Saturday

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I know, instinctively, that the days of not pushing myself are over. The moments when I’d rather just curl up with a duvet and a good book, especially after a poor night’s sleep, are over (at least for now.) Lying awake at 3am this morning, in the midst of a hot flush that was so fierce my skin felt as if it were melting, I remembered the mindfulness practices I am learning and reduced panic to an inhale, exhale, focus on the breath. Amazingly, it worked. There is always this rueful disbelief when something I’ve been taught turns out to not only be helpful, but a revelation.

This week has been a lot of that.

Journeys are not simply getting to your destination: more often than not is the stops along the way that define the final trip. Today, that means sitting in a clubhouse built as Legacy content for the 2012 Olympic Games: a place that is buzzing with life and enthusiasm, where a continuing commitment to sport has become the true significance of events from five years ago. Watching women warm up outside the window, a really decent men’s hockey game on Pitch One below, is the reminder that life happens in ways I forget.

The TV above me is the reminder of a constant backdrop of concerning and often disturbing World news: Brexit, Iran’s missile testing, an escalation of world tensions that then put my existence against an even larger backdrop. Once upon a time all I would have cared about was the stuff that directly affected me. Now I realise that, with 50 years on the clock, the time for such selfishness must be over. The moment has come to try and find ways to give back beyond my personal bubble. How I do that is still very much in flux.

There are starting points, however: the Patreon this week, when I focused on personal development, got more interest than at any point in three months, and I’ve learnt an important lesson in combining academic and individual experience. I’m writing something this weekend to help a friend hopefully resolve a personal issue successfully, grateful I can utilize a skill for good. Then, I am giving back to my husband, which to my shame I should have done a long time ago. He is the kindest and most forgiving of men in that regard, and I am very grateful that there is still the opportunity to do so.

Once upon a time, a Saturday alone would have been my desire, but I’ve spent far too much time alone already. Destiny remains mine to dictate only to a point, and the understanding now that I willfully, for so many years, wouldn’t push myself out of that bubble… it is like looking at someone I no longer know or understand. Most importantly, at 3am this morning, came the final understanding that introspection makes for great poetry, wonderful fuel for fiction, but crap content when I write a blog. The days of blaming myself for things out of my control may finally be coming to an end.

Sometimes I am told I care too much about things that do not matter, in the wider scheme of the planet. When this happened before, my reaction would always be the same: well, it matters to ME and that is all that is really important. Only now do I grasp the truth, that only by stepping back from emotion and truly thinking about WHY things happen can you ever expect to improve as a person. Only after having children has there been the ability to put self aside and truly learn how basic emotional reactions matter, and that you have a direct control over consequence.

Only by being able to accept what is wrong with me have I been able to change.

I’ve officially had enough of introspection. The best work I do however is with that quality at my core and not the periphery. The trick now is to put aside the stuff that doesn’t matter to focus on the people and things who do. Next week is the most important week of my new ‘career,’ where my own actions will effectively make or break a potential stream of revenue. If I’m going to succeed in this venture, I cannot afford to allow myself to lose belief I am able to do so. Sometimes, you instinctively know when you’ve fucked up, and then there are moments when you simply have to trust your gut that this is the right path.

I am on the right path. This is the way forward.

Look Away

Yesterday, something fractured in my head.

I went upstairs into our bedroom and pulled out all the trousers that have been waiting to be tried on, once I’ve lost weight.ย Many of them now fit comfortably for the first time. A couple are never going to be large enough, others are simply too big. The realisation has finally registered that I could be waiting forever to fit into a size or style, or perhaps it is time to just accept what is here and live with the consequences. Therefore, there are four bags of clothes sitting by the front door, which simply won’t ever get worn.ย I was holding onto them out of misguided belief, in the end.

A lot of my life is retained on that principle, and finally there has emerged means of escape.

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I know what triggered this, that the second week of Mindfulness Training has started the process of meditation, and as soon as I quieten my mind to everything else, reality is simply unavoidable.ย I don’t need all these clothes when I live in a small and well-curated subset of one type of apparel. There is no need to keep things ‘in case of X’ when X is never going to happen, and if it did, I’d be better served just going out and buying what was required. I’m beginning to detest the excesses of materialism with a passion that was normally reserved for politics and stupidity. I don’t need anythingย except a notepad and pencil on most days, a basic PC as a luxury. Everything else is dangerous and potentially addictive, when all is said and done.

So, the house is going to lose a phenomenal amount of content and weight at the time of year when one is normally considering the excesses of Christmas and New Year. In fact, I am going to go fully digital for gifts this year with a number of exceptions who’ll get something hand-made and personal to them. I need to start planning now, on reflection, but it won’t be a huge task to get my arse in gear, especially when so much of my ‘old’ life is going out the door in the next couple of weeks. It is true what they say about de-cluttering, how cathartic it is to release from constraints of the past. It is also very comforting to know that deep down I’m beginning to accept what I am for the first time in my life, that there is no need to conform to anyone else’s view of what is right.

I realised when I began the Minimalism course that it had the potential to fundamentally alter what I am, because I had simply been too afraid before to listen to my basic self unhindered. Now that is happening, life is less about worry and anger than it ever was. Self-control is becoming a tool of liberation.

There’s a revelation in itself.

Sweet Talking Woman

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My weight’s been doing odd things over the last few weeks: it is obvious my body’s adjusting to life without a gallbladder a lot better than could have been the case, however. I’ve gone from not keeping anything inside me for very long to my body returning to some semblance of what was normal before the operation. However, on what I thought was a pretty decent low fat and sugar diet before surgery there’s been a slow but noticeable creep up of weight. It isn’t muscle mass either, my lovely set of biometric scales at the Gym indicates this. So yesterday, on PT’s advice, I started scanning and recording what I’m eating using My Fitness Pal and realised exactly where my problem lies.

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Breakfast is already putting me on the back foot. Sure, that might be sub 300 calories, but when my sugar intake is marked at 45g maximum in a day? There I am, having thrown nearly half of it away in one hit. That’s fine however, because breakfast is awesome right now and is probably my favourite meal of the day because of the pomegranate. The problem then comes with what I shove in the rest of the day. What was my favourite protein bar up until I read the labels yesterday delivers more sugar than my 33g chocolate bar snack of choice. It really doesn’t matter how much healthy shit you chuck at me, if I’m getting more sugar as well, there’s something wrong somewhere.

This has meant a reconsideration of what counts for ‘snacks’ in the household.

These two are good staples in my cupboard and I won’t end up out of sugars by lunchtime. I’ll go investigate other brands too, but for now the lovely American protein bars aren’t being restocked. When I closed my food log last night, I found myself thinking that if writing life can be managed more effectively, why can’t the same be true for my eating habits?

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How hard would it be to make yesterday happen another 34 times, exactly? I’ve logged onto My Fitness Pal for 435 fucking days and I’m still struggling with weight, mostly because I won’t log consistently, instead cheating quietly and forgetting the transgressions overnight. No, the biggest problem I have with weight loss is myself. Because I’m exercising there’s this misguided belief that it’s okay, because not being sedentary matters more. Except, in the end, it doesn’t. Making changes requires just that, CHANGE. Stop pretending you’re somehow virtuous because of all the miles, and make the real evolution your body believes it can’t cope with but needs to overcome. Provide reliable energy, long term, and keep your body in a fit state to last the next fifty years.

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Forming habits works for me. It is a solid means of moving forward. The same thing, day after day, and I finally remember that this is part of a larger plan. Now I’ve got large parts of my life sorted using this mantra, let us see if it cannot be applied to the business of sensible eating. 34 days from now is, quite usefully, August 1st. This seems like a nice date to aim for, as it is smack bang in the middle of the Summer Holidays for kids and then gives the rest of that month to consolidate and regroup. So, that’s the plan. My target weight was 11 stone 3 pounds at the start of the year. Let’s aim there, and make it happen.

After all, what’s the worst that can happen?

Run for Home

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Once upon a time, exercise scared me. I’d find reasons not to do it: my knees were bad, I took forever to recover, I couldn’t because I was bleeding. Looking back on the litany of excuses, there is now an understanding of the true root cause. I was afraid. I would get out of breath so easily, people would stare at me, there was no real self-confidence anywhere to allow movement past the issues. However, in the last 14 months, all that has changed. It began with a phenomenal amount of just walking, alone, without focus on anything except myself. Inside that bubble, a lot of disparate thoughts finally began to make sense.

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I understand now the set of circumstances that led to confidence evaporating. Some of it is my fault alone to shoulder, but others have their share of blame to take. Now all of that is settled, comes the process of understanding that if you work for long enough, pain can be managed and overcome. Exercise is its own reward, over time: without it, I’d not have been given the warning signs over my gallbladder until possibly it was too late. However, the overriding positive from making myself do something every day is now beginning to manifest. If you do intensive sessions in the gym or on the road, rest days are indeed vital. However, my body doesn’t work like that. I have one (reasonably) intense PT session for an hour a week, which is now supplemented by two more (of the same duration) where I focus on weight training. For all the other days, there is asthmatic cardio.

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I can’t run continuously (as yet) and the most I’ve ever managed is a kilometre on the treadmill, for timing purposes. What happens right now is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) which is bursts of exercise where I push myself to breathlessness, followed by periods of recovery whilst still moving. This builds stamina, strength and allows my body to learn how to breathe properly, which is almost as important as the effort itself. It also allows me to work out if the things I am eating are being effectively converted into fuel or not, which has been quite the adventure after gallbladder removal.ย Before where I would have relied on quick carbohydrates for an energy burst, more and more it is about packing in more complex carbs before I workout, and supplementing protein rich foods afterwards to ensure muscles build and strengthen.

The biggest change of all has been the sweet cravings: yeah, they still exist, but the frequency and urgency of them has diminished significantly. Whereas before I’d get a need to snack early afternoon, after surgery and with daily exercise, this has simply evaporated. More significantly, the urge to buy ‘rubbish’ has yet to materialise, though I will admit the desire for bread and butter pudding is quite strong right now. That means, this weekend, I’ll attempt to make a version with granary bread and not white, with ingredients I put in and aren’t supplemented by pointless additives and preservatives. At least that way I know exactly what is going into my body.

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Staying on the exercise wagon becomes easier with each day I do something: even if it is only 30 minutes of continuous exercise to get my heart rate up, the key is to make such effort habit-forming and then realise you don’t want to live without it. After that…? Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Wednesday’s ‘Pull’ day of weights: after a month off, I’m almost at the same benchmarks I left behind in May. I feel stronger in arms and trunk than has ever been the case before. Most significant of all however is how I feel afterwards: confident, happy and relaxed. Exercise makes me happy, not simply from the release of endorphins. I am stronger. This alone is worth any amount of effort and discomfort.

My body is a lumpy mess right now: mosquito bites, bruises from cycling, rolls of loose skin and fat that remains stubbornly immoveable. Once upon a time I would have cared about this but now, simply, it doesn’t matter. I have to move through this stage of being uncomfortable in my skin to get to the real goal. Physical appearance is irrelevant, all that matters are the repetitions and the goal, still tantalisingly out of reach but far closer than was ever the case last year. Then I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture, just a weight goal which would somehow make everything better. Now there’s an understanding that exercise doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to the finish line and BANG its all perfect, far from it. To truly understand the real value of fitness, it has to be lived and understood, one day at a time.

This is a journey I am only just beginning.

Breathe

I never finished my Mindfulness course.

Begun what seems like an age ago, in the heat of stress and concern pre-Operation, it has been so long since my last session that the automated e-mails have stopped coming. I feel, especially considering the events of the last few weeks, it might well be worth going back to the start and going from scratch. I learnt so much even from the brief time I had with the materials, which helped enormously during the stress leading up to surgery. As I consider all this, the middle of May seems like a lifetime ago. So much has altered mentally, I can’t easily identify the person prior to all that.

This is a FAR better place to be than the past ever was.

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Planning is going remarkably well this week, despite the number of hours sleep per night dwindling. I managed to hit 12k steps last night too, and (fates allowing) that should keep happening for the forseeable future. Yesterday’s Gym session wasn’t great, but the scales are shifting again so there’s increased motivation to keep going. I can sense a period upcoming of simple dedication to task: if I was riding a bike race, the plan would be to ‘just keep spinning’ making sure my legs didn’t stop, forward movement never arrested. That’s a good metaphor, as it stands: keep walking, running and lifting and eventually, via sheer force of repetition, weight stays off.

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After that, there are plans for many things, but the biggest priority is getting the IoW infrastructure established so that can also become habit in the months that follow. Being a content creator is SRS BNS, after all.

For now, today’s just about making sure I make it to the end with as much done as possible.

The Old Songs :: Four

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I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked Saturday, or indeed Sunday. I woke up full of nerves. Instead of riding to the site (which would have added extra miles to the total) the car was driven back to the Festival, and bikes unpacked. The enormity of what I’d taken on registered as I pinned a number to my chest: 3971. Remember, this isn’t a race. There is no prize except the satisfaction of riding. You’re going to do 25 miles and enjoy the journey.

Hashtag Cycle #eroicabritannia2017 @eroicabritannia

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The first achievement? Not falling off at the start, which was over a nasty set of concrete slabs laid into the starting field. Then came the early ride down a narrow trail, surrounded by other riders… and the previous day’s concern about stability melted away, even allowing me to overtake others. I however failed at the first serious hill and had to walk the bike up, but managed the next one. Most of the problems in that regard are to do with not understanding how my gears work. When I do this next year (and I will) I’ll have an instruction plate strapped to my handlebars to remind me what lever does which thing. I’ll just be the same as a Post it note on my PC screen when I’m learning a new Warcraft boss fight.

I really didn’t take time to look at the scenery much until about 15 miles in, when Mr Alt stopped to help a guy with a puncture. Then I was reminded, for the second time that weekend, just how amazingly beautiful the Peak District is. It is also full of hills that are a pain to get up but, at least for me, more frightening to hurtle down. There are the remains of blisters on both hands as I clung onto brakes for grim death, despite husband’s repeated suggestions I do anything but. I think that might take a bit of getting used to, or the reassurance of a helmet next year. The race does not make helmets compulsory but strongly advises them regardless: many people found inventive ways of disguising theirs in order not to break immersion.

The first comfort stop was at 17 miles, in a beautiful village called Monyash. I’d expected to have to buy our own food, and was surprised when I discovered a lunch provided and free beer for anyone who wanted it. However, the highlight for me was the Brass Band, who played an amazingly eclectic selection of modern music and classics.

After a Cheese and Pickle roll, sausage roll, banana and the most amazing Bakewell Flapjack we were off again. This was the scariest part of the course, where at one point Mr Alt lost his GoPro because terrain was so rocky, and I was forced off my bike to walk… which means I found it and was able to hand the thing back. After that it was plain sailing, with another stop to help inflate a second flat tyre. With the finish in sight I remembered weeks of PT training, and found some energy in my legs to do a sprint finish with the husband, much to the delight of the watching crowd. That, for me, was the most amazing part of it all: after miles I’d not prepared or trained for, legs could still do the extra work.

25 Miles Complete @eroicabritannia #eroicabritannia2017

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I am ridiculously proud of my achievement, but realise it pales into insignificance when placed next to my husband’s: he downgraded from the 100 miles to ride with me. He took time to coach me up hills and to explain how I could ride better. There was no thought to stopping when other people were in mechanical distress, and his extra inner tubes and gas cylinders for quickly refilling tyres were given without thought. Most importantly of all, we crossed the finishing line together.

I still haven’t processed all of this weekend. There’s still so much to grasp in terms of how to improve, what I’d do to make the experience feel more comfortable… and how bike riding needs to become a part of the exercise routine. My legs are covered with scratches and bruises, but heart is stronger than I’ve felt for a very long time. Achievement is a great thing, but matters not one jot if one does not use it as a step upwards to something better. That is the plan: onwards and forever upwards.

The only limiting factor now is my ability to ride a bike.

The Old Songs :: One

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There will now be an unscheduled diversification of content, ahead of me having a weekend away with Mr Alt in the beautiful Peak District. I’m a sucker for Derbyshire: blame Jane Austen for that obsession, but for the next three days all that matters are vintage bikes, dressing up and enjoying what looks like could be a glorious weekend in the heart of quintessential English countryside. It’s Eroica Britannia time, and after the muddy mess of last year, I’ve got the Factor 50 sun cream standing by.

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We’ll be travelling up at lunchtime today, so ‘normal’ service on my other two blogs will be suspended starting shortly, with posts returning Monday morning. My husband, no word of a lie, has been planning this since the start of the year. The three bikes we’re taking (two for him, one for me) are ready: his two have been painstakingly restored, mine (because I’m not racing) is a little less cared for but no less loved. I have costumes for both days, been breaking in my shoes for the past three days. Our hotel is literally next to the High Peak Trail, which runs past the Festival’s front entrance. The only problem I have is that we won’t be driving to and from site, but it’s a bike ride, in a skirt.

Not gonna lie, I’m nervous.

This is the kind of event that Twitter, Instagram and blogging was created to cover: an opportunity to stick you people in my pocket and, for two days, be a part of my life at the Festival. A smart woman would have had flyers printed to advertise the Internet of Words across the weekend but that’s next year’s task, for now I’ll be taking both the mobile and my stand alone camera to pick up as many pictures as is possible. I’ve also gone a bit high tech: as there will be sun, I have a mobile solar charging panel (picked up from last years’ Black Friday Amazon sale) which looks like it could be worth its weight in gold.

I’ll be doing my best to blog extensively about all three days, to share with you some of the vintage stuff I’ve managed to pick up (been saving pennies for a spend) and hopefully give a flavour of an event that was enjoyed immensely last year. It is very, VERY British, however: warning you now, it is a long way away from anything that counts as normal in my existence. However, with the events of the last month still very fresh in the memory, there is a reminder to enjoy life as much as possible and as often as is presented. After all, you never know when your last day will come, and a life lived well is what should always be your default. So, this weekend I’m going to forget about all the bad stuff and go kick back. It’ll still be here when I return, but days away like this are the way I come back stronger and ready to deal with life’s demands.

Packing the bag. #eroicabritannia2017 awaits โœ…

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Now, the next thing to work out is how little I can get away with for two days without gimping my ability to function…