We talk to brand storyteller Melissa Talago who discovered walking at 40 and has set up a global community to connect and inspire women walkers in midlife and beyond.
An interview with Melissa Talago on her passion for walking
What made you decide to do what you do?
When I was 41 I found myself at a loose end one weekend. My kids were at a camp and my husband was away working. On a whim, I went to an outdoors shop, bought a pair of walking boots, a waterproof jacket and a map. I headed off to the North Yorkshire coast and walked 14 miles in gale force winds and rain. I stayed in a hostel overnight, sharing a room with three strangers. Then I walked home again the next day. I absolutely loved it. Just me, the weather and a sense of freedom. After that I began to walk more often, either on my own or with friends, all of whom were over 40. I called us The Glamoraks, because although we wore anoraks, we felt a bit more glamorous than your typical ramblers.
I took on bigger walking challenges. At 42 I walked 192 miles across the UK doing the Coast to Coast. At 43 I walked the circumference of the Isle of Wight (70 miles) and took 16 friends (all in their 40s and 50s) to a remote bunkhouse in the Lake District only reachable by foot. Just before I turned 44, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest freestanding mountain. And three days ago, I returned from walking the West Highland Way (96 miles).
As my background is in public relations, I managed to secure two press opportunities in national glossy magazines about walking. I decided that it was time for me to put an idea that I’d been mulling over into practice – to create an online global community of women (typically in their late 30s, 40s and 50s) who love to walk. I created a website overnight and set up a free Facebook group. Within a week it had 200 members. Since then it has been growing organically while I figure out what I want it to become.
Why did you wait until you did to do it?
I have always enjoyed walking, but having young kids meant walking became more of an exercise in nagging and bribing. Trying to get a weekend when my husband and I could go walking with the kids was impossible. It was having the time to myself to go off on that first walk that kickstarted it all. After that, I stopped trying to convince my reluctant children to go walking. I would simply put a date in my diary and let my husband and kids know that I’d be off walking. It was time for me to make time for me.
As for the Glamoraks walking group, I had waited because I thought: Who am I to run a walking group? I’m not a qualified expert? In fact I’m a relative beginner. But then I realised that actually I had walked pretty far and it wasn’t about knowing everything, but about being able to inspire other women to just go out and do it that mattered. It was that confidence to follow my passion and simply take action, think it through later, that made it happen.
What are you hoping to accomplish?
My vision it to create a worldwide collective of women who love to walk. I want to inspire more women – particularly those who have spent years putting their families or careers first – to stop observing and enabling life for others, and to go and experience first it first hand through walking and mini adventures. I’d love for it to become the equivalent of an Airbnb for walking women so that no matter where in the world you go, you can find a fellow like minded woman to head outdoors and explore with.
And personally, there are many, many walks I have on my bucket list – from the Inca Trail, to the Great Wall of China, to the volcanoes in Iceland to the Norwegian fjords. Ultimately I would like to write a book on the subject of my walks.
How did you make the change? What or who helped you? How did your family and friends react?
The first change started by simply getting some decent walking boots and allowing myself time to go walking, instead of using free time for mundane chores. It takes a shift in thinking to give yourself permission to do something just for you. I was lucky that my husband is very supportive and knows that I’ve spent years enabling his career and the kids’ sports/schooling. He’s had to become mum, when I head off on my lengthier adventures. But it’s been good for him, and my sons are seeing that their mother isn’t just someone who is there doing the boring household stuff, but is off climbing mountains and having adventures of her own. My friends fall into two categories – they either think I’m mad as a box of frogs, or they’re desperate to join me! All of them though have been very supportive, including sponsoring me for my Kilimanjaro climb and stepping in to help out with childcare when I’m away.
How has your life changed having gone down this path?
I’m healthier, fitter and happier. I’ve seen more of the world and know that I can take on pretty big challenges. It’s adjusted my mindset. I now believe anything is possible. You just need to literally put one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there. Although my Glamoraks group is still new, I feel as though it has huge potential and it’s giving me a massive buzz.
What advice do you have for women considering a similar life change?
For women who always put their families or career first, try to do something for you. If you love walking, get some walking boots, google a walk near you and just head out. It’s no more complicated than that. But even if walking isn’t your thing, whatever it is you would like to try, simply book time in your diary, google that thing and where you can find it near you and then go do it. Watching other people participating in life is not the same as doing it yourself. Just try it.
What are you proud of and what keeps you inspired?
I don’t really feel proud of my walking achievements – although getting to the summit of Kilimanjaro took superhuman effort and positive thinking. But I do feel genuinely proud that in just a few months I’ve created a website and walking group which is growing day by day, been featured in two national glossy magazines and been on my local radio twice – all of which is helping to inspire other women to go walking. The comments I’m getting in the group show me that I am – even if it’s in a very small way right now – making a difference to the lives of other women.
What do you love most about being the age you are?
I quite simply don’t give a shiny shit about what other people think about me anymore. I genuinely don’t. And that is hugely liberating.
What do you hate most about being the age you are?
Not having the freedom to stick a backpack on and set off on my own to far flung places. I do still have to be a grown up with bills to pay and children to look after.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties?
I wish I’d used the time when I was entirely free – no kids, partner, bills – to travel more. To have grand adventures and to push myself much further out of my comfort zone. I did travel back then but I was very focused on climbing the career ladder, figuring out who I was and getting over break ups! Also, I’d tell that younger version of me to stop trying to define success on other people’s terms. Define what success looks like to you and focus on that instead.
What are the most important business and/or personal lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
If you are passionate about something and truly believe in it, even if you don’t know the answers, simply do it and the rest will follow. And – you only get one life. Don’t waste it cleaning the sodding house.
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any other?
Just do it.
Which woman do you most admire and why?
Cheryl Strayed – author of the book Wild. It was her book that inspired me to start walking. I’d read about her epic hike along the PCT on her own and was simply in awe of her achievement and it unleashed a sense of adventure I hadn’t realised was in me. The fact that she is a published author with a film about her life is even more epic.
Is there anything people consistently misunderstand about you?
People think I am brave, confident and outgoing. I don’t feel like I am any of those things. I’m am riddled with self-doubt and have suffered from low self-esteem almost my entire life. But I’ve decided I’m not going to let those things stop me. I am truly trying to embrace who I am.
How can Mutton Club readers find out more about what you do?
They can find out more at Glamoraks and they are welcome to join the free Facebook group – it is open to women of all ages from around the world but the typical Glamorak is in her late 30s, 40s or 50s. She wants to get out walking and have adventures. She’s OK with roughing it for a bit but would prefer a comfy bed and a nice glass of wine at the end of a long walk. She knows she’s not as fit as some of those younger hikers but she is absolutely not ready to be a ‘rambler’ yet. It’s not how old she is, more a mindset and zest for life that is needed. She wants to get inspired to take on bigger walking challenges, find people to walk with or just get inspiration on where to walk next.
I also run a communications company called Campfire Communications, where I help small business owners get clear on their brand story, write their copy and teach them how to get in the press.