I don’t like cricket…. I love it

I write this a few weeks after England have been crowned cricket world champions. The nation is surprised as this is both front and back page headlines because, this year, the world champions are women. The final between India and England was played to a full house at Lords and the media coverage across the world was unprecedented.

The growth of women’s cricket, and of this tournament in particular has begun to provide a greater number of role models for girls and women to get involved in a sport. I imagine that previously, cricket wasn’t even on the radar for so many. It’s too soon to measure the impact, but that India was in the final could change the lives of so many girls in that country alone by giving recognition to a sport that, I believe, anyone can play. It’s been estimated that 126 million people in India watched that cricket match.

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World Champions (Photo: Getty Images)

Cricket is traditionally a male preserve and for a long time, the game was skewed towards the gentlemen of society. However, as the male sport grew it demonstrated its accessibility through being able to mix a team of “amateurs” and “professionals” (or Gentlemen and Players) – where status was determined by background rather than skill level, but enabling a mixing of different parts of society.

From seeing my local women’s team grow over the last couple of years, the pattern seems familiar.  The stalwarts are the ladies with cricket in the family – either from fathers, or husbands or brothers or sons who play – who have spent many an hour at the cricket club and decided that they would give it a go. These ladies brought friends along, who brought more friends along until there was a critical mass that attracted new players who had no previous interest in the game. And genuinely anyone can play. It can be a matter of days between signing up, attending a practice session and playing in a match. And you can genuinely play your part in the team, it’s not just about making up the numbers. I’m not sure that there are many sports that this can apply to.

I know from my niece’s experience that youth cricket is growing for girls as well. With mixed teams, and the sport being offered to all at school, this can’t help but grow the cricketing community at all levels. And it is a community – games tend to be on the long side and there’s always a cup of tea or a glass of beer to be drunk after a match, not to mention the half-time tea break which can be anything from traditional cake and sandwiches to a fabulous offering of Indian tapas. And for the youngsters, training sessions seem to be paired with BBQs: good for the players and the parents.

So what? Why am I telling you about all of this? What does it mean for you? Well, if you’re female it will benefit you in many ways to get involved in sport. As I learnt from Anna Kessel’s book Eat, Sweat Play, women with sports backgrounds are more likely to reach the top of the career ladder. Apart from the obvious team-work skills, sport can help you learn how to win, lose, succeed and fail. One of the more important aspects is the resilience that you learn: the ability to bounce back from setbacks of any size. And cricket, in my experience is an easy entry point to sport.

The impact of more women participating in sport can surely only be positive. It could be a starting point for equality in all sections of society, from a reduction in the pay-gap to a reconsideration of body image and gender stereotypes, And that’s in this country, or the western world. If we expand it to India, where the impact of one cricket match will be huge, or perhaps to Africa where the starting point is low, to say the least.

And that’s why I’m writing. There are too many children in Africa who don’t get to play sport. They don’t get to enjoy it, and they don’t get to benefit from it – both girls and boys. Cricket without Boundaries is a small charity that provides cricket development in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Working with the National Cricket Associations in each country, two week project teams help the development of grass roots cricket through coaching basic skills in schools and communities. In addition to enabling the community in playing cricket and encouraging inclusivity, the charity also deliver life changing health and social messages through cricket most notably about HIV and FGM. Ambassadors continue the in country work between project blocks to maintain the momentum. Take Uganda for example, where HIV rates dropped, but since 2013 it is reported that rates are increasing with 83,000 new infections in 2015. No matter the absolute numbers, it is safe to say that the majority of the population is infected or affected by HIV. Through cricket, messages about prevention, testing and challenging the stigma of HIV are delivered.  And what better way to demonstrate the importance of cricket – life changing. Life saving. And helping all to live a happier healthier life, men and women, boys and girls,wherever you are in the world.


I’ve been inspired to write this article to help in my fundraising to support all the work of Cricket without Boundaries and your donation will be gratefully received. It’s easy to donate online here.

Eat Sweat Play. How sport can change our lives, Anna Kessel

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Snowdon

“We must be nearly there” I said with a chuckle as I switched the windscreen wipers up a notch to cope with the harder rain. The view across the lake and down the valley was momentarily blurred. Still smiling on the outside my heart was sinking just a little bit on the inside as I found myself resigning to a wet weekend. We turned right and went up. The skies cleared and I switched the windscreen wipers off.  There was no comment in the car, desperate not to tempt fate.

We arrived at the campsite above the town of Llanberis – the adventure capital of Snowdonia – and set to putting the tents up with utmost efficiency for fear of another passing shower. And then a pause, a breath. Freshly brewed tea and a seat in the sun admiring the view of Padarn lake. What could be better?

But this was not meant to be a relaxing weekend. It was the weekend of the Snowdonia Trail Half Marathon (and marathon and 10K). The clouds did reappear so it seemed the right time to collect race numbers and see what was going on in town. The most common conversation seemed to be along the lines of “…but you’ll be back a long time before me…” There were lots of hardy looking folk about, looking fit and ready for the race the next day.

The town is cute. With colourfully painted buildings, narrow streets and a relaxed vibe. Nestled in the valley it is surrounded by mountains which are green, but also grey and violet. The sunset view had the clouds rolling down from the top against a pink sky.

We found a restaurant a little way out of town – still within walking distance, but not quite as busy as anywhere in the town centre. A calorie laden dinner primed me for a great night’s sleep.  We were staying in the quietest campsite ever (or maybe it was our chosen location in the campsite – deliberately slightly inaccessible). Despite it being a working farm, even the animals were quiet. Everytime I woke up I was convinced I could hear rain. I was making it up and woke up to clear skies and that view. I did see a pig wandering about in a neighbouring field, but the campsite was still quietly going about its business. Peaceful. Green. Refreshing. I lit the stove for more tea, breakfast and then a wander down the hill to the start area.

The start area was on the football field and was a lot busier than it had been the day before. It was a contrast to the rest of town, which was on a usual Sunday morning pace. After each wave of runners were set off, and the crowds thinned out to find coffee and refreshments, the field was turned from a collecting pen into a smart finish area.

The weather was good all day and after the race, finishers could enjoy the sun, watching others complete their race and enjoying a more informed view of the Dinorwic quarry –  once the second largest slate quarry in the world and now home to the Welsh national slate museum.  There wasn’t time to pop into the museum during the run, but I’m sure it would be an interesting visit on another day.

Although Snowdonia is known for its outdoor activities, there are several indoor activities too. But even if you prepare for the worst, if you take the chance to embrace the elements, you may be rewarded with views to die for that include the sun reflecting off the lake. And there’s nothing better than waking up on the hill and spending the day exploring on foot -you’ll learn about the environment and yourself.

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View from the campsite



I was in Snowdon to run the Snowdonia Trail Half Marathon – you can read about my experience here. I ran it to raise funds for Cricket without Boundaries. Please consider making a donation here .

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Hills count double

There was heavy breathing all around. No more than a quarter of the way up the Rangers path of Snowdon I joined in to a conversation with a fellow runner explaining the charities he was raising funds for. It definitely makes a difference in keeping going when you know people have donated to a cause that’s important to you and that’s why, if you donate here today, it’s good in so many ways.. This was one of the most challenging activities that I’ve attempted this year – all to add some miles to my target of running, walking or cycling 3000 miles in 2017. It definitely felt like more than 13 miles, and there are definitely easier ways of doing the miles. But by facing the challenge I feel that it’s preparing me for the challenges that I’ll face in Uganda volunteering for Cricket without Boundaries – to empathise with the children that I’ll be coaching and the Ambassadors that will be continuing the job of developing cricket and educating the population on HIV and other social issues.

The marathon runners set off first and we had half an hour before the half marathon were let loose on the mountain. The pre-run briefing had all the standard notes in it and then, rather as a postscript the organiser told us that once we were back in town, it wasn’t the end. We still had to go up to the quarry and back again. But it was a really interesting landscape so we would enjoy it. The note about going back up once we were down stuck with me and I tried to hold some energy for this last effort

At the “go” I made my way along the High Street and up the hill to run through the campsite where I’d been enjoying tea an hour or so before. The route went up. I went up. Slowly. Some water and energy drink at 2 miles with a cheery marshal telling us that it was the first hill done. Undulating paths took us round the base of the mountain – a mixture of walking and running, a little bit of boggy ground, lots of stones and lots of bigger rocks.  Rounding a corner people became a little more animated as the message came back – oh wow, can you see everyone up there! Yes. I most definitely could. I decided I would take the mindful approach and just take one step at a time.  It looked like a very long, steep hill which we ran up as far as we could, until it became so steep that walking was the only option. The beautiful sun, made the surroundings glow, but made it hot work. The path got narrower and steeper, but I could see the top. Until I realised that it wasn’t and there were still people climbing beyond it. I was taken back to my childhood holidays, hiking in the British countryside and the constant feelings of despair that we never seemed to reach the top of the hill. But finally, as we tucked into the mist, there was a high-vis jacket and we were directed along the flat path to the downhill section.

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the view up Snowdon

You may be thinking that I had reached the easy section. I can assure you it wasn’t. The path was either too steep, or too stony, but after a few twists and turns it became runnable. And enjoyable. The feeling of ease, of running with little effort. But it didn’t last long. The path turned to tarmac which was easy to run on, but the gradient increased. Once back in Llanberis with the finish in earshot, the trail took us across the dam and up into the Dinorwic slate quarry. Note the word up. But eventually when the view to the finish field made it look like a model village we reached the top and then had a wiggling, winding route back down. The quarry trail was in woodland, through mossy glens and the path up had beautiful slate steps. Energy sapping and demoralising when you wanted to find your last reserves of energy to get to the finish. And then the ordeal is over. I could hear the finish again, and more spectators appeared. It’s a giveaway that the finish really is near, when you can see finish T-shirts and medals being worn. A final corner and the finish line.  A table laden with snacks was the first thing that I came to, even before collecting my finishers medal and this definitely delayed that task.

Refuelled and re-hydrated I made my way back to the campsite for a welcome shower and a last admiration of the view, which somehow seemed different having run through the area. The car was loaded and the journey home began.

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Although I write this blog for fun, I work hard at it, and if you enjoy reading it, please like and share so I can promote the work of Cricket without Boundaries.  I’d be even happier if you also wanted to make a donation. You can do that here .

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Halfway through the year

On a beautiful English summer afternoon, there is nothing better than a cricket match on a village green. The sun is out but it’s not too hot. The grass is green and the sky is blue. “Who’s winning?” someone asks. And that’s one of my favourite things about cricket – you have to play the game to the end before you can declare a winner. It’s a long game, but things can change in just a few minutes with a big hit, or an unexpected catch. There’s a pause, a need to re-group, but you have to get back out there and play the game.

For me, having watched and played the game over several years I like that it’s the playing of it that’s important, that everyone can have a go and that anyone can play. That’s not saying it’s easy and it’s nearly always frustrating to watch but it teaches patience, and teamwork and the independence of standing on your own.

So there you have a few reasons why I’ve chosen to fundraise for a charity with the principles of cricket at its heart. Cricket without Boundaries was founded by a cricket lover and they do amazing things. And right now, I’m hoping that over the next few weeks, the miracle will happen and I’ll be inspired to increase my mileage like a sudden increase in run rate that we see so often in the shorter versions of cricket. Some additional motivation from your donation will definitely help me to keep ticking over.

April saw me undertake my first ultra-marathon and if you want to read the ins and outs of my 60km odyssey through the Surrey Hills then you can read more here. It was definitely the hardest run I’ve done in a long time and I can celebrate that I managed to get round in one piece, with no injuries. Something that felt impossible to me when I was floor-bound in March with my back in spasm.

As the weather was improving and the summer season was approaching, I had thought that my bicycle would make an appearance and the miles would start flowing easily allowing me to catch up on the deficit from the first 3 months. It appears that I’m definitely a fair weather cyclist and there were too many drizzly days for me to fully embrace my bicycle miles.

May threw its own challenges at me. I was fortunate enough to travel to Spain for a couple of weeks so I could enjoy the fair weather, but I’d travelled without my bicycle so I was left to keep the miles ticking over on foot. This didn’t go as badly as I’d feared (does anything?) and I always had an excuse to explore a different part of the city and soothe my curiosity by just seeing what’s round the next quarter.

On my return to the UK and with not as much preparation as I would usually have done, I was able to support a 50km walk through London. This happened overnight, although given that we were approaching the shortest night, it wasn’t too dark for too long. It was fascinating to explore different parts of the city and added another 31 miles to my total.

June had several celebrations – the first weeks of over 60 miles, and reaching 1000 miles. I’m more than aware that I’m still behind schedule, but the fact that I’ve reached 1000 miles with 6 months to go, means that I’ve chosen the right challenge. With 6 months still to go, I’m feeling positive that I can up my weekly mileage. My bikes are prepped and ready and I’ve just started a marathon training schedule which will keep my running miles up.

This is a proper challenge for me. I’m still not sure I can do it, but for now I’ll keep going because on this occasion it’s up to me to stand in the middle and play my game. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, want to give me the equivalent of a clap from the boundary, or just want to support the work that CWB does in sub-Saharan Africa to engage with children – educating about HIV, FGM and giving them a chance to play, then please make your donation here.

And the good news! I’ve made it to Africa. I’m a little way past Algiers, so well on my way towards the sub-Saharan region.

Q2 – total miles covered: 619miles

  • Run: 221 miles
  • Walk: 249 miles
  • Cycle: 149 miles

And in total I’ve covered 1067 miles

  • Run: 525 miles
  • Walk: 374 miles
  • Cycle: 168 miles

 

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Madrid – Park Life

The sultry air hits you when you step off the plane. It always brings a smile to my face, too used to the English summer which doesn’t always get off the ground as soon as you want it to. I felt irresponsible, not knowing too much of the language, and not having a detailed route to get to my accommodation. I could have prepared better.

But I had instructions on which metro station to head to, and the ease of finding the metro, buying a ticket and finding the correct platform gave me the confidence that I would manage. Within 20 minutes I was out of the correct exit from the metro station and heading the right way along the street. One thing about Madrid, and Spain in general, is that there is impeccable street labelling.

Settled in and needing to find a supermarket, I ventured out and happened upon my nearest park. A slightly concrete affair, but with green beds and a children’s play area. The next day we had found a yoga class in the park and this was when I knew I could feel at home.

Retiro park is a haven for runners, walkers, body builders and yogis. Surrounded by big, busy roads, once you’re inside you can really breathe. Our entrance took us under a subway and past a saxophonist working hard to set the atmosphere. We found our green triangle and had an hour to soak up the morning sunshine, stretch and move gently to welcome the day. After breakfast across the highway, I decided I would spend some more time exploring the park: the formal gardens, the Crystal Palace, the boating lake and the roses. It was like a field of floral scent and colour. Ordered – but not the formal uptightness of an English garden – a more free-flowing approach of mixing together and sharing space.

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Retiro Roses

Day two was Parque del Oeste. A more higgledy-piggledy collection of spaces and rumours of another rose garden. We ran out of park a couple of times on our jog-sploration of it, but there it was. A beautiful arrangement of roses and ponds and fountains and pergolas. Leaving the rose garden we climbed the hill to finish our tour at the Templo de Dobod – an Egyption temple dismantled and rebuilt in its current locations guarding a most magnificent view of the casa de campo.

It was no surprise to me that I found more parks on my stay in Madrid. What I liked about them is that they are living, breathing, communal spaces. The community use them for exercising, for meeting people, for picnicking. It’s a real extension of the home and a perfect representation of the sociable Spanish culture.

 

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3000 miles: May

I’ve set myself the target to run, walk or cycle 3000 miles in 2017. 3000 miles is roughly the distance from London to sub-Saharan Africa. I’m doing this to raise awareness and funds for Cricket without Boundaries. If you enjoy reading these posts, please support me to support them by making a donation.

This was always going to be a tricky month to keep up momentum and keep adding to my mileage total with some travel and a conference to fit in.

As my ultra run was done and dusted, I figured I would dust off my bike. Rain stopped play a bit – it turns out that I’m still a fair weather cyclist, which may have to change. My first week of May, when I was determined I would actually up the run rate to start catching up on my target didn’t quite happen as I imagined. But I’m still incentivised to get out and get on.

Travel can disrupt any routine and being on tour made me wonder if it would even be possible to keep up any reasonable mileage. I was chastising myself for not going on a trekking holiday. But it seems that walking across cities does cover a reasonable number of miles. A few runs not only helped me to explore a bit further afield, but also added to my totals.

Harder was that once I was back, I was soon away again – this time for three days of a conference. I packed my running kit so I had no excuses. I did make it out and got to see a different part of town.

It’s hard, but I have a driver to keep going. Cricket without Boundaries works in 5 sub-Saharan countries in Africa to deliver cricket development alongside health and social messages. I will be volunteering to help coach children and coaches to support this worthwhile work. If you can support my fundraising with a donation, you can do that here.

Coming up:

  • 9 June: 50km walk
  • 23 July: Snowdon Trail Half Marathon
  • 10 September: New Forest Marathon

So far:

  • Total miles: 793
  • Miles remaining: 2207
  • Breakdown: walking – 250; running – 448; cycling – 95
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Seville – finding my inner flamenco

“If you want to catch a parrot, build a cage”

I’m in Seville, hunting for my inner flamenco. I was expecting it to ooze from every plaza, with passion and music and dance surrounding me as soon as I stepped off the train. In stead I found a modern, business like station, where the trains arrived on time and there was clear signage to the orderly taxi queue.

The Spanish are night animals. I’m an early bird and arriving after a gin-fuelled night in Madrid meant flamenco-searching was reduced to a trip to Lidl and my Spotify playlist.

Day two, surely I’d find it today. A loose plan to familiarise myself with the city, join in with a siesta and hit the streets later nearly worked. I hadn’t got my meals in sync and I was famished by 8pm. Finding the only restaurant that was open I gave in and ate. The food was surprisingly good. The inauthentic serenading by the waiter’s cousins was not. But sometimes it pays to know what you’re not looking for.

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Day three was built around going out late. I started with a late breakfast in a café near the giant mushrooms. Fabulous Spanish toast with coffee and a conversation about where to find flamenco, how you would stumble across it in a bar unannounced, how you could feel the passion and how it moved you. Yes! This was what I was after, perhaps it was real? Hitting the streets for tapas was the right thing to do. Dinner at home fuelled me to find some bars. I’m in Triana – the home of flamenco. it was going to be good. I gave myself a choice of two bars. The first one wasn’t open: still too early. I found bar 2 and lo and behold: guitars, clapping and the unique sound of cante flamenco. I approached with caution – apart from the performers, the bar was empty. I thought of it as my personal show. Gradually a couple more people entered the bar. I was offered the chance to dance. I remained purposefully in my seat. But there was dancing – somehow it matched the indistinct rhythm and helped to tell the story. But I’m not sure I understood it.

Day 4 and back to the parrot quote at the top of this post. Am I trying too hard? I’m giving up on the understanding and I’m trying to feel it. To let go of expectations and see what happens. I can enjoy the tourist show in Casa de la Memoria as much as the ad-hoc busking at the Puerta de Jerez interchange and the authentic gitana music in the bars of Triana.

Still searching.

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