Look Away

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Looks are fleeting, yet for so many of us, they form the entire reason for our existence. That doesn’t just mean physically, either: everything we consume has to look as good as possible. Take my Gym, for example: they rebranded their food concession earlier in the year, and an awful lot of time and effort has gone into the ‘healthy’ aspect of their produce. We use this food and that one and everything is fresh is the mantra, time and again. Except, they’ve now rebranded the menu again and I can’t help but think that this time I’m being spoofed, because the thing with the least number of calories on the menu, apart from a fruit salad for breakfast, is pancakes and maple syrup.

They’re supposed to be ‘protein’ pancakes but nowhere on the menu is there an explanation of what that means, what’s in them or indeed how the calorie content of this breaks down. Sure, there’s a calorific value listed on the menu but nowhere on the website can I find an actual breakdown of what exactly is in this dish. Now, because I’m not the person who just complains about this anymore, I went to a member of staff and suggested to them that if the menu had a barcode on that I could scan (or even a QR code) that showed me exactly what this meal broke down into, life would be a lot easier, and I’d be more willing to eat there going forward.

Ironically, I have a better idea what was in my hugely unhealthy takeaway pizza last night than I do what was in my supposedly ‘healthy’ breakfast this morning. Summat ain’t right here, folks.

Today’s other massive revelation is how my push-ups have evolved since I first began doing them. Before I will be honest, there was no core body strength in me at all. Thanks to my surgery, which fixed a belly button hernia back in May, I now have the ability (and muscles) in these areas which simply did not exist before, and this has meant that the form I used to compensate for that lack of strength, is now hindering proper posture. Just as I had to relearn how to run, I’m now tasked with the ability to relearn how to push myself up and down without losing the ‘plank’ posture that matters so much and bloody hell do my arms hurt now.

The great thing about this is, as was the case with running, that I need no equipment to make a change. There’s no fancy workout or video to follow. I simply have to learn to lift myself, and once that takes place without effort or pain, a lot of other stuff falls into place. Plus it is an exercise that can take place every day without the need for a rest. Tomorrow’s 36 will be tough, I suspect, but after that, it will be downhill all the way. I am looking forward to what I know now is the next step forward in my physical transformation. Even with a head full of cold, that’s the most satisfying session of PT I’ve undertaken for quite some time.

It’s all up to me now, and long may that be the case.

A New Day

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I’m using the same blog title in two places today, because last night I finally reconciled how the relaxation portion of my life is going to play out going forward. For about two years I was tied to a responsibility that, having now been released, I understand was effectively strangling my love of gaming. Now that is no longer a consideration going forward? It is high time to reorganise that side of my existence, in the same way I have with everything else. It has helped greatly that I’ve had people to talk to who understand my peculiar situation. It is also really helpful that relaxation is not simply via one means any more. Previously, escaping to gaming was all there was… now, that’s not the case.

I have a new hobby 👍🚴‍♀️💪

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I’ve wanted a mountain bike for some time now, because they’re simply more robust than the road bikes my husband seems to love. Having ridden this yesterday I am already happier than I have been for many, many months: it is not only built for a female body, it is incredibly easy to manoeuvrer and direct. What this gives me is a bike I feel comfortable riding to and from the shops, that I can do some road work without panicking, and that is 100% mine. We’d considered an old style upright, but honestly I’d rather have a backpack on than a basket… unless I get to the stage where a three wheeled bike with a massive front container is available. That’s a long way off, and I’ll need an awful lot more strength and stamina if I’m going to pull that off.

If you’d have told me a decade ago I’d have said I enjoy cycling, I’d have laughed at you.

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There is an awful lot of shit going on in the world I have absolutely no influence in changing, so it is high time I focused on what can be done, and do a fucking good job of it. That means getting strong, mobile and finding a voice.

This seems like a good place to start.

Come and See Me

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Slowly but surely, I am unpicking the issues that constrict my life.

Yesterday was an evening Gym session, because there was so much work to do here, and stepping on the Octane I wondered if I’d even manage one mile, so tired did I feel. Then I stopped my brain and rationalised: a mile is six minutes. Pick the right track on your playlist and that will fly by. Find something that makes you feel positive, preferably something you used as a writing prompt. I’m beginning to grasp how many other people live vicariously through their wish fulfilment (whether it be art, music or writing) and last night, it was the Bond fanfic music prompts that not only got me through three miles of Octane as a warm up, but another three kilometres of High Impact Intensity Training (300 metres walking, 200 meters running at 9 kph.) I’ve never done HIIT for that long before, my legs give out after 2.5k pretty much consistently. However, when I got there last night, something was different.

Steamed Broccoli with Dark Soy Sauce, Peanut Butter Flatbread.

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Last night, I felt I had it in my legs. Suddenly, breathing at 9kph has become less of a fight and more a rhythm. The first 200 meters is always hard but after that, it was simply instinct. I’ve only felt this way once before and that was before I was ill, the brilliant Sunday before it all went wrong on the Monday evening, and it occurs to me that it is diet that has as much to do with this as anything else. Yesterday was very intentionally virtuous, not simply for the photo opportunity. I can eat well, if it is planned, and routine is the key. It is when that organisation slips that I go backwards, and that extends not simply to exercise but into all aspects of my current working life.

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Post it Notes are keeping me sane, helping pull together all the disparate strands of existence. I’ve stuck the most used ones to card, ‘laminated’ over pencil with sticky tape to remind of what happens each day, making sure I keep to the programme. Eventually one hopes I can throw the card away because those messages will become ingrained, but for now they’re a part of a handful of magic feathers. It’s the same principle as getting through six minutes exercise: with the right prompt, things will take less time than you realise. I tried this yesterday, with a bunch of tasks that would normally take an afternoon. I gave myself two hours to complete everything.

Amazingly, it worked: not because I’ve become super efficient overnight either. This project succeeded because I stopped procrastinating and just did the fucking work. Of course there will be days when this doesn’t happen but, for now, mental ability saved the day. Old me, the one who’d eat a snack and then browse Social media and then get sucked into a rabbit hole, is still alive and well, but right now they’re no use in the timescales available. I need this version of Me to survive right now. Once everything is done I can let that part of the consciousness out again.

Until then, let’s just keep working.

Airbag

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Here’s a thing: yesterday evening, I went to the chip shop, as both kids requested a takeaway. I’d already eaten my calorie limit for the day, and sat waiting whilst the smell of frying potato made me salivate. Chips are a major weakness, always have been. This I attribute to one of the earliest memories I possess: the small of frying onions from a burger van, back in the days before that item was a staple on British high streets. Long before McDonalds even arrived in the UK; on the seafront of the town which is now our home, my parents used to drive here and reminisce of their courtship. I came home with the meals, stuck them on plates, and didn’t eat anything at all.

Chip Shop

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Yesterday was a tough Gym session: lots of HIIT, not many steps, and to make up the shortfall I walked around the block a couple of times. Today, the fatigue in my entire body is more noticeable than it has been for weeks, and I know that if I go throw myself at anything high impact it will make things worse. Today is a day for a walk: to the supermarket to buy high protein items with absolutely no sugar in them at all, and to start working on building muscle mass and provide true, lasting strength. Now it is becoming obvious just how much my body relies on empty carbs to function, I need to go and rethink a lot of my principles from scratch.

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I suck at willpower. It is my absolute biggest failing, by a long way. I also bounce from one state to another quite fast, or at least I did, and I am beginning to grasp that hormones have been to blame for a great deal more than just lower backache and upset stomachs. As I walk away from decades of being a fucking monster for three days a month, often longer, comes the relief of being able to dictate and control exactly how I am, without being at the beck and call of a body that often felt as if it didn’t belong to me at all. In fact, with the introduction of regular exercise and a diet that appears to help and not hinder mental progress, things are most definitely looking up.

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I predict a lot of fish and vegetables over the Summer months, and very little potato or bread, even though I will miss my sandwiches so very much. If 11st 5lbs is achievable by August 1st on this level of input, I can re-introduce the stuff I love as treats without fear. The first part of this process however has to be getting to the point where I know what is and isn’t doable, and right now this plan is the right path to tread.

Time to suck it up and get moving.

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 :: Three

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Awake at 7am, there were doubts about the validity of the long-range weather forecast. I shouldn’t have worried: by 9am, the cloud had burnt off and it was magnificent. The plan for the day, as Eroica is a ‘vintage’ festival, was to wear something appropriate. Despite  current body weight issues (up and down like a fiddler’s arm) and time constraints (wasn’t going 10 days ago) I was able to cobble something suitable together. Looking at the number of likes the ensemble garnered on Twitter, it appears to have gone down well.

The ride to the site, as mentioned yesterday, was along what used to be railway lines: gorged out of hills and left unfinished, runs past farmland… and the views. Oh dear Deity the views, people: you don’t need to go abroad to be stunned at how beautiful this planet is. Only three and a bit hours drive from London, it was beyond spectacular. There were a few stops, mostly because riding in full petticoats needs some thought. Next year, think it might be something a bit less fussy (and if the weather is the same, far less bulky.) However, the bike was very sturdy and became enjoyable to ride after I got comfortable.

The night before, over dinner, there’d been discussion about taking part in the Sunday event. It wasn’t a race, Mr Alt, kept reminding me: just about doing a course and experiencing the feelings that went with that. So, once Registration was arrived at, the plunge was taken. I registered for the 25 mile ride the following day.

After that it was time to wander about: the site was far better laid out and presented than had been the year before at Bakewell Showground: organisers had learnt their lessons, and this time around not only was there a lot more space for bikes to be parked and people to relax, but the entire site was put to far better use. The only genuine criticism I could level was that because of the space, it looked like there were less things to do and see. However, you were spoilt for choice in terms of artisan food stalls, alcohol and places to simply relax and chill: at 11am I was in a bar, with a drink in my hand, and frankly couldn’t have been happier.

There were celebrities too, at least in biking terms: respect is due to Chris Boardman who stopped and had selfies taken with half the Festival, was never anything other than happy to oblige, and seemed like a thoroughly decent chap. There were also some absolutely amazing (and possibly insane) people who wore tweed all day, without looking in the least bit perturbed by the weather. It was the heat that drove us back to the Hotel early, and the ride back was the first time I had an issue: almost falling off a bike for the first time since San Francisco caused a minor panic attack. However, both mind and body are getting better at coping with these things. Add a brilliant husband’s support, who assuaged fear before driving us both to Buxton for the best Chinese meal I can remember for the best part of a decade, and everything was just fine.

Waiting for my Man

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I’ll admit driving back there were some race day nerves: I’ve done a ‘charity’ bike ride with the kids a few years ago for the local Hospice, but it was hardly taxing in terms of hills or distance. The ‘Tourist’ Route may have sounded pedestrian, but in the Peak District I knew that hills were hardly gentle. Would my months of training allow it to be easier? Would I fall off the bike? More importantly, would the sun fry lovely pale skin to a crisp? Probably the best two buys made before the weekend were factor 50 sun cream and a sun hat, both of which were liberally utilised across the weekend. The only bit of skin that failed to be adequately covered was the non dominant wrist where my Fitbit sits, and that’s hardly painful even now.

I did many things for the first time this weekend, including drink. I’d never tried Jagermeister before: this Hunter’s Tea was one of those experiences you’re not certain of at the first sip, but could end up consuming all day if not cautious enough to grasp consequence. Plus it allowed us to sit under canvas during the hottest  part of the day. As we did, an official photographer appeared and took some pictures of my husband, so I’ll be looking out for official literature next year to see if he makes it and becomes ‘famous.’ The Saturday was a perfect aperitif for the main action on Sunday: Mr Alt had planned to do the 100 mile circuit but downgraded to 25 miles to accompany me, and so it was a relatively early night all around to prepare.

I’ll tell you all about that tomorrow :D