The London Marathon: Memories & Mistakes

It’s not long until the London Marathon and, as I watch friends prepare to toe the start line on 28 April this year, many memories are flooding back to me. The 2018 London Marathon was my first and, so far, only marathon. I thought I’d write a short post about my experience and what I learnt from it. Hopefully, other first time Marathoners will find some of it useful.

 

*If you want to skip the life story, head to the bottom of the page for a synopsis of mistakes I made and tips for anyone running the London Marathon this year!*

 

This time last year, I was manically searching the internet for advice on how to deal with the fear of doing your first marathon. Whatever I did, wherever I looked, my fear grew. Anyone I knew who’d done the marathon told me about the highs as well as the horrific lows of the distance and it was making me feel physically sick. As I had no housemates, I was in my own echo chamber. I talked to myself a LOT during marathon training. Out loud. The conversation would flip flop from negative to positive and back to negative again. “Why do I do this to myself? Why do I always sign up to ridiculous things that hurt and that I sometimes can’t even finish? Well, at least I challenge myself! I may not be fast, but I’m faster than everyone on the sofa right now! URGH. I’m an actual freight train. This isn’t even funny anymore. You’re a GAZELLE! A gazelle running on behalf of people who cannot! Isn’t that wonderful?! I wish I could back out now, but I’ve been posting about it all over social media and raised money for a great charity. PICK UP THE PACE, PAL. YOU’RE EMBARRASSING”. On and on and on it would go.

 

The fact was, I had trained hard, I’d been really disciplined and not drunk alcohol, I’d been sensible with my diet, I’d done all the things. 3 weeks before the big day, I completed my longest run, which was 36kms. 8 more kms and I’d have done a marathon. I finished that run and felt shockingly OK; I still had a few more kms in the bank. It was an insanely great feeling. Who had I become?! That was the confidence boost I needed and right when I needed it. I was 99% certain I could finish this thing.

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Snowy runs along the Thames tow path just a few weeks before Marathon

I wasn’t fast, I’d come to accept that, but I’d done it! What an absolute BEAST! “WTF?! I can run the majority of an actual real-life marathon and feel fine?! CHOOO CHOOO! ALICE THE FREIGHT TRAIN IS IN TOWN!” I thought to myself as crawled up my steep staircase to my flat where I had a trough of food waiting for me.

 

As I tapered in the run up to the big day, the feeling of strength and confidence waned and the fear seeped back in. I had to travel with work quite a bit and I ate at the wrong times, slept badly in hotel beds, and had a lot of work on. I was feeling quite knackered on the Friday before the Marathon, but everyone has jobs, I was not special in my tiredness. I tried to get an early night on both the Friday and the Saturday, as I would have to wake up at about 5 on Sunday and eat properly and travel to the opposite end of london to then run around London thereafter. But, of course, I couldn’t sleep. Classic. I also had a very jippy tummy from the nerves (lol soz, but I DID).

 

I calmed my nerves the only way I knew how, I went to Artisan (the best coffee shop in London) on the Saturday and I had my usual – a Large Long Black and a Bagel with Pic’s Peanut Butter.

 

As I chilled and chatted with the staff/my friends, I caught wind of a “heat wave” that was due to hit London during the Marathon. Oh God. No, please no. I checked the forecast. Highs of 28 degrees and clear skies were anticipated. Bearing in mind that during my longest run there was still frost on the ground and I was in leggings and a long sleeve the entire time, this heat wave that everyone was cooing about was terrifying news.

 

Every article I’d read, everyone I’d spoken to, they’d all said “whatever you do, make sure you practise in the kit you’ll be wearing on the day. Don’t change anything!”. Well, GUESS WHAT, EVERYONE?! I’m going to have to do the exact opposite.

 

So, there I was, the night before, fashioning a “skort” out of a skirt and bright pink shorts and preparing to have my guns out. Let the chafing commence!

 

After a meagre sleep on Saturday night, I awoke. Dread and excitement immediately came over me and I was suddenly very very awake. I had bought another Bagel with Pic’s Peanut Butter from Artisan the day before so that I could eat my familiar, bougie breakfast on the morning of the big day, but I was too sick with nerves to eat. I would try and get it down me en route to the start line. After a quick shower and a huge drink of water, I slammed on my sexy skort, picked up my bag that I’d meticulously packed the night before (probably around 17 times) and headed off to Greenwich on a series of trains and special busses that were being arranged for Marathoners (due to road closures).

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My family friend, Chops, was in the same starting area as me. It was so great to see a familiar face. We had a huge hug and discussed goals/nerves/excitement and went to our separate starting pens. If, like me, you’re one of the charity runners, you will be starting quite near the back of the group. The wait is long and feels even longer because you just want to get going and you can hear the unique London Marathon atmosphere erupting up ahead. The FOMO is short-lived though; before you know it, you’re shuffling forward and then, all of a sudden, you’re running a marathon.

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I am not being hyperbolic when I say that the support you receive during the London Marathon is totally and utterly amazing. You literally have people cheering you on every 20 seconds or so. You feel like a weird, sweaty celebrity for hours on end. It’s bizarre and it’s magic.

 

However, last year, that heat wave was no joke. I was running with a guy most of the way who, after the half marathon mark, began to vomit violently and collapse every few kms. Paramedics were begging him to leave the race, but he was hellbent on continuing “I’ve raised money for a charity, I can’t stop. Please!”. He kept going for a while, but I lost him at some point and I’m not sure if he made it to the finish line. Poor bloke. He wasn’t the only one having a bad day either. As we were near the back with the charity lot, many of the water stations had run out of water by the time we got to them, so my hydration plan went out the window. Growing desperate after 3 water stations in a row being dry, I had turned into a scavenger, picking up half-drunk water bottles that had been disregarded by runners and finishing off the precious nectar myself. I was also pouring them down my front and my back in an attempt to stay cool. It was a very glamorous exercise. Literally. PRO TIP: Don’t look people in the eye when you pour water over your chest OR when you’re eating a banana.

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My brother capturing my sweat in HD

My wonderful friends and brother came out to watch me at various points in the race. As I approached my brother on the Isle of Dogs, I believe his kind words were “Come on! You’re so slow!” as he papped me in high definition. “Bugger off, bruv! It’s super hot!” I think I replied. One of my fave humans, Nitch, was waiting for me on the other side of the Isle of Dogs and he was far more encouraging, “Yasss Gaga! Werrrrrq!” he hollered. What a babe.

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At about mile 20, I thought I’d seen the last of my friends. The chub rub was very real by this stage and I finally gave in to the Vaseline team, who were wearing latex gloves with swathes of the stuff in their hands. I high-fived them to get my share of the lubey goodness and, as I was ready-basting my inner thighs, I heard “GO ON ALICE!!! SISSY THAT RUN!!!”. My friends had surprised me one last time. Amazing. Embarrassing, but amazing.

 

At that moment, I saw Chops passing me on the other side of the road with those heading towards mile 24. He was crushing it! “YES, CHOPS!”. I’d planned on seeing him and his family at the finish line, but I was about an hour too slow for him. Plus ca change!

 

Due to the heat, I felt really sick whenever I ate my glucose-heavy food and I started to crash big time in the last few miles. I just didn’t want to stop and needed to get over the line. I tried my hardest to speed up and keep these heavy legs churning. As it turns out, I was actually negatively splitting (AKA getting faster) with each mile. The perceived effort was definitely increasing though, so I felt like I was getting slower and slower.

 

Seeing the Solomides parents at Big Ben was awesome, but I had to keep going, or I’d cramp up. I plodded on and, as I turned the last corner onto the Mall, there was just white noise. It was totally surreal; I’d visualised this moment for months, maybe years. “I could never do a marathon” I used to say. Yet, here I was, finishing a marathon. I feel a bit misty-eyed about it even now. Choking on my tears, I crossed that mammoth finish line and just melted. All of a sudden, I was like Super Hans in Peep Show when he runs to Windsor “by mistake”. My legs turned to al dente spaghetti.

 

My mum, who’d been tracking my every move, called me as soon as she saw my tracker had  reached 26.2 miles and we just basically cried at the phone/each other for a couple of mins. If there had been subtitles, they would have read [NON-DESCRIPT MIDDLE-CLASS BLUBBERY]. I told her that, in addition to running for my charity, I was dedicating my efforts that day to my Mum’s sister, Liz, who’d deteriorated and died quite suddenly the month before the race. It was emotional to say the very least.

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Note the poor chap having a moment behind me…

My best mate Eloise, Liam, Aaron and Vinny found me near the finish line hobbling about all dazed and confused. They photographed me with my medal and the amazing Ru Paul’s Drag Race-themed sign Eloise had made me and then guided me to a local restaurant for an immediate feed. PRO TIP: For so many reasons I will not go into, do not eat spicy food after a marathon.

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I then got the tube home, in all my sweaty glory. Each train I got on (I think I had to take 3 trains), someone gave me their seat. I’m unsure if it was my stench or my medal that made them do that, but I really appreciated having a little sit after all that time on my feet.

 

I had a cold bath followed by one of the best showers of my life when I got home. It was like I’d been to the beach, I was that salty. I then gingerly put on some compression leggings, had a stretch, drank a load of water and went to bed with the biggest grin on my face. The next day, my legs and feet were in absolute bits, but I’d booked the day off work to recover and boy did I need it.

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This photo is black and white because my feet/toe nails were so revolting

I was not fast, I made mistakes, but I ran a blummin’ marathon. It’ll forever be one of the best days of my life for so many reasons. I strongly recommend signing up. If you don’t get a place in the ballot, be a weirdo like me and secure yourself a charity place. It adds purpose to your training and to the day itself; it’s a win-win situation all round. DO IT!

 

Tips and Tricks to having an enjoyable (London) Marathon

  • Dealing with the heat – Most marathons take place in the spring/summer, so you’ll be doing the majority of your training during the cooler months. It’s hard to get acclimatised to the heat that you might endure on the big day. If you’ve got the budget or are going on holiday to somewhere hot, take your trainers with you! I found my training was a lovely way to see more of cities when I was travelling with work, which was a bonus!

 

  • Hydration – both in training and on the day itself, make sure you’re getting your salts with your water. I ate salt tabs every half an hour or so to stop my levels getting dangerously out of whack. Over-hydration or hyponatremia is not good. The tricky thing is, the symptoms of hyponatremia are very similar to those for dehydration, so people panic and continue to drink water, diluting their sodium levels further. Keep your sodium levels topped up, especially when it’s hot and/or you’re sweating a lot.

 

  • Don’t eat spicy food – I don’t think I need to explain this one in detail…

NEXT!

  • Listen to your body – There’s pushing yourself and then there’s doing unnecessary damage. I was aiming for a time of about 4.5 hours, which quickly changed when the heat hit me. I ended up taking more than an hour longer than I’d planned, but I made it to the finish line. If in doubt, be kind to yourself, and make sure you finish safely. You are the only person who cares about your finish time.

 

  • What are you wearing? – Try to decide on your outfit in advance and practise in it. Don’t do what I did! The smallest things can be annoying on race day – small seams can feel huge, baggy/tight clothing can stress you out, chub rub in those pink shorts might try and bring you down etc.

 

  • Don’t buy new trainers more than a month out – Honestly, if you do this, you won’t have time to break them in and you will be in a world of pain on race day. I broke this rule because I was worried that my trainers were too old. I should have stuck with what I knew because I had ALL THE BLISTERS afterwards.

 

  • Don’t bother with a playlist When I first started training and the fitness was not quite there, I relied on music a fair bit. Especially if I’d had a hard day at work, was tired, and still had to run 14kms home. However, I decided to make the shift from music to podcasts. Why? Music is almost too distracting and it can make you run at an unnatural pace. Sometimes music would bring me down or make me run too fast. Either way, it dominated my training and not in a helpful way. I started listening to podcasts that were informative or a series. It helped my cadence become more consistent and allowed me to run at a pace that was conducive with running long distance. It’s worth noting that many race events don’t allow you to listen to music for reasons of safety. Especially 10km and half marathon races. So, you might as well get used to it. Also, on the big day, the crowds are so loud and amazing 1) you won’t be able to hear your music and 2) you will miss out on the famous London Marathon atmosphere! It’s up to you, but I firmly believe that trying to run mindfully can be very enjoyable. One of my favourite training runs was without music, early morning, along the thames tow path and all I could hear were birds, rowers paddling in the distance, and wind in the trees. Give it a go.

 

  • Practise eating on long runs – This is easier said than done. I got stitches galore when I initially introduced food to my runs, but you do start to benefit from it. I practised with foods that were glucose-heavy and went down fine in the winter months, but made me feel really queezy in hot weather. It all depends on your constitution, but practice really does make perfect. Don’t eat totally different foods on race day because, full disclosure, you’ll probably have a VERY upset tummy…

 

  • Print your name on your shirt! – The London Marathon is one of the biggest events in the city’s calendar and millions of people come out to watch and cheer. Make sure your name is clearly printed on your top because people will personally cheer you on the whole way round and it provides such a massive boost. This is particularly important when you’re having a low moment or are starting to hit the dreaded wall.

 

  • Book Monday off! – You won’t regret it and you earnt it! Spend the monday chilling, stretching, eating. It’s great.

 

  • Suck up the pain – Try and avoid painkillers or anti-inflammatories. I know it’s tempting, but actually, you can risk injuring yourself more if you take them. Feel the pain, let natural adrenaline do it’s thang and, afterwards, wear some good quality compression leggings. The inflammation your body will go through, especially your legs, is important for recovery.

 

  • Chill! – Don’t rush back into hard exercise but enjoy the base fitness you’ve built up over the last year. I took a haitus from running for a long time after the marathon. I mainly did restorative and vinyasa yoga in the months after. However, I found that my base fitness lasted for some time and certainly helped me when I decided to cycle through Scotland with my brother later in the year.

 

  • If you love it, keep it up! – I’m a big, heavy person and I found that the training hurt my joints, but I still found that the longer the run, the more I enjoyed the training (which I never thought I’d say!). I now know that I’m definitely more of a long distance/endurance person than vice versa. I’ve signed up to the Auckland Marathon and Ironman 70.3 (Taupo) later this year and I’m looking forward to making fewer mistakes and maybe getting a slightly better time! Chops, on the other hand, immediately gave up running forever more (he might have changed his mind since)!

 

 

 

I hope this is helpful, perhaps even reassuring, for those lining up for the London Marathon this year. I’m weirdly envious of you all. Enjoy the atmosphere. Really live in that moment and try and just absorb all the sounds, smells, feels, pains, everything. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. Good luck!

 

One day Alice came to a fork in the road…

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” she asked. “Where do you want to go?” was his response. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

Today marks the Anniversary of my first visit to New Zealand. “So what?!” I hear you say.

Well, it may not seem like a big thing, but facebook memories reminded me that I touched down in NZ this time a year ago and, since the end of the year is fast approaching, I’ve been using my 20/20 vision (thank you, hindsight) to stop and truly appreciate the labyrinthine year I’ve had.

Much like my namesake, Alice in Wonderland, I’ve felt a bit lost this year and had to make decisions that I felt I wasn’t 100% ready for. But, the more I think about it, the more I appreciate the paths I went down in 2018. Arguably, some of the paths were predetermined, while others were opportunities that I actively decided to take.

I’ve spent most of today watching Charlie Brooker’s new and interactive Black Mirror film, Bandersnatch (which, curiously, is also a Lewis Carroll character). The film robs the protagonist of free will and hands it over to the viewer, allowing them to decide everything from the protagonist’s breakfast cereal and what music they “choose” to listen to right through to deciding whether or not to take a life. I found it quite thought-provoking and it got me wondering whether “free will” is a product of our species’ inherently arrogant nature and whether anything and/or everything is actually predetermined. But, don’t worry; I won’t go down that rabbit hole right now (if you’ll pardon the pun). Give it a watch – it’s on Netflix and I really want to talk about it with someone!

On the subject of free will and alleged destiny, I was joking earlier this week that I was basically Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors. Eventhough the joke fell on deaf ears (it turns out that German people aren’t very familiar with the film), I’ve come to realise that the parallels between the 1998 film and my 2018 life are surprisingly strong.

Much like Gwynnie, I’ve missed many a tube train, leading to what I call “Beverly Knight Syndrome” where I wonder what “shoulda woulda coulda” been. But, of course, we all only ever experience what actually happens. I did (kind of) lose my job and chop all my hair off, so there’s that. I’m not preggo though (which Gwyneth is in both iterations), so don’t start jumping to conclusions.

I digress.

What I’m trying to say is that all the forks in the road I experienced this year have led me to the sofa I’m currently sitting on in the Wairarapa Valley, surrounded by 3 dogs, 2 cats, and the gentle sounds of nature at night. Where would I otherwise be in my previous, london-based life? To be fair, I would normally have been alone and on a sofa, just in a different way. I’d normally be in a first floor flat on the south circular, surrounded by washing, listening (unwillingly) to the irregular interludes of sirens outside my window. I think we both know which sofa I’m happier sitting on.

2018 has been a funny year. To call it a rollercoaster of emotions is an understatement but, weirdly, it’s been one of my favourite years ever. I ran a half marathon, was (f)unemployed for 6 months, renovated my flat, got rid of most of my possessions, ran a full marathon, cycled through Scotland with my brother, turned 30, moved to the other side of the world, broke my foot, chopped all my hair off, got a new job, and made some awesome new kiwi friends. Some of what happened in 2018 was to be expected, but most of it was a surprise and pushed me out of my comfort zone both metaphorically and literally.

I practised much more Yoga when I was unemployed and, in addition to the physical asanas, began to learn about and exercise ‘Aparigraha’ or ‘non-attachment’. Essentially, you take only what you need, keep only what serves you in the moment, and let go when the time is right. It really helped me to stop concerning myself with the outcome of a situation and instead only concern myself with what I’m actually doing right now as I happen to be working towards that outcome. It’s not abandoning ambition. It’s not being careless or mindless. It’s actually quite the opposite; staying mindful of the deserving moment and not allowing the journey to be trumped by the destination. It’s pretty cool and I’m very grateful for having learnt about it.

To explain, here are some examples of where I used it this year:

  • Leaving my job – eventhough I had no idea if my vague plan to “move to NZ” would end well, it got the ball rolling and now here I am!
  • Breaking my foot – it was initially really frustrating, as it meant I had to prematurely end my Te Araroa hiking trip, but it meant I secured an awesome job and spent some time enjoying Wellington and making some really lovely new friends.
  • Accepting a new job in a city I’ve visited for a grand total of 3 hours – Taking this new job now means that I’m moving to Auckland in the new year, which I never thought I was going to do, but I’m saying yes. Why not?!

Who knows where ‘London Alice’ would be right now if I hadn’t taken the paths I took this year? Who knows where ‘Auckland Alice’ will be this time next year?

Much like Alice in Wonderland, I still don’t quite know which road to take, but, then again, I don’t know where I want to go, so I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m taking each day as it comes and am loving it.

Here’s to what 2018 brought and what 2019 has yet to bring. Happy New Year 🙂

Cheerio, Blighty! Kia Ora, Aotearoa!

“How are you feeling? Excited? Nervous? Sick?”

“Well, now I am, Anne”. I sometimes call my parents “Anne” or “Peter” just to be faux-precosious. We’re in the car en route to Heathrow and my mum is making every excuse possible to delay our arrival at Terminal 2.

“Oh, well the car says it can only go 150 miles; I’d better fill up, hmm?! Do you want a treat from the shop? No? Are you sure?”

Bless her heart. My parents are both very excited for me, but they are clearly finding my departure bittersweet.

Just as quickly as we join up with the dual carriageway again, the next suggestion for benign procrastination is aired, “Well, I think we’d better stop for some chips and a wee at The Scottish Restaurant, hmm?!”.

In case you haven’t heard, my family call McDonald’s “The Scottish Restaurant” and we bloody love a cheeky stop off there.

“No matter where you are in the world, you can rely on The Scottish Restaurant for a proper loo and some piping hot chips with a diet coke. Brilliant!”

My parents even have a written list of all the Scottish Restaurants they’ve visited in the world and, not only is that list surprisingly long, but they are proud of it too. From Moscow to Vancouver to Cooma to Windsor, they’ve visited a very large number of Maccas and had at least one icecream and a wee there. Ask them. Go on.

 

I mean, hey, I’m partial to a cheeky large fries and a medium diet coke, so I agree with my Mum that “yeah, we’d better stop” on our cumbersome one and a half hour Odyssey from Swindon to Heathrow.

 

Whenever I’m alone with my Mum, I immediately feel knee high to a grasshopper again. I was the youngest by 4 academic years and my Father was away with the Army for 6 months or so at a time, which meant that when I was between the ages of about 4 and 7 I was the “one left Alice” (my infantile way of saying “the last one left”) and so my Mother and I spent a great deal of time together. So, now, whenever it’s just us two, I feel small again.

We still enjoy the occasional trip together, just us two. Just like old times.

For some reason, though, today made me feel both young and grown-up simultaneously. Considering the pretty major seachange I was about to encounter it was hardly a surprise.

 

There was only so long and so many pennies we could spend in The Scottish Restaurant though and, soon enough, we were back on the motorway hurling (within the national speed limit ofcourse) towards Heathrow.

 

I’ve already said goodbye to my Father who made me a pint, yes a pint, of coffee this morning. He can’t make it to the airport, which is my fault really; I selfishly booked my ticket without checking if my parents were free to wave me off. This is typical of me. I’m a deeply emotional person, but sometimes I do just that – I keep my emotions buried deep and make overly indepedent and emotionless decisions without wanting to consider the impact. Long, drawn-out goodbyes are not my bag. I’m not a fan of crying in front of others (especially my family for some reason). This doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Quite the contrary, in fact. Evenso, I said a sleepy goodbye to Peter early morning before he had to head off.

It turns out that he was actually really gutted he couldn’t come to the airport and, unbelievably, he called me multiple times from his mobile when I was in the airport to make sure I was at the gate and ready to fly away. This is literally unheard of for my father; I have maybe received a phone call from him on his mobile (a device which he resents whole-heartedly) twice or thrice in my life. It’s hard to explain to others, but it is just too adorable that he put his mobile hatred aside to call and bid me farewell. He’s a softy really. Talking of which, he found a little teddy, a kiwi bird, abandoned in the road as we left london on Sunday. Too prophetic to ignore, he picked it up and immediately started cooing over how “we must take this little person home, wash it and send them to NZ with you as a mascot!”. So, true to his word, he washed the toy and now “Kuwi the Kiwi” is staring up at me from my hand luggage en route to Windy Welly.

 

After checking in my bag and having a diet coke at the Terminal 2 Wetherspoons (#glamour), it was finally time to go through security and after months of planning, talking, and wondering about this trip, head off into the sunset. Nerves building, I crack jokes. “Why isn’t the Ethiopian airline just called “EthiopiAIR”?” (said in a posh voice). “Yah, no, I’m flying to sydney on AustraliAIR”. My biggest fan, Anne chuckles away and then, all smiles, I give her a bear hug goodbye. Eventhough I can’t see her face, I can feel her bottom lip going. “Just really enjoy it and be safe!” she sobs. Trying my best to not cry, I awkwardly march off “OK, WILL DO. BYE! LOVE YA!”.

 

Still in a state of disbelief, I head off and treat myself to some fancy schmacy perfume and make some final calls to friends. Having travelled a lot with my previous job, it’s still not quite hit me that, this time, I’m literally moving to the other side of the planet. Casual.

 

Boarding goes surprisingly smoothly and, before I know it, we’re taxiing to take off. My best friend, Eloise, has made me a special playlist, which I start to play. She’s also given me a  letter that I am only allowed to read once I’m in the air and listening to sed playlist (she’s very loving and very bossy). As we slowly turn left to line up on the runway, I look out my windown and see a queue of 10 or more other huge planes waiting their turn. I wonder where all of them are going and I wonder what spectrum of reasons the people inside have for flying to that place today. Are they filled with excitement (like me), dread, ideas for that big business meeting, fear? Is it the start of a journey for them, or are they heading home? I’ll never know, but I can’t help but wonder.

 

Chocs away, it’s time to take-off and read my letter. Catch you on the flippety-flop!

 

WTF, I’M MOVING TO NZ!

 

Alright, we didn’t ask for your life story…

Disclaimer: I’ve set up this blog/site to act as a kind of diary where I will share with you what I get up to/discover during my time down under (if you catch my drift). There will be a lot of introspective stuff as well as some (hopefully) cool tales of awesome activities I’ve been up to, so, if that’s not up your street, look away now!

Hello Internet people!

My name’s Alice and I’m buggering off to New Zealand for a belated gap year! Well, two gap years in a row (technically). I recently left my job and decided to finish renovating my place, let it out, and do what I’ve never done; go travelling and move to another country for a little while. Woohoo!

I never took a gap year. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever gone on any kind of extended holiday. I’ve been working in recruitment in London for around 7 years now and it’s high time for a change. A change of speed, a change of direction, a change of environment. I suppose it sounds like I’m running away, and I guess I am, but it’s not a rash decision. I’ve never let myself do something like this trip. I’ve always had excuses or felt the need to follow some kind of script, whether it be from family, friends, society, or just a general feeling that I shouldn’t do something that many might feel is so self-indulgent. I grew up in an environment of flux (also know as being a “military brat”), moving house often and having to make and leave new friends on repeat until I left uni. So I grew up abroad, but I’ve never truly travelled. Not properly.

I didn’t take a gap year after school because I was encouraged to “maintain mental momentum” post A-levels. After I finished Uni, I craved consistency and stability, so I moved to London where I just got my head down and settled into a job I didn’t like. It was an attempt to “be adult” and make my student debt seem worth while. I’ve not stopped since.

All of a sudden, it’s almost a decade later, I’m 30 in a couple of weeks and I can say with certainty that I’ve not done half the things I thought I would have done by now (but that’s OK. I’m now in the process of doing just that, so watch this space).

I can barely tell the last few years apart from each other. They’re all much of a muchness; the only things distinguishing one year from another being new jobs and different relationships (how sad does that sound?!). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had loads of fun and made some incredible friends along the way through the tough times as well as the good. Recently, though, I began to realise that I had a secret sadness that was starting to seep through the cracks in my tired, jokey armour. You see, I’m the “Miranda Hart type”; I’m often described as big (I’m incredibly tall), silly, and a great mimic who is regularly relied upon to do impressions or silly accents. But, to be honest, being the “Miranda Hart type” is harmless in a way, but it’s not who I see myself as and I certainly don’t want to be seen as an affable clown for the foreseeable future (no offence, MH!).

But here’s the other thing: Until recently, I was technically a “business woman” working in the “Big Smoke” for one of the most highly sought after employers on the planet and, you know what? I was not happy. None of what I did mattered. None of it. Not really. I used to find comfort in the thought that, if something went wrong at work, it didn’t matter because “it’s just online shopping. This doesn’t have a real impact on people’s lives”. But this mantra, that was once a comfort to me, soon became a stark reminder that I was having no real impact on people’s lives (including my own). None of it matters. So, what was I doing there? This situation, this Groundhog Day (great film, but terrible if it’s your actual life), had made me feel less and less alive.

Last winter, I hit breaking point. I hardly ever go to the doctor, but, for the first time in my life, I was genuinely desperate after having a panic attack while I was travelling back from a work event in Germany.

Stoic and frustrated, I went in to see the GP and they asked the hardest question I’d had to answer in a long time “How are you, Alice?”.

I had prepared a precis in my head and, until that question, was ready to reel it off to him, but I started to feel my bottom lip go and so, punctuated by tears and embarrassed apologies, I told the Doc what was up. A few follow-up questions later, it was official, he informed me I was suffering from depression and, instead of medication, he prescribed me to change job and nurture myself/my personal interests.

I’m apparently a classic case of someone who “keeps b*ggering on and says yes to others but not to themselves”. He was totally right and I knew it. I left that room motivated to shake off the labels I felt had defined me before and to take control of what I was doing with my life. If I wasn’t enjoying my job, then let’s find something more meaningful and change that. Within a few months, I started re-evaluating my situation and, instead of longingly thinking “if I could just do x, y, z…” I began planning “when I do x, y, z…”.

I should probably write to that Doctor and thank him for reminding me that I should take control of my life and happiness. I’m so excited about the future. Today, I finished renovating my flat (which has been a long, expensive, and often frustrating process). In just over two weeks, I will be moving out with just a back-pack full of essentials and going after something I truly want to be doing. How great is that? I’m feeling very lucky and aware of my privilege, that’s for sure.

I fell in love with New Zealand when I finally visited last Christmas. I vowed to return and explore all it has to offer and, here I am, 9 months later, ready to do just that. I can’t wait. I’m only allowed to work 12 out of the 23 months I’m in the country, so I will get a fair amount of travel in when I’m there (cue loads of photos of me visiting Hobbiton, hugging gum trees, and hiking up Mount Doom!). One of my goals is to inspire myself with a big and badass adventure (like hiking the Te Araroa trail). But, I think, my real goal is to inspire other women the way Adventure Queens like my friend Ellie Perkins and Anna McNuff have inspired me. I would love for women and girls to see what I’m doing and think “Wow! What an adventure! I would love to do that. She knows what she wants and she goes and gets it!” But also, “Alice is just like me, so maybe I can do that too!”. This world is amazing. Sod waiting until retirement to see it from a cruise ship! I want to get out there now and show others that it’s possible, that it’s worth it.

My plan for my time in NZ is simple at the moment – spend time with my sister and her family in Wellington, find a sweet job that isn’t too stress-inducing, and go on a big ol’ hike. I’m not really sure how often I’ll be writing on this blog thing, as I don’t know how interesting my “content” will truly be. I’ll definitely be writing up some fairly nerdy posts about hiking gear but I’m taking a decent camera with me, so I might post some photos and stories from bush walks and other activities with family and new-found friends in the glorious NZ landscape.

I think that’s all for now. I’d better get back to donating most of my remaining possessions to charity and doing all the life admin I need to do before I go.

If you’d like much less wordy updates about my time in NZ, you can follow me via instagram at @alicerosella

Ciao for now!

Alice