The Race

When my husband caught Covid in December, the last thing I could think of was exercise, and yet, at the close of 2020, I’d managed an achievement that would have been unthinkable before. There’s still a part of my brain that isn’t sure how it happened either, just that it did. Without Dave, I’d have never cycled at all: a lot of my fitness inspiration has come from his deeds on a bike. He’s completed every Ride London since inception, after all. This year, despite that event’s cancellation, he managed a ridiculous number of miles before being laid up sick. There was then an understandable determination to finish the year with the Rapha #Festive500, a suitable single-finger to both sickness and the pandemic generally.

So, I decided to support him. Had there not been the option to participate virtually in an official capacity, I would have done the work regardless, on reflection. Looking at the opposition to this decision on the Official Strava page, an important realization was made. Lots of people believe that the only way you ‘win’ properly is their way, any deviation from a certain world view, a precise method of completing certain tasks is met with anger, disappointment and ultimately entitlement. It transpires that 2020 really was the year when lots of people grasped that their version of reality isn’t actually the whole truth, it’s just a facsimile. My decision to read more about philosophy in 2021 was a sound decision as a result.

However, we had to get there first.

The furthest I’ve ever cycled anywhere, regardless of static or normal bike, was the London to Southend route, which is 52 miles, so it was decided that at least one day would include 100 km (62.14 miles) to beat that. I’ve used Zwift since forever as my static training bike programme of choice, and so started there on Christmas Eve with a gentle 68 km. It’s odd how your self-image slowly begins to alter when every day starts with a challenge: for me, it has never just been the physical that’s held back progress. Having raised nearly £2000 for mental health charities over the last four years through various fundraisers, the understanding that mental toughness is as important as leg strength is not lost on me.

My mental health journey has been particularly tough this year: anxiety I thought was under control was crippling during March and April, and for the first time in probably a decade, depression returned with a vengeance. Exercise literally kept me capable of functioning as an adult, and without it, I shudder to think what kind of person I might have become. Static cycling, as a result, has become a vital part of my coping mechanism, and to those who think that 100 km on a bike in a garden shed is somehow less worthy or significant than being out on a road? You clearly aren’t living where I do, and you’re clearly far stronger than I am. Your validation, however, is not required to keep me moving forward.

Taking a grip on your newly-precieved goals is incredibly empowering. Understanding that your strength and power have improved, that doing this kind of exercise daily is possible and needs to become a constant, that the rest of your life can easily accommodate the changes… all of this has undoubtedly improved my personal outlook. Add to that the exhaustion of a week so full on during a period of traditional excess and… well, the Universe, my personal miniscule portion thereof has undoubtedly become a little brighter and more vital. Most significantly of all, the time to think without having to worry about traffic or weather or other people… some people don’t like to be left alone with their thoughts.

May I never, ever, become some people.

Building mental toughness as an athlete is a hard ask. Other people’s mantras become your own, digging deeper past fatigue and discomfort plus the general feeling of I just want to stay in bed brings benefits that… well, writing this for starters would have been impossible. I am not a fan of people’s lives being used as lifestyle choices, for starters. Over the years I have flirted with the idea of becoming that kind of person. Except, in the end, it is always apparent that there is no one, hard and fast answer. All the video and targetted social media content in the world didn’t change me. None of that inspirational stuff mattered at all.

It was the love for my husband and the need to help him feel better that did all this, and nothing more.

I grew tired over 2020 of the reality other people presented me. There were so many of them, and so much of the point to their significance was that I was the one in control, that power remained mine to wield and direct as it appeared fit to do so. Deep down, all of this is of course my doing. My strength and ability was never the issue here. I’ve not written all this as some kind of demonstration of how to achieve anything you want without effort, because that’s just rubbish. Doing this is really, really difficult, and it takes a phenomenal amount of emotional and physical energy to complete.

The reason why all of this is written down is twofold: I never properly thank my husband for what he does for me, how his strength and good humour has supported me and kept me sane. This therefore is for him, as proof his love and care has properly altered the person that I was into this new, better person. Most importantly, this is to the people who think anger and narrow-mindedness over what constitutes ‘proper’ exercise is the correct response when things change for the better. Without virtual exercise, and its proper recognition in the wider world of competitive sport, many people like me would have been lost this year, maybe for good.

Sometimes, it is about the journey, but occasionally having considered change at all is the real achievement.

Good with my Hands

I’m behind on some things but ahead with others, and to fix everything is a case of concentrating for a bit and moving forward. Some stuff I am still in the habit-forming period of existence, others were just not summat I’ve wanted to do, particularly. Patreon is keeping up to date, which is what matters most.

Video, as it happens, is going extraordinarily well. Gonna redo my Patreon introduction as a result of a tech development today. Should have another video poem finished for Friday. Honestly, all going GREAT, but the best thing of all undoubtedly is exercise. I am now exceeding 2018 levels of fitness. More importantly, Strava is doing good work at reminding me :D

Nine days ago I was beginning to push at 2018 levels. Last night, when I tried and took 46 SECONDS off my personal best… Yeah, there’s a change. I’m gonna keep working at it. Protein shakes are really helping. Muscle mass is on the way up. I got off the bike and felt stronger than has been the case for a LONG time.

More news as it happens.

Look Up

Callouses are BACK on my hands, and I can wallow in the understanding, sitting here recovering, just how much I FUCKING LOVE WEIGHTLIFTING. Cycling can’t get close to the endorphin high, plus I can show off just how much work really was done during Lockdown (a lot, lets be honest). If there were money available, I’d find a way to build a weights bench into the house. Lifting is GREAT.

It isn’t about looking ‘a certain way’ either, this is just the means by which the whole of my body turns up and works together. It is a miracle cure for so much else too, not just because of the chemical processes at play. Also, I have REALLY missed my trainer, and realise with a somewhat heavy heart the only reason I was doing classes was for the interaction.

Exercise classes are now no longer what I want to be doing.

Yesterday gave me one important fictional realization too: this vanity project is gonna need a quite serious unpick and rewrite. That would previously have sent me scurrying away in fear but not now: it’s almost a requirement to do so, because the story’s evolving too. I have grown up stuff to do today but will be scheduling more time to attack this as the month goes on.

What was most stressful was the fact I could not easily write down what was needed when the moment came. The brain/page interface for fiction has altered, no doubt as a result of the acceptance of poetry as a workable alternative. It doesn’t help that I’m pretty tired after a week of hot weather and variable sleep, but I can guarantee I’ll sleep tonight. Heavy lifting will see to that.

Starting next week, many things must be rewritten…

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 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. 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.

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.

sst_med

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

Fire Escape

I never used to be that social, but in the last three years a Saturday Gym visit has become hugely beneficial. Even if I never talked to anyone, feeling part of a productive whole had advantages. Yesterday afternoon, working out in the garden whilst my husband used the static bikes in our shed, that feeling returned. Being with others makes that exertion easier. It makes the process of pushing yourself become that much simpler.

The lovely lass I do personal training with once a week joked with me that she could never see a day that the Gym would shut. She sends me messages every few days, making sure I am okay, and today there was an undeniable hint of desperation in the messages. If all the people she trains are forced to do so alone, who will need trainers once this is all over? I’ve missed her company terribly, I’ll happily admit.

You don’t get rid of me that easily :D

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There will be a lot of adjustment going forward, it occurs to me, and not just in the obvious areas where social contact was a given. Listening on the radio to which sportsmen can still exercise at home and those who require special equipment with thich to operate is a consequence of this I am very aware of. I already miss the bench press terribly: if there were money, I’d actually ask to have weights equipment right now.

Instead, body weight exercises will have to do. Legs are undoubtedly feeling stronger: I have switched up my exercise routine to push a bit harder for the next week, and we’ll see how things pan out. There’s enough upper body and core workouts online now to keep me going indefinitely, so today I’m gonna stick with my daily minimum and nothing more.

Tomorrow, stuff will get a bit more serious.

Musclebound

Week One of February is already done. I’m already behind in writing terms, but this weekend grants a useful opportunity to make up the shortfall. Next weekend I’m in a forest, and realistically what needs to happen then is lots of photography and very few words. Between now and then, THERE ARE GOALS to think about.

rodeo

Realistic achievement is pretty much vital to my mental health progress: planning ahead allows a measure of flexibility, but also allows my brain to sensibly grasp what is possible in a timeframe. Having winged it through January, a lot of good came from those moments when I said ‘fuck it’ and just did something, but to build on those moments, realistically, Stuff needs to be focused on.

So, I made a list of where I fall short, and it reads roughly like this:

  • My left hip/leg is not as strong as my right, and there needs to be a way to build them both that’s not overly complicated;
  • Stamina is still a problem. This will only come with more time breathing and exercising without a break:
  • I need to go back to strength training, but at the same time not forget the importance of cardio,
  • Flexibility is becoming a REAL issue as time goes on.

Therefore, my Goals for the month were created with these four issues in mind.

realistic_goals

Cycling will fix the hip. I have dropped from an FTP of 148 (when I was peak training for Ride London) to a rather sad 114 but it is what it is. I’ll Ramp Test again in March after I’ve had a few weeks of hour long sessions and my hip decides it is ready for harder work. The Sunday 5k’s will help with stamina and again, making both legs work equally, and two Blaze sessions a week give the cardio equal billing with strength.

Tomorrow’s run will also include some weights for the first time in a while, and as I’m giving blood on Monday that’s a) no PT and b) no exercise AT ALL that day. It’ll be a lot of walking next week, and resistance work, and we’ll use Thursday’s double header of Synergy and Blaze to test whether my dietary changes really have made a difference to how body recovers from donation.

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Having a plan makes life an awful lot easier overall, allowing me to then fit everything else around the exercise. Making realistic goals for achievement also gives a sense of satisfaction, and the groundwork on which to build consistency across each month. It is becoming the backbone of a routine that makes me happier, more awake and far more capable of coping when trauma and/or anxiety take over.

This, effectively, has transformed my life for the better.

Different Class

I am behind, but only notionally. It’s an indicator of progression that I realised this yesterday and have therefore made today a stay at home one, with all the stuff that needs to be done ‘outside’ tackled tomorrow. Assuming I can edit this pamphlet submission to my liking and have that plus another piece ready for husband to look at this evening, everything else is eminently completable.

Much has improved this month, and undoubtedly exercise is at least in part responsible. However, there is a downside, which doesn’t matter so much now when I’m busy, but will really begin to bite when I’m not. After all, part of the wider plan last year was to drag my sorry arse out and become more sociable. It was working very well too, right up until yesterday when everybody appears to have decided they’ve had enough.

I can’t make anyone else like exercise as much as I do right now, that’s not how this works. I also get that these people have lives which are not comparable to mine. Trying to fit everything in becomes an increasingly precarious ask, and as a result it might be time at the end of the month to rethink my exercise position in terms of what is done where. I may well go down to two classes a week instead of three.

The rest therefore can be done on a bike, in the mornings instead of evenings. It occurs to me I need to set a notional goal for February as has been the case in January, and it might be a plan to do so now rather than panic and scrabble about to do so the week before, especially as classes are organised so far in advance. In fact, whilst I’m having that crucial third cuppa, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Time to move exercise to the next level.

Run for Home

I’ll be ditching my Fitbit over Christmas, because no Google, not happening. Instead, I’ll be picking up a Garmin watch. I’ve been doing some research on what the new system brings me, and it’s already getting me quite excited.

Last night’s Blaze was also a triumph, despite the fact my mouth’s still fucking painful. When I’m told to run at 8/10 for three minutes and not go balls out, a part of my brain quietly celebrates. The irony of course was that I was the only person doing what was asked of them last night. Everybody else struggled. Regulation has become my real, abiding strength.

Yesterday’s workout was also notable for another reason.

171219

Yes, I ceased to exist at 8.05 :D That drop out is why I’m in blue at 7.44 too: my belt is not happy holding charge right now. It could also be the belt, after a year of use, that’s not optimal, it may be time to investigate that as a possible reason. Despite this, that’s a 77% effort score, closer to 8/10 than seven. Nine minutes of aerobic threshold run was, it must be said, the most satisfying part of all.

It makes me want to now run in three minute bursts, with active recovery in between, to see how long I can go. That’s certainly a game plan going forward. It’s not running at particularly high speed either, just 7 kph. It is why cycling has such massive potential for stamina training too: being able to keep going, for long periods at a time, is massively helpful. Except always, ultimately, I am at a disadvantage.

Lung capacity is the intractable that must be managed.

hatethisplace

There is nothing that can be done about the shortcomings of my body. There’s no way to undo the damage of pneumonia and poor lung function. All I can hope is to maintain a certain level of fitness, and hope that is enough to allow an increase in both strength and capacity. It would help if I could find a peak flow meter to check whether anything has improved on that front since September.

Never tidy anything up, kids.