Staying Out for the Summer

Okay then, MONDAY. The plan today, such as it is, will be to try to better attack the level of ‘work’ I have placed upon myself. I can catch up on backlog this week without everything collapsing in a heap, because the pressure of that previous deadline has passed. The next major submission window is August: instead of planning that a couple of weeks in advance, we’ll stick it in with plenty of lead time.

It’s a long game, after all, juggling a bunch of different requirements simultaneously. I also realise that some people think updating a blog weekly is more than enough. I do not understand this. These are people just here doing their business in a different place to mine. For me, writing has to be a daily endeavour, in some form… so if I’m not doing it online, it will be happening offline.

These things are now part of my DNA.

I’ve decided to start a twelve-week training plan on the bike: I would have been doing a 50km ride twelve weeks from yesterday (mid September) so it makes sense to do the training regardless, as a way to build stamina and keep my momentum going. That means this week I hope to complete the 14 bits of exercise a Week goal I set at the start of June.

We got in 12 last week, with almost six hours of high intensity effort. I’m feeling pretty good about the process ahead: walk Tue/Thur/Sat, ride every day. Some will be less stressful than others, obviously, but there will always be something going forward. I’m thinking of doing the rides early and the walks later, or we might vary them according to my mental workload.

Either way, I am ready for some major effort going into the Summer.

Change

Day Three of having a piece of exercise equipment that can support my weight. I could have gone and found a tree in the woods over there [/points] and really would have. The benefits of lifting my own body weight have already been shown with press-up practice. Now, however, I can do this after a brief walk outside and honestly, it’s a game changer.

My shoulders have always been the weak link in my chain of arm muscles. However, this morning I can feel improvement everywhere. Resistance bands will build muscle and sculpt, but I need some beef in my arms. Legs are getting a daily workout, and that needs to happen with both arms and core. The pull up bar gives most to one and some to the other.

Therefore I need to put together some daily core ‘maintenance’ which will allow me to keep everything in a comparable state, because your core is the key to making everything operate effectively. Fortunately, there’s been a bit of that floating around the curated feeds this week. This means planks, bird-dogs, squats and lunges, plus what my Trainer calls ‘happy knees’ as a daily sub for the push ups.

This is not going to be pleasant, nor should it be.

Yes, I’m also thinking about making walks into jogs, but this is early days and yes they will be baby steps and it will be what lungs dictate first and nothing else, because experience now tells me it’s those muscle groups that need the most work. Core will help with that too. I am also thinking that perhaps I need to relearn how I breathe, if that’s not a massively ridiculous statement in the first place.

There’s definitely some work that needs doing: slow is possible, controlled is doable but finding a way to be active and still keep going is the next step forward. This might explain why swimming is such a had ask when it’s going underwater where I struggle most. Knowing your shortcomings is good, kids. It helps iron out so many other kinks in the lifestyle.

Fear is part of the journey.

The Test

If I wanted a test of how lockdown upper body fitness has progressed since March, here it is. Up on the wall, ready and waiting, this will be a proper test of upper body fitness. There are exercises all planned. It’ll be the core of at least one of three planned upper body/ torso exercises for this week, and I may well hop on it if the urge strikes just to… you know, practice.

Lower body fitness has dropped a bit because of the blood donation, but this week we will get ourselves up to where we were, then attempt to exceed it. The biggest indicator however of how successful I have been will would normally be my biometric weigh in on a Friday but with just my scales… I’ll have to go by eye. I know where the weight should be, and how I look…

We’ll play it by eye.

Don’t worry, still got eyes on the bigger picture.

Pull Up to the Bumper

EXERCISE POST
[you were warned]

The last few days really have not gone as I had hoped they would. There’s quite a strong temptation right now to just say ‘fuck it’ to everything and go play Animal Crossing until my brain turns to mush, but we have moved forward from those days. Therefore, there has to be a plan. What that means practically, in the short term, is not exercising today.

If I have learnt anything in all of this chaos, it is listening to my own flesh on days when everything is falling apart. On other days I would have pushed myself under the auspice of being determined, brave, solid. Today, I drink a lot, we address what’s been dropped over the last two days and tomorrow, we start again because today, suddenly, is not about pretending this is coping. It isn’t. This is repair work, and it is sorely needed.


Therefore, the plan going forward is as follows:

  • Better planning of rest days and cheat days
  • Set an exercise goal for June, then stick to it
  • Stop beating myself up that progress isn’t happening, when there’s no real progress goal set in the first place
  • Finally, grasp my own limitations, and stop judging myself over them as a result

…and with that, let’s get started.

Give it Away

Take a second, and look at the header image for today (you might have to go back to Social media for it if you’re not reading this from a feed) Is this a picture of two elephants touching, or is it a wooden fence panel? I see both, but imagine one: the female on the left (smaller eye) nuzzling up against her older, battle-scarred partner, his right eye damaged years ago in a fight.

Amazing how we see stuff differently, isn’t it?

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Lots of stuff looks different from here today. It’s not epoch-making or anything, just a realisation of things that have been happening for a while. When your job is self-improvement, there are days when that can seem fairly daunting, especially when you are not that great of communicating with the people closest to you. I find it a continuing irony that, as a writer, things always fall down first in personal relationships.

To unlearn habits that have been in place for decades is a tough ask, but it is possible. That’s why when I hear stories of famous people’s spectacular bad habits and the belief by some they are incapable of change, there’ll be a very special kind of understanding taking place. If it matters enough, if it is something you want to do, then nothing should stop that from taking place.

The only roadblock to progress is yourself.

Between the 9th and the 27th, the problem was all physical. Between the 27th and yesterday, it was mental.ย Understanding where you lack is all well and good, but until those pieces are placed in a coherent picture, until you understand what it is you are looking at… nothing changes. Absolutely not one part of the equation matters. Having an answer is irrelevant until you comprehend why that is.

Logic leaps are a tough ask.

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Knowing you’re the problem is great and everything, but fixing that can be hard and painful. During this difficult time therefore, please try and be a bit more understanding. I realise not everything is an excuse for self-congratulation either. That’s why having well-mandated, carefully set-out goals is important. Making things work is as much about establishing a routine as it is putting in the effort.

Time to redress the balances.

The Race

Forget for a moment that there’s a pandemic going on, that this is NATIONAL TEA DAY (how did I not know that?) or that I woke up after the best night’s sleep for about a week with a bloody dehydration headache… yesterday was GREAT. Really, exercise great, VERY AWESOME, in a way that I’d forgotten. The difference isn’t the routines. It’s me. Somewhere between last week and this, something has shifted.

In order to shave about 30 seconds off my previous sprint record, there actually needed to be some effort exerted.

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HELLO Z4, it’s been a while, and although that 49 seconds may not seem like much, it’s pretty significant. It also corresponds with a wattage output I’ve not seen for a while. That’s the physical effort you shove into pedalling. Normally, I’m struggling to maintain 120 watts on the bike: last night I effectively doubled that. It was hard to hold, but undoubtedly the strength is coming.

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Speed’s not really a great indicator of power when cycling: I can top 70kph going downhill, hardly pedalling. The highs in those stats above are various: 262 watts is close to my husband’s basic output, but my FTP right now is only 119. That’s the first time since Lockdown I’ve seen 155 bpm on my belt and to hit 105 RPM was really an achievement. The last few weeks I’ve been pushing to get my cadence to sit in the 80’s without effort, and I’m still not really there. 77 is about my average.

What made that ride different however was the exercise session that preceded it.

We only have one weight in the house, a 12kg Kettlebell, which is a struggle for me to use as a one handed weight to lift above my head… or at least it was, until yesterday.ย If I wanted evidence upper body strength is improving then I have it after yesterday’s hour, which was genuinely a hard ask. I’m still doing push ups and rollouts with a wheel, every day, and we’re up to 60 of the former and 40 of the latter.

Depending on how long this all goes on, I can see those numbers increasing again. It is getting easier, there is no denying the fact. Everything is getting stronger. The only thing I’ve not yet had the nerve to do is weigh myself. I think we’ll start making Fridays the weigh in day. Then there’s no escaping the fact I still have a job to do, even in the depths of mental stress and trauma.

This physical body is not going to improve itself.

Heaven is Paved with Broken Glass

You all know how mentally tough the last month’s been. We’re all out here, in the fields, wishing they were actual open spaces we could run around in with no fear of the consequences. On our walk yesterday there was a mum and dad with three toddlers, who just stood and watched as two hared around one green of the golf course, whilst the other happily made sandcastles with a bucket and spade in the bunker.

It wasn’t the children that drew my interest but the adults: neither was playing with their offspring. They just stood hand in hand, clearly utterly exhausted, watching as there was no need to intervene. The human cost for everybody is becoming more apparent with each passing day. It makes me massively, stupendously grateful for a family who are capable of not only supporting themselves, but also me.

Now, more than ever before, solid backup is what matters.

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What matters most is talking about issues, making sure problems don’t fester, finding the means by which you can remain mentally resilient. For me, amazingly, that involves getting on a static bike with my husband once a day and learning how to ride again. Also, because you can’t take the game out of the gamer, there’s an in-game achievement that’s currently being worked towards…

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A ‘lap’ is defined as one of the countless specific courses within a number of locations: today, for instance, I can cycle round a customised version of Central Park, which pleases me greatly having done that for real in the US when on holiday. There’s also an element of danger here because there is no memory of when this was started: whatever happens, I’ll be on the bike every day until it is completed, which is no bad thing…

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This is great for the exercise lover in me because it ensures, without fail, cardio’s being covered. That then leaves me to ensure upper body and core are being kept on a comparable path, which is proving to be far easier than was at first anticipated. There doesn’t need to be any flexing either about the effort being thrown into this: I won’t make 500 MEPS for the belt challenge by tonight. It’s not a problem. I took part, and am sitting reassuringly mid-table in a field of 10,000 others.

The guy in First has done nothing else in the last four days but exercise.

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Having established that there are certain things I desire more than others, and physically exhausting myself is definitely NOT one of them, it’s quite easy to let other people do that without issue. I’m looking for solid support in uncertain times, and that involves a complex set of variables being kept in harmony. Other people can do the outstanding work in fitness. I want to help people’s brains get through this above their bodies.

That seems a far more sensible use of my particular skill set.

Moonlighting

A lot of people right now will be feeling pretty impotent, for vastly differing reasons. That’s probably no different from any other Friday, with my Bigger Picture hat on, but I know that’s not true. Last night I missed group exercise for the first time, and the reality finally hit me that there is no escaping this without huge, life-changing consequences. The thing is, I didn’t need this now.ย My life was getting better.

I want to be selfish, but know that’s just not possible.

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Change has never been something I cope with well. There is an inordinate amount of thrashing around, plus anger. BOY am I angry right now.ย The last straw last night was my Health Club actually grasping their heart rate belt system has use beyond just being sold to members, and that it could be used for good and not just as a piece of gym equipment. HOW HAS THIS TAKEN YOU SO LONG TO GRASP,ย and more importantly why are you offering a pathetic ยฃ500 NHS Trust donation for an exercise challenge when you could afford ten times that easily???

Finding ways to let that anger go is becoming a tough ask. It doesn’t help that within all of this shards of past trauma keep appearing out of nowhere and I have to deal with them, but this is not a present that is mine to control.ย As the Twitter dump above states this morning, this is about being in control of what is doable and letting go of what isn’t. Therefore, this blog post is going to count as a cognitive behaviour exercise.

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I’m no therapist, quite obviously, but having been taught how to step back from emotion via counselling, I was told there would be moments going forward where these skills would have a use. It is why being up earlier than usual this morning was important, to let brain sift through everything logically. It’s why I won’t take a phone or tablet to bed going forward: news can carry on without my attention quite happily.

Joy is out there, it just has to be relocated and grasped: exercise is altering, my mindset towards what is possible slowly shifting. I am getting physically stronger, that much is now inescapably obvious. What is needed now is the ability to escape gravity of bad news, negative thoughts and feelings and propel myself away from this crisis on a new trajectory.

Change has to start now, NOT when all of this is over.

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Life will never be the same again, regardless of what transpires in the next six months. Many people you love and respect will lose their lives. There will, undoubtedly, be reckonings of many varieties. However, this is NOT the time for me to retreat inwards in an attempt to try to stick this out. The future is externalising, rational responses and not letting anger slowly eat away at all my previous good work.

Today, we start doing things differently.

Round and Round

Regulars will have heard me talking a lot about Zwift in the last month, since training at the Gym became impossible and I got a bit nervous about going out on my own. My husband is an avid cyclist: he completed the inaugural Ride London (and every one since, though we are predicting this years will yet be cancelled in August and are looking forward to be proven wrong.)

That means, in the shed at the bottom of our garden where the ironing happens and music is played, there are two static trainers, and over the last month I’ve been doing my best to get back to the form I possessed a few years ago that helped me complete the shorter form of Ride London (the 46) for charity. It’s not a ‘pain cave’ as the Zwift people like to call it. It’s therapy.ย This is what is helping me keep positive.

It is a new, and quite different experience from what has come before.

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I am very much aware I am a VERY long way away from the ‘pro’ training users that Zwift is targeting in that video above. This is not about massive gainzย or training for races. It is trying to find the way I can stay fit, and remain mentally comfortable whilst doing so. Being socially isolated because of my health, I’ll be honest, is beginning to get to me, as I suspect is the case for many others.

I would really like to be running on a treadmill and lifting weights. I miss the rubbish dance music soundtrack someone else clearly thinks is motivational. I miss my friends terribly.ย Writing those three sentences has been enough to reduce me to tears, so it is fair to say that any reasonable substitute for all of these would be great. Zwift gives me the illusion of lots of people, and the certainty that behind each avatar is someone who may well feel the same way I do.

Even if they don’t, I can imagine they are frightened and uncertain too.

My husband keeps encouraging me to chat whilst riding, but it currently takes all the brain power possessed just to ride. I’m not even sure there’d be that much to talk aboutย  with all the serious and clearly far fitter people anyway: as I literally crawl around the courses at 1.2w, one assumes such endeavours are paid scant attention. All the courses and special events do, in all honesty, make me a bit nervous.

I didn’t come here to win things. That’s not what this is about: there needed to be a place where exercise could happen, to a soundtrack of my choosing, where effort could be monitored, recorded and then improved.ย Last night, discovering the Free Ride function meant I got to choose the effort, and Zwift simply provided a backdrop. For an hour I felt more free and relaxed than has been the case since this real life nightmare began.

That alone is worth more than than could be currently quantified.

Right now, I am (pitifully) slowly grinding my avatar to max level. You are awarded XP for finishing rides, custom workouts and group events. I also discovered that all the different courses grant extra XP if you complete them, and last night began a journey that will take months to complete at the speed I ride. That’s absolutely fine.ย It is a notional goal that grants motivation for attainment, and is exactly what is required right now.

This has never been a sprint, and at 53 maybe I can aim for the occasional best time going forward, but that’s never why this is happening. Mental wellness, right now, matters more than the level of fitness, that’s just a bonus. In what can be quite a dark and lonely place on some days, Zwift grants me a purpose, and is the constant reminder that there has to be something other than just leg days.

Eventually, I will climb high enough for the Tron Bike too.

Eventually.

Dark Tree

Typing this morning really is taking some thought. It is, I’ll grant you, a bit uncomfortable to sit here for too long, and my back is very much aware that a shittone of exercise happened yesterday, but does not seem that fussed generally about it. That means getting up every ten minutes or so, walking around and realising that not having the Gym may have been the change in approach I’d been looking for all along.

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There are some things to note in yesterday’s 900 calorie day: pretty much all of it was in Zone 3 and 4. This is not a /flex effort, but a push towards stamina and endurance. If I’d remembered to take the belt off post-cycle, the 32 minutes in Zone 1 wouldn’t have registered. Two minutes in Zone 5 was very much planned and pushed too, which is proof that if I get there, I can stay there.

However, this is really not a sprint. Theoretically I may be here until September, considering my particular health issues. If I push too hard now or injure myself, that’s really not ideal. Therefore, there has to be a balance between keeping momentum going and feeling as if I’m not stuck in a bottle, which is of course exactly where I am. Balancing everything however is part of the skillset. I have got this.

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The balance comes with writing, poetry, pushing myself into the garden, outside to walk (and maybe run) and to maintain a modicum of sanity in this sea of potential stress. Once exercise becomes part of the game plan, completed without thought, it will be easier. When I can wean myself off the stuff being used to cope with trauma that will help too: far too much sugar, not nearly enough vegetables.

We’ll start fixing that tomorrow. Today, I have written work to collate and compile, next week to plan, some thought to be given to a new poetry project, and Spring Cleaning to continue. I am staggered at anyone sitting inside on a Sunday at a loss at what to do right now. I’ve never been busier, and actually that’s no bad thing, because it means less brain space available with which to lament current circumstances.

Maybe all this shit has been happening for a reason.

gladiator

I am feeling oddly calm this morning, as if everything is as it should be, even the inability to type.

I’ll work around it, and everything else.