I have been a keen walker since 2006, when I started walking with my Mum following the death of my brother. What started out as something to do other than sitting in her house, drinking tea and crying together rapidly became a burning passion, and my personal grief therapy. Walking helped me to fall in love with where I live, and fall in love with life. It gave me space to breathe, to scream into the wind, to work through my grief and day to day problems, and to find a sense of contentment that had previously always eluded me.

Esther Nagle and Sherry Bevan at the end of the Macmillan Jurassic Coast mighty hike

At the end of the hike with my wonderful walking partner, Sherry Bevan

My love of walking led to many wonderful adventures. I have had glorious walking holidays in the UK, and completed many fundraising walks, most notably the Inca Trail in Peru. Most recently, in a moment of unfathomable madness, I signed up to complete a 26 mile ‘Mighty Hike’ for Macmillan Cancer Support, on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. I was recovering from a broken foot at the time, and wasn’t sure I would be physically capable of doing it. I had been inspired by my friend Sherry, who wanted to do it, and was recovering from breast cancer at the time. I figured if she could do it, then so could I.

I was right. We both completed the walk. I am not convinced that the walk was the 26.5 miles Macmillan told us it was, me and my fellow walkers all registered around 28 miles on our fitbits and other devices. The last mile certainly felt like an extra 1 and a half!

It was a wonderful experience, and one that I took a lot from. Here are 10 lessons I learned from the hike.

‘Say yes and work it out later’

I had looked at doing the hikes a couple of weeks previously when my son’s father had suggested I did one. Back then I had dismissed the idea, thinking there was no way I would be able to restore my fitness enough. I’d had a car accident in September, and then broken my foot in December, I could barely walk my dog at the time, the idea of 26 miles seemed absurd. When Sherry said she wanted to do it, however, my injuries paled into insignificance compared to her breast cancer journey, so I resolved that I would do it, and work hard on my fitness.
Just put one foot in front of the other

The Jurassic coast is a glorious coastline, with cliffs that resemble an ECG graph. Extreme ups and downs, often feeling like they were at 90 degrees, were certainly challenging. But focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, at whatever pace was possible in that moment, meant that we were able to get to the top of each steep climb.

Look at how far you’ve come

walking up the steps at lulworth cove

A daunting sight indeed when you’re already feeling the burn of many miles walked so far!

Sometimes, the intensity of the climbs was too much to bear when we were at the bottom. I made use of the technique I teach my son when we walk. Don’t look at how far you have to go. Look behind you and see how far you’ve come. This is a powerfully motivational strategy, and one that can spur you on through the most demanding of tasks.

Carry what you need and no more

When planning for a big hike, you don’t want to have any extra weight than you need on your back. We burden ourselves with so much stuff in life, much of which drags us down physically and emotionally. Getting rid of the excess baggage in life, and carrying only what we need to have, frees us to move easier through life.

A few deep breaths can make all the difference

Often on the walk, there were moments when I would feel my energy dipping. This is not surprising when walking 26.5(ish) miles. Taking a few deep breaths in these moments gave me a chance to rest my body briefly, and gave me a boost of energy to carry on.

We are capable of so much more than we sometimes think

I wouldn’t have done this had it not been for Sherry. When the idea was first suggested to me, I was sure there was no way I would be able to get myself fit enough. I was wrong. Apart from tiredness. I didn’t suffer as I would have if I had not been capable of doing the walk. I am so grateful to Sherry for the little push that inspired me to challenge myself. In doing this, I became a woman who can walk at least 26 miles in a day. I didn’t know I was her until then.

Lulworth cove, dorset

The majestic beauty of Lulworth cove in dorset

We are part of nature

You can’t beat a day spent in the elements to remind you just how connected we are to the natural world. It is not something that is out there, we are immersed in it. Along the hike our bodies were drenched by torrential rain, buffeted by high winds (fun on a cliff edge!), and dried and warmed by the sun. The smell of the sea in my nose, the sound of the waves in my ears, and the wildness of the coast got into my heart. I was part of the landscape, and it was part of me.

We are all on our own journey

We might have all been walking the same path, but everyone’s experience of the hike was different. For some it was a profoundly emotional journey as they remembered loved ones who had died, celebrated recovery, or walked with their own battle with cancer still raging inside them. Some loved every second, others hated every step. Some struggled, some whizzed by with ease. We were all there, for our own reasons, following our own path. Some had trained lots, some barely at all. Some were kitted out in the best, some were not. It didn’t matter. In that moment, we were all together. Walking along that path on our own unique paths.

Sometimes you will fail, and that is ok

Not everyone was able to complete the walk, for various reasons. Injury along the route, dehydration, illness and other reasons meant that several people had to stop along the way. I know that they all would have been very upset at not being able to finish, but I think they are amazing. This was a huge undertaking, and not something to take lightly. No matter how much you want to get to the end, you have to put your wellbeing first. Sometimes, the bravest, strongest thing you can do is know when to say ‘enough’. Not just on a 26 mile (ish) hike, but at all times in life. We battle on with things we might be better off putting down, knowing that we gave it our best shot but it is time to stop. There will be lessons those people can learn from their experience, and they can be proud that they even tried.

Never say never

When we were on the bus back to the start after getting our medals and enjoying our post hike meal, Sherry and I both said, with exhausted certainty, ‘I’m never doing that again’. We made a pact to hold one another to that, and to stage an intervention should either of us try…… I haven’t signed up for one yet, but I already feel another one coming. I know it was hard, and it took me a while to recover, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and the feeling of having walked a marathon on some enormous cliffs is quite something.

And a bonus……

Rest is so important.

We live in a society that pushes and pushes for us to work more and more. Stress is a massive health problem the world over, and causes untold damage to mental and physical health, relationships, and all aspects of life. Sleep deprivation is a rising problem, our ever connected world making it harder to get decent rest.

In the week that followed the hike, I pushed myself too far for my own wellbeing. I went for a long walk in Weymouth the day after. I danced at a gig the Monday after, and was on a coach for a school trip on the following Tuesday. By the Wednesday I was utterly spent, and took several days to recover. Body and mind were exhausted.

It showed me that we humans are capable of many wonderful things, but we all need to rest and recouperate. There is a limit to how much we can push ourselves before our bodies force us to slow down. This may be in the form of exhaustion that means you can’t get off the sofa, or it can mean illness, stress and breakdown. Whatever you are doing in life, give it your very best and by all means, push the limits of what you think you can do. But don’t forget to give yourself plenty of recovery time. Resting is not lazy or ‘doing nothing’. Resting is active self care, and it is very important.

One way you can give yourself a powerful bit of self care every day is by making time to sit quietly and focus on your breath. In just 5 minutes a day, you can give your mind a powerful reboot. In the 10 day ‘5 Minute Breath’ challenge, I guide you through this simple but effective practice for 10 days. You will be amazed at what you can discover when you give yourself 5 minutes Space to Breathe.