Loving the ‘loneliness’ of the long-distance writer

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Once upon a time I won a prize from my local running club.

A winner’s medal for a time-trial? An award for a personal best in a half-marathon? No – a copy of Little Miss Chatterbox for, erm, conversing.

I like to chat, and don’t people know it.

So, pursuing a career as a freelance health journalist (and yoga teacher) – with no workmates – has presented a number of challenges.

Here are my tips for staying sane while going it solo (and loving it, especially random kitchen dancing!) –

1) Get out of here – Always, always go out during the day. However, busy you are, even a short jaunt to Sainsbury’s will brighten your day (the medical tips I get from checkout staff are always cheering!). Fortunately, teaching enforces going out but it can be easy to stay in all day beforehand.

2) Social media is no substitute for real fleshy friends – These days we’re so connected online, yet often so disconnected. As supportive as 6music is, arrange at least one mid-week meet-up with a friend in the flesh. It’s not really the done thing to moan to your meditation group, when you’re teaching it.

3) Talk, don’t type – It’s so easy to do almost everything on email these days. Pick up the phone instead. Like face-to-face, it does forge better connections. I’m fortunate that interviews tend to be done over the phone (sometimes even in person). I also call clients when I could have typed.

4) Wear proper clothes – I’m proud to say I’ve yet to work in my pyjamas and I always sit at a proper desk. It just puts you in the right frame of mind: ‘Now, I’m working, not watching Netflix’. Similarly, make sure you’ve got plenty of healthy food in. Lunch is often grabbed (last night’s leftovers), especially when juggling commitments, rather than living the freelance coffee shop dream. But I do pride myself on knowing the best baristas in north-east London (for sunny days and take-outs, of course).

5) Connect/network with other homeworkers/start-ups – There are loads of groups on Facebook aimed at supporting people running their own business or working freelance. They tend to encourage meet-ups IRL (in real life) too, and not just for the extroverts. Also, network at every opportunity as it brings in more work but also eases isolation. There is also the possibility of cake, prosecco or even a celeb endorser – and sometimes all three, for free!

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So, as tempting as it is to stay indoors as winter arrives, get out as much as possible.

You might just meet someone running around the park and strike up a conversation.

No prizes for guessing it has happened to Little Miss Chatterbox.

How to survive the three peaks 24-hour challenge

Ben Nevis halfway

Clinging to loose mountain rock amid gale-force winds, I looked to my friend Karen and thought: ‘what have you done?’

It’s always good in a crisis to find someone to blame.

Then I laughed, picked myself up, wobbling like a floating astronaut, and was guided down to a place of (relative) safety.

It was Karen’s idea to climb the UK’s three highest mountain peaks – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon- in 24 hours. Most people opt for a party or weekend break for their 40th birthday ‘treat’ – but not this one. Myself and our mutual friend Clare were foolish (or brave?) enough to join her on this ‘Life Changing Challenges’ charity event.

Ben Nevis – battling ‘The Ben’

Our stroll began in earnest at 2.20pm on an unusually windy summer Saturday (even for Scotland). From here, we began the 1,345m-ascent of Ben Nevis. It began with us stripping off layers as we sweated under the heat of the sun (yes!). It ended with us attempting a ‘summit selfie’ in what weather forecasters would describe as poor visibility, with a woolly hat and 100 per cent waterproof hood not being sufficient cover (in August).

Scafell Pike summit

Scafell Pike – where’s the summit?

Next up (after a short nap in transit on our minibus) was Scafell Pike (978m) in the Lake District. The place to be, it appeared by the crowds, at 3.20am on a Sunday morning. With rave lights, or rather head-torches, we set off up the stone steps and ascended the gravelly ground and rocks to reach the top around day-break.
This was my bleakest mountain. I was close to tears on summiting. This was the result of a mixture of exhaustion and being left alone, unable to see the summit (an unusual occurrence on this challenge and rectified by local guides on the descent). Karen and I also grouped together from then on, despite months ago saying we’d all ‘do our own thing’. This made the experience much better.

Snowdon summit

Snowdon – are we nearly there yet?

This is a frequent question on this challenge to which our brilliant guide, Dave, always responded: ‘I don’t like to lie, so can’t answer that’. At least on Snowdon, last up (a mere 1,345m up, in fact), we knew the end was near if not in sight. This was the most attractive ascent, in my opinion, but that may be more due to the fact I could see the beautiful surroundings due to daylight combined with a bit of sun. It was a scramble to the top, quick photo ‘finish’ and then the long, misty ascent. Knees suffering (even with the aid of walking poles), we did it – and cracked open the fizz at the first opportunity! I finished in just over 25 hours, a proud achievement.

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Top tips

Expect the unexpected

It’s so British to go on about the weather, but that was my biggest challenge. I expected sleep deprivation to be the biggest problem. I didn’t expect brilliant sunshine, but you can’t anticipate that it will be Scotland’s windiest summer’s day since records began!

Food is your fuel

It sounds pretty obvious but when you’re trying to press on and avoid the weather, it’s easy to forget to eat or drink. I failed to do so often enough, and I should know better as I used to be a long-distance runner. Eat or drink something small each hour. Choose food you like. I was lucky enough to have a friend bake a selection of yummy healthy snacks for me. See how to bake them on the other blog.

Snowdon descent

Moment by moment

All you can do is put one foot in front of the other and repeat. And repeat. And again. It’s best not to think too much about far you have yet to go.

Let it out

When there’s a loo, use it. You never know when the next one is coming, and time is always of the essence. The same for tears/frustration – another emotional challenge will come soon enough so let this one go.

Lean on me

If the willpower is faltering, it is your friends who will get you to the top. Agree to either post a Facebook/Twitter update after each summit, or use a WhatsApp group or SnapChat. The feedback from your friends will power you on.
Similarly, put together some power anthems for those low points – if that’s your thing.

One of the nicest things about doing this challenge is that our trio have been in constant contact for months. We all live in different parts of the UK but we’ve been chatting online about hopes and fears for the challenge, and also supporting each other in our everyday highs and lows. I probably won’t climb the equivalent of a marathon in 24 hours for my 40th but I’m glad I did it – and with these determined two friends.

We raised £2,895 for our chosen charities, Mind, the Lullaby Trust and the Brain Tumour Charity.

Fancy completing your own challenge? Check out Life Changing Challenges.

Recipes for sporting success

Flapjacks and energy balls

Food is your fuel and your friend on any endurance challenge.

That bite of a tasty sweet snack is a much-needed boost, physically and emotionally, up a mountain – whatever your mode of transport.

And if you have a foodie friend on hand, then you’re already a winner!

I was lucky to have such a friend supply the energy snacks for my challenge to climb the UK’s three highest peaks in 24 hours.

Here my recipe writer friend Lucy Battersby, who trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine, shares her recipes for successful summiting. I’d highly recommend them – yum!

Power boost bars

140g light soft brown sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
140g butter
250g rolled oats
85g raisins
85g walnuts, chopped
50g pumpkin seeds
25g dried cranberries
50g dates, finely chopped

1. Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/Gas 3. Put the sugar, syrup and butter in a pan over a low heat until the sugar and butter and both melted. Stir in the oats, raisins, walnuts, seeds and cranberries.

2. Spoon half the mix into a baking tin (about 20 x 20cm). Scatter over the dates then top with the remaining oaty mix. Pack down the mixture well (rolling a tin over works well for this – just whatever you have in the cupboard). Bake for 35 mins or until dark golden.

3. Leave to cool completely before cutting into bars.

Lucy and recipes

Energy balls

100g pecans
75g raisins
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp ground almonds
1tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp runny honey
30g desiccated coconut

1. Put the pecans in a food processor and blitz to crumbs. Add the raisins, peanut butter, ground almonds, cocoa powder and honey, and pulse to combine.

2. Shape the mixture into small balls and roll in the desiccated coconut. Put in the fridge to firm for 20 minutes.

Follow Lucy on Twitter @foodielucy or Instagram