Trips to Swindon and Portsmouth and the upcoming Stirling Marathon

I spent 5 days in Swindon visiting family.  I was staying with my Great Aunt and Great Uncle and travelled about to see other members of my family living in the the south of England.  My Granddad  was the eldest of five and had four sisters.  Unfortunately two of them have passed, however Mary and Marian both stay in the south.  We have a rather large family but we try and stay in touch as much as we can.  Whilst Mary and Marian often visit us up in Scotland I hadn’t been down this way to see family for a few years.  I kept saying I was going to pop down but had never followed through with it!  A couple of weeks ago mum was on the phone to Marian and I mentioned about possibly coming down to visit.  5 minutes later my flights were booked and I am really glad that I popped down for the visit.

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Castle Combe 

Whilst I was down south we visited Castle Combe which formed part of the set of ‘Warhorse’.  There isn’t a great deal in Castle Combe but it is worth a visit if you are in that sort of area in the Cotswolds.

I just need to try and make sure that I come down over a weekend next time so that I can see some of the others who were working through the week.  I was kind of tight for time though with the exercise booked into my diary for the following week.  We took a visit down to see Mary and caught Andrew her son quickly whilst we were there.  Megan one of my cousins was there when I arrived – I don’t think I have seen Megan for a lot of years although I cant quite work out when it last was!

We took a trip to visit Sade (my cousin) at her new flat and then she came round for dinner in the evening.  Whilst I was looking forward to seeing everyone, I was looking forward to seeing Sade, for two reasons.  I reckon it was about 16 years ago that I last saw her, but secondly because Sade has been battling with Breast Cancer for the last year.  It was a pretty aggressive and rare cancer too which has made things pretty hard for her.  She has dealt with it brilliantly as far as I am concerned and is on the mend.  If you were ever needing a new strong female role model, Sade would fit the bill.  I’m guessing positivity is in the genes because there is a lot of parallels in the way that both her and mum dealt with their cancers.  With a positive outlook and an unwillingness to give in.

It was a good flight back from Bristol and Scotland didn’t half surprise me!  The weather was fantastic!  A short drive up the road from Edinburgh and I was home after a great week down in the south.  Normal duties resumed rather quickly chauffeuring dad into Dundee for a meal with one of his colleagues who is leaving to a new job.   A busy Saturday double checking all of my bags before heading back down to Southampton for the Exercise with the UKISAR team.  I have three bags for the ISAR team which are always packed in case of a job.  But given I was away to head off for an exercise I thought it was a good opportunity to open them all up and double check all of my kit.  It will all be repacked properly again once it is cleaned following the exercise.  Generally, the ISAR kit is really good stuff, the only downside is that there is a lot of it!  So it takes up a fair amount of space in the house.  However, whilst my sister is still living abroad her room has become my overflow storage area and my kit lives in there.

I am not going to lie.  The Stirling Marathon has got me a bit nervous…  It’s going to be the hardest few hours of my life I reckon and that is seriously daunting.  I know I just need to keep my legs moving, but it is still a monumentally long way to run and I really admire those who take it up as their sport of choice.  I am hopping to be able to raise some more money as I do it and reach out to new people who don’t know about the fundraising that I am doing.  I know that I am going to have a hard day when the 21st comes.  I know that I will make it to the end and I know that I am not trying to do it in a record time, but 26.2 miles is scary I can assure you.  I will be a glad when I am at the end.  I’ve said before however about the fact that dealing with cancer is not easy and seeing my cousin Sade reaffirmed that in my mind.  So when I hit the wall and I am starting to find it tough running around Stirling I intend to have that at the forefront of my mind.

The exercise with the ISAR team was a fantastic experience.  In the end we ended up helping run the exercise as directing staff which is something I wouldn’t normally do.  But it gave me a really good opportunity to see the exercise from a completely different perspective, one that I wouldn’t have seen had I been taking part in it.  It confirmed to me that being a member of the ISAR team is definitely for me.  Whilst I have been in the team for over a year now I hadn’t been away to a large exercise like this one and I hadn’t had the opportunity to experience the full team at work.  Who knows when the next deployment will come or if it ever does, but I am quite happy to say that I am part of team who can respond to any major disaster around the world.

ISAR runs a 24 hour operation so team is split in two, working shifts.  It meant that the directing staff were also working shifts and it meant that little sleep was had throughout the exercise.  When the team exercises it is kept as real as possible and all checks are carried out in the same way that they normally would.  Despite not being part of the ‘deploying team’ it gave me a better idea of how their systems work.

“Stay uncomfortable.  Comfort breeds complacency” – unknown

The Stirling Marathon is just a week away and it has come round incredibly quickly!  But if you have a few pounds to spare and would like to help me raise money for Cancer Research UK then just follow the link below!  It really is quick and easy!

Many thanks as always.

J.

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Back to work

This week I went back to work after 12 days off.  I must admit that the first day back after being on annual leave is always difficult to get up for.  It generally means getting up at 0630 ish and I am not by any means a morning person.  I don’t think I really ever have been and I reckon it usually takes me a good hour to wake up properly.  It’s especially hard when the sun doesn’t rise until later which only compounds my problem of getting out of bed!

Winter is a season that I do generally enjoy however and in the past year I tried to make an effort to try and learn how to ski.  Whilst I am still very much a beginner I can actually turn and stop which for me is quite an achievement.  Skiing is something that I would like to get better at and I would like to get back out on the slopes sometime soon this winter.  I took lessons at the Snowfactor at the Braehead Arena in Glasgow which seemed reasonably priced and it gives you the chance to learn indoors on real snow.  I took the 4 hour fast track lesson which covers most of the basics and by the end of the 4 hours we were introduced to the main slope.  I definitely need a lot more practice if I am going to improve at all so a trip to one of the Scottish ski resorts or back to Snowfactor has to be worked into the coming weeks and months!  I am keen to go ice climbing again too.  I went ice climbing in Kinlochleven (a town near Glen Coe) a couple of years ago and I really enjoyed it.  I suppose its a somewhat strange sport to get into but the centre in Kinlochleven  is fantastic and there is also an ice wall at Snowfactor.  They are fairly accessible and I didn’t think that it was overly expensive!  Anyway, I have gotten sidetracked!

Having spent some more time looking at the North Coast 500 route I think I may make a trip up north at some point before the actual trip to get some scouting in on the roads.  I am really keen to get up there and cycle the pass over to Applecross which will be without a doubt one of the hardest climbs I have ever tackled on my bike.  Given that during the North Coast 500 I will be taking on that climb after around 100KM on the bike I reckon it is probably sensible to head up do some training on the roads on that area and take on the climb itself.  I think that will allow me to judge where my fitness is at and allow me to make any adjustments in my training plan that I need to.  My preparation for all of my different challenges is going to be really important especially the ability to recover quickly and tackle multiple long days of exertion.  The date for the North Coast 500 isn’t definite but I am aiming to ride it around the 8th of July.  My holidays for April and beyond should be released by the end of this month or early February at the latest and as soon as I have them I will be confirming everything in my diary.  I am really looking forward to being able to firm everything up and share it all with you.  It feels like a while since I decided to start this challenge and I told you all that I was just waiting on my holidays!  Unfortunately I am still waiting but it shouldn’t be too much longer now!  As the saying goes – ‘Good things come to those who wait’.  I really hope that this is true!

I am sure that you can all sympathise with the back to work blues and I do definitely experience them if I am honest.  But on the flip side, I am lucky to have a job that on the whole I enjoy and which has given me a number of fantastic opportunities.  They have been incredibly supportive from the minute that I told them about my plans and I am always extremely thankful for that!  This coming Saturday I am going to be doing a bit of work with Cancer Research UK as part of a press release for World Cancer Day on the 4th of February.  The day is billed as a ‘photoshoot’ but I just keep telling myself it’s for a few photos!  If you have ever met me you will know that I am by no means a model!  But I am keen to be involved and if it helps promote World Cancer Day and gets some more people on board and willing to support my challenge then I am all for it.

With World Cancer Day now fast approaching I would ask that you help support Cancer Research UK in one incredible ‘Act of Unity’ by purchasing and wearing a ‘Unity Band’ in support of those who have suffered and those are currently suffering from cancer.  The recommended donation is £2 albeit you can donate more if you would like (The pictures below shows what they look like!).    The more people get on board and help discuss cancer and it the need for continuing research and funding will hopefully bring forward that the day that we make all cancers curable.

Taking on the 3 peaks challenge is also going to form part of my summer.  Planning is in its very earliest stages but it is something that I definitely want to complete.  I think I might be able to convince some others to come along with me so we will maybe have a small team to attempt this challenge.  I reckon summer is the best time to go for it though using the longer days and nicer weather to our advantage.  Saying that, there is every chance that it could rain through an entire attempt during the summer, we’ll just have to take it as it comes.

Have a look out for the press release in the coming week with Cancer Research UK, hopefully it will help boost the reach of my challenge and help raise more vital money for this charity.

“Where there is unity there is always victory” – Publius Syrus

J.

Getting Started

Christmas has passed and I hope that you all had a great day!  Thankfully work was quiet and I had my meal with my family when I got in from work.  As always I received so many fantastic gifts and despite having to work it was a really good Christmas.  Hogmanay is this Saturday but I don’t think I will be up to too much due to being back at work on the 1st.  To me, Sunday the 1st is the true start.  As much as we have talked about doing this and setting out a bit of a plan, the start of the new year to me marks the beginning properly.

Getting started is often one of the hardest things to do.  Talking about doing something is pretty easy, but committing to it and putting it in motion is the complete opposite.  I’ve spent a couple if months looking into things, picking out the events that I would like to take part in and speaking to people about what I would like to do.  Now we have to get going and for me the New Year signals the crossing of that start line.  While there is an enormous mountain laid before us to climb, it can be climbed and we will hit that target of £1 million.  I know we will.

The 4th of February every year is World Cancer Day and if you can help me promote what I am doing and the incredible work that Cancer Research UK do I would be extremely grateful.  Cancer Research UK run a campaign of wearing a ‘unity band’ on the 4th and I will be taking part this year.  They have also asked if myself and mum would be happy to be part of an article talking about what mum has been through and what it is I am trying to do.  Hopefully that will help earn my challenge a bit more support.  I feel that I am continually asking the same people to support me and I know that so many of you have already donated very generously to what I am doing.  I’d really like to try and grow the support in the early part of the year and encourage more people to donate a little to Cancer Research UK.

I can’t remember if I had mentioned in a previous blog post about the possibility of going to visit one of the experimental cancer research facilities in Edinburgh, in order to better understand what the money is actually used for and to gain an understanding of the kinds of research that are being done into cancer.  I am really keen to do this and meet the people who are doing this amazing research and saving so many lives.  I have no idea when that will be but it is something I would like to try and fit in.

I have been speaking with my dad about him supporting my cycling ventures, I know for sure that the last thing I will want to do after cycling 100 miles on my bike will be standing cleaning and servicing it.  My dad works as teacher and I will need to try and plan these trips during his holiday periods.  But that shouldn’t be too hard I don’t think, it might mean that I have to swap a couple shifts at work but we will get that organised.  The North Coast 500 will probably be the first cycling trip of the year and I reckon will likely be around late spring.  I have spent this week doing a bit more planning for this trip and realised that google lied to me a bit.  It told me that the second day of the trip (Applecross to Ullapool) would be around 85 miles or 136 KM in length, it is, but to follow the North Coast 500 route you must travel via Gairloch (a town my dad used to teach in actually!) which adds quite a bit of distance and climbing to the day.  Day 2 of this trip will actually be 117 miles or 187 KM in length.  I think this is probably going to be the hardest day of what I am hoping will be a 5 day trip.  This will come the day after a particularly hard climb on the road over to Applecross.  But it is what needs doing so we will get it done I am sure!  I have put the routes for days one and two below along with the elevation charts so you can see what the route looks like if you weren’t sure.  I think this trip will definetly serve as pretty good training for John O’Groats to Lands End and I think it will also do my legs good for climbing Kilimanjaro.

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I’ve got a trip to Kilimanjaro picked out so booking that is going to be a priority in the coming weeks.  It is my intention to get back out on the hills soon, it has been a manic few weeks with lots on and I am conscious that I haven’t managed to get out on the hills as much as I would have liked.  The other thing which is now an added issue is that the Scottish winter has arrived and the weather on the hills is far more volatile than usual.  I’d therefore ideally only head into the mountains with a climbing partner, purely for safety and I hope you all appreciate that.  As much as I want to raise all this money and complete as many challenges as I physically can I’d rather not kill myself in the process!  The mountains in Scotland are often a far more dangerous place than people give them credit for and unfortunately deaths are reported every year which are caused by a number of different factors.  I love climbing in Scotland in the winter and I reckon we probably we have some of the most pristine mountains in the world, but I don’t love it enough to take massive risks.

“There’s a way to do it better – find it” – Thomas A. Edison

Its just about time to start off the new year and get going proper, I am really looking forward to it all now.  I hope all have an enjoyable Hogmanay and get a good start to the New Year.  Thank you all for your support, it is hugely appreciated as always!

J.

My ambitions. My ideas.

In order to raise £1 million I am going to have to diversify my activities.  Running one half marathon won’t get me there I don’t think.  Nor will running a couple.  I need to take on every possible opportunity that I get and learn how to promote them successfully.  That means giving myself more work, but I kind of accepted that when I started this whole thing anyway.

I’ve had so many ideas of different events to take part in and to run.  One of them which is quite high up on my list of which will require a lot of organising is a charity ceilidh/auction night.  Ultimately it has to make sense financially, I don’t see any point pouring vast amounts of time into organising an event like this unless it is going to raise a significant amount of money for charity.  It will only raise a fraction of the total amount however every little helps!  I think it would be good way of bringing people together who have been affected by cancer, to celebrate what they have achieved and have a good old laugh.  For anyone who isn’t Scottish, a ‘Ceilidh’ is a traditional gathering where people join together in song and dance in order to have fun and make a fool out of themselves, at least that is how it was described to me!  If it happens you should come, they are always great fun and everyone usually has a great time!  I’ll keep you posted!

Another idea of mine that I am working towards is starting to make videos that document this journey.  I know that I have started this blog, but I understand that not everyone enjoys reading.  I also believe that a picture paints a thousand words and using video will allow me to physically show you all what I have been up to.  Over the past year I have begun watching YouTube more and more, to the point where I often watch YouTube over regular TV.  There are some amazing creators on YouTube who produce work that is as good, if not better than TV.  I am by no means saying that my videos will be able to compare to some of these creators, but I hope to bring you all along and help share this whole experience more.

I am finding that this whole blog and charity work pretty fun so far!  It has been a lot of work, trying to get things started, to speak to people about what I’m trying to do and why.  I’ve come to realise that when you tell someone that you are trying to raise £1 million for charity they will be slightly surprised.  I suppose it’s not the average target to set.  Although if everyone was the same the world would be a pretty boring place I think!  People often take a bit of convincing, but I think I am being fairly successful at encouraging people we will get there.  We are still quite small at the minute and there is a huge amount of work still to do, but I have faith and there is plenty positivity in me still!

Christmas will soon be upon us and the New Year hotly on its heels.  I think that once the 1st of January arrives that I will feel that we are on our way.  I’ve been working on this for a couple of months now and I think it looks like we haven’t made much progress.  What I am trying to remind people however is that I could never expect to raise this money overnight, it’s a long-term goal and one that will take time to achieve.  Stick with me and we’ll smash the target, I’m sure of it!

My sister is home in a couple of weeks for the first time since August which I am quite looking forward to.  She is studying for a Masters in Interpreting and Translation in French and Spanish and has spent this semester in Lyon, France.  I haven’t had the opportunity to go out and visit Lyon unfortunately which is something that I did want to do.  Maybe in the future, it’s another place to add to my long list of places that I would like to visit.  She’ll be home a few days before Christmas and will be home until mid January I think before she moves to Madrid, Spain for her second semester.  The life of a university student!  I definitely want to visit Madrid though and I have a block of annual leave in February so hopefully I will get some free digs for a week.

Unfortunately, my annual leave for April onwards won’t be released until January at the earliest and at the minute I haven’t booked my Kilimanjaro trip or put my John O’Groats to Lands End cycle firmly in the diary (these being the two biggest undertakings).  There is a trip to Kilimanjaro that I have my eyes on and I am tempted to book it and take a gamble.  Worst case scenario is that I have to try and move my annual leave or swap my shifts with colleagues which can be done, it’s just an extra thing to think about!  I think I am going to have to make a decision soon however, places are limited and I want to ensure that I definitely get to go and climb this mountain.  In terms of travel vaccines I am lucky that through my work with the International Search and Rescue team I am vaccinated to travel pretty much anywhere in the world.  Although I am due a couple of boosters which I will have to get sorted out soon!  Needles are my arch nemesis, but sometimes you’ve got to do things you hate in order to have the experiences that you want most.

I will let you know as soon as the dates are firm and the trips are organised!

“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favour” – Elon Musk

If you haven’t already, please donate today.  Just follow the link:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/JED-SMITH1

J.

What drives me?

I have spoken regularly in my previous blogs about having dreams, about not taking life for granted and about why I am doing this whole thing in the first place.

So in this piece I have decided to discuss what drives me.  What makes me tick?

A huge part of the motivation that I have had to do things and achieve stems purely from being successful and wanting to give something back.  Being told that you have done something well or winning a competition is an addictive feeling, at least it definitely is for me.  I have said before that I am an extremely competitive person, that is something which I will openly admit.  But I think being competitive is an important attribute to develop.  It gives you a determination to learn and hone skills and it encourages a will to succeed.  For me competition brings excitement as well as making me slightly nervous.  Why nervous?  I simply hate losing.  I think I am a good loser, but I still hate it.

I used to play the tuba in a number of successful different bands.  One of the most successful bands I played in was the Carnoustie and District Youth Brass Band or CDYBB.  CDYBB was made up of brass and percussion players from Carnoustie and the surrounding area.  From its formation the band was highly successful and won 1st place in the Scottish Youth Championships in its first outing.  The band went from strength to strength and quickly became regarded as one of the finest youth brass bands in Scotland.  We regularly gained first place in competitions and winning almost became the norm.  We were extremely well drilled and the attention to detail was very high.  I remember we travelled to Manchester to compete for the first time in the British Youth Brass Band Championships which were held at the Royal Northern College of Music.  The band went to Manchester undefeated from its inception and optimism was high for a good result.  In the end we placed fourth in our first British Championships.  Immediately after the result I was gutted.  We had only placed fourth!  It wasn’t until someone put it in perspective that I realised it really was a fantastic result.  It was our first ever time competing against the best bands in the UK and placing fourth out of a large field was actually far better than we should have ever expected.  We returned to Manchester year on year and in 2010 won the most prestigious section the ‘premier section’ and became the best youth brass band in the UK.  For me there is no greater feeling at the end of months of long, tedious and stressful practices than to pull of a near perfect performance and come away with a win.

I reckon I tasted success with the band more than in any other area of my life, but then again, it probably occupied the largest amount of my time!  Honestly, it proved that practice makes perfect!

But what drives me now?  Well for one I have a job that I enjoy, that gives me satisfaction and earns me some money.  Some people find it hard to comprehend but I genuinely enjoy going into work and seeing what the day will bring.  We all know each other pretty well and probably better than the average colleagues do.  But that’s part of why I like it and why I enjoy going into work.  It gives me the opportunity to travel and to enjoy so many amazing experiences.  It does not make me rich however and if that is what you want from life, firefighting is probably not for you.  You’ve got to love what you do and for me it makes being motivated easy.

I set goals.  Goal setting allows me to focus more and ensure that I keep working towards something.  If it’s just a thought I am far more likely to put it off or not do it at all.  The beauty of goal setting is that it takes no time at all and a pen and a piece of paper is pretty much all the equipment that you need.  Think of what you want to achieve, write it down, estimate how long it will take you, write that down and you are done.  But for me the most important part of goal setting is reviewing it.  Realising that you have achieved something is powerful and if you never look back at your goals you may never appreciate your own success.  Always review.  In fact make your list of goals so obvious to you every day that you can’t miss them.  Please don’t ever think it will be a quick process however, you have to have a determination to persevere until you succeed, I have found that out a number of times!  So many people with dreams and the potential to achieve them don’t, simply because they never stick with them.  So as ‘Dory’ always said “just keep swimming”.

“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world.  Try not to bash into the walls too much.  Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.  That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” – Steve Jobs

Your ideas matter, your contribution matters.  You could change the world, just do it.

J.

Why Kilimanjaro?

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As some of you may know, one of the major challenges which I am aiming to take on as part of my mission to raise £1 Million for Cancer Research UK is to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania, Africa.  It is the tallest mountain in continental Africa and also the tallest free standing mountain in the world.  Kilimanjaro stands at 5895m or 19341ft and was first climbed in 1889.  To try and give that some kind of context, Ben Nevis the highest mountain in the UK stands at 1345m or 4411ft.  In mountaineering terms Kilimanjaro is a somewhat simple mountain to climb as it doesn’t require a great deal of technical climbing and rope work.

Kilimanjaro is a massive challenge however and something which I am not taking lightly.  The biggest danger with climbing a mountain of that size is the possibility of developing acute mountain sickness (AMS) or referred to commonly as altitude sickness.  AMS typically occurs above 2400 meters of 8000ft.  Unfortunately there is very little way of predicting how someone will cope at altitude.  In order to minimise my chances of developing it I will need to try and train and eat foods that increase my red blood cells that will help carry the oxygen around my body.  Ben Nevis is the tallest mountain I have climbed to date and is a little more than half of the altitude where most people begin to experience the effects of AMS.

Another crucial part of gaining success in high altitude climbing is acclimatisation.  You have to take time and allow your body to adapt to the lowering levels of oxygen in the air.  If you don’t give yourself time to acclimatise then your body will find it significantly harder to function at altitude.

It is my intention to climb Kilimanjaro with guides from a British based mountaineering company who will hopefully help guide me to the summit.  The climb will take around 14 days, possibly slightly less.  I am hopeful that my holiday allocation for next year will be available soon and I can look at booking the trip and getting it firmly added to the diary.

It has long been an ambition of mine to climb Kilimanjaro and I think it fits what I am trying to achieve perfectly.  It will be an immense physical and mental challenge which will be one of the most difficult things I have ever undertaken.  There are a number of other mountains around the world which I am keen to attempt, but, given my lack of experience at these altitudes I felt it sensible to take on a mountain that had a slightly lower technical skill requirement.

I firmly believe that whilst it is important to set challenging goals for yourself they must also be realistic ones that you can achieve.  I think it would be pretty foolish to say that I was going to summit Mount Everest at this stage.  Whilst it would be an incredible experience to attempt and achieve the summit of the worlds highest peak I do not have the experience nor the fitness to attempt a mountain like that at the present time.  I think Kilimanjaro is a good starting point for a first high altitude summit.  We must all be dreamers however.  Maybe one day I will attempt Mount Everest, I suspect it would more than likely be as a way of raising money for Cancer Research UK.  Climbing mountains like that is also horrifically expensive and would require massive corporate sponsorship.  But that’s an idea for the future and I shall concentrate on Kili for the time being!

We must dare to dream and dare to be different.  If you have a positive approach you can achieve anything.  This is something that I genuinely believe in.  I know so many people who have positively fought cancer and won their battles.  We should take their positivity and thirst for life as an inspiration and use it to drive ourselves forward and achieve the things we never thought we could.  Why?  Well the more people engage in research and push the boundaries of what we believe to be possible, the sooner we will beat cancer and prevent the suffering of patients, their families and their friends.  The day  we finally beat cancer is coming and we can all help by doing our little bit.  By donating even just £1 we are helping bring that day closer and that excites me.

Nothing is impossible when we put our minds to it.  No task is too big or too complicated.  Sometimes things take time, but that does not make them impossible.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela

Donating is quick and easy just follow the link below:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/JED-SMITH1

J.