One lamppost at a time

I love exercise. But I don’t love running.

I recognise the benefits it can bring me, and after I’ve run I feel a sneaking satisfaction, but it will never be my exercise of choice.

If I have a choice, I cycle or I go the gym. But as the nights are drawing in I’m not so confident on my bike, so in the last few weeks I’ve switched to evening running.  And oh, can my body feel how long it has been……  My longest ever run was a half marathon.  The whole way around my legs wondering what the heck was happening to them and when would it every end?  There’s no way I could do that right now.  So I am back to what I did when I first took up running.  Lamppost training.

It’s my very own form of fartlek. I run as far as I can, and then I aim for the next lamppost.  And then the next.  When I need to stop to walk a little, then it’s just to the next lamppost and no further.

The more I run, the most lampposts I tick off, the strong and faster and better I become. The only way to get better at running, is to run.

There’s no shame in being slow and steady. In walking a little when you need to.  You don’t need special equipment or a fancy running watch.  You just need to get out there and do it.

One lamppost at a time.

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Autumn Feels

I love to exercise outside.  When there’s no time to drive to the gym or a whole hour for a class, outside is easy.  No fuss or cost or timetables.  No noise nor conversation.  Just me.

For weeks and months now, my evening bike rides and runs have been filled with sunshine and warmth.  Those extra layers of winter clothing not required.  It’s easy to forget what winter brings.

But this last week or so, you can feel the change in the air.  Tonight, as I cycled through my local park, the leaves were starting to fall.  In a few more weeks the nights will draw in, and the light filled rides along the waterfront will stop…. for a little while.

It is harder to get motivated to exercise when it is dark and cold.  But I do believe every season brings something a little special for those that brave it.

leaves

Autumn. Crunchy leaves.  All the colours.  The smell of bonfires and fireworks.

Winter.  Crispy, cold, bright mornings.  Bundled up in your extra layers.  Breath fogging in front of you.  On the run up to Christmas, passing the fairy lights and the decorated trees.  Feeling like you’re a little bit badass because everyone else is indoors and you are in the streets.

And then to spring.  There’s that first evening you get home from work and there’s still plenty of daylight.  Flowers and trees waking up, seeing the change day by day.  The promise of warmer days just around the corner.

But from here on in, for a little while, its freezing noses all the way.

Bring it on.

I see you

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She’s new, I think.

She seems unsure. A little uncertain, especially around the big machines, the gym hardcore elite.

The weights don’t sit neatly in her hands… just yet.

She looks around, but doesn’t make eye contact.

She hangs out only in the deserted areas of the gym floor.

She is dressed like I did, when I first started out. Covering up as much as possible.

Nervous laughter.

She has someone with her. From the corner of my eye they are doing all the right things.

Starting slow. Demonstrating technique.  Encouraging smiles.

I see you, I want to say to her. I see you and I feel you.

Stick with it, I want to tell her.  A few weeks from now you will feel stronger and more confident.  Just stick with it.  Keep coming.  Listen to your guide.

Believe in yourself, I want to cheerlead for her.

The stuff you are doing today can be your warm up in the future.

You got this.

I see you.

And I know I’ll see you soon.

Ready to Run?

running

On my long slog back to fitness, there is one thing that I have been avoiding.

Running.

I always had a love hate relationship with running. It’s something that many runners know well. I liked it and I didn’t, often at the same time.  There are good bits and not so good bits of it.

When I first started out running, I used to run to my local supermarket and back. It was less than a mile in total, and my goal was to be able to run all the way there and all the way back without stopping.  It took me a while but I got there.  A couple of years later I ran for two and a half hours without stopping in my first half marathon, a feat I would never have believed I could achieve that first, sweaty, difficult time.

The thing about running, is that to get any better you just have to keep going. Yes, other stuff matters.  Having a decent pair of trainers, fuelling your body appropriately, learning a little about form…. But mostly it is about just running and then running some more.  There are no shortcuts to become a good runner.

I have this tension going on. I am glad I am out there, putting one foot in front of the other.  But I am also constantly reminded that I am not as good at this as I used to be.  I am all too consciously incompetent.  I don’t like the way my body moves right now, or the ragged feel of the breath that I just can’t regulate properly.  Yet.

I know that my only choice is to keep going. To keep putting on my running shoes and just simply go.

It will take time but I will get better.

If I just keep running.

Bottom Envy

I have a confession to make.  I have been looking at the bottoms of other women in the gym.  In a sideways, hope they don’t notice me staring kind of way.

Not just bottoms either. Calves, abs, toned arms.  The way that they rock their lycra while I look like an over stuffed sausage in mine.  I have body envy.  In particular, I have bottom envy.

I want their bottoms. Not their actual bottoms. I am not quite that weird.  I want one of their bottoms for myself.  I want my bottom to look all pert and dimple-free.  I want to have the sort of bottom that makes women like me wish they had one.  I want my bottom not to look like two planets colliding in a pair of pants.

I know that answer is, among other things of course, squats. The don’t call it a squat booty for nothing.  Which is fine if your knees work properly but mine don’t.  The last time I attempted a set of squats, I couldn’t get up the stairs at work for a week.

The answer to a better bottom also relies on other forms of exercise, and indeed, a better diet. I’m writing this sat down whilst sipping a latte.  That probably won’t help either to be honest.

So ladies, if you see me looking at your bottom in the gym, please don’t call security. I just think you rock.

Exercise, mental health, and me

It’s a Friday afternoon in June 2016. The end of a long week of business travel, including flight delays and lost luggage. 5pm could not come soon enough.  I went home expecting an ordinary kind of evening but instead my marriage ended.

A few weeks later I moved out of my home, taking almost nothing from the dozen or so previous years.

Then a few weeks after that, my dad got diagnosed with cancer.

Then a few weeks after that, my mom got diagnosed with cancer.

Then my wonderful boss left meaning my job changed over night.

And then my brain stopped working.

Rewind.

It’s April 2016 and I am doing my first ever triathlon. Not a bad achievement for a former fat girl.  The following, my first half marathon – the longest I had ever run.  Then in June, before the night that changed everything, my first Tough Mudder.  Two and a half hours of gruelling running and obstacles.  I loved it.

I was at the peak of my mental and physical health. I felt amazing and I was confident in how I looked, possibly for the first time in my life.  Exercise was everything.  My diet was focused, I was totally committed.

Back to August 2016. One night I went to bed, packing my gym bag for the morning as usual, laying out my kit.  My alarm went off at 5.30.  Something wasn’t quite right.  I didn’t get up.  All day.  I told work I had a stomach upset.  Because what else do you say? I told my girlfriends something wasn’t right.  A few hours later, on my doorstep, Julie. With food and wine.  She slept on the sofa and watched me.

I didn’t know then but this was the start of a dark period in my life. Depression and anxiety.  One of the worst things for me during this time was that my desire to exercise disappeared over night.  That thing that was part of who I was, wasn’t.  I went from exercising twice a day to barely moving off the sofa. I lost a lot of things during those few months, and exercise and fitness was one of them.

When you are depressed, people tell you that exercise is a good thing. And it is.  But wanting to do it, finding the energy and the motivation to do it….  That’s something else entirely.  What I wanted to do every day was sit.  Or lie down.  Not run or swim or cycle or lift some heavy stuff.  But for the love of a good man, I might never have moved off the sofa again.

Fast forward.

It’s the Spring of 2018. The Black Dog is mostly vanquished.  The anxiety looks to be a permanent addition to who I am.  The good news is that the exercise is back.  Not at the level it was before, simply because time is more of an issue now.  But if I could I would.  The simple joy of moving, lifting, stretching, cutting through water.  The feeling you get when you put on your kit, get the bike out of the garage, accelerate from a walk into a run.

I read an article this week that said research shows that resistance training weight lifting can be good for your mental health. That is certainly the case in my own experience.  I can’t lift heavy but it makes me feel great all the same. And when the days are difficult, it takes the edge off.

I miss the fitter, thinner, stronger me. I lost her for a while.  But she is in there somewhere.   I did it once and I can do it again, older and wiser this time.  And this time, the exercise isn’t just about getting physically fit but its mental health benefits too.

See you in the gym.

Fat Shaming

It’s no secret that I love a trashy magazine. But the level of fat shaming in some of them is off the scale.

There is one in particular, which I’m choosing not to name here (I’m not giving them the publicity).  The last few weeks their front page has included a photograph of some poor (female, obviously) celebrity, highlighting their recent weight gain.  I mean how dare they?  Eat food and over indulge a little and find this stuff hard just like the rest of us?  Inside the pages of course, even more references to famous faces who are ‘piling on the pounds’.

Consider how that person feels. Struggling with your weight is bloody hard.  Sometimes, it is soul destroying.  The constant guilt, the on-going battle between what you want and know you can’t have.  Watching everything you eat and trying not to give into temptation.  There are often complex reasons why people over eat.  For many of us, it is a cycle of up and down, good times and bad.  Consider again, this private battle being played out for cheap entertainment for the masses.  Seeing yourself on the front page of a magazine, your body being held up to ridicule just to sell a few more copies.

What does it say about us that we like to read this stuff? That we think it is okay?  Or that we don’t even notice it for what it is?  Fat shaming.

This stuff is so regular, so ubiquitous, that it barely registered.

Of course, also within the pages of these magazines, are the diet plans. Get beach body ready.  Lose seven pounds in seven days.  I did it all with [insert the name of well-known slimming brand that wants to take your money here].

When you are overweight, lots of people have an opinion. When you lose weight, ditto.  When I was going through my major weight loss phase, I lost count of the number of people that commented, that felt it was okay to tell me how I ought to look and ought to live.

Life is hard.  Weight management is hard. Having a positive body image with images all around telling us that fat is bad, gaining weight is bad, thin is everything.

We don’t need to shame people along the way, make it worse for them and for us.

Enough of the fat shaming.  Please.

Swings and Roundabouts

swing

It’s been a good bank holiday weekend on the exercise front.

Friday, an hour in the gym followed by a quick ten lengths in the outdoor pool in the sunshine. Lush.

Saturday, another hour in the gym.

Sunday, 17 mile bike ride.

Monday, 50 minutes in the gym, followed by another ten lengths of the pool.

 

On the downside……

I drank two bottles of Prosecco.

At the end of the 17 mile bike ride I had a pint of shandy and a 99 from the ice cream van.

And yesterday I accidently ate a pizza. Don’t know how that happened.

 

Overall summary: too scared to go on the scales. Some slight trouser issues this morning (they appear to be more snug than when I wore them on Thursday.  Query – additional muscle? Conclusion – in your dreams).

Plan for this week. More of the exercise stuff.  A bit less Prosecco.  If it only it could be the other way around…..

 

Fitting it in

bike

You know when people say that they don’t have time to exercise?

They totally do.

I have a full time job. A three hour round trip commute.  A sort of small business where I do other stuff.  I volunteer for my professional association.  I have a house to run.  A partner with a full time, very busy job.  Kid stuff too.  I’m not trying to brag.  I’m not superwoman, I am just trying to keep my shit together and balance this stuff, every day.

I don’t have time to exercise. But I do anyway.  Because I make it a priority.

I don’t do it as often as I could or should or want to.  But I fit something in, somehow.

Monday evening, my commuter train, for once, got me home on time. I really should have done some washing or hoovered or tackled one of the other many jobs on my relentless to-do list.  Instead, I went for a bike ride around the park.  It was only 15 minutes, but still better than 15 minutes on the sofa.   Definitely more enjoyable than emptying the dishwasher.  Tonight, I’m going to try and do it again.  On Friday, I am going to take the rarest of things for me – a lunch hour – and go for a quick gym visit.

If you don’t have much time, you have to make choices.

You can let stuff slide. You can prioritise you and your health.  Does it really matter if the house is spotless?  Does it really matter if one more email gets responded to?  Could you, if you really tried, get up a little bit earlier to fit something in?  Could you turn off the TV and do something more physical instead?

Or…… do you not really want to?  As the saying goes, if you want to do something you will find a way, otherwise you will find an excuse.  There are always more people in the pub than the gym.  It’s all about priorities, and choice. And it’s okay to choose no too.

Do what you can when you can. Something is always better than nothing. Your health is at as important as all the other life and work stuff.

Fit it in.  In whatever way you can.