Walking back to happiness
by Jo Hunt
I started walking further when I was 14, I had my first dog and I used to walk her every day. Nothing unusual in that you might think but for me walking is a challenge. I have had Crohn's Disease since I was 4 years old and Crohn's related arthritis since I was 15. Every hospital stay ended with me starting out on a short walk, every walk got longer and I got stronger. I remember when I had my ileostomy I borrowed a friends dog to walk. At first I would walk a little way then get the bus home and gradually increased the distance I walked. I decided to try walking back sooner than I had anticipated though as the dog suffered from wind which was rather embarrassing in the confines of the top deck!
Over the years I have done some longer walks, when I was 12 I walked up Snowdon with my Mum and brother, I walked a half marathon a year after my ileostomy and have done some hiking with friends and our dogs. Some of my happiest times are with my rucksack on my back and my dogs running about on the beach. I love to walk and lose myself in my surroundings, seeing the dogs enjoying themselves, seeing Mother Nature through the seasons. One of my favourite walks combines woodland (and quite often mud) sand dunes and grasses culminating with a river on the beach - perfect for the dogs to have a drink and a paddle especially if it is warm. I can easily while away 3 or 4 hours.
Recently I was introduced to a new hobby - the world of virtual racing. You enter a 'race', pay an entry fee, record the coverage of your set distance, submit it to the site and hey presto you get a medal! The added bonus is that you raise money for different charities along the way. You can go at a pace that suits you without any pressure, choose when to do the race, you don't need any specific equipment, you can challenge friends, earn medals with them or alone, challenge yourself to improve your time, and all the while those feel good endorphins are rushing round your body making you feel fabulous.
I am racer #001 for the ‘You’ve got a Friend in Me’ event in June. I feel slightly nervous as I always do when I commit to a race but I tell myself this is how how real athletes feel when preparing for a challenge. I openly admit to being a bit of a fair weather racer as the cold and damp doesn't help aching joints. But it's June so I am hoping the sun will show its face long enough for me to record the distance without getting soaked. Where shall I record this athletic milestone? Well it won't be walking up Snowdon today, I don't feel like going far so decide on walking one of my dogs around our local jaunt which is a circuit of just under 2 miles. The sun is peeping out from some clouds, large patches of blue sky are visible, there is a breeze and the birds are singing their encouragement. I decide to wear 3/4 length shorts and my hiking boots because its warm enough and because my boots have a wonderful special insole like a memory foam mattress that helps to make walking more enjoyable. The arthritis pain in my feet is the pain I despise the most but it will not stop me from getting my medal. This one is for a distance of 5k, or 3.14 miles in old money, and I know I will pay tomorrow but the euphoria will salve that pain. I will be walking the distance because running is out of the question, apart from anything else my balance is not good enough and I don't want to end up in an ungainly heap in the gutter.
Now comes the hardest part - getting out the door with just one dog when they all want to join in. Once the harness comes out it will be slight mayhem but they are used to the routine so settle quickly albeit a little disgruntled. We stop outside the front gate for last minute adjustments of harness, lead, walking stick and keys while the 'Map My Dog Walk' app on my phone finds our location. Then we're off ambling along the road looking up to the hills that are bathed in sunshine and dotted with sheep. I take a deep breath and smile.