I went to Malvern.  I took some pictures and thought some thoughts but I have read a number of Malvern blogs now and don't think I have anything much to say that hasn't been very eloquently said already.  I can tell you that Monty Don is not as tall as I thought he was, that I don't like blackboards and lava lamps in gardens, that there were fewer nettles and wildflowers in this year's show gardens than there were last year.  This last observation is a bit sad as I had felt very on trend last year.  I wasn't too keen on the garden dominated by a pterodactyl, although it did include some shapes of real beauty.  I could have moved into the Garden for Life and lived there.  Malvern's version of the Wicker Man was truly fantastic.

So I am going to tell you about my lifelong changing relationship with exercise, just because I have been thinking about it.

When I was a child I used to run down the road along the edge of the common and know that I was running like the wind.  I could feel the road disappearing under my feet and my legs eating up the miles.  I knew I was uncatchable.  So it was a bit of a shock when school sports day came round and I found I was generally labouring along somewhere near the back of every race.  It can put you off, that kind of thing.

During secondary school I became adept at exercise avoidance.  I hated the way that playing hockey involved getting blue legs and a red nose and enduring those shuddering shocks when, having accidentally got the ball, I would be tackled by the hearty, hefty thighed girls who actually cared about whether their team won.  I sunbathed by the changing rooms in tennis and wandered along languidly at the back in cross country.  I perfected a technique of always being at the back of the queue for any piece of equipment in the gymnasium.   I was every P.E. teacher's nightmare.

It wasn't that we were couch potatoes at home.  We walked, we swam, I cycled miles to school every day and played badminton with my best friend in the garden.  It was organised sport I disliked, especially anything involving a ball and any form of team game.  So in my twenties I gloried in doing no formal exercise whatsoever, except the running around which accompanies having small children.  In my thirties I discovered the gym and was astonished to find that I loved it, especially weights, and for ten years of so I was a serious, regular, at least three times a week  gym bunny.  I loved the fact that exercising a lot meant I could eat what I liked, having always had a large appetite and a real love of food.  I couldn't imagine ever stopping. 

In my forties I began to walk quite seriously, hill walking mostly.  When the rest of my life was spent at a desk, I needed to keep going to the gym to be fit enough to walk up hills.  I took up jogging too, running would be too strong a word for it.  I was never going to be quick but I could cover distance, slowly, my mind running free too.  Gradually running took over from going to the gym.  I thought I had become someone who would always exercise.

And then we came here and I became ill.  I lost six months to illness and incapacity and lost a ton of weight too.  When I finally went back to work I was eating my way back up to my normal weight, and kept on eating until I had reached it and passed it and carried on upward and somehow didn't start exercising again.  Why not? I am not sure.  There is a lot to do here and no gyms within easy reach.  It always seems more sensible to go out into the garden than to get in a car and drive to a gym.  Running is hard work here, living so high on the edge of a hill.  You can't go anywhere from the house without going steeply up or steeply down.  It's probably great running country if you are an athlete.  If you are an overweight middle aged woman who hasn't run for a few years, it's all a bit terrifying.

I did start walking again and celebrated leaving my job and taking a leap into the unknown by walking the Offa's Dyke Path which runs for 177 miles along the whole length of Wales.  That is a couple of years ago now.  I loved it, the easy rhythm of the days: breakfast, walk, lunch, walk, stop, shower, evening meal, sleep the sleep of the truly tired.  By the time we had finished I just felt I could have gone on walking for ever.  Last year we walked for two weeks in the Austrian Alps in July.  That was a huge challenge and I was only just beginning to feel fit enough to do it by the time we came home.

And somehow we get to this year.  I look back and see that as an adult I have done a lot of exercise and taken a lot of pleasure from it, astonishing though that would be to my teenage self.  But somehow I am going into this summer a stone overweight, hopelessly unfit, having fallen into a pattern of coping with these last few months with the help of another glass of wine or piece of cake. 

I think I will do something about it. 
I wonder if I can?


  1. Oh, you are writing the story of my life when it comes to exercise! I have never been one for team sports, but have always enjoyed running/walking/swimming/cycling. Have been sidelined the last 2 years with a ruptured lumbar disc - very disappointing after being a very avid cyclist; I remember reading your blog posts back when you did your long walk and was so impressed at your accomplishment: I am SURE you can do anything you set your mind to; just need to find something you can enjoy doing and can do close to home.

  2. You have earned your Welsh hillocks, Elizabeth. Relax.

  3. Don't feel too bad. It sounds like you've always done well in the exercise department and are just having a temporary time out. I'm sure you will get back to it when the time is right. You will get lots of exercise from working in your garden.

    It gets a little harder as we get older and that's not a crime. It's just a fact of life. We do need to adjust our eating habits. That's a fact of life too. But you'll be fine. You'll be in great shape by this summer.

  4. You've probably written for many of us, Elizabeth. It's not that you and I have ever been couch potatoes, and exercise was always a priority when there was time. And that's the rub - time. Like you, I have coped these past months by reaching for a piece of cake or a glass of wine at the end of the day - and it's hard to walk (stumble about) in the country in the dark of a winter evening. I don't know what the solution is - I just want to be as healthy as I can be, and that's what I read in your piece. Good luck to both of us!

  5. I'm with you....over weight and out of shape..that's me. Unfortunately a lovely dose of osteo arthritis has left me unable to do much walking. I can however lift my arms with no problem so I have no trouble getting the fork to my lips. What to do, what to do, oh, pass the cake please.

  6. Short walks for me. It's so hard to find time and energy but I'm sure we will be better for it.

  7. Hi Elizabeth, I've never been able to stick to externally enforced exercise, the kind that you pay for, and lack any kind of competitive spirit that makes team sports enjoyable. I was 21 before I discovered that I am actually quite athletic, when I learned to ski, then rock-climb. But now at 47 I have enough old injuries (falling down a client's stairs, falling off a wall while picking blackberries, falling down skiing - all very silly) and arthritis, so that the most exertion I can handle is a brisk bike ride or turning the compost, digging a bed and perhaps a yoga class here and there. I'm with Tom - it sounds like you've paid your dues and you deserve to enjoy your beautiful hills without fretting about whether you've burned enough calories today!

  8. Losing a stone is easier said than done as I know from personal experience! Walking is the only exercise I really enjoy and done every day it helps a lot but it's the self disciplne involved with food that's hard for me. I'm an eat to live kind of person but my downfall is chocolate and cake and my self discipline isn't all it should be in that department:) Try just walking a couple of miles each day, take a camera and photograph your beautiful surroundings and you'll have done that much and more before you know it.

  9. Sadly - when you reach a "certain age" loosing weight is harder - you only have to look at a lettuce leaf and the calories pile on.
    As I am also currently nearly a stone overweight I can empathize I do think walking is key and something that I have not done this year either.

    I am sure that I read somewhere that a little padding is helpful in protecting against osteoporoses

  10. Yes, it'll come back, but you've got an awful lot on your plate at the moment which makes it that much harder to take the time out. Proper exercise eats into your time and although the benefits are well worth the effort, it's hard to take that time for yourself when there are so many demands on it.

    I'm missing running greatly, have a small but potentially serious problem which means I'm confined to low impact sport at the moment so I'm just trying to be a bit Zen about it and enjoy the walking... when I have time!
    All the best to you. Cx

  11. Oh Elizabeth as all of those who have commented have said, exercise is difficult. The only times in my life I have really exercised is when there has been a man involved to impress - how sad is that?!!? I don't do relationships anymore but I do walk. I have a 20 minute brisk walk to work in the morning, only brisk because I am always late, and the same home but a bit more leisurely. That and gardening - I have a push mower, my now that does use up the calories!! R

  12. I hated team sports at school too. Like you, I went to the gym regularly when there was one near by. It was ladies only, so comfortable!
    Walking is good, but I don't do enough. I need to get a new routine going. That is the only way exercise works for me. Get in from work, change and go out immediately, or all is lost!

  13. I've just turned 51 but, in my head, I'm still somewhere in my early 30s. This is why it comes as such a shock when my 17 and 19 year old sons are having to dawdle up a mountain so that 'mum can keep up'! I wish you well with your exercising. Find something fun :)

  14. MsCaroline - the combination of enjoyment and close to home is spot on! Walking is the best answer for that but it does take time. Mind you, found the time today again!
    Tom - the thing is, I really like the feeling of being fitter than I am now.
    Nora - it does get harder as you get older as you say. I have just managed to say no to a plate of cheese of biscuits though!

  15. I am 44. I weigh upwards of 200 pounds (14 stone to you). I read this post just after returning home from the gym.

    Yes, you can.

  16. I find there are periods when I exercise and periods when it is just too much - often when I am writing seriously I find it hard to keep fit and vice versa.

    But walking in the hills is, I think the best way to keep the body and soul fit. You live in a good place to do that.

  17. I am convinced that losing weight is ninety nine percent in the head and times of family stress are not conducive to weight loss.
    Take care of yourself, keep walking and keep gardening because your wellbeing is equally important as those you are trying to support. x

  18. Pondside - I think we have similar aims and similar difficulties just now!
    MBJ - well I do not have arthritis to blame, just lack of time and will power!
    Chris - short walks are good. i have managed a walk every day this week except for my yoga day and walks here mean hills so that's good!

  19. Frith - it is not so much that I fret about calories, more that I have always been quite fit and am now not so fit as I was. Losing half a stone would be a welcome bonus but I am more bothered about getting fitter again I think!
    Rowan - yes I am the same. I am not too bad at getting up and doing things, not too good at restraining myself when I feel like eating so I think exercise will have to be the answer for me.

  20. I was just like you at school - but sometimes circumstances do conspire against us. I have health issues which get in my way nowadays, but walking is not only good for calorie consumption, it is also good for the psyche. But I need a reason to walk, it used to be taking the children to school, which happens no more. Nor do I have my own dog any more - which gives me a reason, too - of our two dogs, one is too old for long walks, and the other is my son's. I think the answer for me is a dog - but maybe yours is just going out and enjoying some time out and away in the fresh air?

    Pomona x

  21. Elizabeth you are the first person I have read who has written about that wonderful 'young and uncatchable' feeling - when you run for sheer joy, without ever getting tired and can imagine stretching each pace, longer and longer, like a grey hound, until in the end you are flying - or almost flying - in an exhilaration of knowing that you can outrun anyone that tries to catch you, your breathing as easy and effortless as on a summer stroll. Then suddenly it all becomes an effort and a pain. Maybe you tense up; maybe you (or rather I) never ran fast in the first place. Yes I wish I could recapture that freedom. Still, then I was thin as a stick insect, so no wonder it was easy to be light on my feet. You do write awfully well.

  22. Would like to report that, a week in, I have walked five days and done my favourite and very wonderful yoga class on another. And in another week son's dog arrives to stay for a fortnight so another reason to keep going! Loving it actually.

  23. I think you've hit the nail on the head with the walking bit. We've got a friend who just turned 70 and he walks for an hour every morning. He is one of the most fit, steady, sharp-witted 70 year olds I know. Can't go wrong with walking.

    Growing up I was always awkward and never played sports. Then in university I started running. I am off and on with running now, but still really enjoy the simplicity of it. It's good to get outside and move quickly across the ground and watch the trees go by.

  24. I also detest team sports, and like you, remember when in P.E., SOME girls took the game of volleyball, etc. seriously. I shook my head and said, "It's just a game..." You have done much better than I over the years... it is hard to get back to exercising---oh, what am I saying, I haven't exercised for a good 5 years or more. A little bit of exercise at a time, you'll do fine. Have a great week. (I stopped by to see how things are going with the FIL living with you.)

  25. Yes, and me too. Bad at team sports (letting people down by being rubbish etc...) bad at doing things that hurt (like running, cycling, aerobics). I only like Pilates and Yoga and good teachers are like hen's teeth in this neck of the woods.
    Malvern looked wonderful this year. And Monty, of course, however short! Last night's GW was just wonderful, I was rapt. Anyway, enough of my Monty fixation. We're in London next week. Sam's birthday - Chelsea's on and we're not going. Because of the crowds, I did offer tickets but it's not to be. Maybe next year! x

  26. I am coming back to read this post again...Malvern was a very special place for me . Good to be back!

  27. ELizabeth, since I came to this post aabout a week late, I got to see your comment that you've been walking recently. That's my favourite kind of exercise since it requires no particular planning, expense and particularly no need to get in the car and drive somewhere just to exercise.
    I loved your description of running as a child - that was me, too. I used to pretend I was on horseback - it was magical.

    A few sun salutations in the morning are my nod to yoga - I don't like committing to someone else's schedule even though I know that doing more yoga is the best possible thing for an ageing body.

    I also love how you write. You lift me up and carry me along with you, so effortlessly.

  28. Loved and empathised with your description of childhood exercise, I do so remember that, and the years when you didn't have to worry because children kept you going from morning till night. Now I sit in front of a computer all day, every day and have no energy when I finally stop for the night, so my weight is reaching the stage where I loathe myself. Happily for me, because I don't feel in the least inclined, the gym is out of the question, too far so I really don't have time, but I've got to start walking and gardening again ... sigh (not even as if I eat very much). Good luck with your efforts though!


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