This morning did not start well. I realised far too late that my exercise clothes were still in the washing machine with no chance of being dry by the time the mums and babies class started. I made a mad dash to a supermarket down the road and grabbed at some sale items in the exercise section of the clothing aisle. Let’s just say that the supermarket definition of a medium and my definition of a medium is vastly different.
Of course I didn’t have time to try anything on so I only realised this mistake 5 minutes before the class was due to begin. I squeezed myself into what can only be described as a lycra corset and trousers so tight every dimple was on show. Forget mutton dressed as lamb – I was sporting a Labrador dressed as a sausage dog kind of vibe. Rolls of my body were squeezing themselves out of any available space they could. I’d also gotten the sports bra size a couple of cups too small which wasn’t helping anything stay in place like the label suggested it would.
But I got there. I arrived. My fellow mum friend and baby were waiting for us and it all seemed like it would be quite jolly. It was quite jolly as we laughed about how we’d rather be eating cake like we normally do when we meet up. It was all good fun until the military leader started up. She was absolutely terrifying. I was torn between wanting to please her and wanting to cry.
The class was in a tiny room – I understood when I arrived why we had to book in advance. No more than 8 women would fit in the room and we had taken up half the back wall because we had to zone off the babies so no one lunged onto them. In my defence it didn’t say we needed to bring a car seat to put them in on the Facebook message! The instructor led her small army in exercises designed to (destroy) work the Bums, Legs and Tums. Not the kind of BLT I’d normally have been excited for to be honest. But I definitely felt like I was worked hard.
It was okay though, I thought – because I have a baby with me. A baby who absolutely loves to feed and can always be relied on to need a nappy change at the worst possible time. I was surely going to get out of this sooner or later. On the 50th sit up I looked at our daughter. Any time now – come on girl, give mummy a break, ask me for something…
She just laughed. She laughed her head off. She clearly thought the sight of me exercising was so hilarious it distracted her from all of the other things she normally asks for. She wanted for nothing, content to just watch me sweat. Thanks love – thanks a bunch. The irony that along with her big brother they were almost entirely responsible for my weak pelvic floor and lazy abdominals was not lost on me.
She did ask for a feed. She asked for it in the last ten minutes – the cool down – the stretching. The one part of the class I would have been able to complete – would probably have actually enjoyed. Babies. Honestly. As we walked to the car (I was only just able to carry all 17 pounds of baby without my arms giving way from all the pulsing) my friend turned to me and said, “See you next week!”. See you next week? You mean we have to come back? I’ve never gone back to anything before. I’m a one class only sort of woman.
I got a video message from my mum friend this afternoon – her son had rolled over for the first time. He was clearly more inspired watching his mum exercise than my daughter was watching me. So now I have to go back next week – it’s time to inspire!
When we moved to our village I took our son to the park. The only shoes I had unpacked were an old pair of trainers I’d worn to teach PE lessons at school. Within moments of our arrival a young man in sporting attire made his way over to us.
We got talking and it transpired he was the village fitness enthusiast. Half the village attend his circuits training sessions and I could see why – he was extremely enthusiastic and charismatic and before I knew what was happening he was convincing me to try a new class he was starting – exercise for mums and babies. The poor guy had obviously been misled by my old trainers and assumed I liked exercise. I smiled politely and said I’d be delighted to go. I lied. I had no intention of going and that was that.
I thought that would be the end of it but this is village life – a week later the doorbell rang. It was him. He’d found me. “My mum said you live here. Hope you don’t mind – just wanted to remind you about the mum and baby class – here’s a flyer. You’re coming right?” Well. It’s not every day a semi-professional football player with bulging biceps appears on your doorstep having hunted you down personally. Ok. I admit – I was a bit flattered. And if curiosity killed the cat, then flattery almost certainly got the cat to go to an exercise class.
Off I went the next week to his mums and babies circuit training. As soon as I walked in I knew it was a mistake. I scanned the room. The mums were all stretching and warming up. The babies were either asleep in their respective prams and car seats or lying on a mat looking at a baby play gym.
They were not crawling.
Our son was crawling. He was crawling everywhere. He’d just learnt to crawl in fact and no carseat or pram was going to keep him contained or satisfied for an hour. Not when there were so many exciting things to see – from ropes to balls to mats to CD players. Nothing would go uninvestigated by this crawler.
I spent the session running between the proposed exercise and our son – trying desperately to stop him pulling ropes on top of himself, breaking equipment, pushing Pilates balls away from people and getting underneath weighted balls other mums were launching across the room whilst their children slept on peacefully.
Running after him meant I definitely worked up a sweat. I definitely got moving but it was possibly the most stressful exercise experience of my entire life. At the time I swore I’d never attempt anything so foolish again. But I’m feeling inspired; I’m feeling motivated; I’m feeling braver. So tomorrow I am giving mum and baby exercise classes another go – this time I will be taking our 4 month old, non-crawling baby. I’ve learnt my lesson.
The fitness trainer learnt his too. After that first session I noticed an amendment to his flyers – mums and babies welcome – suitable for pre-crawlers only.
I have a green lycra leotard that I have owned since I was 18 years old. Actually, I don’t know if I have ever owned it or whether it is in fact stolen property. The first time I wore it was on the school stage as Audrey 2 (the man-eating plant from the musical Little Shop of Horrors). I expect I was meant to return it after the 3 night run. But I wore it out to the pub after the final performance (which happened to be my joint 18th birthday with one of my best friends who was playing Audrey) and I suppose I just never returned it.
Since then it has been worn for homemade music videos (I apologise now to the Backstreet Boys – but when Backstreet’s Back, you know). It has been worn on hen dos, at birthdays, for fun round the garden and sometimes just on rainy days to cheer me up.
I’m not going to say it holds magical powers – but it does make me much funnier. As such, it has never been washed. It would be too risky – I can’t go washing the comedy out of it – it would never be the same. It is covered in various stains and I am sure smells absolutely horrendous after so many years of dancing and frolicking in it. But it is my talisman and even just thinking about it hanging in my wardrobe makes me feel happy.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it would seem that something similar has happened with my trainers. When I started this challenge – to exercise for 100 days – I bought a pair of trainers. They are blue with pink laces. They are extraordinarily comfortable. When I put them on I feel awesome. It is quite something. All I have to do is slip my feet in and tie the laces and when I move I move differently. I am stronger.
I’ve started wearing them for things other than exercise. Our garden fence blew down 6 months ago. The neighbour it belongs to has propped it up with some posts on our side. It looks terrible and is a safety hazard with little children running around. I’ve left it for far too long – always keen to avoid any confrontation or uncomfortable conversation. The other day I put my trainers on and marched round there – I (politely but firmly) explained it was beyond ridiculous now and needed sorting. A confidence I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for my sporting attire.
Our toddler has noticed. He told me off the other day for wearing shoes in the house, prompting my husband to comment that the 2 year old knows the house rules better than I do. It’s hard to explain why you’re breaking the rules to a toddler because they want to break the rules too. But I couldn’t help it – I looked at him with my most serious expression and said, “These trainers give mummy super powers” and I left it at that.
As a teenager my magazine of choice was Cosmopolitan. I mainly read it because it had really naughty stories in it and I felt naughty reading them. I can still remember some of the stories. I can remember reading articles about what to wear and how to do make up – I was never that interested in them to be honest. But the article I remember the most was a double page spread showing 8 women in their underwear.
All the women wore a size 12. I was absolutely fascinated. I was a size 12 at the time too. I’m not now. I haven’t been for a while. The thing that fascinated me about this article (and the memory that has stayed with me all these years later) was the fact that all 8 of the women were completely and utterly, wonderfully different.
Their heights ranged from 5ft1 to 6ft3. Their weights ranged from 8-12 stone. Some had pear shaped figures, some had apples, some had narrow hips and some had wide, some had short legs and long bodies and some were the opposite. Some were toned and muscular and others were softer round the edges.
And yet they all wore the same size clothing. I remember looking at them for ages. I remember showing other people – look, look at this article! You’ll never believe it. Look at these women! Isn’t it incredible! It has really stayed with me.
Whenever I have started healthy changes before I have weighed myself – I’ve written the weight next to the all important “Before Photo.” The message I’ve given myself is that this weight is bad or wrong for me and the aim must be to lower it. I always have the same goal weight in mind. It’s a weight I haven’t been for over 15 years. 15 years I’ve spent trying to get back to a weight I remember liking.
Almost half my life.
What a waste.
I didn’t weigh myself on Day 1 of this challenge very deliberately. I have a rough idea about where I sat on the scales but rough is all. I knew that the difference this time was that I wouldn’t be measuring success by watching the scales go down. It might be a happy side effect but I didn’t want it to be my focus. Instead I want to focus on how I feel. How my body feels.
The women in that article were all happy with their size – but there was a 4 stone difference in the weights of the heaviest and lightest amongst them. Our bodies change over time and they are used in different ways. For me, it is time to stop measuring success by number of pounds lost.
I don’t know if my weight will change much during this process but I can already see changes happening in my body. I look less bloated round the middle and I’m starting to see muscles appearing (small ones but they are definitely there!) And other changes too – I’ve worn less make up since I started exercising. My skin looks happier and I don’t feel like I need to cover it up in the same way. My confidence in my body is growing and for the first time in a long time it has nothing to do with weight.
I have completed the first session of Week 4, Couch to 5k. You might remember I attempted this too soon and couldn’t complete it. Having gone back and worked my way up properly to this point I have now done it – I ran for 3 minutes then 5 minutes then I did it again! A total of 16 minutes running.
After my first 5 minute run I could have cried. But these tears were of absolute joy. I was so overwhelmed to have run for that long without stopping. I have completely surprised myself – with both this achievement and also with the level of delight I felt.
I suppose it is like anything you feel you have worked hard for – when you start to see positive results it seems suddenly more worthwhile. This is also something tangible I can measure. 18 days ago I couldn’t run for 5 minutes. Today I can. I also needed to prove to myself that going back a stage to a manageable level wasn’t me being defeated or failing. In fact it was the opposite – it takes strength to admit you are wrong and to start again. I was definitely wrong to attempt this run too soon but the payoff for going back has been more than worth it.
My best friend gave me this jumper. I love it and I wore it today for my run firstly because it was freezing outside and secondly because I needed a supportive boost which I knew she would provide – if not in person then through the power of fabric. It’s impossible not to feel good in a bright pink jumper that declares your happiness to the world. I even managed to smile at two other runners – a knowing smile, a “yeah – we’ve got this” smile. And we really did.
I went shopping for school uniform when I started secondary school and I was absolutely baffled by the PE kit list. A gum shield and shin pads: Surely these were things professional sportspeople wore? Not 12 year old school children. I never had any intention of being involved in any sport where I would need this level of protection.
I don’t like being cold. At school I had much more success during PE lessons in the summer. In fact, I was – would you believe it – on several B teams. B teams! That’s one away from A – not bad eh? I was on the B team for netball… and tennis… and rounders. I had little badges that I wore on my blazer to show the rest of the school that I was the Bee’s Knees. The B team Bee but still pretty impressive, I felt.
Winter sports were less successful. Our school was on a hill. A steep hill. It seemed to me that they could have put the hockey pitch anywhere. Anywhere on the school grounds. But the sadistic site team thought the best place for it was at the very bottom of the hill.
Hockey in the winter was, as you can imagine, freezing. I guess if you ran around you probably warmed up a bit – but I could never summon the energy to move through the frost quick enough to heat up. I remained cold for the entire hour and then the rest of the day, sometimes I was cold for the whole week until low and behold – it was hockey time again.
My main aim in hockey lessons was to have the ball as little as possible. I quickly sussed out who, on the opposing team, was good and I stayed as far away from them as possible – if they wanted to run past me with the ball I saluted that move. The clash of hockey sticks or the feeling of a ball hitting my shin (even with shin pads on) still haunts my dreams.
As I’ve aged (and especially since I’ve worn glasses) I have become even more uncomfortable around balls. Especially balls flying at my face (calm down). Even playing catch with a tennis ball leaves me flinching – I think my peripheral vision is not what it used to be. My eye sight has changed but my feelings towards the cold have not.
So why, why oh why did I start this challenge just as we were heading into the colder months? The incentive to get up and run around the block when the air is freezing cold is almost nonexistent. I think back to those warm summer evenings – what a perfect time to run! Now it’s cold and it’s getting darker – we should be inside, wearing wooly jumpers and clutching mugs of hot chocolate with both hands.
Still. At least I don’t have to walk down that hill to exercise. Or worse – walk back up it again after an hour of hockey.
When I was pregnant with our second child I wrote myself a letter. It read:
“Dear body, remember how it feels when you are preggers and everything aches and you really want got go for a run (who knew!) and you can’t. You hate finding it hard to roll over in bed or tie your own shoes. Remember this and don’t take your physical health for granted post baby. When you can exercise again, make sure you do it. Don’t just eat toast for three months and feel rubbish about yourself.”
I did eat toast for three months after our daughter was born. But I didn’t feel rubbish about myself – I felt hungry. All the time. Because boy can that girl drink milk! She was up all day and all night and whilst she was putting on pound after pound I was eating bread like we had shares in a field of wheat.
I also don’t remember writing this letter to myself – a friend reminded me the other day. I don’t really remember being pregnant either now – once there’s a baby in the world the previous 9 months sort of disappear into the atmos. But I do remember that being pregnant was hard work. Super hard work. The hardest work my body has ever done. It ached all the time and simple activities were exhausting.
I’m sure the extra two stone of weight I was carrying before I even got pregnant and the fact that I had no regular exercise in place did not help my plight. What’s even more frustrating looking back is that I had already been pregnant once and I knew what it was like – in fact after I gave birth the first time I swore I would not get pregnant again until I was in better shape. Funny what you forget.
Although I had forgotten writing this letter to myself I obviously hadn’t forgotten the feeling because whilst my body was recovering post labour I knew in the back of my mind that I was gearing up for something – for this. My body felt ready to get up and move, to run really fast, to feel strong and healthy.
I have the utmost respect for what my body went through when I was pregnant and I guess I want to pay it back. To say thank you for going through that especially since I hadn’t given it the best head start. After I gave birth the first time my body was a stranger to me – bits had moved around and things squidged in different ways. I didn’t feel like me anymore. My son’s birth had a dramatic ending when emergency intervention was needed. I don’t think I appreciated at the time the effect that would have on me and how I viewed myself.
It was only after giving birth the second time that I began to see my body for what it really was – an absolute machine. My daughter’s birth (in contrast) left me feeling strong, empowered and in control. For the first time in a long time I wanted to look after my body – to care for it – to show it how grateful I am.