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. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Exercise is bloody hard work. Believing that simply taking protein supplements is going to give you a body like The Rock’s is, like it or not, living a massive delusion. I have to admit, the implication that under 30’s would believe this feels pretty insulting, and without any kind of hard facts that prove the point, the bigger issue is teaching better nutritional awareness. Protein shakes have their benefits: my husband’s using them to very good effect currently as a way to maintain weight, in tandem with what is a stupidly healthy diet prior to another bike race on Sunday. They can be incredibly useful to kick-start weight loss too. The article that started all this talks about what an average body requires to stay healthy in terms of protein: no two bodies are alike, and if you don’t sit behind a desk every day the number of calories needed will vary.

Mostly, the press can only ever talk about health issues in general terms. Studies and reports increasingly are taken out of context to highlight particular issues, headlines created as clickbait. It is quite rare to be presented a whole truth in reporting: like it or not, that doesn’t make for very engaging content. History reminds us however that promising people better bodies using advertising is hardly anything new. This kind of ‘persuasion’ has been going on as long as newspapers have needed advertising: this isn’t about buying anyone into the idea of supplements or aids either, it is convincing the gullible that their physique is flawed. In the modern world, obsessed now with body image in all its various forms, that is probably more concerning that handing over money to companies for anything that could be considered largely pointless if you just amend your diet and exercise more.

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I was asked at the weekend why I’d started weight training by a total stranger. The answer is twofold: it has always been something I wanted to do, because I equate strength with physical fitness. Body image is largely irrelevant, but keeping asthma in check is far more important: I can have a direct and positive effect on managing an illness which, as a child, meant exercise was off the cards… except, now I find myself wondering what might have been different if my parents had encouraged that urge and not suppressed it. I’ll never know, of course, but now I’m in a position where breathing difficulties are the exception due to my own hard work. The sense of satisfaction and achievement that gives is beyond significant.

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The irony for me is that my stomach refuses to process either protein shakes or gels: I can swallow them but they’ll be straight back up in short order. If I want to lose weight and build muscle, it’s good old fashioned food groups: chicken, lean meat and white fish, flapjacks and nuts, or protein bars at a stretch. On days like this when the sugar craving is strong, that can be a hard ask, but my brain’s spent over a year grasping the undeniable truth that you really are what you eat. If protein shakes help people be healthy, honestly, what’s wrong with them? In 40 years, if Global Warming has its way, we could all be eating proteins in powder form anyway. There’s an assumption only one real way exists to be healthy, and that’s simply not true. Sure, you can eat cake and drink coffee but if that’s your life without exercise, it’s as bad in its own way as never eating a ‘healthy’ meal. The key here is not one thing or the other in excess, but balance.

The truth about health is never hard and fast. Reality, as always, depends on the individual deciding to make a change, and then sticking with it. There are many success stories, but for every miracle weight loss or transformation there are the many who can never make it past the scales or the next meal. Like so much else in life, change must be yours to instigate. If you want something enough, it will happen. For myself, I can attest that a healthier lifestyle has transformed my life at 50, but that is only part of a far larger and more complex set of circumstances. Knowing that, I’ll never discourage anyone wanting to start the journey, but it has to be on your own terms.

Decide what you want, and then make a plan to get there in the healthiest manner for you.

Changes

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I’d considered changing my icon for the site in anticipation of the IoW event, but on reflection the flowers are quite joyous. The simplicity of this layout is what I need right now, when everything else around will have formal structures and planning. There is not enough of that in my life, I realise. That’s why last night, without husband (working) and kids (at Grans) I struggled to know what to do other than work. There’s still quite a lot of personal change to instigate.

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I don’t do relaxation: procrastination yes and definitely laziness, but finding ways to unwind still elude. I’ve been meaning for months to create some new playlists on my phone, for instance, and there never seems to be the right moment to sit and make it happen. Maybe now I’ve written that down it will happen, after all, I’ve had a fairly productive week. I also managed to sort out a mistake that wasn’t my fault and had some fairly drastic consequences, and now all is well with the World. I am SuperMum again.

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Once I’m done here it’s time to leave Husband sleeping in (as he got back from an 18 hour day after midnight) and go do a Hard Bastard Session at the Gym. I managed 11/12 hours active yesterday again, and fully intend to make it 12/12 today, plus extra steps on top. The changes to digestion are a pain, I won’t lie, but it isn’t anything I can’t work around long term. It would help, of course, if it wasn’t so bloody hot right now and I sweated less when I exercised, but you can’t have everything.

Let’s get on with the day.

Half a Minute

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Nobody said getting back to full fitness was going to be easy, but thus far my return to the life I had before the operation is going remarkably well. Yesterday, for instance, there was actual running at the Gym. It wasn’t for long, but it happened, and gave an idea of how much power I have in my legs right now (which is not enough, it must be said.) However, as I’m determined to give my umbilical hernia a full month to heal, there cannot be leg presses or anything that might put undue pressure on the lower abdomen. I am forced to improvise, and that’s perfectly fine.

Even when I’m not able to get to somewhere to exercise, there is the opportunity to move myself regardless. For instance I am stuck at home right now waiting for a delivery, but have made sure that, between chores and working on back end stuff for the websites, I’ve got out of the chair and made 250 steps happen. My watch helpfully buzzes if the total’s not done 50 minutes into the hour, pushing the mind to get body moving. In effect, this is the most useful my Fitbit has ever been. It is, in effect, acting as conscience. It works too, and I’m now thinking about how to make sure my 12k is completed regardless of whether I can fit in a Gym visit or not.

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Tomorrow will be Full Bastard Push day, after a decent night’s kip, but I am hoping to get some time in this afternoon once I’m released from being stuck at home. Whatever happens, 36 push ups happen every day, because that’s something that doesn’t need anything except a floor to complete, and it works really well on strengthening core muscles that will help me make sure the hernia doesn’t reoccur. Plus, I’m getting pretty good at them.

The ‘Jungle Gym’ in the centre of my workout space has these special bands, which come in two strengths. Attaching one end to an upright, they effectively take a portion of your body weight, allowing a focus more on technique. It allows me to feel a lot more confident than is sometimes the case when I’m doing press ups at home, but if I stick to engaging core muscles, even these are infinitely better than how I began. In fact, I can now complete 36 and feel stronger coming out than I do going in. It also helps that a lot of issues that I was having with shoulder and back muscles appear to have had nothing at all to do with weight training, and may well have been connected to my inflamed gallbladder instead.

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Right now, there’s also some concerns as my weight is drifting up. Apparently this is completely normal as my digestive system is readjusting to not having the Gallbladder as a digestion aid. I’d like to just get to my target weight and if that means not celebrating with cake, then so be it. It is time to knuckle down and get back on the healthy trail.


Fact of the Day

I’ve run a number of fan sites in my time, right back from when the Internet was young. These include tributes to The West Wing, 24 and Six Feet Under. For a while, I also made a living running a fan site that evolved into the official site for a BBC1 Sci-Fi fantasy show… :D

Get The Balance Right

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In an hour, I’ll be off to do my first PT session since the operation. It hasn’t been two weeks since Surgery either, which seems strange, because that time feels like it was forever ago. Yesterday at the Gym there was another 12k, some fatigue but more progress than I can remember for a while: press ups are doable with minimal pain, there could have been running but I simply chose not to. All the work before, efforts towards overall fitness have paid their own reward. Now, there are faint graspings that surgery may have done more than simply allow me to eat what I want. Working yesterday, I feel more balanced.

This is difficult to try and explain, but the whole of my body is more centred. This could be due to the umbilical hernia that was separating stomach muscles, or the amount of work this body generally had accommodated with an internal organ being damaged. Now I am fixed and without a major form of stress, everything just became easier. If this were simply a psychological change there would be no point to mentioning all of this, but looking at body in profile this morning, my core is stronger than can be remembered for quite some time.

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There was a weigh in before I was operated on, and as soon as this is written comes the walk down to the Gym to do the same, two weeks on. In the interests of full disclosure, here’s where we were:

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I’m fairly confident weight will be down, but by how much I couldn’t tell you. The bigger issue is how much muscle mass has been lost from about 10 days of no activity, and how that can now be restored without using weight lifting as its core. That’s in the hands of a PT who I think I’d probably trust now with my life. Her ability to cope with the last month has been beyond impressive, and there is no doubt that my rehabilitation will not only be painless but also an education.

In fact, I should stop typing now and get ready to leave.


Fact of the Day

I once presented a fan award to the creator and writer of Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski, who was very lovely about the whole thing and gave a very decent speech. That was also the same Convention I dressed as Emma Peel from the Avengers… ^^

Deliver Me

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This week’s turning out to be quite the significant landmark. At 8 am I arrived at the location for a well-known reality TV show to begin a two hour health MOT, conducted with a nurse and a doctor, which involved me sitting on a static bike with a breathing tube in my mouth, plus a selection of other exercises and tests. The plan was to see how much better my health has become in the five years since the last time this kind of thing was conducted. The results, quite frankly, blew my mind.

That number, believe me, is a revelation. It puts me in the top 10% of people in my age group for fitness. Everything has improved since my last visit, the only exception being a slightly elevated cholesterol rate, but it is hardly cause for concern. I apparently have a stupidly relaxed resting heart rate and an incredibly efficient system for converting fat to muscle (which I already knew, but is lovely to have confirmed.) My grip, which I thought was average at best is apparently beyond good and into amazing. Mostly, what the two hours this morning did was confirm that yes, it is possible to get healthy from a standing start. If you make the effort and put in the hours, it can change your entire body for the better.

The only cloud on the horizon is my gall bladder, but the scan for this is tomorrow and assuming that everything is clear, I can stop pussy-footing about and get back to Hard Bastard Training. In fact, I suspect I’ll now have no excuse to avoid doing a Tough Mudder type challenge later in the year, which my husband got roped into by someone at work and was afraid of completing alone. I’m hoping to get working on the monkey bar traverse next week, which is my next major obstacle to overcome. Right now, I’m looking forward to everything that is going to be thrown at me, because I suspect exercise shit just got very real indeed.

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The biggest surprise is now being told to eat more each day to cover daily body maintenance. Because of my current level of exercise, I’m simply not taking in enough calories to maintain basic bodily function, which I have to admit explains a fair few things about levels of fatigue. There’s a couple of other issues to take care of too, but mostly I’m celebrating the fact that I have done what I set out to do, in almost exactly a year. Now I’m here, of course, I have to remain long term and not go backwards, and that’s always been the part of the equation that’s never been managed.

I can do this. I know I can. Here’s to the next year’s worth of progress.

Running in the Family

I’ve not done Fitbit stats for a while, and there’s a reason I realised last night, looking at the numbers. Once upon a time, I was all about the steps. If I’d not done 12k a day I was somehow a failure. However last week, I only managed that total once in a week which was a triumph of hard work and genuine progression. To show you how well I did, I had to annotate a wee bit, which I hope you will forgive:

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Once upon a time, all I did was walk and use an elliptical trainer. Now, I have two 45 minute sessions of intense, sweat breaking Yoga, two focussed weightlifting sessions a week with a 30 minute brisk walk/run session built in and a day where I do just that on a treadmill and nothing else… and on Monday I have an hour of PT. Basically six days a week there is at least half an hour of exercise somewhere… and I would have exercised yesterday, had it not been Mother’s Day and I decided to take a rest. Even then I didn’t sit back and do nothing, or indeed even have a lie-in. I’m absolutely not the same person I was a year ago, and I really couldn’t be happier at the change.

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It isn’t just a mindset adjustment either: I’m simply more comfortable when there’s exercise happening. A lot of this is, I know, due to the endorphins that this creates, that I’m naturally happier when being active. However, there’s the confidence factor to build into all this: being able to Chaturanga Dandasana with intent, as I mentioned last week, was a massive step forward. What now needs to happen is for me to start using my Fitbit to better record what I’m doing, so that I can apply this to understanding what can be improved long term in training. I’ve had the thing since Christmas and it remains no more than a glorified pedometer. This morning therefore I’ve been looking at how that changes.

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The Blaze has a function to record activity paired with heart-rate: this is useful when I use it to give an idea of how hard I’m working, and to ensure I’m doing so and burning fat whilst I do, as weight loss is what I’d like above everything else. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is the current goal to combine that with building muscle mass, and I’ve got some lovely graphs to demonstrate just that:

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Ideally all my exercise should now be like this: never going back to resting heartbeat, always working body and lungs. It was INCREDIBLY difficult as an asthmatic to do this when I began, but my fitness levels now mean I can maintain the up and down for a while. I don’t do this every day either, and there is now no need to. The balance of exercise types for me is perfect, and the yoga last week is the final piece of a puzzle I’ve been looking for. It means I drop off my daughter, come home and do 45 minutes of physical activity which focusses on mindfulness as well as the physical.

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I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the Mindfulness course has contributed significantly to my ability to push past the ‘I’m too tired, I won’t bother’ aspects of physical exercise that have been holding me back. Being able to imagine my body better and therefore feel how muscles are moving ad stretching has bought a completely new awareness to Yoga that simply did not exist before. The quiet determination therefore to build on these practices and to further develop the skills of stretching muscles is being balanced with learning how to not overstretch when weight training and to maintain good technique.

Really, I could not be happier right now with where I am in terms of progress. I’ll be packing my Gym bag now to walk for my weekly PT, and am looking forward to whatever I have in store.