Wild Wellness – better for us, better for the planet.

With the start of a new year comes new resolutions. A fresh start and a good time to consider how we can feel better, and make changes that might improve our lives. For some of us it’s for personal gain, for others it might be for the “greater good”! Either way, although I’m very much of the opinion we shouldn’t feel under any pressure to make resolutions or commitments simply because it’s January, I am all for taking the opportunity to hit a “reset button” if the opportunity arises!

So with a focus on wellness and self-care, in this post I’ll be exploring how wild spaces can be better for our wellbeing than a luxury 5* spa. Better still, evidence shows that the more time we spend in nature, the more we benefit, and the more we feel prompted to care for our planet.

When I worked full time in finance (a fact that still somewhat baffles me, and anyone that meets me!), my tiny office had no natural daylight. I would arrive in the dark and leave in the dark with absolutely no clue as to what the weather had done that day. I was completely disconnected. My eyes and skin were dull, my body ached from sitting at desk and I worked sometimes 10 hours a day to get on top of my workload which was never ending. I’d reach a point, often in January around the time of the delightful tax return, where I’d worked so hard, for so long, with so little self care that I’d be desperate for a chance to re-charge.

Occasionally I’d book a spa day as a way to look after myself. And there is no doubt that this is a great way to commit to some down-time and “reset”. But it does comes at a price. These places are expensive. Not just because the facilities are costly to design and build (and don’t get me started on the energy bills!), but also because it’s an industry that knows only too well how tired and burnt out we are as a society. It is supplying our need to feel better in ourselves. I would justify the cost by telling myself it’s an “investment in my wellbeing”. But reflecting on previous Spa experiences, compared to how nature makes me feel now, I can’t help but think that although it seemed like a treat, I question whether it gave me any long term benefit.

The wellness industry is booming (we all want to feel well after all). In 2020 it was estimated to be worth £12.4 million in the UK*. So it is evident that we are spending money on wellness and investing in feeling good. Which is great! Self care should absolutely be a priority. More and more we are hearing about the importance of it, and how we must look after our mental health as well as our physical health. We know how important it is to relax, de-stress and take time out. But now that we know this, could this pave the way for a more long term, sustainable way to invest not only in our own wellness, but in that of the planet’s? After all, since lockdown in particular, it seems that the health benefits, similar to those sold to us by the Health and Wellness industry are attainable from simply spending time in green and blue spaces. So could it be that by spending time in nature we can find a far more accessible alternative to spas and health retreats. Not just in terms of cost, but as a socially inclusive space? And by doing this, are more of us gaining a deeper understanding of our natural world. An understanding that fosters a desire to care for it?

Despite the “wellness” benefits of this kind of experience, I’ll confess that going to a Spa actually creates a low-level anxiety in me! It’s the intimacy of relaxing with people I don’t know that I find uncomfortable. But also it’s an enclosed space. No freedom to roam. On top of this I always have the suspicion that the staff are judging me somehow. Thoughts like “do my legs need shaving? Is my “bikini line” unsightly? Does my swimwear look like it’s seen better days?” Admittedly this is just my anxiety talking, but I wonder how many of us feel the same, and so simply avoid these situations all together?

So this is where I question the benefit. How can I truly feel good and well in myself, if I am in an environment where I’m not able to BE myself? Does it really give me what I need?

An article in The Guardian in Dec 2021 highlighted a fascinating report by Forest Research who are the first to estimate the financial amount that woodlands saved the NHS this past year. Through fewer GP visits and prescriptions, it is estimated that woodland walks saved the UK £185 million last year in mental health costs. Sir William Worsley, the chair of the Forestry Commission, which funded the report, said: “It demonstrates just how vital it is to invest in healthy trees and woodlands. It makes medical, economic and environmental sense”, he said.

With the government now committing to ramp up tree planting to 30,000 hectares (74,100 acres) a year by 2024, as opposed to  just 13,300 hectares planted in 2021, this is a hugely positive move not just towards our health, but long lasting impact for the planet. It’s a win-win scenario!

But it’s not just our woodlands that are helping us to feel well. “Blue Health” is also being recognised as having a positive effect on our wellbeing. The Blue Health Programme is a multi-disciplinary research project that has been researching the effects of blue spaces on our wellbeing in order to further inform decision makers when it comes to future development and investment. This short film is well worth watching as it explores the history and the science behind how water can help us feel good. There’s even a bit towards the end that talks about a trial they are doing in Devon to try and “bottle the benefits of the coast” and bring the outside to those that can’t access it – including in hospitals and dental surgeries. (Fancy “wearing a beach” when you have dental work?!!!)

There’s no doubt that being in, on or nearby water can make us feel better. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone. I mean, it is no co-incidence that we spend millions of pounds each year to go on holiday and sit by a pool, or sit on a beach. It’s relaxing right!? But there’s SO much more to it.

A fascinating book that explores this is “Blue Mind” by Dr Wallace J Nichols It shows us the science behind how water is having a remarkable effect, in all it’s shapes and forms, on our health and happiness. The blue mind of the book’s title refers to the neurological, psychological and emotional changes our brains experience when we are close to water. Nichols examines seas and oceans, lakes and rivers in a study that is both highly readable and rooted in real research. As a highly informed marine biologist he urges us to get closer to water, not only for our own sake, but for the environment and a healthier future for us all.

The Health and Wellness industry is, after all, only filling a gap in the market and providing something we all need. Often it can be difficult to access wild spaces, and the convenience of a Spa is therefore getting as close to it as possible. But this is reserved for those that can not only afford it, but are physically and mentally comfortable with it.

But perhaps by accessing the “real thing”, we can discover the same, possibly longer lasting, health benefits, while also connecting and fostering a desire to care for our green and blue spaces. If more funding is invested in developing these spaces and looking at ways to make them more accessible to all, then surely a more meaningful relationship and understanding of the natural world will begin to blossom?

So what other forms of wild wellness can we experience outdoors!? What can a Spa provide that nature can’t? Well, there are treatments. The facial, or massage isn’t something you can find easily in a forest let’s be honest! But let’s not forget that the products used to enhance this experience found naturally. Massage oils and aromatic creams are specially formulated using herbs and botanicals to boost our mood, or relax us depending on our needs. Lavender, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Camomile flower to name but a few. Although not all of these can be found easily, and you often just need to know where to look. A park, or garden. The pine scent in the forest. The wild honeysuckle in the hedgerows. Where I go trail running locally there is a whole patch of camomile that grows on the ground. As I run through it, and apply the weight of my body, it releases an incredible aroma and I can’t help but smile.

But back to the massage, or body therapies; You know what? I would still prefer to feel the sun on my face than an electric light, or let the salt and sand exfoliate my skin. To feel the refreshing sensation of dew on the grass as I walk barefoot. The energy of a waterfall as it pounds against my back.

One thing I DO love about a spa though, especially in the winter, is a sauna! The oldest known saunas in Finland were made from pits dug in a slope in the ground and primarily used as dwellings in winter. The sauna featured a fireplace where stones were heated to a high temperature. Water was thrown on the hot stones to produce steam and to give a sensation of increased heat. The first Finnish saunas are what nowadays are called savusaunat, or smoke saunas. These differed from present-day saunas in that they were heated by heating a pile of rocks called kiuas by burning large amounts of wood about 6 to 8 hours and then letting the smoke out before enjoying the löyly, or sauna heat.

There are now an increasing number of wood-fired units making it possible to take saunas and hot-tubs out of the spa and off grid. As a result we can now head outside and experience this warmth under the stars or up in the mountains. More and more are popping up all over the country. You can find them on beaches, in forests and next to lakes; so we can now experience the benefits of a Spa without being disconnected from nature.

We are incredibly lucky here in Dorset (UK) to have The Seaside Sauna Haus. This mobile sauna came to our coastline as a result of a Crowdfunder initiative launched by Sarah Higgins. Situated on the beach, just yards from the sea you can now reap the benefits of the sauna while connecting with the coastline. Hosted by Sarah, she is incredibly passionate about the health benefits of the sauna and genuinely enjoys being able to offer this to her guests.

In terms of it’s carbon credentials; The wood used to heat the Seaside Sauna Haus is from the Log Store, and is 100% sustainable. The sauna itself was built by the Cedar Sauna Company who pride themselves on using locally sourced and sustainable materials.

I recently joined a “Sauna Club”. A small group of wild wellness seekers. We meet once a week to sit in the wooden hut and sweat it out in the heat, then we run to the sea and plunge into the cold water. Screaming, shouting, revelling. Sometimes, if it’s wild weather, we just sit at the water’s edge and watch the waves while we refresh and reset. Sometimes we throw buckets of sea water over each other. But the feeling of returning to the heat of the sauna is divine! It’s fun, and it’s wild! I can always feel any anxieties slipping away. The wood smoke as it drifts out towards the sea somehow makes me feel at home while at the same time being in nature. It’s not free, but as a group we pay just £10 each for an hour. A lot more affordable than a luxury spa, and so much more laid back!

What I have observed by spending time in nature is not just how much I benefit from it mentally and physically. But the people I meet along the way, the ones who are outdoors often have a similar outlook on life. These wild wellness seekers; the wild swimmers, yoga yogis, trail runners, ramblers, hikers or sauna soul searchers. There is a willingness to stray from the crowd, and do something a bit different. But also a keen awareness of their natural surroundings and how important it is. There seems to be a collective consciousness, and I can’t help but feel hopeful for the future.

It seems that there is a mass movement, a shift taking place. Slow, but noticeable. What perhaps starts from a place of disconnect and neglect, and a need to feel better, can grow into an appreciation and understanding of how important it is to care not just for ourselves, but for what is at the true root of all health and wellness. The very thing that we ARE, and therefore need to care for;


So, whether you’ve made a New Year’s resolution or not. Whether you have great expectations, or you’re simply trying to get the through each day as best you can! (and I SO get that!). I hope you will look after yourself this year. Be kind to YOU. I hope you can find more time in the wild. To breathe it in and let it work it’s magic.

Above all, I hope that this will still be the case in years to come. That there will still be these green and blue spaces in the future, and that together we can all look after what’s important.

Girl Gone Wild x

Never miss a post!

Here Comes The Sun…

Witnessing the sun rise at any time of year is a magical thing to see. The drama of it will always make my heart sing, but in winter, with the dark mornings and sparkling frosts, it somehow feels even more magical when dawn breaks.

Yesterday morning as I was setting off for a sea swim my youngest son was up earlier than usual and I asked if he’d like to come and watch the sun rise with me. Now, my children aren’t known for being very enthusiastic about outdoor activities in the mornings so I was somewhat surprised when he said “yes”!

Delighted to have unexpected company I failed to check the weather conditions and simply bundled together a bag of swim stuff for myself, and a rucksack with some warm layers for my son. It wasn’t until we were driving down to the beach that I realised the sky (and any hint of dawn) was obscured by dense cloud.

Now, if you have kids you’ll know that in order for a new experience to be something they’ll enjoy, then it simply has to be a good one. If it’s a negative experience then it’s unlikely they’ll want to stay, let alone repeat it! (I guess we’re all like this really). So I was cursing myself for inviting him to watch what I promised to be a “magical event”, when I hadn’t checked if the magic was likely to show up.

We arrived at the beach to a grey sky, cold north wind and no visible sunrise. My heart sank. Still, I gave my Dryrobe and hot water bottle to my son while I had a quick dip. He scowled at me from the shore, making it clear he was less than impressed!

We drove home, me trying to convince him it was a great way to start the day, him disagreeing. I told him that this was actually part of the magic. That I’d been wrong to promise it because it’s not guaranteed. And because you can never really know what kind of beauty you’ll see, this is why Nature is so amazing. This is why when you DO see the magic, it feels really special. Like it’s revealed something to you that not everyone can see. And it’s done this because you made the effort to look, and take notice.

No response.

Later that day I asked my son if he’d like to come again the following morning? To which he shook his head.

And so it was this morning, I made my way to the beach at dawn on my own. And of course, there before me, in jaw dropping splendour , was THE most beautiful scene. The moon still up in the sky while the sun rose and golden light spilled across the ocean. With not a breath of wind the water was completely still. Stepping into the sea was like stepping into a clear, cold bath. I felt like crying! It was stunning and yet all I could think of was my son, and what he had missed!

But I suppose, deep down I know he will see it when the time is right. Maybe what makes a sunrise magical is that you seek and find it for yourself. It is your reward for trying. Perhaps trying to create this magic for someone else simply won’t work?

And yet, I think this what I want for everyone! What I experience in Nature is so profound, it makes me want to share it. I want to know if others see it and feel it, and are boosted in the same way. Is this so wrong?

Surely this is why we create? We feel moved by something. Inspired by something. Isn’t this why we write, or paint, or cook, or teach… we want to share something. To invite the participant to experience something and enjoy it. Maybe even inspire them to go create their own magic, their own way.

I guess there’s nothing wrong in trying to create a bit of magic. Maybe you’ll just never be able to guarantee the result!

And so, as I swam in the sea this morning, I captured every detail of the moment in my mind. Full of inspiration I returned home and wild words poured out of me, describing what I’d seen. I wrote a poem. (Below) To capture the magic so I can remember it, but also so I can share it with those that missed it. To try and create a bit of the magic that was there in that moment. To encourage my son, to encourage you, to encourage everyone of us that there is always magic to be found. You just have to keep looking.

Quiet morning light.
The moon lingers a while
Holding the space between night and day
The sky holds its breath.
While the sea lies undisturbed,
A silent lake
slipping beneath the horizon.
The break of dawn spilling liquid
gold upon glistening glass.
I float beneath the surface
Bathed in a golden sea
My mind, body and soul awash with the new day

Coping with overwhelm

When things get too much and it feels like there’s no way out….

My mind and soul took a tumble last week and I found myself in a deep pit of despair. Having held it together for so long throughout what has been (and continues to be) a challenging year with my mental health, I reached a point of total overwhelm.

There are so many things that contributed to this; Past trauma, a history of depression, a burn out at work last year which led to quitting my job and being diagnosed with PTSD. Then earlier this year our eldest son was diagnosed with autism and related mental health conditions. He hasn’t left the house for seven months now, and refuses to accept help from us or medical professionals.

It is for all these reasons, and many more emotional spin offs; guilt, shame, anger, frustration, that I felt I had no choice but to run away from it all. I couldn’t spend another second longer in this situation. If I did I would either go insane, or say/do something I would regret, neither of which I wanted to happen. So, leaving the kids with my husband to hold the fort, with no plan other than to drive through the tears until I was either all cried out, or too tired, or both. I went. I believed I had no choice.

The first 24 hours are a black blur. I had no inner compass, I drove aimlessly, with no clear direction in mind. All that was in my mind was despair, hopelessness and a heavy sadness that felt like a huge elephant was sat on top of me. The riot of thoughts running round my head were ganging up on me and bullying me, I felt useless, a failure as a human being, a wife, a mum…

My heart heaved with grief. The loss of hope for the future of our family. The loss of how things used to be, when we were all functioning better as a family. That we were doomed, that this mess was just too big and could never be cleared up. And that in amongst all of this, my poor mental health made me a crap parent, crap at relationships and that my despair was all my own doing. Life feels pretty pointless when despite there being times when I can cope, it’s only temporary, like it will always come back…. That dark, heavy depression that eventually catches up with me, dragging me and everyone around me down with it.

There is also this huge, overwhelming concept I feel; that life on earth is hard for every single living thing and this will always be the way of life. That no resilience can ever come without adversity. Nothing can evolve without competition. Nothing will ever be easy.

And with this, my heart finally broke.

I ended up on the Pembrokeshire coast path. I still don’t know how I made it there. I don’t remember making any kind of decision, but this is where I landed. Arriving broken and bewildered, this wild and remote place was to hold me for a while.

I cried salt tears and swam in the salt waves. Stripped of any kind of luxury I slept wild and woke wild. I fell apart under the stars, beneath the moon, before the sun rising and setting. It would have been beautiful had I not felt so bloody hurt by it all. But this raw experience will stay with me for a long time. NOT because I had a wonderful time, but because I learned the hard way that wherever you go, your thoughts will follow.

The only comfort to me at the time was that I was able to fall apart in private, with only Mother Nature as my witness.

Yet somehow, although I am still feeling broken, the invisible cracks feel like they are held together by that wild place. That my “broken-ness” is a little more acceptable to me now.

And with this acceptance I feel able to reach out to others, and ask for help, to allow myself to be vulnerable, as if Mother Nature has silently encouraged me to do so, and whispered that it is “ok to not to be ok”.

Why do I find it SO hard to be honest about depression? I still feel like it somehow makes me a weaker person, or that other people will see me as a failure. I have so many wonderful people in my life, including my children, but I struggle to show them my “dark” side, worried they will think it repulsive and ugly, scary even. That they will only think the worst of me from now onwards. I put so much pressure on myself to only be the version of me that I “think” people want to see and know. To hide my vulnerability from the world and those close to me. It’s something I’m trying hard to change. If only so my children can grow up being aware of mental health, and knowing it’s ok to talk about it. Yet, even writing this post now I am wondering if I should…. Perhaps I will regret it? Perhaps it will put you off me when you hear my truth?

And after all this, I am home. My situation hasn’t changed. There is no quick fix. There is no clear path or light at the end of the tunnel… there is no escape. On a practical note, because I know I can’t do this through mere willpower alone, my GP has increased my medication, and I am starting therapy sessions, again. All I can do is take each hour, each day as it comes and not think too much about the bigger picture. To be mindful of how overwhelm can begin to grow if I feed it. How depression will thrive on it.

But in the meantime, I know I can go into the wild and just “be” and that here is where I can unfold, unravel and fall apart if needed. Here is where there is no guilt, no shame, no judgement. And when I return I can speak of it, I can try again. And those who have waited for, and missed me, who welcome me with open arms, who listen to me, these are my true kin. Those to love and to cherish and be incredibly thankful for. For they are the reason I need to do this, they are the ones I must find strength for.

Running Wild; Lundy Island Half Marathon

Earlier this year I ran my first half marathon. (see previous post “Running For Mental Health”). It was a 21km trail run following a stunning route in Devon along canals and estuaries towards the sea. I was curious to see whether I could complete the 21km route – knowing that my trail running experiences to date had been varying distances and terrain and all totally dependent on how I was feeling mentally. I’ve often heard that with any physical challenge, it is your mind that gives up before your body does and with my mind often working against me, I wanted to push the boundaries and find what was there.

I completed that run. I showed up, and completed it. I wasn’t going to win any prizes for my time, but my personal win was that I did it, despite the usual negative thinking that threatened to sabotage my attempt. This surprised me and left me wondering what else I could try.

And so. When I saw that PureTrail Running would be organising a half marathon event on Lundy Island (a wild and remote place I’ve always wanted to visit but isn’t easily accessible), I knew I would be going.

Now, it is here that I admit to perhaps being somewhat over confident”.

Having completed one half marathon distance, I assumed that I would be capable of completing another. I gave little thought to the fact that Lundy Island would be entirely different (and much more challenging) terrain. But the knowledge that my relationship with trail running has always been about the landscape, and how it influences my mental atmosphere while moving through it, encouraged me to sign up. Surely the experience of running around a wild island would be enough movitivation to get me through?

It is my love of wild spaces that inspires me to run through it. I’m not a treadmill fan, or keen on running on pavements. It is the scenery, the space, the sounds, the smells that feed the soul. I am rewarded with an energy that comes from the land. This energy converts into a desire to move, and the result is undeniably a positive output; the “holy grail” of happiness endorphins. But even more than this, the experience leaves me feeling connected to the wild around me, the seasons, the weather, the wildlife; and it ignites something wild and liberating inside me.

We were due to board the ferry to Lundy island at 08:25 on a Sunday morning in September. This meant getting up at 05:30 to drive from Dorset to Ilfracombe, Devon in time to board. The 2 hour crossing was fully booked with over 200 runners travelling to Lundy. It was a damp misty morning and with a reasonable swell in the channel it meant that sea sickness was a risk. A few unlucky entrants were struck with it, retreating below deck to try and find a place to quietly die, or sleep.

The scenery is simply stunning as you get closer to the island. On arrival, the dramatic rocky cliffs and sheer drops that plunge into the sea seem quite imposing. No glimpse of the overall landscape is revealed here, just a harsh wall of cliff. Seals appear in the harbour, inquisitive and playful with their dark eyes surveying the crowd as we disembark and begin the steep 1mile climb up to the starting line. Once at the top of the island we are blessed with blue sky and unusually hot autumnal sunshine. A welcome breeze reassuringly whips around us we prepare to start.

Lundy Island 21km Route

The route is essentially made up of 3 loops, incorporating a fairly level central granite trail which runs south to north, 2 x lengths of the west and east precipitous coastal paths and a final smaller loop to bring us back to the village to finish. As we set off up a narrow track, we are a slow moving colourful crowd. I run for a while with a lady I chatted to on the ferry until she picks up pace and moves off gracefully picking her way further to the front. I’m greeted by highland cows, horses, butterflies and heather and I’m enjoying the scenery and steady pace until we come across the first challenging route which takes in the West coast path. This narrow path is nothing more than a wild goat track with deep bracken either side. A sheer drop to your left leads to certain death on the rocks below and with this sheletered side of the island yet to have warmed up in the sunshine, it is a fairly wet and slippy path. We are reduced to walking pace. With rocks and boulders to scramble over there are times when I am on all fours to steady myself, this is slow going and tacticle, nothing like my previous half marathon experience along the level estuary trail!

And here is where the unhelpful naysayer of my mind decides to contribute to the situation;

This is dangerous, “I’m going to slip”

I think “I might have under-estimated the terrain”, “I’m getting too used to walking, I’ll never be able to get going again”. “I’m holding up the other runners behind me”, and most frequently “What the actual fuck am I doing here – you’ve never done ANYTHING this hard before!!”….

After a good half an hour of this relentless obstacle course and mental arrest, I am utterly relieved to finally find our way onto a wider path. Although this bit of the course is a steep gradient I am using less mental energy and more leg power. (this sounds more professional than “head first staggering”). At this point we reach the first “cut-off” point. It’s been 7 miles so far and I’m in good time so with a quick drink and slice of orange I’m back on the trail feeling relatively hopeful.

This next loop takes in the east coast path. It is a wide open space with little shelter and the elements take you hostage as the wind and sea comes in from the atlantic ocean and batters the island with it’s full force. The winds are fairly tame today given the mild weather, and I’m grateful for a breeze to accompany the overall drama of the landscape; it inspires me to run and I like to think that I make up time for the cautious slow approach earlier.

Here is the point where I miraculously manage to find the one and only bog on the entire island. Despite there being a helpful stone path through it, I misnavigate and my left foot plunges into the dark wet stench, reappearing with a black wet trail shoe, and leg glistening like tar. Cursing at my foolishness I tackle the ascent up the cliff from the bog of stench only to be greeted by a full view of the island which literally takes my breathe away! This is an incredible moment, I feel a real sense of my geographical location and it hits me that I’m “actually here, doing it”. So much so that I have to do a double-take when I see the end of the island, and realise how far I need to run in order to reach the 2nd cut-off which takes place at the infamous Lighthouse (and it’s many many steep steps).

Feeling a little deflated about the distance still to cover, I am also aware that there are runners now coming up behind me. This unsettles me. Not necessarily because I am competitive, but I just find it really pressurising! I find myself trying to imagine eyes in the back of my head, like the game “What’s the time Mr Wolf”. I’m wondering how close they are now, should I slow down so they can over take, or push on and use it as a motivator? I can hear their casual conversation and I’m reminded that I am here alone. No friend, no running group, not even a familiar face as I’m a newcomer to these kinds of events.

I push on, their conversation becoming less audible in the wind and I just plough on until eventually I see the point where I need to make the descent down to the lighthouse (and back). The steps down are narrow and steep, the path carves it’s way through large boulders of rock. It is with mixed feelings that I am obligated to hang back while other runners who’ve arrived before me tackle their return climb up the steps. I’m relieved to stop a while, but also terrified by the look of sheer strain and determination on their faces as they pass, unable to speak.

“How the hell am I going to do this? This is going to be brutal… oh god, I feel sick”.

The descent
The ascent

Let’s just say, it took every ounce of anything that was left in my body to make it back up to the top of those steps. My lungs on fire, my head pounding, my legs screaming, I stumbled onto level ground and felt a sickness that you only ever experienced from over exertion. A deep, lower body nausea that has you feeling heavy and unable to move. I clumsily wobble to the aid station, unable to speak or even gesture towards the refreshments. My peripheral vision blurred, like on the spinning Waltzers at a fairground, everything was rushing past in long streaks of colour while all I could do was focus on what was immediately in front of me.

Other runners arrive at the aid station jovial, managing to find funny things to say to their co-runners, upbeat, quite chipper even. I however, am sensing a dark realisation that this is WAY beyond my ability. That I have been totally stupid to think that this would be doable. It was sheer madness to think I could complete this based on a “love of wild places” and a whimsicle belief in “mind over matter”. Quite simply; You are either physically fit enough. Or you are not.

I tentatively begin to consider my options. I am at the north of the island and I need to return to the South in order to finish. Even if I don’t run it, I still need to get to the South of the island to catch the ferry home. Could I walk? Should I tell the aid station that I want to exit the race? Could I somehow carry on, maybe just crawl the last 5km back? Perhaps I could take a shortcut?

I am convinced that everyone else is far fitter, far more experienced than I am. I am SURE that I’m at the back of the race, and not far from last and that I’m falling further behind the longer I stand (wobble) here on the spot. There are so many indicators that I have bitten off more than I can chew of this island. I am simply not physically capable of running any further.

And then, a number of things happened…

I see her. The girl that parked in the same car park as me back on mainland. She’s beautiful, well toned and wearing exactly the right combo of expensive gear for a proper trail run. I’d assumed she was a pro, and that she must do this kind of race as a regular Sunday outing. But perhaps I was wrong? She is, after all, a good 1/4 mile behind me, coming along the east coast path that I’ve already covered, slowing to a walk just as often as I need to. I know this sounds utterly shallow, but it made me feel better!! Is that bad?? It’s just; this girl (I’m sorry whoever you are) made me feel a bit intimidated, jealous even. She represented all of the imaginery reasons why someone like me would never be as good, or able, or fit enough to finish a run like this. Ridiculous as it sounds, the truth is that how someone LOOKED threatened to mess with my confidence enough to feel I couldn’t do something I wanted to do. And here she was…. no further ahead, no quicker, no less tired in her appropriate attire, on those well toned legs looking wildly beautiful. She was battling as much as me to keep going. The only difference between her and me being able to complete a run like this, is that she was showing up, and getting on with it, just like I was, but she wasn’t giving up.

At this precise moment in time something caught my eye. I span round just as a bird of prey shot past me at what seemed to be a million miles an hour

As I fixed my gaze on the outline against the sky I realised it was a peregrine falcon. It turned expertly and returned, shooting past me and out along the wide open ground. It was a magical sight to watch, full of freedom, yet naturally in control. In that moment I was in awe of it’s ability, at how lucky I had been to witness it’s performance. It was also the boost I needed.

As I gathered my spirit, I began to run, one foot in front of the other. I was joined by a small group of runners. I couldn’t help but notice that they were wearing ‘Plymouth Trail Runners’ vests. “A running club” I thought… “that MUST bode well for me; we’re all running at the same pace”. I also realised that one of the runners was wearing a Happy Birthday Banner! I absolutely loved that she was choosing to run a half marathon on Lundy Island for her birthday, and their comoraderie and banter brought a fun vibe to the next few kilometres. I realised that they’d been behind me for a while, and recognised their voices as the runners I’d allowed myself to feel pressurised by. They commented on the (many) ocassions that things kept dropping out of my (non) trail running rucksack!! Embarassed, I admitted that I hadn’t invested in any proper kit and that the rucksack was literally held together by bungies and clips. They gently teased me saying “you do realise that “trail running” isn’t leaving a trail of your belongings as you run!??”. I laughed. I don’t know how I managed to find the energy, but I laughed.

Somehow, something shifted mentally as a result of these things. I stopped being hard on myself. I began to take it all a little less seriously and I even managed to tell myself there was every chance that I could make it to the end. That it didn’t matter if I walked, or came last, or didn’t finish even. It was ok to feel utterly exhausted and sick from exerting myself, it was an epic half marathon and I was giving it my best shot! I’d come to an island, I’d seen every inch of it, witnessed it’s brutal beauty, it’s harsh side and it’s wild side. I hadn’t come here for the people, or a place in a long list of times but it WAS a part of the experience, and I needed to accept that somewhere in all of that, I was included, and I was part of it too. This is something I struggle to get my head aroud… PTSD and Social anxiety doesn’t usually encourage me to feel “part” of things. It is usually a case of feeling “apart” from things.

Despite the odds, I had got this far. And just as I thought it would never end, I crossed the finish line. It had taken 3hours and 22minutes to complete the 21km route of the island. I had run, walked, climbed and crawled my way to that finish line, and came 157th out of a total of 197 runners that finished. (Some did not). I’m telling you this because I want you to realise that I am not fast, not uber fit, and perhaps this further illustrates this.

I received a shiny medal of a puffin (the island’s famous for this seabird) but, too tired to wait in line for the BBQ, I grabbed a packet of salt & vinegar crisps and a sausage roll and collapsed in a quiet spot in the sun against a stone wall.

I’m not going to lie; Aside from giving birth, I have never felt so utterly exhausted in all my life. Every part of my body was screaming. I felt so sick I was unsure if I’d be able to make it back to mainland on the ferry. I lay on my back in the grass, looking up at the drifting clouds as I stretched my muscles. Every time I closed my eyes it felt as if the world around me was all at sea. But in amongst the sickness and the soreness, there was a deep sense of satisfaction. I’d done it. It nearly killed me. But I’d finished.

“I still wonder if it was beyond my ability”.

My doubts creep in even though I finished it! I can hear the voice of the naysayer telling me “I was lucky I didn’t do any serious damage to my body”. “You’re like a cat with nine lives”. As I watch the last of the runners coming in to finish I am amazed at the determination and spirit of these people. How, if we can push ourselves to do these things that maybe it can unlock the secret to how we can make it through life unscathed. I cheer and clap as two runners finish together, both must be somewhere in their 60’s and as they cross the finish line. I see them as their younger selves, the look on their faces reveal something close to mischief. Defiance even.

On the ferry home, I bump into the lady who I’d chatted to at the beginning of the run. Also there alone, she had completed it in good time but had also felt really ill afterwards. We ended up drinking tea together and discovered we shared a whole load of common interests including our obsession with sea swimming. A happy bonus to the day and again, showing me how pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can bring unexpected rewards.

Tired and weary after a long day, we are rewarded with an incredible sunset. There is something quite ethereal about witnessing a setting sun while out at sea, it’s as if you are between worlds somehow. It felt something like freedom. To have escaped the “norm” of feeling anxious about the future, to have experienced something wild and crazy, and to have survived certainly felt otherworldly to me.

There are days when I simply can’t face the world at all, let alone run a half marathon on a remote island.

As I stand on the deck steadying myself as we ride the waves, the colours in the sky reflecting on the surface of the water seem to intensify this sentiment. I breathe it in. Grateful for being alive, here in this moment.

It was only later that I discovered that the Plymouth Trail Runners that I’d been running at the same pace with, and had encouraged me that I was “keeping up” with the professionals, were in fact doing a recovery run after having completed a 100km run the previous weekend!!



My top 3 ways to rewild yourself #2 Walk In The Woods

There are so many beautiful landscapes where I live in West Dorset; The rugged coastline and beaches and the rolling green hills under a vast sky are all wild and wonderful. But I find there is something particularly magical about wandering through a woodland. No matter what time of year, there is a secret story being told in the woods.

The trees and their silent strong structures seem to hold a hidden knowledge. The leaves with their colour and patterns invite you to pay attention, to come closer. The smell of damp earth and funghi invokes a memory, from a time long ago, of the hunter gatherer. All while the birds sing, animals scurry, and the wind moves through the spaces, gently tugging the leaves and bending branches; the sound of a natural symphony composed in the trees.

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees”

Henry David Thoreau

When I heard about Shinrin-Yoku, the Japanese practice of “Forest Bathing”, I felt as though I’d finally found a name for what I’ve been doing all these years! The more I read about it, the more I grew excited to understand that there are scientifically proven health benefits to spending time among trees. That by bathing the mind and body in the atmosphere of the forest, engaging all of our senses, you are experiencing a kind of nature therapy.

Proven to reduce stress hormone production, improve feelings of happiness, free up creativity, boost the immune system and accelerate recovery from illness; taking a walk in the woods is indeed a wonderful way to re-wild yourself and experience a sense of freedom.

Interested in finding out more? This month’s Wild Card features Forest Bathing and includes a Beginners Guide (produced by Forestry England).

Never miss a Girl Gone Wild post….