Hot Stuff

I need a weights-themed header. I’ll get on that.

The last time, up until this time last week, that I’d done an organised exercise class was shortly after the birth of the eldest. That was eighteen years ago. My local health emporium has recently trashed the two squash courts adjacent to their Gym facilities and built a room in which, I now discover, a peculiar form of torture takes place. Blaze, as the lovely promotional video indicates, is a particularly viscous combination of running, weights and hitting stuff. All this is done with an element of theatre and some quite loud dance music accompaniment.

To support my current PT (whose job going forward will be to run a weekly class) there was a promise to at least try a session. It was, without a doubt, one of the most frightening things I’ve ever done. After thirty three minutes came the first total sensory overload experienced since the ASD diagnosis in June, and I almost ran out of the room. Only then did I realise that you’re locked in, presumably as a means of protecting the rather expensive range of equipment enclosed within.

So, why am I now booked in for my second class tomorrow, you may ask?

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Part of that decision was to do with the support I was given by the secondary trainer who’ll be taking tomorrow’s class (as my PT’s on annual leave) after my unscheduled exit from the room. Not only was she receptive to my issues when told, she suggested breaking the sequences down into stages. Each ’round’ in a full class of 24 includes a section running, lifting and punching (with a TRX Suspension kit presumably used in tandem.) Learning the sequence of exercises is tough when you have so little time, especially for the woman with deficiency in learning abilities who struggles when presented with an excess of sensory input.

My PT has also reinforced this commitment to making the process work by helping introduce me to basic skills required in future weeks, especially in the field of mixed martial arts. Without both of these ladies’ care and commitment, I’d not be going back. To make sure they get the correct amount of thanks at the right level, after this blog is done (and it’s taken almost a week to pull thoughts together) I’ll be e-mailing the Club to extend my gratitude personally. I’ve bought my own gloves, pulled out my ANT-compatible Heart Rate monitor, and tomorrow we aim to complete one round of the process well.

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It is very easy to place obstacles in your path when trying to change long-term habits. For some time now finding the means to push mind out of comfort zones has been a challenge: Blaze presents me with two unique problems to overcome. Firstly, there is the physical intensity of a class that demands a great deal in terms of effort to ensure long-term benefit. More importantly, there is the mental challenges of taking instructions, acting on them, and doing what needs to be done well. Only by being able to combine both of these successfully will there be any meaningful progress.

It was also quite amusing, the morning after my first class, to be sent an e-mail by the club congratulating me on ‘smashing’ the session. I appreciate the elements of theatre and self-congratulation that marketing clearly thinks will make me feel better about myself, but it’s completely pointless. You don’t know how awful I felt not finishing. You don’t understand how hard this is to rationalise. A generic e-mail is not the way to make me feel good about my progress. That revelation came from real people. Perhaps there could be more focus on the people training and less bells and whistles going forward.

I don’t need exercise as distraction: to embrace it as a lifestyle choice there will always need to be a personal connection.

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I’ve changed beyond recognition in the last three years, thanks in part to the people who have offered advice and training along the way. However, in the end, I know it is my effort and hard work which keeps the goals shifting. When asked yesterday what kind of weight I’d dream of lifting going forward, I was honest with my PT. I just want to keep lifting. I want to keep pushing boundaries and overcoming fears and move forwards. This isn’t about maintenance and complacency. Every day should be a school day. Each session should give a sense of progress.

Fitness has to become a part of individual evolution.

Holiday

The lunchtime pickup is done. The eldest has already been off since Tuesday afternoon. It is that glorious time of the year where there is nothing to worry about on Monday, and in 10 days I’ll be on holiday in another country. To say I’m looking forward to this is the mother of all understatements, but there are two bike rides to get through first.

I did my last bit of exercise earlier, and yes, my legs still work, now there’ll be a test to see if fitness is sufficient to get me to the end without incident. I know the hill I’m not looking forward to already, too. We’ll see how it goes, and assuming all is well, I’ll be doing extra PT on Monday. The good news, of course, is that Ride London’s a shorter distance, and on closed roads.

There’ll be pictures at the weekend, of course, but for now I have a backlog of work to catch up on…

Run to the Hills

The biggest single problem I possess right now in terms of exercise ability is stamina. HIIT routines are now just that, but anything over 90 minutes and I will summarily wilt. What is required is an understanding of what my limits are, how to play to them and then finally exceed them.  Fortunately for me, Zwift has the means by which I can deal with this issue, and still keep myself sane.

Welcome to the Alpe du Zwift.

It’s a bloody big hill, when all is said and done, and I can’t climb it in two hours… but one day, I will. This morning was the reconnoitre to see how far up I could get without busting a gut. I paced myself, bought snacks and extra water and for 110 minutes it was doable. Those last 10 minutes lasted about three lifetimes.

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Before on long rides my brain has stopped me, or my legs and (on a couple of occasions) a combination of both. Today was different. I needed to get used to the heat, and how body operates when energy is low. It was a massive learning experience, and slow realisation that, for many years, it has been my brain which prevented any kind of tenable progress. Now that’s under control, the only obstacle to progress is my own ability to put in the effort. That’s slowly getting fixed. I’ve been at this before Christmas, and only now is progress becoming apparent.

One day I will climb the Alpe du Zwift, but with England v Sweden imminent? It will not be today.

Find Time

Normally, this would be my day off but I’ve been slacking a bit this week, for reasons that should be quite obvious and understandable. Last night was my first time on a bike since coming back from Eroica, and the guides all tell me it should be five hours a week on a bike by now if there is any chance of being fit enough for the Ride London 46. The good news, of course, is that our shed allows me to train whilst watching the World Cup.

That will make life considerably easier going forward.

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I’ve switched from the original plan I was running, which ended up being simply too much to do on top of everything else, to a month long, more casually focused approach  which is based off my FTP. Last night it was a very stress free introduction, with the backdrop of Iran v Spain making time fly by. Tonight, I’ll do the same to Argentina v Croatia. Then, there needs to be some more work on upper body strength and reducing the weight around my trunk.

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Until Ride London happens, I have given up bread as a cheap carb fix. Sandwiches are my Kryptonite, and so until we make it to the end of July, I’m gonna cut them out. This is already making me cry. However, as I am now a Big Girl (TM) it’ll be alright in the end, and there may be a bit more tea drunk to compensate.

Talking of which… ^^

Singularity

Yesterday was my first session with the new PT, and BOY was it a revelation. I’ve never used a Bosu for anything other than the odd exercise and yesterday, the whole thing evolved past being ‘just another piece of equipment’ and became… well, something quite transformative.

Hang on, you don’t know what a Bosu is?

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If I had said balance board you’ll have probably got the idea: two sides, either is capable of being used as a way of engaging more muscles than just arms or legs. In fact, use one of these to balance on (one leg only, please) and then add some light weights to the mix and BAM there is no need for intense workouts. My new trainer knows I do cardio on my own, without a need to be prompted. Weights are now not a frightening concept either, so what is needed in this new relationship is cerebral plus the effort.

The Bosu requires a level of concentration that I’d previously have struggled with, were it not for meditation via Mindfulness. However, now it is not only possible but incredibly satisfying to stand on the board for protracted periods of time and simply exist. I’ve always watched with awe the guys who use a full balance ball to weightlift on (there’s a rugby player at the Gym who makes it look effortless) but now there’s fledgeling understanding of how that can and would work for me.

Three guesses what I’m doing when I get to the Gym later.

I’m already looking forward to training, and it’s been a while since that happened :D

Not Enough

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However good you think you are, it’s a lie. Look at Lewis Hamilton’s race this morning in Australia as conclusive proof that anything can happen, and does, and the only way to deal with that is to be as prepared as possible. I’m not dumb enough to compare my training to the world of F1, don’t worry. However, I’m well aware of what complacency can do for your mental state. This is one of the reasons why I’m on this sixteen-week training course, being summarily schooled in what my legs can and cannot do. Yesterday I began what the Guide refers to as Neuromuscular Power training.

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I have only briefly trained like this before, and the hour session completed yesterday made it apparent that I’m severely lacking. After a brief warmup, body was asked to do 15 sets of 3.30 ‘intervals’: 3 minutes at my comfortable cycling pace and 10 seconds right up in ‘owowow’ Zone 7. In fairness, I did manage ten of these before my legs started complaining, and the last fifteen minutes was the most uncomfortable I’ve been since any kind of training began. BUT IT WAS FINISHED. Today’s workout is Anaerobic Capacity and I’m already pretty nervous for that, too. However, we’ll do it.

At least I hope that’s the case.

Understanding the science of what is going on in my body has been incredibly helpful in order to grasp why all these numbers and zones have a relevance. Understanding how muscles tear and strengthen, what exercises benefit which parts of your body, why rest and stretching matter so much… all of this contributes to enlightenment and understanding, which in turn makes me a better athlete. It also gives me a chance to plan and organise everything else with a level of certainty. Even if I don’t make the Ride London Ballot, this is body strength that will set me in good stead for the years to come.

Eventually, my legs might even stop hating me and begin to enjoy the journey.

The Test

Yesterday, I did my first FTP Test, and today I am quietly pleased.

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The last time this number was registered by the Zwift software, it was 135. When I began cycling, I believe I was somewhere around the 125 mark. That was at the end of December, so to have seen a 10% improvement over that time…? Yes, this is clear evidence of progress. For people who care about numbers, I can demonstrate that I’m not coasting, or plateauing. This is me, most definitely going forward. For me, however, numbers aren’t that important. My weight, as a single number (for example), is nowhere near the truth about my body composition. I’m happy to be able to walk today, because last night was the hardest I have ever worked on a bike.

In truth my chest aches more, thanks to lungs finally getting the workout I’ve been scared to attempt.

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I am still quite nervous about pushing into high heart rates, always have been due to my lungs not being as efficient as everybody else’s in providing the oxygen required. My lung capacity has, for some time, been about 30% lower than it should be, but I’m going to get tested again in a couple of weeks so I will be interested to know if that figure has improved. Making it into Z3 is not something that happens that often, and last night I realised that maybe that ought to change. However, to allow that to happen, I need more general fitness and less fatigue. Yesterday was not an ideal day to do the test, but on reflection, it was the right one.

Like it or not, numbers define my progress.

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If this were just about weight loss equalling healthy, I’d have failed so many times for it to be beyond a joke. Fortunately for me, I’ve discovered that health is so much more than just the numbers, but requires me to accommodate and understand other people’s needs for them, above my own, in order to make progress. Happiness is not clothing fitting better, or not being out of breath when I climb stairs. That still happens, on days when air quality is awful. I can’t help the lungs I was born with, and the sensitivity they possess. However, there are lots of things that can be done to ensure that this doesn’t stymie me long term. Making the muscles around the lungs stronger, allowing my body to be more capable of healing and protection… and the list goes on.

At the top, mental well-being matters most of all.

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However, I need to admit some truths. I like the way my body feels now, so much more than was the case before. I think my arms are my best feature, am really proud of both strength and definition. Being able to carry heavy things is always a bonus. I love the sense of satisfaction gained from progress: the numbers don’t matter so much as the sense of being more capable. Mostly, without the physical discipline that exercise has granted, I’d find myself really struggling to keep mental discipline in place. All my effort and achievement with the writing would not be taking place if not for the cycling, lifting and running.

I have become quite the model of symbiosis.

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That makes effort more than worth the reward. It pushes me onto better things. It’ll get me out of this chair in thirty minutes and to the Gym for a PT session, which I’ll walk to and from. It won’t save me from injury or stop me from procrastinating, but the sense of well-being that I currently inhabit is unlike anywhere else that I can ever remember. Finally, I have a happy place, and exercise exists at its core.

If I’d only realised this twenty years sooner.