fitting way to finish this event I dreamt up as a one-off for 2017, and which I’m proud that it has enabled many women to run a marathon for the first time.

Although I’ve been lax at posting here, I have been writing elsewhere, recently publishing a new children’s story ‘Archie, Space Dog!’ about my Cairn-Skye terrier cross Archie dreaming of going to the moon, with fabulous illustrations by Mark Hannon.

The book was six months from writing to publication, an intense process, with a build up on the Facebook page to lift off on Saturday May 4th.

Recent weeks and months have seen the fourth and second anniversaries of the loss of my dad and my mum, a bout of flu for me, and a series of health issues for my husband John.

This weekend of two marathons was just what I needed – physically tiring, but mentally rejuvenating – and good to find there’s life in the old legs yet.

Now I’ve got the engine fired up again, just need to keep running. Happy to be back in the driving seat.

 

 

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Name that pothole

My aims at the start of this year were to explore, dream, discover.

It’s going well, I’m now on first name terms with the many potholes of Lightmoor, near Telford.

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I entered the Holly Challenge as it tied in with a visit to Shropshire – beautiful scenic county, so the websites and everyone told me. Great spot for marathon 67 then.

Except I’d overlooked to check the route information that pointed out it was 32 laps of a 0.84 mile course, and came with a caution to mind the potholes.

You may think that once you’ve seen one pothole, you’ve seen them all, but no, every shape, size, spacing, was here. If you like potholes this was pothole bonanza.

The course also featured two significant hills. Two is fine. Multiply two by 32. That’s 64 significant hills then, as my GPS record shows…

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It worked out to over 1,600 feet of climbing and by lap 6 I was feeling every step of ascent.

I decided to tick off the remaining 26 laps by naming a new pothole each time, working through the alphabet.

I started off choosing male/female names in turn, family and friends, who I’d call to mind each time I passed by “their” pothole…

Amy, Bernard, Carly, David, Ethel, Freddie, Granny, Huw, Island of Mallorca (the system begins to break down, like me), Jules, Katie, Lee, Monika, No Name (no energy to think of one), Olivia, Pothole Pete, Queen of Potholes (akin to a small lake), Rosemary, Simon, Teresa, Uninspired (by now I was), Vera, William, X-ray (my head please), Yippee (one lap to go), Zonked (speaks for itself!).

Helped by the A to Z roll call, I made the six hour cut-off with 8 minutes to spare and no wish to reacquaint myself with those potholes anytime soon.

But I’m happy to have ticked off marathon 67. Thanks for putting on this challenge go to the team from How Hard Can it Be Events. As organiser Denzil said as I wearily crossed the finish line: “The clue’s in the name!”

Explore, Dream, Discover – my 2039 resolutions

It’s that date on the calendar when there’s talk of how to do better at life.

Why today? The 31st December is a snapshot in time like any other, not even the start of a new season to distinguish it.

Does nature care whether it’s New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day?

Taking a longer term view, a broader perspective emerges of seasons, patterns of behaviour, of hopes and dreams, achievements and failures, times enjoyed and times endured.

One marathon event this year – the 3-day Atlantic Coast Challenge – had motivational quotes. My favourite from Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbour, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.”

Those words struck a chord as I ran along the rocky north Cornish coast.

It was 20 years ago, as a 33-year-old newspaper reporter that I walked the entire South West Coast Path, writing weekly accounts of my progress, in an age when mobile phones and the internet were in their infancy, and such challenges rarely publicised in real-time. It was the first significant “Explore, Dream, Discover” six weeks of my life and I remember it like it was yesterday.

As 1998 became 1999, life was at a turning point and I joined the staff of BBC Radio Devon as a local radio broadcast journalist.

Aside from covering regular news stories, live radio offered opportunities for further outdoor adventure, including in 2003 a 460-mile walking challenge around the entire Devon border, with my dog Bella, doing daily inserts to programmes, an amazing and memorable four weeks.

 

My love of the outdoors through walking, expanded to running, germinating from a single marathon seed in 2005 that’s blossomed into a passion for long-distance running. Much exploring, dreaming and discovering has been connected to pockets of 26.2 miles – from the rugged trails of the New Forest to the skyscrapers and boroughs of New York – footstep after footstep of memories.

In 2011 I left the safe harbour of a regular career, initially adrift, but the trade winds I caught in my sails led me to write a children’s story about plastic pollution, Tuamor the Turtle, and to organise the Women Can Marathon.

I felt confident back then to cut my career bowlines, with the security of strong family support. But there are no safe, impenetrable harbours, mum and dad have both passed away and my husband John is dependent on care.

In 20 years, time and tide has changed the landscape of friends two-legged and four-legged too, as it surely will further, if, or more hopefully when, my 73-year-old self looks back on this moment.

I’ve got a few goals in mind already, reaching 100 marathons is one of my horizon lines, writing more children’s books and other stories, new places to visit, footpaths to be walked, mountains to climb, sunsets to watch. No doubt, more will come as the years pass.

So instead of a 12 month resolution, I’ll take the Mark Twain longer view, looking ahead to 2039 whilst always seeking those trade winds to Explore, Dream, Discover.

 

 

Tuamor the Turtle Turns Three

Jo Earlam with Tuamor books“On a beach far away – far from people, far from houses, far from shops…”

The opening words of “Tuamor the Turtle”, my children’s story about plastic pollution in the seas and oceans, published three years ago today.

Now the plastic plague is everywhere, the contagion being not the material itself, but its concentrated convenience, especially of single use and ill-considered disposal.

When I first wrote the 1,500-word story about turtles dying from eating plastic bags – having mistaken them for jellyfish – it was greeted with surprise, sometimes bordering on disbelief.

Many were already campaigning on this important issue facing our planet, but since 2015 the plastic tide and concern surrounding it has grown to tsunami like proportions, such that few can remain unaware.

Blue Planet 2 brought a wave of protest and practical action with a hugely beneficial ripple effect. On the flip side plastic proliferation reaches the bottom of our deepest oceans, it’s in the stomachs of dead seabirds and whales, choking the necks of seals and contaminating our food.

Having been into many primary schools with my book, I’m always struck by how attentive, interested and concerned the children are.

A batch of letters from Webbers C of E Primary School, Holcombe Rogus, included these comments:

“I am really inspired by Tuamor the Turtle. The book explains what is happening in the sea. Your book is amazing. I love the drawings. I really want to do a beach tidy up to get rid of all the plastic. I would like to make a machine that gets rid of all the plastic.”

“We all learnt something about how plastic is polluting our world.”

“The book was smashing. I liked how much detail there was, and you taught me never to litter again.”

No litter dropped again, what a step that would be! And there’s understanding in seeing a global issue through the eyes of a fictional character.

A mum from Stoke Hill Junior School, in Exeter, sent this following a conversation with her daughter: “She’s realised songs and books have messages in their words. She’s absorbed the message in your book, which is amazing. When trying to orchestrate a change such as this, it’s important to get the message across to the next generation by educating children as young as possible. Where better than to start in schools.”

Tuamor’s story has been taken up by primary teachers for National Curriculum Key Stage 1 and 2 projects, based around literacy and persuasive writing. The children have written letters to the Prime Minister, the Queen, heads of industry and plastic campaigners. They’ve done their own artwork and stories.

The book is an official charity partner for the Marine Conservation Society, raising money through each copy sold, and available from their website, with plans to create specific teaching resources.

Tuamor has his own Facebook page and a promotional video.

There’s steady progress in direct sales, helped by local distributors Tormark, and supportive independents, with particular thanks to Sidmouth Museum.

Tuamor owes much of his character and appeal to the brilliant illustrations by Mark Hannon and it was the spot-on editing and publishing by Laura Joint that brought the story to book form – as co-founders of Team Tuamor.

The book is printed on environmentally friendly paper by the efficient and helpful team at Significant Signs, in Plymouth. In excess of a thousand have been sold and hopefully positively received, though even in writing a children’s story book about plastic pollution it’s impossible to satisfy everyone.

What’s been the only return came back a couple of weeks ago, with the message: “Badly written, not what I expected.”

It would be easy to fall prey to doubt at the first poor review, but what that criticism represents is a 99.9% success rate in three years, not bad for a tiny turtle standing tall to send his “love our world” message.

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And in the disposable times we live, hope for the future must rest in the next generation, like eight-year-old Harry who wrote: “Dear Jo Earlam, thank you so much for coming into our school and reading/talking to us about your amazing book Tuamor the Turtle. Your book really inspired me, and I only guess lots of others. If I were you, I would keep on writing different stories; the way you write them for younger people pulls across such a big message. I love the message in the story. It really has shown me how bad it really is. Thank you so much.”

I feel fortunate in writing Tuamor’s story to have been able to engage with many children on this topic. They give me hope. And thank you Harry, yes, I will keep writing. stories.

With thanks to everyone who’s helped me and my turtle to swim this far.

Don’t Panic, Run 2

It’s not everyone’s idea of reducing stress, but for me running three marathons in three days along the North Cornwall coast path, was the most relaxing experience I’ve had in ages…and the best fun too!

 

This was day one, Harlyn Bay to Perranporth – a gentle introduction on mostly wide undulating grassy footpaths, across expansive cliff tops, looking down over turquoise blue coves, taking my shoes and socks off to run along sandy beaches, in a slight breeze and warm sunshine.

Day two – on from Perranporth to Hayle – started off wild and wet with 40 mph winds and lashing rain, up and down terrain, exposed headlands, rugged cliffs, the weather improving in the afternoon in time for windswept beaches with rolling surf.

 

Day three – underway from Lelant to Land’s End on a beautiful 7am sunrise – was astonishing, spectacular, breathtaking, hard, a series of steep climbs and descents, narrow twisting, rocky paths, difficult to walk, let alone run, wild and untamed, nature at its finest.

 

Despite the challenging terrain, I was in great spirits, loving every step, then I fell at mile 16 trying to outpace a faster runner down a steep, rocky path. Not a wise move. I gashed both my hands and bruised my leg, but was able to pick myself up and keep going.

The sudden rush of adrenaline brought on a panic attack and moments later I was in the grip of all the symptoms, increased heart-rate, rapid breathing, feeling of deep terror, pounding in my head, sobbing and fighting an urge to scream.

It was horrible, frightening, disabling, a feeling of being stripped of physical and mental capacity to carry on.

I thought: “This is it. Even this running challenge is too much for useless, pathetic me. A grazed hand and I’m floored.”

But as overwhelming negative thoughts began flowing through my head, my feet continued to move forward, to make progress up the stony track.

I found my homeopathic panic remedy in my bag, thankful that I’d thought to carry it, I consciously worked on regulating my breathing and tried to logically check the flow of alarm bell reactive thinking.

And in every step I found strength, the ability to keep going, one foot in front of the other, to quell the panic.

At the next checkpoint, a lovely medic, Helen, patched me up, made me a cup of tea and, when I told her of my anxiety, sent me on my way with a warm reassuring hug.

With a bruised leg, my progress was slower than it had been before, people I’d passed were now passing me, but I was just happy to continue, to not be overwhelmed, to have conquered my demons for that day.

I’d responded to my anxiety in the way that for me is the most natural and the best.

I didn’t panic, I ran.

And it was just the best feeling in the world.

 

Thank you to Votwo Events for a brilliantly organised, wonderful, welcoming, friendly event. The most fantastic three days. And from my very cosy caravan, even a sea view…

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Three marathons in three days – yes, despite a small panic attack, I am very well relaxed.

 

Don’t Panic, Run!

My blog posts have been a bit sporadic in recent years, but when I started this site in June 2013 writing it was a big help in what was a difficult time.

Running was also a huge source of strength and still is, which is why I’m using both again to help me try and cope with what have become recurring and disabling panic attacks.

They began immediately after my mum died, and have been unrelenting since.

I’ve tried all kinds of therapy, counselling and research some of which has helped, some hasn’t. I’ve done avoidance behaviour, dodging things that might be triggers and giving up roles that had stress attached, which I found increasingly hard to cope with – but an underlying sense of anxiety just won’t go away, and the panic attacks when they happen are disturbing and draining.

The cumulative effect of nearly 18 months in this, now diagnosed state of post-traumatic stress, is that it feels as if my brain is on constant alert, hot-wired for any slight sense of tension – nerve-endings hovering over the red light emergency bleeper ready to press PANIC at any time.

When it does go off, it’s like fingernails on a blackboard, violins being played out of tune, a throbbing head, rapid breathing, inability to speak, sometimes screaming, crying – physical sensations that are impossible to ignore.

I feel as if everything I do is compromised as a result, my skill sets, decision making, organising, planning, responsibility all with question marks, doubt and fear attached.

Even writing this seems clunky and difficult.

But I’ll persevere because one of the few things I still feel able to do, to feel at ease with is running – the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, I can do that, it carries no sense of fear, no need to mentally hover over the panic button.

So I’m in for a real treat this weekend – three full marathons in three days, an 80 mile trek along part of the North Cornwall coastline.

I can’t wait. My way of relaxation and enjoyment and my way of overcoming anxiety, don’t panic, run!

All being well, photos and race report next week.

 

Miles of marvellous memories

09-03-2015 194328It’s twenty years ago this weekend that I set off on one of the greatest adventures of my life, walking the South West Coast Path.

I was 33, Devon chief reporter for the Western Morning News and very lucky that editor Barrie Williams agreed to me doing this as a work role and writing about it every week.

It was a different era and somewhat unusual to undertake a personal challenge of this kind, but Barrie saw the potential for it gaining a following with readers, and supported the aim of raising money for the RNLI and the air ambulances for Devon and Cornwall.

Apart from my dog, I walked mostly on my own. This was before mobile phones were in everyday use, the signal was patchy as masts were still being put up, and it was pre any social media. My husband John had last minute reservations, but I talked him into letting me go, though I did have a knot in my stomach as I set off.

I had no idea what I would write about, but I was sure things would happen, as they do on any journey. Within the first week my dog Tilly had had an accident that meant she couldn’t continue and I had to call on John to deliver our other dog Toby to Barnstaple and take injured Tilly home.

It was the first of regular trips to see me on route, as John would drive down each weekend to whatever point I’d reached, bring me clean clothes and collect my dirty ones. My mum and dad would also meet me at intervals, and a number of Western Morning News readers joined me at various times – most memorably William Smith, of St Ives, 36088172_2024269717583739_5085394170709803008_nwho became a regular companion, waving the flag of St Piran as I crossed into Cornwall and accompanying me on the Cremyll ferry as I returned, in William’s words, “to England.”

I have many abiding memories, and people are certainly one of them.

So many kindnesses from the lifeboat crews and supporters who I stayed with, including sleeping in the stations, Western Morning News readers who invited me to their homes, people who gave me meals and lifts to where I was staying overnight, those who sponsored me including some children who emptied their money boxes into mine at Brixham, and everyone who walked with me, family, friends and strangers.

Other memories are of the stunning scenery, the sea a constant companion, with the ever-changing landscape capturing a unique frame of its beauty. With July 1998 turning out to be one of the wettest on record, squelching springs to mind, as does scorching, the last week through Dorset was high 20s hot every day.

Phone boxes! I spent many an hour in those phoning over my copy every Monday to the patient WMN copy-takers, sometimes taking an hour as the features were across two pages each week.

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In these days of digital press a button, tell the world in one go, it’s strange to think how important those phone boxes, copy-takers and photographers were to deliver the story.

So much has changed in twenty years. In my own life, not least that my wonderful parents who supported me hugely, have both passed away, and my husband John now requires my daily help to look after him.

I still do a lot of walking, but am more likely to be found running along the coast path these days.

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I was in Woolacombe last weekend for the North Devon AONB marathon and it was striking how much more the coast path is appreciated and used – this spectacular natural feature on our south west doorstep offers us much and is there, basically for free, to be enjoyed.

I was running along the path again today, this time closer to home at Otterton, where enterprising farmer Sam Walker at Stantyway Farm has opened up an honesty café, a wonderful peaceful spot for a coffee and piece of cake at just £1.50.

That surely beats some 1998 prices. Life, like the coast path, brings ups and downs in many different aspects, some things change irrevocably in 20 years, others stay the same.

I have miles of marvellous memories from the coast path not just from that 1998 walk, but prior to and since. Throughout our lives – whatever the path throws up – nature is there to nurture us.

The 1998 walk raised £3,200 for the RNLI and the air ambulances of Devon and Cornwall.