From stressful school-teaching to her new role at a Pilates studio, via the mountains and marathon running, Liz Wakelin….
I am thrilled to introduce Liz Wakelin, a friend I have made through Twitter, to the HH50 community. Her modesty, messages of support to other people and beautiful pictures of her country runs caught my attention. I was keen to find out about her running, climbing and Pilates. Hello Liz: Liz Wakelin, 58, Pilates teacher, wife, & mother to a daughter.
Which sports do you enjoy?
Walking, running, climbing (backpacking, long distance walking).
Have you always been sporty or is this new to you?
I do not consider myself to be sporty, although I did take up ice skating at 50 to prove I wasn’t on the scrapheap just yet!
At school I was the least sporty person – played Left Back (in the changing rooms) in hockey, or crouched on the sidelines with my tracksuit over my knees to stay warm. I utterly loathed running – would vie with the visually impaired girl for last place on cross-country runs.
I had no team spirit and loathed any team sports. The only time I had any fun during games was in the 5th year when I was able to go sailing on a local lake, which I didn’t consider as sport.
In 6th form I managed to get my name missed off the list for games, so would spend the afternoon walking home – 10 miles – which, again, I didn’t consider as sport. Over the years I’ve also potholed, sailed & kayaked, but mostly when I was employed as an Outdoor Education teacher. I now teach Pilates, which I (also) still don’t consider a sport – more as a preparation for sport (& life!).
How did you start exercising again?
I’ve always enjoyed walking. In my late teens I entered a 17 miles walk as a charity event to raise money to build a local swimming pool. In those days people paid you per mile, so I was determined to walk the full distance. All my friends dropped out but I refused to even though the whole of the underside of my heel was a blister. I was really pleased and enjoyed it too.
At college I wanted to climb because my parents had mountaineered in their youth & had some inspirational photographic mountaineering books. I wanted to visit those places. I met my first husband through this. He was the president of Oxford University Mountaineering Club so it was inevitable that I would get some mountaineering done. Because of his interest I climbed in the UK & Alps. I walked & backpacked in those areas too. Sadly, he was killed in the Himalayas 25 years ago, a couple of years after we divorced.
I started running in order to stay fit for walking & climbing.
How often do you train and do you train with friends or alone?
I’m very relaxed these days about training. I generally run alone now, as I have always struggled with breathing & have to tailor my speed to my breath (very poor peak flow, which means quite a poor VO2 max). I used to run with a group of young mums from the village. (I organised them into a group ) We would run a crèche so that turns could be taken running. Quite a few of them still run, but I’ve had to take a long time out due to recurrent injury. I try to run 3-5 times a week, but with none of the pressure I used to put on myself when younger.
Climbing is a social activity: I have a few regular partners, but I’ve also attended ‘Women’s Socials’ at local climbing walls, which can be fun.
Walking is with family (husband, daughter) or friends. It can range from a couple of miles, to a 400 mile trek the length of England to celebrate with my daughter the end of her school years. It took 4 weeks backpacking together.
How do you feel when you are running/climbing/walking?
It depends – usually good, occasionally fed up if my body is letting me down. Walking generally lifts the spirits.
How has exercise enhanced your life?
I think activity (remember I’m not sporty!) is always valuable. Certainly it can help with all sorts of areas of life – health(y), confidence, socially etc.
Looking back I can see that qualifying as a Mountain Leader at a time when not many women did, was quite an achievement. Coming in the top 3 in mountain marathons was not bad either, but at the time I didn’t see it like that. It is only now, looking back at the things that other people see as unusual achievements that I can also see them like that. Together they have given me the self-belief I have now, but they didn’t at the time.
I’ve made some good friends through sporting activities and that is a great life enhancer.
I guess I’m reasonably healthy because I stay fit, although I have always been generally fit & healthy so that theory hasn’t been tested.
What are your biggest motivations?
My main motivation is enjoyment, in fact I’ve adversely affected my fitness through sport! I have struggled with all manner of running injuries, ever since I ran the London Marathon (I always said I’d never run a road marathon because of the pounding and I’m certainly never running one again!). I have suffered from ITB (Iliotibial band syndrome) trouble, hip bursitis & SI (sacroiliac) joint issues.
However, this has made me search for the cause & solution & led to a complete change of career at the age of 55 when I trained to become a Pilates Teacher. I’m now rebuilding my running fitness.
Indirectly I enjoy feeling strong, staying slender and having a go at new challenges.
What are your biggest obstacles to training?
Injury – see above. When I was working full time as an English teacher, it was exhaustion.
Who inspires you?
I’m not sure anyone inspires me to do exercise. However, I am amazed at the achievements of many people, from Lizzy Hawker, the incredible ultramarathon runner, to the exploits of disabled athletes like Arunima Sinha, who climbed Everest despite only having one leg. Also Sarah Outen who circumnavigated the globe solely under her own power (crossing the oceans in a rowing boat!). Twitter is a great place for finding inspiring people.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
It’s difficult to choose one achievement above others. You could say that first 17 mile walk was the greatest as I pushed on when I could have stopped.
But then maybe raising a daughter whose idea of celebrating the end of her exams by walking 400 miles with a tent on her back is greater.
In terms of winning or being placed in an event, I guess being 4th lady home in the 56 mile, 7000’ ascent Bullock Smithy Hike in 21 hrs 20 mins was my greatest achievement but that was 30 years ago, and I didn’t really mean to enter, let alone finish it.
In many ways I’m most proud of overcoming my physical difficulties to continue running & walking as there was a point when I thought I might lose the ability to walk as I was in so much pain that it was no fun.
What are your goals for the future?
My goal is to reach 100 years in as perfect a condition as possible. At the moment I’m in the ‘classic’ range, so the paintwork & upholstery need a bit of attention, but I’m aiming to get to ‘vintage’ in outstanding condition.
Hopefully, I will help others to do the same through my role as a Pilates teacher.
What are the worst things about running for you?
I’ve sort of answered this really –
And the three best?
Do you track or record your running/walking/climbing? How has this enhanced your enjoyment?
Over the years I have recorded, tracked, and noted down all manner of info about walks, runs & climbs. On long distance walking routes I write a detailed journal every day, including anecdotes about the places seen & the people met, plus distance, ascent/descent & weather. For runs, I generally record time & distance, & sometimes ascent /descent.
I have a Suunto watch which helps with these records, and also use a Running4Women app on my phone. I record outdoor climbs online on the UKclimbing.com website. I have to be a bit careful as recording can become an obsession & lead to anxiety and/or pushing myself too hard.
I’m rediscovering exercise without records or technology as a purely fun activity.
However, I will never abandon record keeping fully as I love looking back and recalling previous adventures, and can be inspired to think of new ones from those memories.
What is your favourite piece of kit?
• My Sunnto watch?
• Or maybe my Vivobarefoot running shoes which have aided my recovery from injury?
• Or Anquet Maps on my iPad & phone where I can plan new routes & track old ones…?
Do you listen to music whilst you are running?
No, I prefer silence or the sounds of the natural world (I’m lucky that I live in the country).
What’s your favourite food for running?
I don’t have one, although I have recently discovered the delights of the banana, yoghourt, coconut milk, peanut butter, honey & chia seed smoothie to the point where I make it for breakfast every morning after my run! (Note to self – really must find some more smoothie recipes…)
Do you have a favourite magazine or blog?
No, I tend to search for info as and when I need it. However, I have just subscribed to ‘Like the Wind’ magazine as it is so beautifully presented – a real luxurious indulgence.
I’m also working my way through James Dunne’s 30 Day Challenge from the Kinetic Revolutions website as it is an excellent way to strengthen the body for running.
If someone was thinking about taking up a new sport but doubted herself, what would you say?
• Do it.
• Don’t worry about how you look, how fit you are (or are not), having the ‘right’ kit, being laughed at.
• I’ve spent most of my life feeling less capable than everyone else, less sporty than everyone else around me, less physically capable, less clever, less attractive.…despite, I realise now, evidence to the contrary.
• So if I can do it, so can anyone! I wish someone had told me that when I was young – I might have reached the place I am now a little bit sooner.
If someone was thinking of starting climbing, what practical tips would you suggest?
• Find someone who can work with you and keep you motivated – that might be a club, a class, a personal trainer, a friend.
• Believe them when they tell you that you are doing well & making progress.
• Make sure that they are positive people who encourage rather than put down. Climbing walls do an excellent job of training new climbers, and introducing them to like-minded people.
• But you can always run & walk solo – you don’t have to be sociable to have fun exercising!
Finally, this blog and community is called HealthyHappy50. With the lessons you have learned over the years, what would you tell your 20 year old self about health and happiness?
• Don’t compare yourself with others.
• What you do is for you.
• You are as good as you want to be, or as your physical limitations allow you to be.
• You can improve by understanding what can be improved, and learning how to achieve that.
• There is always something new to learn about yourself & your chosen activities.
• Persistence pays off.
• Find good supportive friends in your sport(s) and keep them by being a good supportive friend.
Thank you so much Liz, there are so many great lessons from your story. Every time I read it I smile that you still resolutely don’t consider yourself sporty yet have climbed and run up mountains, walked such long distances and now teach Pilates! Your modesty prevails at all times.
I am really interested in your new career as a Pilates teacher, can you tell us a little more about yourself and why you chose this?
I left English Teaching as was finding the rising pressure was making me ill. When I resigned I had no job lined up, I just knew that I would be very ill if I continued. It was my Pilates teacher, Sally, who suggested I train to teach Pilates – and I took some persuading!
Eventually her belief in me restored some of my damaged confidence & I travelled regularly to London to train with Body Control Pilates, the foremost provider of quality Pilates teacher training in the UK. The course was impressive and, at times, gruelling!
As well as the training, there were a series of written anatomy exams & practical exams, followed by 50+ hours of supervised teaching before the final practical teaching exam. Because I was not working I was able to complete the 2 year course in 6 months. Such was Sally’s confidence in me that I started teaching my first class at her Studio the day after I qualified.
My details can be found on the Body Control website http://www.bodycontrolpilates.com/shop
I teach at The Studio, Alresford, Hampshire: http://www.thestudioalresford.com and classes (eight clients max) can be booked through there.
I also deliver 1:1 private matwork sessions, either at home or in the Studio, as well as small private groups, and can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I love my new career with a delight I had not thought possible to achieve at work – having benefited so much myself from Pilates it is lovely to have the chance to give something back.
Thank you so much Liz! We are really grateful to you for sharing your story!
Do we have any other HH50 readers who enjoy climbing, running or Pilates?
Photos all courtesy/property of Liz Wakelin