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.

PIES!

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. DespiteΒ  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.

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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 hottestΒ  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

Musclebound

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.

This is Mine

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There’s a ‘thing’ doing the rounds currently on Twitter, which promises that for every ‘like’ one can garner, a fact about that person’s life will be revealed. Here’s a fact for you: I’ve been doing this for seven years, on and off, across multiple platforms.Β All you need to know is here, if the time is given to sit and read, but that’s the issue with social media. If it takes longer than 45 seconds to consume, you’ve forgotten it anyway.Β Needless to say, there’s one simple trick to knowing me better, you can just ask.Β Or, if you subscribe here I can promise, every day, to reveal a fascinating fact about myself if you read to the end of the post. I won’t get mad if you skip the other stuff either: at least you turned up.

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Yesterday was awesome, not gonna lie. To and from the Gym was a breeze, when very little aggravated affected muscle groups. The trick, of course, is to not do anything that might. The Octane was tough, but probably because there’s been no serious exertion for several weeks. That should get easier every day, and only under supervision will ‘serious’ weights happen, though press ups today should be doable and that can be an effective fill in going forward. Mostly, I am waiting for the all clear from my body to know when I can ramp stuff up again, and in the meantime working on all of my core to strengthen it and prevent the possibility of the umbilical hernia popping again. Once the work for the day is done? I’ll be off down the Gym.

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However what mattered more was finally organising a bunch of domestic shit that has laid dormant for a while, and might never have been completed were it not for my 12 year old’s searingly accurate take-down of what happens when parents stop focussing on the domestic. As a result, three bags of recycling are outside, and the front room is tidier than I can recall for quite some time. The trick of course is to learn from this and not let the issues pile up over time, which is why I need to make a day next week to go out and finally cancel a credit card, pay in some money and shut a bank account. Then there’s a list of ‘maintenance’ jobs to do and, as soon as I am back to lifting duties again, serious attacks on dirty parts of the house.

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Then there’s the Patreon, which I sat down and talked over last night with the husband. I’d not factored surgery into my timescales and as I’d planned to early launch tomorrow… well, frankly I’m not ready to go. The last time I rushed myself into a major project it was never completed and that’s not something that can afford to be done when I’m going to take people’s money. Therefore, we will launch in June, but not until the 15th, which means Early Access will now be available on the 12th. I’m still missing a Patreon reward that needs to be chased from the manufacturers, so hopefully I can get that in house too before the new deadline. All this will be detailed on the Patreon site later, but you heard it here first. Consider this an additional reward for your loyalty, or summat.

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So there you have it. Starting tomorrow, we’ll do a proper countdown and try and drum up some serious interest. I can do marketing, I’m sure we can make the whole shonky mess work and still look professional…


Fact of the Day

I told my first story to an audience in Primary School. I made it up, on the spot and it went down so well I made the story into a daily serial…

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.Β 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.

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Space Engine

This morning I was up at 9am and in the Gym by 10.30. Somewhere between Tuesday and here, I’ve moved past being unwell and shifted back into Gym Progression Mode.

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I’m now managing a Push and Pull day with weights a week, plus my scheduled PT. On all the other days (bar one because you know REST) the plan is simple: at least 45 minutes of something. In my case that includes 20 minutes of brisk walk/sprints and using an Octane machine.

I like the Octane as much as I do because it allows me to pick a level of exercise that fits with my limited lung capacity. It’s new enough a piece of equipment to scare most people away (meaning it is always free when I visit) and the ‘Climb’ mode gives a really effective all body workout without leaving me incapable of completing anything else. I’ve been working up my progress in miles and can now do three in 17 minutes, which is pushing lungs and body but which has been getting slowly easier. The plan is to work up to 5 miles and then keep working on stamina with 250m sprints on the Treadmill. After three days of this, it does feel like I’m getting somewhere.

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The sleep ‘issue’ I’ve been having of late last night simply didn’t exist. Enforcing a 40 minute ‘vigorous’ target meant that I was truly exhausted when hitting the bed, and it showed. Trying not to nap during the day (despite needing to do just that on several occasions) and diet changes appear to be having the required effect. Now all I have to do is keep up the progress.

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I have a busy week: two days of medical shit on Friday/Saturday and the first full five days back for the kids. There needs to be a lot more organisation than currently exists to get everything sorted.

Let’s see if we can’t get that all sorted now.

Good Night

Something interesting happened to my Fitbit in the week, which I think is worth discussing this morning.

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My Blaze now utilises its own heart rate monitor to show me what kind of sleep I’m getting. There’s been the ability for a while to ‘track’ how long you sleep using the internal accelerometer, but many people challenge the validity of the results, to the point of taking the company to court over claims of exactly what happens to your body in bed. Now, knowing that heart rate varies when asleep it is only logical that someone would put the two separate sides of the wearable equation together. Sadly, this is only available from this week, there is no means to retroactively judge the quality of rest based on what I know were historical factors. However, what I can do is begin to understand what makes a good night based on what has come before.

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This was last night, and the first thing I can tell you from this is when I woke up at just gone 2am I genuinely believed I’d woken up at 5am. That is the longest block of uninterrupted sleep I’ve managed for close to a week, so it makes sense that my body would react in that way. If I understand the science correctly, I can be awake and not aware of it as such (which is the blip past 3am) and then… well, this is the most interesting part of all, at least for me. I woke at 6.15 because I have an issue with a trapped ulnar nerve. Once awake, something happened that I know I’m capable of creating under certain circumstances: I can direct myself into a dream state of my choosing. Amazingly the Fitbit seems to have picked this up, and so in future I’m going to check my sleep records to ascertain whether I can do this when desired.

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This change is, I have to say, welcome if it is proven to be both consistent and accurate: anyone with a tracker will tell you that that is as much to do with the device’s individual quirks as it is those of the wearer. Some days it is impossible for me to get a consistent rate from a wrist sensor and I have to return to a chest strap to have any idea of how well (or otherwise) exercise is performing. When you grasp the restrictive nature of such devices, and the variance between, then you remember that any such ‘research’ has to be taken with a pinch of salt. However, I can attest that looking at last night’s record does correlate with how I feel this morning, and what I remember of the night before. Bearing those factors in mind I can see this as being a useful tool going forward, especially as I can corroborate what feels like a good or bad night with the watch’s recording of data.

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This is an interesting development, but whether it is welcome or not? We will see. It certainly shows that we’re seeing an evolution of the marketplace in terms of features, especially now as my Fitbit Phone app will look at my recorded activity and then offer me tailored videos to promote exercise based on habit. I’m not sure where else there is to go after this either, especially with mounting concerns over who will have access to your personal data in the future.

If nothing else, these will make lovely headers for the Blog.