We’ve made it to February my friends and a huge thank you for your enthusiastic response to the meet-up. Mal confiscated my phone on Friday evening to stop me thinking about it so I was over the moon to see that it had sold out on Saturday. For those who’ve asked, I’ve managed to add five more places, they’ve just gone live – link here. I’ll move back to the subject of clothes next week but today is another post about midlife – the time for trying out new things and edging out of your comfort zone. I think when you tip into the second half of your life you become increasingly aware of the measure of time, sensing that there’s less ahead of you than you have behind you and so there’s an urge to spend it well. Time seemed to open up quite suddenly for me as it will have for a lot of you when the last one went to university and overnight it felt as if my agenda became completely my own. As is my wont, I decided to be strategic about it and treat it as a project, taking the opportunity to work out what it is that I really enjoy. It made sense to do it while I’m still working full pelt and have a bit more disposable income than I’ll have when I slow down – I say slow down because I doubt I’ll ever retire completely but who knows.

Midlife – the time for trying out new things

So I’ve spent the last three years experimenting with the things that matter most to me. At home I spend most of my spare time on my blog and reading books but you know about that. And then there have been things that work as a couple that Mal’s been happy to go along with too. We’ve been exploring different types of travel, from backpacking to luxury all-inclusive resorts to work out what we really enjoy. We’ll be doing less of it this year but so far we’ve worked out that independence is a key factor as well as being on the move… but not too much… we overdid the moving around on our island hopping adventure last year – however that’s another blog post.

Closer to home I’ve been experimenting with live music in different formats. It’s something I haven’t had the time or budget for since my 20s so it’s felt like starting from scratch. We now know we don’t get much from a concert where you’re stuck in your seat – we prefer more immersive events where we can be on our feet with the option to dance. We’ve discovered that if you’re at a festival in the UK it’s almost always worth booking VIP if only for shelter when the weather’s bad – but do check the small print because each festival is different and it isn’t worth it for posh loos alone. I’ve agreed to give one more tribute act a try but I’m pretty sure that my conclusion’s going to be that they’re not my thing. The great news is that discos specifically for midlifers are springing up across the country like mushrooms now – but again that’s another post – I’ll get onto that when I’ve been to one.

Another project has been working out where I want to be based most of the time. We bought our apartment in Newcastle really to be able to see more of the family over there but it’s turned out to be life-changing. I’ve discovered that it’s a city that’s has the right mix of good art, history, music, food and fun for us and the problem with that is that I don’t find it easy to work when I’m there so I’m still trying to get the balance of my time right.

And then last of all there’s health. My current focus is trying to work out how I can travel and have fun without putting weight on to the extent that I did last summer. I’ve talked about my love of strength training and the adjustments to my diet that I’ve been making with Zoe. 80:20 works – if I live in an optimally healthy way for 80% of the time I can let go for the other 20%. However I’m aware that I need to add more cardio back into my training – it’s the thing that always drops off when I have a busy week and I need to be more rigid about it. And then there’s stretching – I spend a lot of time compressing my muscles but not enough keeping them loose and lithe. It means that I keep doing stupid things like pulling my back purely because my glutes are so tight.

A wellness retreat

That’s why in the middle of January you saw me rather uncharacteristically heading off not towards bright lights and dancing but to a yoga based wellness weekend in Wales instead. The Zest Life have been inviting me to join one of their wellness retreats for a while now and I’ve always shied away from it. They’re centred around yoga and I’ve never done yoga before so the usual chattering voice in my head told me I’d be rubbish at it and I kept politely declining. But then one day before Christmas they caught me when I was aching all over and I thought ‘why not?’ So, I signed up for January and I’d originally planned to go on my own but at the last minute there was space for Mal too. On top of work he’s training six days a week for a karate event in April, doing extra sessions with some of the GB squad so I knew it would be good for him to have some healthy time away – and it would give us a chance to catch up because we aren’t seeing much of each other.

So we set off after lunch and I realised I’ve never seen Wales in the winter before. The retreat was in Anglesey with spectacular views of Snowdonia.

Midlife - the time for trying out new things

It was being held at Plas Cadnant which is well known for its hidden gardens…

Midlife - the time for trying out new things

… so it was a stunning place to be for the weekend as you can see from this drone shot.

Midlife - the time for trying out new things

We arrived pretty much at the same time as everyone else. There was one other midlife couple and the rest of the group were women of different ages who had booked to come on their own in the true sense of a retreat. We checked into a cosy, characterful room with a four poster bed…

The Zest Life review

… and then went straight to our first yoga and meditation session which was specifically designed to help everyone unwind from the drive. There followed the first of our weekend of vegan meals, this was pea gnocchi with lemon and kale. As you can see, everyone was relaxing and getting to know each other over dinner, there was a mix of age groups and we all sat together so nobody was left out.

The Zest Life review

After that it was straight to bed because we had a full day of activity ahead, up and early for yoga at 8am. And actually the yoga was fine, I wasn’t as bendy as some people there but having done Pilates for a long time I soon got the hang of things.

Midlifechic sport

A healthy breakfast followed (the ‘salmon’ was slivers of carrot)…

Midlife - the time for trying out new things

…and then came the bit that I was least looking forward to – a session with a running coach. You see when I agreed to go I’d told myself that it would give me a good incentive to start running again over Christmas in preparation. And did I? Not remotely – in fact I pulled my back in the last strength session of December and so I’d done nothing. And that voice in my head was once again telling me how rubbish I was going to be at it. The thing is you didn’t have to run – some of the others went for a walk instead but I’d been beating myself up over it so much that I felt I had to try.

The running coach who is to the right of me here was the loveliest and most encouraging man you could have chosen. An ultramarathon runner he started the session with so much good advice about running, in particular the physiology of it, telling us that it isn’t about running hard but running well and staying in tune with your body.

Midlife - the time for trying out new things

So we had a few circuits of warming up, thinking about our breathing and how it related to the way our muscles were feeling which I really enjoyed. And then he told us that the we were moving on to trail running with some strong uphill sessions and my heart sank.

Midlife - the time for trying out new things

There was no pressure to run fast but I pushed myself to at least stay in the middle of the group and it was hard but I did better than I’d anticipated. Bad memories of school cross country came flooding back and at one point I felt a bit overcome by them but as Mal reminded me later, it’s always my brain not my body that’s my enemy when I’m out of my comfort zone. Everyone in the group encouraged each other on and there was a lot of laughing amidst the puffing and blowing, especially when people started falling over in the mud.

The Zest Life review

And I was glad it wasn’t me because we went straight into a Pilates session when we got back so there was no time to change. Back in my comfort zone I loved the Pilates, the teacher was first class and it was such a good way to stretch out after hill running. Then there was lunch…

The Zest Life review

Zest Life retreats

…followed by time for massages with a superb masseuse.

Midlife - the time for trying out new things

We could see the bad weather coming in over the mountains so we had a quick walk around the grounds…

Wales yoga retreats

… and then it was back to our room for a warm bath and a couple of hours relaxing with a book.

Zest Life yoga retreats

I’d really seized up by the time it came to evening yoga so it was great to have another session before dinner. As we lay on the heated floor with the storm gathering outside we were taken through a guided meditation that asked us to listen to what our body wanted to say to us. Now I’m not very good at quietening my mind but suddenly my body seemed to ask ‘why are you always so hard on me?’ And as we went on the realisation grew – I tend to view my body as a vehicle for carrying my brain around. If I do think about it, it’s always with a critical tone of voice… ‘you don’t run fast enough,’ ‘you should lift heavier,’  ‘you’ve put weight on again,’ and I need to be a bit kinder and give it a more equal ranking with my head. So that was quite something and I’m working hard to appreciate it more, this body that’s done and still does so much for me. I didn’t expect to do well with the meditation so it was a surprise.

After dinner everyone was relaxed and we sat by the fire, chatting through the day for a while before another early night – we were shattered.

Midlife - the time for trying out new things

By Sunday morning Storm Isha had arrived. We began with quite an intense early morning Pilates class to prep us for the rest of the day. Everyone was astounded when we walked into breakfast to be greeted by Eggs Benedict – except it wasn’t an egg. The chef had cleverly created one from tofu with a ‘yolk’ made from mustard and black salt which has sulphur in it, creating an eggy flavour.

Zest Life retreat review

So we all tucked in because we had a drive to the beach ahead. There was a choice of running or walking and the wind was blowing so hard that a few of us opted for the walk…

Midlife - the time for trying out new things

… but within minutes the others headed back to the car so Mal and I powered on towards the beach which was exhilarating…

Midlifechic walking

… and just so stunning – I haven’t been to Anglesey since I was about 8 years old and I’d forgotten how Caribbean it looks – apart from the weather!

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic

We made it back to base quite a bit before the runners who got lost in the woods and ended up doing a 10k instead of a 5k.

Midlife - the time for trying out new things

We were told that the bridges back to the mainland were closing because of the storm so some people headed straight off while we stayed for one last yoga class.

Midlife - the time for trying out new things

I came away feeling cleansed and tired too but in a good way – full of fresh air. My body felt as if it had been challenged but also cared for. Would I recommend The Zest Life? Absolutely, either as a solo trip or with a friend or partner. The only thing I’d say is that it is intended as a reset and so the food, although delicious, is very, very light. I soon discovered that the people who’d been before had brought tuck boxes with them – possibly another reason why everyone went to bed so early!

There’s a programme of yoga retreats that run throughout the year, some in Wales, some in the Lake District which feature wild swimming instead of the running and everyone I spoke to who had tried those had loved them. Midlife – the time for trying out new things – you can find the full programme here.

A few of you have been asking me what I got out of it and there were a few things. The group running threw up quite a lot for me, you never know when your past’s going to trip you up do you? I realise I’m still quite scarred by seven winters of school cross country with a sadistic games mistress who ran behind us holding a nettle to our bare legs. I think she has something to do with that voice in my head that constantly tells me I’m not trying hard enough. Being with a supportive coach helped me to get that out of my system a bit, as did the guided meditation but there’s still a way to go. And I remembered that completing a run gives me my one of biggest senses of achievement (metaphorically sticking two fingers up at that teacher I guess) so it’s helped me to get started again which is good.

I’m really pleased to have tried yoga, it’s been in my head for a long time but I’ve never got around to giving it a go. I discovered I prefer Pilates, possibly because I’ve done a lot of it in the past and I now realise I miss it. I haven’t managed to find a good teacher here but for now I’m running through a ten minute session in the mornings and after my strength sessions which is helping me to stay supple.

And my word the Anglesey coast is stunning, it’s somewhere I’d like to go back to, maybe on a warm summer’s day (I’m sure you get them in Wales!). So it’s a huge thank you to Laura and all of the team at The Zest Life – they’re a small company who put their heart and soul into what they do. Going away on a retreat like this is a safe and fulfilling way of getting out of your usual rut, meeting different people, uncovering things about yourself and trying something new. And that, more than anything else, is what keeps us feeling youthful in midlife.

On that note I’m going to leave you with an excerpt from a poem that is often attributed to Pablo Neruda but not confirmed to be by him. I spent a happy evening playing around with it this week as I was translating it (I need to keep my Spanish up now the youngest is snapping at my heels!). It’s very simple but I think it’s a great midlife message as we head into a new month.

You start dying slowly

If you become a slave of your habits,

Doing the same thing day after day…

If you don’t change your routine,

If you don’t wear different colours,

Or you don’t speak to people you don’t know.

You start dying slowly

If you avoid passion

And its stormy emotions;

The ones that make your eyes glisten

And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly,

If you don’t risk what’s safe for the uncertain

To follow a dream.

If you don’t allow yourself,

At least once in your lifetime,

To run away from sensible advice.

You start dying slowly

If you don’t travel,

If you don’t read,

If you don’t listen to music,

If you don’t like yourself.

You start dying slowly

If you don’t truly love yourself,

If you don’t let anyone help you.

You start dying slowly

If you spend your days complaining

About your bad luck

Or the endless rain.

You start dying slowly

If you abandon a plan before you’ve even begun.

We cheat death in small instalments

By remembering always to be alive.

I hope you have a lovely weekend ahead. I’ve planned an 80% one in, full of exercise and healthy eating.

But… there’s a big birthday party in Newcastle that we’re missing. It’s so tempting to drive over there… we’ll see.

Disclosure: ‘Midlife – the time for trying out new things’ is not a sponsored post but I was invited to experience a Zest Life weekend for the purposes of a review. There was no pressure for it to be anything other than honest.

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