Mairi's MovementWise Journey

#10: Small Sustainable Steps Lead to Big Adventures

Life is a long journey and for one reason or another, at some time or other, we may find ourselves heading down the wrong path of physical recovery. It may be a path of quick fixes and promised instant results, or self-neglect and resignation. It takes courage to retrace our steps and take a new direction. In my case I was heading down the path of resignation. It took the help of MovementWise to give me the courage, determination and hope to head off down a different route. A route that would enable me to achieve things I had only dreamt of before.

An abundance of alpine flowers

Two years ago, almost to this day, I came out of hospital having had what we thought was a routine operation to trim a torn meniscus in my left knee. Three months after the operation, my knee was still hot and swollen and I was unable to walk the length of the garden without considerable pain. I was told that I needed a second operation to repair the damage the first surgeon had inadvertently done.

Luckily it did and 4 months after the first operation on my knee, I started down my long, but determined, road to recovery.

Looking back now, time passed in a flash. Thanks to MovementWise and Tania, I went back to basics and learnt how stand, walk, sit and go up and down steps with new physical competence and self-confidence. I was given a series of exercises that I did every second day that made me feel stronger and more able to meet new movement challenges. In small sustainable steps I was guided through the motions that enabled me to walk up hills again, to learn to swim and I even got on a bike a few times. Little by little I regained confidence in my body and in myself.

Taking a rest and admiring the view

By the summer I was walking good, long walks of two or three hours and by that winter I was back on skis. I felt so much stronger. And then Covid arrived. Lockdown was a mixed blessing. We may not have been able to travel, see friends, celebrate important events, and in our case, work, but we were able to exercise and because of all of the above, we had time. I spent the two months of lockdown upping my fitness game. When lockdown was over, I decided there would never be a better time to walk the Tour du Mont Blanc. This famous walk covers a distance of 170km, traditionally takes about 10 days, and passes through Switzerland, Italy and France, with ascents and descents of 10km. This year, with limited foreign travel, there were few tourists which meant predominantly empty refuge huts. This summer was definitely the time to do it.

I put out an SOS to a few girlfriends and one great friend, Suzanna, whom I had known since childhood, took up the challenge. Operation TMB was on. We had precisely 5 weeks to get organised and squeeze in a few 8-hour practice walks with Tania. As I was on a teaching course full time during the week, Suzanna planned the route from her home in Cambridge.

My priorities for the walk were to carry a backpack weighing less than 6kg (Tania’s advice and remarkably hard!), to have extremely comfortable, worn in shoes or boots, to be prepared for all weathers and eventualities and to enjoy every single step of the way.

Setting off on our big adventures

We walked out of our village of Les Contamines Montjoie on the 6th July 2020 with podcasts loaded, snacks packed, backpacks charged and bright sunshine and clear skies overhead. Tania walked with us for the first day setting us up for success with her invaluable advice and infectious enthusiasm.

Tania, my MovementWise mentor, setting me up for success: “Mairi, lift your head!” 🙂

One of the most incredible luxuries of doing a long walk like the TMB is the headspace it affords us. It is the pure joy of putting one foot in front of the other. No work, no diary, no timetable. Just walking. All day every day.

Suzanna and I walked for 9 days, completed 155km, with the highest point the Col de Ferret at 2,532m. We walked up never-ending mountains, crossed snow fields and glacial rivers, ate our picnics lying in the juniper bushes and wild thyme. We watched tiny blue butterflies flutter in the rocks by streams and saw marmottes, ibex and chamois in their wild, natural habitat. At night we stayed in refuges. Some were lovely, others extremely basic. Sometimes we slept in dorms, sometimes in rooms to ourselves. In all of them we wore our masks and everywhere we stayed, the food was delicious. On the last day, Tania met up with us again and we walked up to Lac Blanc above Chamonix together. It was the perfect drumroll to our TMB adventure.

Suzanna and I by Lac de Cheserey

Two years ago I was worried I was never going to walk up hills again and, thanks to Tania and MovementWise, here I was walking 8-10 hours a day for 9 consecutive days with a pack on my back. It felt good and I felt strong. And most importantly for the whole length of this arduous walk, I had no pain, which two years ago seemed impossible.

Although my Movementwise Journey has been a steady one, it has at times felt hopelessly hard and challenging but thanks to the encouragement and positivity of Tania, I have not given up. I have met every challenge head on and each one has made me bigger and bolder. And now I am ready for bigger and bolder challenges.

Anyone up for climbing Mont Blanc?

MovementWise Journey Insights

Tania Cotton

Founder of MovementWise

As we set off on the first day of the TMB together, I was excited for Mairi, yet at the same time I felt a deep sense of responsibility to be certain that we had left no stone unturned. That I had set Mairi up for success. Success to me meant that, for Mairi, this challenge would prove to be just the beginning. By practicing her new healthy posture and movement habits over the many kilometres of varied terrain, she would become stronger and more confident with every step. I wanted her to feel and believe how much she was capable of and that there was a whole world of beautiful opportunities waiting for her.

A whole world of beautiful opportunities

I had challenged Mairi at the beginning of our journey together to ‘dare to dream’ and here we were embarking on the 10-day Classic TMB high mountain walk – a goal that at the beginning had seemed unattainable. I was conscious of the challenges that lay ahead. The TMB is a challenge for anyone – steep climbs on uneven terrain, unpredictable weather conditions, ice and snow on the ground, and high altitude refuge huts trying to do their best to make everyone safe during COVID. Sleeping in dorms is not easy at the best of times – one person snoring, or hanging a stinking pair of socks from the window, strangers falling over half open rucksacks when they get up in the middle of the night to find the loo, can turn a dream into a nightmare. Good sleep is so essential for good health, physical performance and mental wellbeing.

The month before Mairi set off on the TMB she had undertaken to become a student again now that her ‘Les Joly Dames’ walking and yoga retreats were on hold due to social distancing. As a journalist and an avid reader, she was reskilling herself to teach English as a foreign language. Totally committed, she sat all day at her desk in her ‘shed’ and wrote her assignments, finishing the training and exam just before her ‘big walk’; squeezing in shorter walks and less physical training than she had hoped.

Imagine the sound of cowbells serenading us up the mountain

As we set off on the first day, I could see how the hours of sustained sitting and concentration had coaxed her head and shoulders to drop forwards and how she was walking looking down at the ground. So, during that first day, my priority was to enable Mairi to tap back into the quality movement software she had selectively saved into the cerebellum of her brain and with a few verbal and visual cues she was able to access her muscle memory and retrieve the tall confident person again who had evolved from the ‘shrivelled and invisible’ woman she had become over a year ago, hunched over her crutches as if the best years of her life were over.

Everything is connected to everything and what excited me just as much as Mairi walking the walk, was her talking the talk. Mairi’s walking companion, Suzanna, was an old childhood friend, whom she had not seen much of over the past few years. It was wonderful that they were going to have this chance to share this active adventure together.

Mairi’s newfound fitness enabled her to connect with an old school friend

Suzanna, who is very tall and slender, had never done a multi-day walk before, and both she and Mairi set off determined to help each othere get the most out of the experience physically and mentally. Our first day together taught them to pace not race, to walk looking ahead (and not at the ground) with their shoulders broad and heart open. When I left them after lunch on that first day, I felt confident that they were going to have a real adventure together and enjoy every step of the way.

Nine days later, when I met up with them to walk the final day up to Lac Blanc in Chamonix, I saw two beautiful, tall women walking towards me in the car park. These capable and resourceful women were deep in conversation planning their next adventure. They were strong, upright, fit and healthy and had been on the most wonderful journey together.

When you hike with me, it’s ALL about the picnic!

Mairi began her MovementWise Journey as if the best years of her life were over, and now I could see that she really believed that the best years of her life were just beginning!

Your MovementWise Journey

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Meet Tania Cotton

Tania Cotton avatar

Tania Cotton is a Movement Analyst and Chartered Physiotherapist with over 25 years' experience helping people overcome pain, injury and disease to lead a happy and fulfilling life. After 12 years as a consultant for the Swiss Olympic Medical Centre in Geneva, Tania began making films on health and human performance to show people what is possible and to inspire them to take action.

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