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. 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 gainz 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. 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 about  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. 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. 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.

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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.

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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.

I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside

I am wondering if I could make a walk to the coast count as Government Mandated Exercise as the weather gets better. If running was possible I could easily do it, but that’s not quite achievable as yet. These legs are still suffering after Monday, if truth be told, but that means we have stronger muscles and more stamina, both of which are no bad things.

The numbers look great too.

Having my heartrate registering on the app in front of me is an extremely potent motivator. It allows brain to work in the zone and grants a greater awareness of how hard is hard. It has certainly made a difference with the bike work over the last week too: I’ve gone from struggling in sweet spot training to being oddly Zen-like last night, sailing through the transitions without a thought.

One should FTP test about once every couple of months, but if this training becomes academic it could come sooner, or I could at least take the longer SST (Sweet Spot Training) test, which at 85 minutes could well be the stamina upgrade required. I’m running the 45 minute one at 110%, so if I go back to 100% that should allow me the legs to manage the extra 30 minutes on a bike.

Really need to sort out some new playlists for this as well.

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Planning my own workouts is the brain stimulation I never knew I needed.

Strong

There was a meme that did the rounds back in late January/early February, which provided you with five images of an apple, from realistic to a white blob with another blob on top. On a scale of 1 to 5, I was asked, what do I see when thinking of an apple when my eyes are closed? Sometimes 1 is possible, mostly it is 2: visualisation is one of the skills I’ve been taught to deal with anxiety, and through yoga.

It makes meditation easier because if things can be placed inside your head, other stuff can be removed. Meditation really kicked off the ability to visualise better, if truth be told. My brain and I have a love/hate relationship on most days but once it was apparent it too can be trained like legs and arms? Everything has become considerably easier all  round. ‘Listening’ to my body has become a really significant tool.

That article above confirms what I’ve been doing for some time.

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When I do a press up, I am thinking about arms and stomach. The arms, obviously, go without saying, but core muscles are incredibly important in not only retaining form but helping me when arms get tired, and they do. The erroneous assumption that it is just legs for running and arms for lifting held me back for close to a year. Everything in your body is inextricably linked to everything else.

Damage your thumb, and see how much you can do without it. Hurt a toe, and everything gets an awful lot harder. The body, as a well-oiled machine, is incredibly robust, and the fixation we all have on certain bits not working is all well and good, to a point. Yoga began the understanding of being able to isolate muscles, and make then work for you. Exercise has managed to reinforce that message.

It’s why, as I type this, I’m holding in my core muscles and squeezing them tight.

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Understanding why things are painful, and appreciating that the pain in my arse this morning is DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and not anything sinister is really important. I worked REALLY hard on Monday and yesterday, as a result, my body needed a rest. Today, however, there will be exercise and lots of it, because I’ve not hurt anything. Your muscles are sore because you literally tore them apart to make them stronger.

I won’t be competing any time soon in anything. However, to keep mentally strong, the physical component of my life has become massively significant, and it is something that matters enormously. Being able to find your own space in a world where people talk like this guy in the video below is an interesting journey in itself. Not everybody is aiming for ‘shredded’ but it’s a useful aspiration to keep in mind.

It is also a entertaining counterpoint as a writer: I’m sure there must be other weightlifting poets out there, and maybe the task moving forward should be to try and seek these people out. Maybe the reason this path is so attractive is that it challenges people to look past my physical makeup and focus on what made that happen. There’s a lot of intellectual consequence still to explore.

That’s gonna be fun.

Walk the Line

Progress is never an easy ask. A lot of the journey is adaptive reasoning: I can work harder, how do I work harder, this works, push here. Undoubtedly strength and body condition are crucial factors. However, when all is said and done, if head says nope, nothing will happen. This isn’t about being shouted at in a class for 45 minutes in the vain hope something will stick.

Last night my husband turned around post session and told me how proud of me he was: the biking exercise being used currently has a sliding scale of difficulty. That means it can be performed at between 90 and 110% of you calculated power. He’d seen me adjust that halfway through last night’s session, assuming I’d gone down. The last 20 minutes were pushed up, not down.

For the first time since starting this there is yellow zone without prompting.

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My sleep’s shot as a result, and it will take some time to get that bit of the equation back to normal, but this daily burst of exercise has effectively replaced walking, which needs to change. I have to go out today, and record it, plus every day going forward. Air pollution should really not be a problem either, the world around here is mandated silence. The only flights left leaving our airport are freight.

Today I need to organise a proper workout too: the weather is a bit pants here at present, so that means inside, with a couple of videos as accompaniment. I have a 12kg kettlebell with which to do some weights too, so there will be some time spent pulling together a single weight workout. Last week I burned as many calories without the Gym as I managed the last full week there was access to one, so effort’s not an issue.

My problem, undoubtedly, is planning.

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It’s not like I don’t have the raw materials at my disposal to make all of this happen either. As with everything else, planning is the key. It is also important I don’t let things like *cough* video games *cough* distract me from the path, which would be pretty easy right now. The hard work needs to be done first, and after that we’ll work on the other, more enjoyable things.

I’m planning to come out of this fitter than I did coming in.

Heads Will Roll

The plan going forward now is simple: starting tomorrow, I’ll be using this platform to talk about anything but the C-Word. The writing blog will be back in April, as will the start proper of all my Patreon content. You can be totally reassured that at no point will I be selling myself based on the pandemic: a very snotty tweet sequence has just been thrown at Masterclass for doing just that. Seriously, no.

I am here for positive mental health and a sense of genuine progression. Technology is there to help, and that means using it in a far more positive manner than has been previously the case. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the negativity, just as it is to pretend nothing bad is happening and carry on regardless. To survive, everything must change. No really, it does, like it or not.

Time to throw away all that ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ merchandise.

Four times this week a static bike has been used. That will be updated to seven days starting tomorrow. Some days will be more effort than others, but for now this is undoubtedly the best way to keep my legs in fighting condition. It elevates the baseline level of exercise from something most days to constant effort. It’s the equivalent of that walk to and from the Gym, or the walk outside that yesterday reduced me to tears.

The endorphin rush can come from anywhere, it doesn’t have to be walking through the forest, and once my brain’s better adjusted to the concepts we now find ourselves living with, it will come back. For now however, it is time to build mental strength and physical resilience, in a time where both matter more than anything else that could possibly be done. That space, to my left, just became the Gym.

Time to make it work for me.

Yesterday’s Men

I was rejected yesterday, twice. Normally, this would have been the cause of much angst and hand-wringing: now there’s simply not enough time to stress about it. I’ve got fingers in so many places that being told I’m not good enough for awards/prizes I could have told you is true is far less of an issue than it ever was previously. I’m never gonna have a fair swing at at least one of these things until there’s a far bigger CV to waft, for starters.

Realism’s a great leveller, when you’re on the right side of it. By that, I mean you can get upset when work is rejected, of course you can, but knowing what you’re currently producing is not consistently good enough to stand beside your peers… Looking back on one group of poems, written back in August, it really is a bit of a wake-up call. So much has changed, for the better, in just over six months.

That thing about practice? It’s so utterly, honestly truthful.

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There’s therefore six poems, sitting to my left, asking to be repurposed elsewhere. I have a whole pile of early poetry to print out this morning, all of which is going to get reworked in April. There’s a lot to be said for having a well-organised collection, and with one of the two days this week I get to work in the Arts Collective in Southend, I will be systematically trawling through my stuff to see what can be recycled going forward.

The other day is the first proper re-write of a series of poems that are incredibly dear to my heart, and which will form the basis of my first self-published work this year. I’ve already scoped out a path with which to produce these, now it’s about getting the work to a stage that I’m happy with. They will be sold in association with Patreon, via the medium of Gumroad. 

I’m already looking forward to the process.

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After that, there’s the redesign to work on, of which more shortly on the writing blog. For now, however, I have two days in Leeds to look forward to, a number of new and interesting places to go take photographs in, and a kids’ 15th Birthday to plan for. It’s all go here, and I’m having to do it all whilst struggling to be able to type properly. All that exercise yesterday has made me ache, rather a lot…

I wouldn’t have it any other way.