Geocaching: a personal story about becoming physically active

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Hannah Bithell’s journey towards fitness in her own words.

“I have been fat for almost as long as I can remember. I have never really been bothered trying to lose weight as I have always been entirely happy with my own skin. However now we are going through the adoption process this is all changing. I am still happy with the way I look, but I am also acutely aware of the dangers that my weight poses to both my health and the mental welfare of any children that join our family should I suffer negative consequences because of it. I wanted to share my story as I have found a hobby that has really helped me to drop the pounds. This isn’t a swift and delightful transformation story from a glossy magazine, I still have weeks where I put on and some weeks I am still using the loo 3 times before weigh in in the hope of a maintain!!! However it is a real story and one I am becoming increasingly proud of.

“At my heaviest I weighed 23+ stones and have thus far lost just short of 3 stone. I mainly attribute this to improving my fitness which has given me the option to move more, release endorphins and stick more effectively to the diet. Finding exercise that you can do when ‘morbidly obese’ is really hard, so much mainstream exercise is either too hard and I could only do a matter of seconds or didn’t give me enough support so I ended up injured.

“One of the ways that other fat people I met at groups of people trying to lose weight (avoiding advertising) succeeded was in taking to walking. I had always hated walking. Why would I want to take longer to get from A to B than I needed to, and to be fair, it was just plain boring. I used to get mad and upset with those around me when I did it, so although my friends were incredibly encouraging and supportive I hated every second of it. To be fair to myself I probably was bored, as it is pretty hard to find joy in a view when your hips and legs are in agony, you can hardly breathe from trying to keep up with people and you feel patronised by others encouragement (again my friends were lovely I was just in no fit state to see it). The first walk I ever enjoyed was with my wife, at every 200m marker she read me a riddle off the internet to keep me entertained. This gave me something to think about other than the pain and something to aim for.

“Not long after this walk I was introduced to Geocaching (By my very enthusiastic mother!). Geocaching is basically an international treasure hunt where the treasure is little plastic boxes with a piece of paper inside for you to find and sign. There is a huge variety of types of cache that you can find and most importantly a wide variety of cache terrain difficulties so everyone can get involved. Me and my wife have now found our 400th cache and we have done walks up to 11 miles with very little problem. The pain in my hips has gone when I walk and I can now climb hills. I still get really out of breath, I am lugging 20 stone up there, but I recover at the top much quicker. The best thing about Geocaching for weight loss and fitness building is that you have to stop to search for the cache every few hundred metres, this is so important as so often, people stop to let you as the fat one catch up then give you 30 seconds rest before we all then move off again, you cant take the rest you really need because you would be holding everyone up, after all they have already rested for a few minutes waiting for you. Geocaching means you are all engaged with an activity that also gives you a good rest.

“We have taken part in a huge variety on caches in a few different countries, I think our favourite one was a pub crawl in Belgium, although not sure that contributed much to weight loss. We also really enjoy geocaches where you have to do a puzzle on the computer beforehand to get the co-ordinates to find the cache. I am most proud of getting the cache at the trig point on Ilkley Moor, we did this for our 200th and there is no way even 6 months ago that I would have even considered climbing the moor, let along actually been able to do it.

“I have designed a caching series around Pudsey specifically for the morbidly obese. It is an easy walk, with very few inclines and is pretty short. I was able to do it at 23 stone so I reckon most will be able to.  It also includes lots of information on how to actually cache. The key thing is to make sure you sign the log (the piece of paper in the cache)! It also has a number of places if it becomes too much you can stop and head back to the car to break it up. The caches are all the same type (although in reality the breadth of caches you can find is what makes it so much fun!) and hidden so people can easily find them.

“In order to get involved with geocaching you will need to download the app. The cache series I have done is not premium so everyone can do it, but I would suggest paying the 27 quid for the year (Only the same as a takeaway!) if you can possibly afford it, as you get loads more caches, and as you get fitter more difficult ones. Once you have downloaded, pick a geocaching name to log in with, we used my wife’s name (devastated) so be careful what you pick as you can’t change it once it is done! My series starts at GC8ZH8B which you can search for on the app. Happy Caching!”

Hannah Bithell is a councillor for Leeds City Council.

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