Tri Harder

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On Sunday I completed my first triathlon.

Just a beginners distance. Not one of those Olympic distance malarkeys.  I’m fairly fit but I’m not crazy.

Why did I do it? Just to see if I could.

That’s the thing about this fitness stuff. It gets under your skin.  You try something out and then begin to ask yourself if you can go further.  Take the next step. Push yourself even harder.

I was nervous. You never know what to expect the first time you do an event.  What will it be like?  Can I do it?  Will other people look at me and wonder what the hell I am doing here?  Hoping that you won’t be last across the line.

I worried about being the only person swimming breast stroke, as opposed to that proper swimming stuff. I worried about being the only person on a mountain bike rather than a proper one.  I worried about whether I had the right equipment.

My nerves were especially bad because I’m not a strong swimmer. I have lousy technique partly due to the fact that I will not under any circumstances put my face into the water.  Whilst this might impact my ability to swim terribly well, this seems like a good trade off to me on the basis that under water, there is no air to breathe.  None at all!

For this same reason I failed swimming at school. None of that jumping in the deep end in your pyjamas and diving for a brick for me. Oh no.  I held onto the side and refused to do it no matter how loud the PE teacher shouted or my school friends laughed.  And to this date I have never needed to save a drowning brick whilst in my nightwear, so I think that proves I was right all along.

But every time you do something different, every time you give yourself that push, you learn a little something along the way.

This weekend, I learned that I worried too much. I came in a whole 30 minutes quicker than the time that I thought I would.

L learned that imposter syndrome still gets hold of me from time to time. But I figured out a way around those fears about the water all the same.

I realised that even if I had been last, it didn’t matter at all.  Because I was having a go. Challenging myself.  And by standing on that starting line you are doing more than most people ever do.

Even when you don’t want to do something, when you wonder why on earth you thought this was a good idea, you are never sorry when you do it. You never regret holding a medal in your hand saying that you did it.

And finally, as is usually the case, I learned that I want to do it all over again.  Faster, next time.

 

For the record, I also now recognise that drinking wine does amount to carb loading. Just in case you were wondering.

 

My next challenge is Leeds Half Marathon on 8th May.  I’m running it for Retrak Charity, who are working towards no child living on the streets.  If you want to sponsor me, you can do so here.

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Boiling Frogs

As I’ve blogged before, I also love a weight loss TV programme. I watch them all.  Fat Families, Secret Eaters, My 600lbs life, Fat the Fight of My Life.  And so on…

As is the way with a lot of reality TV, the most extreme examples are usually featured. No one wants to watch normal people doing the washing up, feeding the kids, going to work. We want to watch the richest, poorest, drunkest, dumbest… and of course, the fattest.

The fattest possible people eating the biggest possible portions. It’s easy to watch one of these programmes, to see someone who is super morbidly obese, and to wonder how they got there.  How they allowed themselves to get quite that fat, immobile, unhappy, ill.

I know the answer to that question.

One mouthful of food at a time.

You’ve probably heard the tale of the boiling frog. In case you haven’t, apparently if you put a frog in a pan of boiling water it will jump out.  Somewhat unsurprisingly perhaps.  However, if you were so minded to put a frog in a pan of cold water and then slowly heat it up, the frog is unable to perceive the changes in temperature and will simply sit there until they are cooked all the way through.  And hence, very dead.  Trust, me this is a real theory.  Honest.  Look it up on Wikipedia.  It is used to illustrate how people just often aren’t aware of gradual creeping changes because of how slowly they occur.

That is weight gain right there. Because it’s just one biscuit, right? And one takeaway won’t hurt.  There are only 200 calories in the whole packet.  Those leftovers in the fridge need eating up.

The thing with weight gain is how slowly it takes place. You only really notice when you go up a size in clothes, or you are suddenly no longer able to do something.

Here’s the thing. If you put on ten stone overnight and tomorrow morning found yourself unable to tie your own shoe laces, get out of a chair without help, or climb the stairs without pausing for breath, you would be horrified. If in the space of a week you went from a size 8 in Top Shop to the plus size store, you would very quickly do something about it.  You’d be on a diet and down the gym.

But it doesn’t happen like that. The water slowly heats up and you don’t even notice until it is too late.  One day you look in the mirror and wonder when and how  and why it happened.

And the answers are simple.

Slowly.

Incrementally.

One mouthful at a time.

Weight loss; the inconvenient truth

I am a connoisseur of weight loss TV programmes. You name one, I’ve got it on series link.

But I’ve been watching a few lately that bother me.

Invariably they are promoting fast weight loss and extensive exercise regimes. Often those dieters featured are following very low calorie diets and exercising for three or four hours a day.  Neither of which are sustainable ways to actually live when the cameras stop rolling.  Personal Trainers shouting at clients.  Working them to the brink of or even past exhaustion.

One show in particular gives me the hump. The format of each episode is more or less exactly the same. An overweight individual who is secretly in love with someone and who wants to lose weight in order to tell this person how they feel. Sending a not very subtle and not very healthy message that in order to be attractive and stand a chance with the person that you care for you have to also be thin.  In the most recent episode the girl in the programme wanted to lose 90lbs.  In three months.  This is more than three times recommended safe weight loss amounts.

But it makes good TV I guess.

Here’s the thing.

If it took years to put it on it will take a long time to get it off – if you want to do it safely and in a way that you are likely to be able to sustain it that is.

There are quick fixes.  There are fad diets and diets that cut out whole food groups for no good reason.  There are diets that require you eat very low calorie levels or buy fancy branded products.

They will give you results.  Because if you reduce your calories enough then weight loss will occur. It is a simple formula.

But these quick fixes often aren’t what they seem. Sometimes what you are losing isn’t fat but water and lean tissue.  Sometimes what you are doing is putting your body into an unhealthy state.  Sometimes you will create a further problem down the line because when you return to normal eating your body thinks the famine has ended and stores even more fat than you had before.

And even more importantly….. these diets don’t change underlying habits or address why you put the weight on in the first place. These diets don’t promote long term behavioural change.  Making success much more difficult.  Making relapse and a return to original weight levels (or even higher) much more likely.

My warning signs for diets are these:

Diets that ask you to cut out entire food groups (when there is no medical reason to do so).

Diets that keep you eating under 1000 calories a day.

Diets that are ‘evidenced’ only by a celebrity who says that this is their secret.  Usually with an accompanying DVD to sell.

Diets that don’t include exercise… or programmes that require you to do nothing but exercise.

Diets that include skipping meals.

Diets that require you to spend lots of money on expensive recommended products.

Diets that make big, big promises.

 

As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

Sustainable weight loss means slowly but surely.

2lbs a week.

Small steps.

One habit at a time.

Who’s that girl?

I get reflective at this time of year.

Because April is when I began what I used to call a diet, but now think of the time that I began my whole new life.

Four years ago I decided that I needed to lose some weight. I didn’t know how much.  I didn’t really have a goal. I just started…. something.

I didn’t know back then that everything in my life would be different.

My weight has changed, a lot. So have my fitness levels.

But others things along the way too. My confidence, how and where I spend my time, my whole outlook on life.

Every week, I go to a HIIT class. Some weeks we do boxing, other weeks it is plyometrics (basically jumping on and off stuff).  But lots of weeks it is based around free weights and barbells.  Those weeks are my favourite.  I love weights. Even owning a pair of weight lifting gloves makes me feel like a badass.

Last night at the end of the class I found myself watching a girl in the mirror. She’s wearing all of the sports gear. Hair scraped back, sweat dripping.  She was kneeling on the floor, taking apart a barbell.  I could see the muscle definition on her shoulders and arms. She was the kind of girl that I wanted to be before I started this thing.

And then I realised.

The girl in the mirror was me.

And I have still no idea how I became her.

But all the same, I think that I’m starting to like her.

Get your run on

I’m working with someone who wants to get into running. Who used to do a whole lot of exercise but hasn’t done any for years and years. Here is what I have shared with him, in case it helps someone else too.

Take. It. Steady.

It is natural to want quick progress, but slow and steady is better. Taking off like a gazelle on steroids when you haven’t exercised for years is a recipe for disaster. So is trying to go out running every single day.  You will either injure yourself or knacker yourself.  Rest is part of the programme even for a conditioned athlete, so just chill out.  The results will come if you are consistent.  And as for speed, you should be able to keep up a basic conversation with your running partner.  If you can’t, then slow down a little.  As they say, you are still lapping everyone on the sofa.

Warn up and cool down

If you haven’t exercised for a long time and then go hard you are pretty much certain to get a fair bit of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). This is from the micro tears you have made in your muscles.  There is no cure – but a warm bath and a little more gentle exercise (like a walk) will help.  So will a proper warm up and cool down routine.  Get your body ready for the thing that it is going to do. Warm it up, get the blood flowing. Move your legs.  Do some dynamic exercises to begin with (squats, lunges, leg swings) or walk briskly for the first five minutes. Afterwards, stretch and stretch some more (static ones, like a quad stretch of hamstring stretch). Don’t bounce!!

Get the right kit. 

You don’t need to spend a fortune but you do need a decent pair of trainers. Decide if you like it enough to keep it up before you go all fancy pants and buy a super expensive pair.  If you do decide running is for keeps then go and get your running style analysed properly and buy shoes to suit.  And to the girls, add a supportive sports bra to that list too.

Set small goals.

Small goals rock. If you want to run a marathon one day that is great.  Keep it in your mind.  But start off with the goal of running a 5K first.  This will stop you getting fed up and make you less likely to quit.

Measure your progress

Download an App. If you are running on your own and you are a total beginner then try Couch to 5K.  Or try Runkeeper to allow you to see how you are doing and set even more goals.

Find friends

I escaped from my long term co-dependant relationship with my sofa by joining a beginners running group. Running with other people can make it more enjoyable than pounding the streets by yourself.  Meeting up with someone else also makes you less likely to skip a session.  So consider parkrun, Sweatshop or just Google for your local running club.  The people will be friendly to beginners, I promise.

Above all, listen to your body. I went out for a run one night last week.  I’d intended to make it a long one, but at about 4K my legs started up a loud protest and threatened to go on strike.  There are times to push through this and there are times to stop.  A class earlier in the week had tweaked my knee, so I listened to my body and went home before I made it any worse.

And finally, just simply….. go run.

 

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A little PT theory….

I’ve been working with a PT for a little over a year now. I am also training to become one myself.  I have set out below my most important learnings from this process should you ever decide to get yourself a trainer too.

  1. Never talk to them too much whilst you are exercising. They will take this as a sign that you are not exercising hard enough and will increase the torture level considerably.
  2. Whilst lifting weights, it is advisable to pull a few faces. Consider also including some ‘I am in pain’ grunting type noises towards the end of the set. Otherwise they will take this as a sign that the weight should increase significantly.
  3. When they ask you how you are feeling about the intensity of the exercise on a scale of 1-10 never, ever say less than 8. Otherwise they will take this as a sign you are not working hard enough and increase the torture level accordingly.
  4. If you have an injury or health problem you should always tell your PT. However, never complain about being sore from a previous workout or tell them that you are tired. This is a signal to a PT that you are being a big lazy wuss and need to be appropriately dealt with.
  5. Remember that it is their watch and their rep count that matters. And their watch is always, always slow. It is not advisable to tell a PT that you think a minute has passed.  Because they might just make it two.