Freedom 90

On Saturday, it became apparent that one of my vanity e-mail addresses had stopped working. There may have been some quite important email that has vanished, but I will never really know the cost, and it is far too late to worry. What this prompted was a long, hard look at what happens to my email and what is merited as ‘important’. It transpires I have ten e-mail addresses, gathered across the years. At no point have I ever deleted a message on at least three of them.

The rest of the day was spent sorting out the chaos that lack of activity had produced.

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In the end, 25,000 messages were trashed. This includes mails sent when my first ever Gmail account was created, back in 2005. The vast bulk of rubbish was acknowledgements from sites such as Twitter, or online forum which I belonged to, that simply never got dealt with at the time. It took a couple of hours, but the effort was more than worthwhile, and it allowed me to see exactly what account was getting what trash mail. The long-term benefit is that the actual volume of mail into my Mac (which collects from all the Gmail accounts and the vanity domain addresses) has been reduced by over 80%. Using the GDPR fiasco to unsubscribe from multiple newsletters and online gumph that’s no longer needed, it’s like the last thirteen years of bollocks into my Inbox never existed.

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Needless to say, it’s a little embarrassing that it took my own stupidity to kick-start the action, but now that’s done, there is no going back. The sense of satisfaction and general organisation cannot be adequately overstated, either.

Like so many things, this should have been done years ago.

The Other Side

From the low, you inevitably come up. How that used to happen was normally accompanied by a lot of thrashing and wailing. This time around, the day started with a lot of playing Warcraft and no worries about the consequences. Stuff is scheduled and ideas are on the table. There will even be a short story finished by the end of the weekend for Mr Alt to edit. After I’d played, and progressed some stuff that was planned, there was a walk to the Gym. Lots of stretching happened both before and after the session.

There I worked REALLY hard.

The key is to keep moving. Once upon a time I’d have sat and felt sorry for myself, but having learnt the difference between good and bad pain after a year of experiencing plenty of both, there’s now the ability to discern the difference. Getting back on the road to fitness isn’t as painful as was expected, when all is said and done. What is hardest of all, and which prompted the Tweet yesterday, is everything outside of my control. It will mean that there will have to be a reassessment of priorities in the next few weeks. I have Eroica in a month (Saturday outfit sorted, Sunday will not take long.) There’s a distinct possibility I could be doing Ride London.

If they both come to pass, there needs to be more fitness than currently exists to complete both. If the latter happens, there’ll be a sponsorship page for a mental health charity going up because without support, I’d not be here.

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The problem is big numbers; building stamina, without my body failing to cope. That’s where the bike comes in, and why I’ll be getting back on tonight.

That whole ‘no pain, no gain’ thing is the absolute truth.

Breathe

Lots of people aren’t coping with modern life. You don’t need to be a genius to understand why. With Mental Health Awareness Week upon us, yet again a well-meaning organisation attempts to get a population to listen who are already struggling to cope with the pace of change around them. You only need to look at the rise in hate crime, the drop in high street sales and a distinct apathy amongst those people who don’t have issues coping but are getting mightily fed up of being told it’s not enough to see that possibly, maybe, all this information’s becoming an overload.

Although I applaud this charity (without whom I’d not be as together right now as is undoubtedly the case) and the efforts being made, there’s a feeling that a lot of people will only be caring this week for what this can do for their own social media reach. Conversely, a bunch of opportunists will use this as a way to highlight their own agendas, fall deeper into depression or simply stop listening. I’ve seen it myself, from horribly subjective personal experience. After a while, your mental health issues can become a joke. Taking the piss out of people you care about it might make you feel big and clever, but it is neither, and yet that’s what happens.

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So, how do we deal with issues which many of us just want to ignore to begin with? The answer is so subjective that any large-scale campaign can only hope that we, as human beings, take initiative for ourselves. That’s how anything works best: understand what it that is wrong, find a solution that works for you. The problem comes with how to define your problem. Stress, as it stands, is a good starting point. Learning how to eliminate it may seem daunting, but that’s simply not true. Thanks to the Mental Health Foundation’s Mindfulness course, my life has transformed over the last year. When taken with exercise and better self care, the difference to every aspect of my existence is without exception. This is really the best it has ever been, even during the days when I go backwards.

What Mindfulness has done for me is separate self from the anxiety and fear that has nothing to do with World news, Social media drama or peer group pressure. It allows a detachment from the fear only I can create, within my own mind. Once able to function separately from such restrictions, and control self in an effective fashion, so much else became easier not only to cope with but grasp with objectivity. This technique may not work for you, but for me it has markedly improved anxiety, anger and depressive episodes: control is no longer out of my hands, but can be managed and bolstered when added to exercise and other forms of relaxation.

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If you’re feeling stressed reading this, I’d argue the best thing to do is stop being on the Internet and go outside. That works on most days, but for those when it doesn’t, the answer might be finding someone to talk to, especially if its an issue that you know won’t be going away any time soon. Mindfulness is only part of my complex puzzle.

Finding pieces that fit yours can be a stressful task too, but is more than worthwhile in the end.

Round and Round

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Last week wasn’t meant to be a line in the sand, but ended up that way regardless. It means that starting today, there needs to be an awful lot of steps and exercise to maintain momentum.

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That top number’s not accurate either, by the end of yesterday I’d managed 22k steps. Today I’m planning to walk to the Gym after lunch, do an hour of weights then come back, with an hour of cycling in the evening. I start with my new PT on Thursday so it would be useful to look as if there’s an effort being made before then. Most importantly of all, my arm’s now at a stage where exercise is simply an inconvenience and not either painful or an effort.

It is time to get working.

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That first week was when the old drugs were switched for new and body was just exhausted. After that, there has been a slow and steady increase in both effort and ability. I don’t think 12k steps a day is at all unrealistic. I’m not sure 23k a day is doable if there has to be work involved, but that’s a decent point to aim for. There’s half a plan to leave my car in the Gym car park after dropping off my daughter each day next week, exercising and then walking home, before coming back to pick it up for the return School Run.

I doubt anyone would notice that if I did.

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Right, I need to be exercising and now writing now.

The World is Not Enough

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Between you and me, I am not a great fan of competition. However, it is undoubtedly true that having goals and objectives makes the process of putting in the miles (whether literal or metaphorical) easier to achieve. It is the reason why a daily list of Things to Do is now written without a thought with the second cuppa of the day. In the exercise department, self-motivation is key. Pushing each day to obtain what can often seem like nominal targets does have a benefit: those thirty-six tiny push-ups achieved yesterday will be a little bit stronger once completed today.

Last night, my Functional Threshold Power went up by a massive eight points. It wasn’t through a scheduled test, simply doing the Richmond World Cycling Championship course on Zwift as if I was trying to win it. What is now apparent is that setting goals matter far more than they ever did, because by these yardsticks does the true ability of an individual emerge. It’s why I’ve signed up for all those challenges: sure, some of them dangle free shit like juicy, fresh carrots… the realistic chances of winning any of it is slim to none. That’s not why we’re taking part.

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This effort, plus the fact there was no car to use yesterday in the rainiest day remembered for some time, also pushed the step count up in the range that’s not been seen for many, many months. I miss walking, and that needs to be fixed as the weather improves.

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The Fitbit won’t normally record my steps as miles, and so this is not a strictly accurate representation of effort (18 miles ridden plus about 6 miles walked yesterday would be closer to the truth.) Asking my Fitbit to record the activity as cycling will work if bike moves, but is largely redundant when static, so the thing is shoved in my cycling shorts (at leg level) to record movement that way. As a heart monitor is worn it’s easy to equate an accurate calorie count regardless.

However, if truth be told, the camera and I need to be outside, by the Estuary and in the woods and at the old buildings that are crying out to be photographed. That’s the plan for May, and with an improvement in general organisation, all these things should now be doable.

That’s the plan anyway.

Amateur Hour

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Dear Zwift,

If you go and read yesterday’s blog post, you’ll see that I’ve finally accepted that your Virtual World is a great place to cycle. However, not everything is brilliant,  especially from my particular position in Watopia. The prospect of taking part in group rides is frankly too frightening to even consider. It will be some time before I feel comfortable considering a workout. For me, there is the spectre of intimidation to overcome, but that’s not the whole story. Let me start at the beginning.

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I’ve played in a number of MMO’s online over the last 20 years. Online ‘gaming’ has a bit of a reputation, with justification, for being elitist and not really grasping inclusivity. I’ve tried my best to not bring these hangovers to your virtual world, but some of the general chat I see whilst cycling is a reminder that everybody has a way to go before we get welcoming virtual environments. On that front, I keep hoping I’ll see a member of the crowd at the Ride London circuits in a wheelchair, or with some kind of physical disability. Maybe that is something you could consider adding moving forward.

For me, however, the biggest single problem coming into the World of Zwift is my perceived level of knowledge about cycling. I arrived frankly with not a clue, despite my husband having completed Ride London, more than once. FTP remains the equivalent of transforming base metals into gold, for all the real understanding I have of it. There’s a horrible fear of even starting a Group Ride because if I can’t keep up, it will feel like failure. Some of this is my own paranoia and uncertainty, that much is inescapable. However, being a woman and 51 years old, I don’t fit into the ‘average’ cycling demographic in the first place.

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I think there are ways you could improve the experience of welcoming new cyclists. On my 62k ride yesterday, there was plenty of time to think about what would make this whole experience less like an exercise in self-reliance… however, don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for my hand to be held the entire time, or expecting a bunch of free rewards for just logging in. This isn’t an MMO after all, and I appreciate the amount of work involved. What I’m suggesting is a way to allow solo riders, with no group affiliations, the means to feel as if there could be a way to belong, that does not involve simply vanishing into the anonymity of a massive online cycling group.

Ask an Expert…?

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What would be really useful for someone like me is the means to talk to someone who understands all this stuff: you know, what FTP means, why I need to learn to pace myself, eating and drinking the right things. In my particular case, I’ve been using a Personal Trainer for a couple of years, who’s now a good friend and has helped fill in a lot of gaps in knowledge. She, however, is as lost as to how you can manage to keep cadence at certain levels without your heart rate imploding… so I’d love to be able to have someone in the game to whom I could ask questions, sort of like how GM’s work in MMO’s. Someone could use your stats stored online as the starting point to work out how you might be doing stuff wrong, perhaps in tandem with Strava. Maybe it could be a future part of a Premium Subscription package.

A Better Starting Experience…

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When I started ‘cold’ the entire interface and concept of Zwifting were, I’ll be honest, a bit bewildering. In my MMO there are ‘starting areas’, where characters spend their first couple of hours learning how stuff works, killing low-level mobs and generally interacting with the virtual world around them. I have to say, for those of us with zero cycling sense, this would be really rather useful, and educational. It could also open up the possibility for you to pair up with places like Gyms and Leisure Complexes where you could ‘learn’ to virtually cycle, thus allowing the strength and confidence to go and do the real thing. That’s what got me here, after all. If all else failed, more explanatory dialogues that could be toggled off and on to explain the basics ‘in-game’ would not go amiss.

Better Visual Customisation :D

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I’d love to be able to design my own kit. I’d love to be able to pick separate shirt and shorts. I know you’ve had issues with the avatar looks before, and frankly, I’m not that bothered about physical, but some variation in body types would be lovely, if only for realism. I don’t mind admitting I still have some pounds to shift, and I’m never going to look as good as Victoria Pendleton. Of course, all that matters is doing the miles, but maybe it would be an idea to allow me a bit more of a say in making the little person who is me a better actual representation of what I am.


These aren’t criticisms, simply suggestions. My body shape changes, improvement in strength and stamina plus a real enjoyment of being on a bike really have come as a result of using Zwift. This is the happiest I have ever been about my body, and without your training programme, it would not have happened. I just find myself wondering how many other people you might be able to attract, especially with the launch of your running programme, if you made the entry into it a bit easier and more palatable for those people who are not a) natural athletes and b) as tech savvy as others.

Thank you for changing my life, and I look forward to watching how Watopia changes and evolves in the years to come.

Yours gratefully,

Sarah xxx


 

Go

After the worst opening two hours of a day for some time, there was only one thing for it.

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Exercise makes me more mentally productive. There is totally no doubt that it promotes feelings of calm, relaxation and happiness. On days like today, it also has the ability to alter bad to good. I can’t fix the stuff that happened, but this will allow the ability to improve the rest of Tuesday.

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I took my rest day from the bike yesterday because of lots of upper body shiz, and my legs still aching from Sunday, but tonight I’ll be working towards my NEW ZWIFT achievement. It’s a fairly well-worn gaming staple: finish a certain task, get some free shiz. I have no idea what I’ll get at the end of cycling through Italy, except the enjoyment of imagining what that might be like for real. I should get to do that during the Summer, whatever happens. We’re already planning an overland trip, so fingers crossed…

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For now, I even managed to get some Novel done yesterday, and if I can clear the blogging decks by lunchtime, the same will happen today. Next big aim is 60k, which involves a bunch of stuff not yet written… but that’s doable. I know what has to happen in the spaces, so that’s fine. I just have to make it happen…