Getting outside of that comfort zone: My first skydive & 10k race

 “The only source of knowledge is experience” – Albert Einstein.

I kicked off 30 in a big way. It started with Las Vegas. No not the most original plan, but a new experience nonetheless. Verdict: it’s not like the movies. The trip was a fun one because of friends, but in all honesty it was pretty tame compared to previous European adventures. The city is definitely more seedy than glamorous, feminism doesn’t exist at all and we caught the end of Spring break. The nightmare flights, terrible hotel service (MGM Grand) and falling sick for the last 2 days didn’t help; too many early starts, not eating healthily and a general lack of exercise put my body into protest mode and turned me into a bit of a grump. But the weather was good, DJs fantastic, Grand Canyon breathtaking, (my first) Cirque show incredible, shopping outlets ridiculous and food buffets impressive!

New kicks

New kicks

Part 1:

Rewind a few months and a friend who couldn’t make the trip (but had been before) challenged me to do my first skydive to mark the occasion. I agreed, but didn’t actually follow through with the booking until a week before we were due to fly out. By that point, a couple of friends who were coming on the trip and had been considering it, bailed on me. ‘Absolutely terrified’ was an understatement. There is zero adrenaline-junkie in my veins, I hate rollercoasters and have a mild fear of flying. So of course that made me even more determined to follow through. Why? One day I’ll submit my brain for analysis.

My birthday fell on Good Friday this year and I was up at 6.30am for the 7.30am pick-up. Reminiscent of my backpacking days, I was the only solo female in the group. There was one guy who was probably over 60 who rocked up on his own as well – it was his birthday too and like me, had chosen to mark it the same way. Unlike me however he’d skydived plenty of times before!

Flying/Falling on my first Skydive

Happy Birthday to me!

I did the dive itself with Skydive Las Vegas out of Boulder City about 30 minutes away from The Strip in tandem with instructor Jace. I signed my life/legal rights away on the drive there and after a short briefing we were kitted out and loaded into a small plane with 5 other pairs. It was a fun group and there was a lot of banter. Nerves made me extremely chatty. I asked to jump as early on as possible and thankfully got to go second. The girl in front of me was probably 20 years old and the most chilled anyone who is about to fall out of the sky has ever been. She couldn’t wait! Which helped. Still, the whole time the plane was going up I was shaking my head thinking I had finally lost the plot.

The big leap

Just a little bit scared

Everyone says you don’t remember your first dive because it all happens so fast. Not true. I remember every second of mine and the 40-50 second freefall from 15000ft above sea level went on forever. And whoever tells you it feels like flying is lying. You’re definitely falling. There’s just a lot of wind in your face! I had to remind myself to scream in order to remember to breathe. The jump itself happened quickly. Absolute terror. But then fear turned into exhilaration and then it was kind of fun. The views were incredible and weather perfect. It was a relief when the parachute came out, but also a little disappointing to be flipped upright. It was a fun cruise down and I was also allowed to steer the parachute for a while. That was all the resistance training I got that week!

In control of the parachute!In control of the parachute!

Would I do it again? Honestly, I’m not sure. I still think the whole thing was insane. Maybe if it was an amazing location… Nevertheless, it will go down in my Top 5 lifetime experiences (to date).

View from the plane

View from the plane

 “If you remain in your comfort zone you will not go any further” – Catherine Pulsifer

 Part 2

So here is me thinking ‘Challenge for the year done’ right? Wrong.

I arrived in Los Angeles late on Monday afternoon, at which point the friend who I was staying with for most of the week (we met back in 2012, lost somewhere in the mountains around Cusco, Peru) told me about a 6 mile/10km run she had signed up for that Sunday with friends, ahead of their Hollywood Half Marathon a week later. She casually suggested that I do it too, seeing as I happened to be around. We’ve had so many discussions about running over the years and she is one of my biggest inspirations. In turn she has always been so supportive, knowing that I struggle with it more than any other physical activity.

For those who know me, have read my previous blog posts or seen other social media content I’ve uploaded in the past about running, you’ll know that I have a funny relationship with it. So I considered the race during the drive and then thought ‘Why not, I’ve jumped out of a plane right?!’ At the same time I also agreed to a 4.30am wake up call the next morning for a 5am Bootcamp class. That was how desperate I was to get moving again after Vegas. But more on that in a separate post!

Most runners will laugh at me but honestly a 10k felt to me almost like a bigger challenge than the Skydive. A PT friend would always tell me that running that distance was just in my head and I would say to her ‘maybe one day, with training’. Ha. I’d run a total of twice outdoors this year. One 3.5k in January (with walking intervals) and one 5k with a work colleague in February. Other than that the only other times were fitness runs of up to 800m at CrossFit, and up to 4k of treadmill intervals during OrangeTheory sessions once a week. So I was convinced I’d end up walking some of the race route if I had a hope of completing it.

I have flat feet. One of the reasons I struggle with running outdoors so much. Despite having completed 25 days of Advent Running, it still doesn’t come that easily for me. Running outdoors inevitably results in bruised shins (shin splints) and aggravated knees.

My first Race pack. EEK!

My first Race pack. EEK!

On the Saturday we all went to pick up our race packs from a run shop in Pasadena. While there I got some expert advice on the ‘perfect’ pair of trial running socks and also decided on some special insoles for flat feet. Basically I was going to try anything to get me through this thing!

That night I didn’t sleep. And I can always sleep. In any conditions. I totalled 2 hours and then had to be up at 6am for the 8am race. The event wasn’t huge, maybe 500-600 runners doing 3 mile, 6 mile and 9 mile options (I didn’t know there was a 3 mile option!) but regardless hats went off and the National Anthem was sung at the start, which was pretty amusing (as ours is only sung at big international sporting events).

Pasadena Trail Race Series

Then off we went. I started slow. Literally jogging slower than the pace I usually speed walk everywhere in London. I paced myself well because, although I decided not to try for time, I didn’t want to have to stop and slow down to a walk if I could help it (the ego has a limit). My only goal was to keep moving and make it to the finish line.

Pasadena Trail Run 6 miles

I looked around, enjoyed the day, listened to a guided meditation by Tara Brach recommended by my cousin over a sushi feast the night before. When I took my phone out of its case to snap a few pictures I checked my Strava time and distance. 3.5km. Nothing new. Legs still felt ok even though I’d tripped over rocks in the dirt 3 times and nearly fallen off a bank. So I carried on. The next time I pulled out my phone it read 7.4km at around the 45minute mark. So there’s me thinking ok this has been my absolute limit in the past. I still had energy. My shins still felt fine and knees were ok. Miracle. So I decided to speed up to try and make 10km in the hour. But that last section went on forever. Turns out the ‘6mile/10km’ was actually a 6.48mile/ 11.3km route! And I was a full 11 minutes over the hour by that point. When I saw the Finish line I literally sprinted the last 300m over grass, overtaking a few unsuspecting people just before the end. And then I experienced ‘Runner’s High’ for the first time.

Pasadena Trail Running Challenge: My first ever race medal

Pasadena Trail Running Challenge: My first ever race medal

Something weird had to happen after that race. I had to reevaluate my self-belief system. It then sunk in, that so much of running is mental rather than about physical fitness and ability. There were people that walked parts of the course. For them it was just about getting to the end. Another thing is ego. Getting over yourself. I’m quite a competitive person, but in this case I made a conscious decision to approach this run differently in order to arrive at a different outcome.

Even so the scientific side of me wants to validate this experience, so I’ve since decided to sign up for another, this time London-based 10k this year. Just to see.

The following definitely helped me to get through my first race:

  • The sunny weather
  • The novelty of being in a different country
  • A scenic route
  • The trail conditions: 3 different kinds of terrain so not too much hard concrete road surface
  • Running it with friends
  • Other runners – seeing all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities
  • My magic insoles
  • The meditation download
  • Accidental mileage from walking the 45min walk to/from work most days over the last few months at home, in order to get the Fitbit steps up.
My running crew

My running crew

Coming soon:

Flat Feet problems and my magic insoles

Stateside Fitness adventures – LA Round 2!