Respect

‘Run’ is a broad term. My times will tell a seasoned runner that, a lot of the time, this is a pseudo jog, or a very fast-paced walk. They know what their splits are, where weaknesses lie. I’m here, right now, trying to breathe from my diaphragm and not pass out. This is about betterment and empowerment in ten second improvements. However, in the next week we’re gonna open the throttle a bit and see what we can do.

My best 5km is 46:27. I reckon 30 seconds off that’s doable on this new course I have organized for myself. So, the first part of this is a sub 46 minute result. The second set is endurance and practising active recovery over distance. That means seeing if 15km is doable tomorrow. It should be, with a route pre-planned. Gonna be the warmest day of the year so far as well, so…

Only one way to find out.

Justified and Ancient

Yesterday, with minimal fanfare, The KLF released their most famous songs onto streaming services and YouTube. No longer will I have to keep Apple Music well away from my MP3’s and, finally there are versions of classics on an OFFICIAL KLF YouTube Channel…

Of course, there’s a shedtonne of fan-based stuff all over everywhere for these boys and their output, which was the definition of Proper Bonkers back in the day. I’m not going to spoil any of it for you but seriously, go read a biography or two of their lifespan and what they’ve achieved as performance artists, because legitimately being able to burn a million quid without compunction is worth the admission price alone.

Yesterday I also started an exercise plan that will see me record something for the entire 365 days of the year. Most of this is likely to be on a static bike, but until Gyms are open in my area again (which at this rate, let’s face it, could be May) there does need to be an upper body component that’s self-generated. 30 push-ups a day is now academic in groups of 10, now I need to be able to do them without a break. That’s the next task on the list, after which we’ll add some. Right now however, I am genuinely feeling the upper body workout from yesterday, which says to me that Good Work [TM] was done overall.

Also, I have streaks going in various places. It’s time to try and be on the giant wrecking ball with a single finger aloft, as opposed to being hit by it.

We have totally got this.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

50 Words for Snow

This weekend was always planned to be off the exercise grid. I’ve worked stupidly hard across the last couple of months, and really need to reorganise my exercise plans. Therefore, this afternoon, there’s a calendar that’s been completed.

Rest is becoming the most important part of my planning. Having put that into my calendar first, twice a week, makes fitting the rest of my work around it easy. I also want to add more bike into the schedule, to start training with my husband who’s now back to full fitness after his operation. Eleven days in December’s a decent figure to aim for in terms of attainment, and makes for a solid foundation to build on in January.

After that, there’s a lot of psychology at play which needs to be addressed.

This article is an absolute corker: so much so I’ve copied the thirteen headers into a list and stuck them on the wall as reminders. Number 6 might be the most important one of all: avoid making judgements about your day first thing in the morning. This is so utterly true for so many things, not just exercise. I can remember a lot of days that went south because of me making a dumb decision before the first caffeine had kicked in.

Using this as a basis, I can make a strong effort to beat my monthly exercise total for October. There’s also the matter of becoming Gold status on the MyZone belt once the minimum number of MEPs is reached, which should be some time in the first ten days of next month. It doesn’t matter how they happen, just as long as they do, and that’s really not ever going to be a problem.

I’ll see you next week for an update.

Happy

When I began my exercise journey, there were blog posts about it. In fact, if you go search my archive, you’ll find them. Things were considerably simpler back then, which seems quite bizarre right now to say, considering how much fear was felt. A great deal has changed in that intervening couple of years, not just my attitude towards working hard. The most significant change however is an ability to pull feelings from head to page without their inherent substance altering.

Let us begin this new venture therefore by looking at my year thus far using only the monitoring tools at my disposal.

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The Fitbit on my wrist has been on there for 51 of 52 weeks: there’s a small gap at the end of December when the Christmas present failed and needed replacement. That graph tells you when I was ill this year (March and August) and despite its monitoring shortfalls, is a pretty decent record of how hard I’ve worked. Since switching to a heart monitor, the actual scope of effort’s been far better recorded.

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For a time, this Fitbit became no more than a glorified pedometer. Using a heart rate belt for every piece of organised exercise is great for effort, but doesn’t recognise all the times my belt isn’t on. Therefore the concept of Active Minutes is gaining more prominence, especially on days when I’m not on a treadmill or lifting weights. This week’s benchmark therefore is 316 active minutes in the first four days of work. Once we have a seven day total, that’s going to guide thinking going forward.

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Then, there’s that ever-elusive Red Zone in my exercise classes. I tried on Thursday after Wednesday’s success but didn’t get close: it wasn’t a mental issue. I was just fucked. The best chance that exists to pull red minutes is when a) the workout is geared towards things I can get my heart-rate up for or b) I cheat. Wednesday night, that’s what I did. I just ran for 4 minutes and BOOM there I am.

Going forward therefore, it might be time to reassess some goals.

If weight loss is my key, this is probably the moment to start reassessing what my basal metabolic rate is being fuelled by. I don’t like using MyFitnessPal to keep a calorie goal but if I wanna get the weight to vanish, it might be the moment. All those people who tell me that knowledge is power aren’t having to fight nearly as many internal demons as me either, I’d wager. There’ll still be the occasional slice of cake. I’m not an idiot.

Learning to form good habits is one of the things I’ve been subconsciously doing for months. These are the kind of positive steps that need to be implemented as we head towards Christmas… and that’s why there’s a header for these posts. Once a week, on a Saturday, we’ll go through the week’s exercise and look where we are. Yes, there may even be a Bridget Jones’ style weigh in.

It gives me the chance to talk about other stuff in the week than getting fit.

Running on Ice

Okay then, time to be honest.

We are reaching a crossroads in the training regime. I used to kid myself I’d go and ‘run’ at the Gym, but actually it was all HIIT work, no more than 500 meters at a time. Then Blaze came along and suddenly I was forced to run for 3 minutes at a time without a break. That forced a rethink. So now, I try and run a KM at a time, with a break. This is proving quite hard.

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The red line there is my heart-rate, which sat steadfastly in the amber zone when flat out and does not appear to be capable of hitting red which is absolutely fine because honestly, I would have hurled. That, today was 1km on, 1km off, and me getting to 800 meters before my lungs pretty much told me to fuck off. I’m not sure how this gets broken, to be honest, other than exhaustion, recovery and then the same again. Building stamina is hateful. Yet, undoubtedly, something has begun to change.

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I’ve booked a second Blaze class. Not gonna lie, it is because the teacher made me feel really comfortable, and there’s a definite positive to having someone else teach me other than my PT. My membership supports this so frankly, it’s time to get my money’s worth. If it all works out next week, I’ll reorganise January’s exercise around the change. What needs to happen is more pushing, and less slacking, though considering the number of hours I now do, maybe a bit of slacking can go on over Christmas without getting too stressed.

We’ll have an overview at the end of December, i think.

The Comfort of Strangers

This article appeared at an apposite moment this morning, after a night of Blaze which was, for the first time, questioned as being worthwhile.

I went to Blaze without any kind of body monitoring: Fitbit was left at home, no heart rate belt was borrowed. The freedom this gave was, it must be said, quite considerable, and that’s the first point to make. This class’ main selling point is showing you  EXACTLY how much work you’ve done. I’ve monitored my exercise via heart rate monitors for seven years in January. SEVEN YEARS. I don’t need to know sometimes. It’s just more liberating not having the silent judgement there as an ever-present, waggling finger. If I am only in competition with myself, last night giving my mind a night off was a very sound idea.

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The second point is the notion of ‘enjoyment’: my husband asked last night if the class was fun. No, it wasn’t. I was so tired at the end everything hurt, struggled doing every exercise and even the running/jogging was, quite frankly, horrendous. At the end all that was wanted was sleep, and I couldn’t, because brain frankly refused to ramp down from the stress that was generated. However, this time around, that manifested far less externally and considerably more internally.

So, why bother if this is the result? Well, there’s been an important realisation overnight, meaning I am glad that the effort was made. This isn’t about the exercise, or the heart rate recording, or indeed around the other people that are taking part. Last night’s class was only seven people, and even with the reduction in numbers there was no change in the level of internal panic. This really is about how my brain processes information, and the translation of that into action.

My stress generates from what I’m being asked to do.

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I’ve been taught by three people thus far, all of whom have been informed in advance  about my comprehension issues. They all have been faultless in not only support but encouragement, but all of this is irrelevant. My frustration is the translation of what is seen into what needs to be done, and that it takes so much mental effort to transform that into the associated physical actions. So, this week in Blaze class I learnt that enjoyment may never ever happen if brain takes everything as an exercise in accuracy and perfection.

The biggest problem, it appears, is trying to achieve what subconscious considers as perfect.

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I’m booked for next week, and in the intervening period there’ll be some thought given to how enjoyment can be obtained, or whether it is in fact obtainable at all. The amount I have learnt since this journey was begun has far exceeded expectation, and makes a push out of the comfort zones more than worthwhile. Maybe if this were a younger me there could be the thought of being less harsh on myself… Life has become worth living thanks to the constant reminders just how miserable I was in the days when nothing was ever done that was frightening.

I was the problem, back then. Sure, there’s lots of other stuff that can be blamed, but ultimately had I know realised that it was up to me? We’d not be here at all. So, when you are capable of not only accepting shortcomings, but prepared to push past them… that’s what has to happen. Eventually, if the time is taken to listen to your own mind and soul, there are solutions.

The biggest problem of all, of course, is explaining this rationally to other people.