Day 35

When I was 10 years old I was on the Primary school netball team. I was the same height then as I am now – and 5ft6 (a fairly average height for an adult) was a great height for a 10 year old netball player. I was Goal Defence and I mostly just had to stand in front of people with my arm in the air to stop them shooting easily. It was a fairly relaxed gig.

The school, in its wisdom, decided to host a parent and child netball match at the end of the year. I signed my mum up immediately. She is one of the most competitive people I know and I knew she’d be a good ally in the world of Primary school sports. The first match was great – mum and I were on the same team. Then someone thought it would be a good idea to have a parents versus children match.

My mum was a legend – she ran, she dived, she dodged, she scored. Time and time again. Children were flying out of her way – she was a woman possessed. At half time the teacher who was acting as referee asked her to leave the court. I saw the fear in the teacher’s eyes – this was one competitive mother away from a first aid disaster, a law suit waiting to happen and a newspaper headline in the making.

So my mum was benched. Needless to say that after that the children’s team picked up swiftly and we went on to win the match.

We have a print in our hallway which reads, “The Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree”. Flash forward a few decades and now I am the mum attending a school sports event. This time it’s the Preschool Sports Day. Our son wasn’t keen to partake this year – it was his first time and he was feeling a little shy. His mother, on the other hand, was not. I marched over to the manager of the Preschool, eager to see when the parents’ race would begin.

It turns out that until this year no such thing existed – there was a Dad’s race (incidentally, I’m pretty sure the guy who won it was wearing flip flops so I’m not sure how seriously it was being taken) but I’m not a Dad. I immediately insisted on a race I could take part in, at which time I put a sports bra on over the top of my jacket, tied the laces on some old trainers and got into the runners’ starting position. I was going for gold.

I came third. But to be honest, since the race had only been declared “open” minutes before, we didn’t pull in huge numbers of competitors. Still, I was happy with my plastic medal and spot on the winner’s podium. But next year I’ll be going back with a vengence – Plastic Gold will be mine.

In the case of my 0-100 days of exercise challenge, I don’t have any real competitors. I am competing with an idea I set myself and my inner (lazy) voice, who says life is fine without exercise and sitting on the sofa eating share bags of chocolate to myself will have no long-term negative effects on my health. My internal monologue convincing me that I don’t need to exercise has won for too long – it’s time to shake up the game.

So does competitiveness run in the family – are we born competitive or does it become us? In December 2011 my Grandmother declared that my husband and I had “ruined Christmas for everyone” because our competitiveness had gotten out of hand during a game of Trivial Pursuit – my husband maintains that we were just following the rules efficiently, like all good teachers.

In the case of me and my mother, the apple definitely didn’t fall far from the tree of competitiveness. We have to be on the same team for Christmas boardgames now or things can get messy. I just have to hope that next year at the Preschool Sports Day they don’t open out the races to include Grandparents too.

Day 34

When I’m not watching a heist film another favourite genre is time travel. I love films where characters can travel through the space-time continuum and re-live or look back at or re-invent their past. I am less interested in the future and more keen to see what happens when people go back and try something different. Will their life path be changed for the better or for the worse? Will new choices make their futures brighter or lead them on a path bound for failure?

As we watched our toddlers play together this week, a wise friend said to me – the days go slowly but the years go fast. I’m sure she’s right. I am completely baffled as to where the last 3 years have gone since becoming a parent. Yet there are days when I am counting down the last hour before everyone is bathed, read to and tucked up in bed.

It got me thinking about time and how (despite being of a constant pace) it can appear to go quickly or slowly depending on the day, the moment, the activity. When I am reading a good book, hours can pass by and I hardly notice. Yet when I am playing tractors and trailers for minutes on end it can seem like a lifetime. It works by venue too – outside puddle splashing and nature walks can make an afternoon fly by but stuck inside a soft play centre and sometimes time seems to be going backwards.

Of course it’s different for everyone and one person’s time speeder-upper is another person’s slow-mo button. I’m learning my time triggers with exercise. The first time I try something new the 30 minutes race past and I’m left wondering if I should squeeze in a bit more as I have enjoyed it so much. But an exercise DVD by the fourth of fifth playing fills me with dread – because by the time minute 7 is displaying on the machine, it feels like I’ve been working out for hours in some sort of time-torture chamber.

The only exception so far has been the couch to 5k running whereby 30 minutes seems like 30 minutes, whether I am finding it hard or easy. I often boggle at the thought of athletes running for hours on end and I am left amazed at the concept of long distance or marathon runners – because 30 minutes, at the moment, in my opinion, is the perfect amount.

Whilst counting down from 0-100 days of exercise, it is hard not to think about the future – firstly, day 100. How will I feel when I have achieved my goal? But secondly, what does the future of exercise hold for me once this challenge is done? But as I said, I am much more interested in time travel when people go back in time.

So if I could go back in time – would I have started this exercise malarky earlier? When in my life would have been the opportune moment to get fit and healthy and establish better exercise routines? There is no doubt that when I was single and before having children it would have been much easier and more practical to fit regular exercise into my daily life.

I broke up with a partner whilst I was at university and my younger (sometimes wiser) little brother called me. He asked what I was doing so I told him – eating copious amounts of potato waffles in my pyjamas and watching Oceans 11 and 12 back to back at 2pm on a Saturday. He told me to put on some trainers, go for a run and feel good about myself. I laughed off his suggestion as pure madness. I wonder now if he might have been right.

I am, however, a big believer in the old adage that things happen for a reason and the paths we go down lead us to the journey we are meant to be on. And if that really is true (and not just something we say to make each other feel better) then maybe there is a reason that I’m finding exercise now. If I could go back in time, would I really want to change anything?

Maybe I’d eat slightly fewer potato waffles.

But I recognise that I’ve set myself this exercise challenge because now is the time when I both believe in the importance of exercise but also I believe in myself. I believe in my own strength and determination and (although it can be more challenging to carve out the time) I believe it is important for me to have time to focus on my own mental and physical wellbeing to help me be in the best place to support my family now… and in the future.

Day 33

When I left home to begin my first year at University my mum gave me advice. A lot of advice – it is after all a parent’s role, to advise their children and then trust them out in the world to do the best they can with the information they’ve been given. Here is the main piece of advice my mum bestowed upon me – when you drink alcohol, pace yourself. She suggested I drank one glass of water for every glass of alcohol I consumed. Solid, practical, tangible advice. Completely lost of course on an enthusiastic fresher for whom alcohol had played a fairly minor role until this point.

I did not pace myself well.

It took many years for me to learn this vital skill. Now, with two children to look after come 6am, I have pacing down to a fine art. I can polish off half a bottle of wine early in the evening and also have managed a cup of tea and several glasses of water at the same time. My bladder doesn’t appreciate this much during the night but at least I don’t wake up wondering how I ended up in bed with a slice of marmite on toast on my pillow and the Disney greatest hits album playing on loop. Hakuna Matata.

Although my alcohol pacing has seen great improvements over the years, I am still somewhat lacking in my ability to pace other areas of my life. This week I attended the AGM for our toddler’s preschool. My husband reminded me not to volunteer the minute anyone suggested they needed help – pace yourself, he said – find out what the role involves first.

Needless to say I am now the preschool treasurer. To say my husband was shocked when I returned home with this news would be an understatement – those who know me well know that I am excellent at spending money. But completely baffled as to where it has gone. It fritters – great word – away from me. I have good intentions – nearly all my money goes into the “gift budget”; I love buying gifts for people. I just don’t love keeping track of budgets, expenditure or savings as I go along. An ideal candidate for a treasurer, I think not.

The other day I ran for 20 minutes in one go. I was chuffed. I couldn’t wait for the next time I would run. That time was yesterday and I was feeling awesome. With great plans of running for 20+ minutes again, I was a little surprised and somewhat disappointed to learn that the next run went back to 5-8-5 minute runs with walking in-between. My in-App coach, Sarah Millican, said something in the introduction about consolidation and building stamina but I wasn’t really listening. All I could think about was how if I could run 20 minutes the other day then 5 minutes to start this run was going to be far too easy.

It wasn’t. It was far too hard.

I tried to work out why – at first I thought I must have thrown myself off track when I saw a group of about 12 runners finishing off a 5k run and I whooped very loudly. Some smiled, some whooped back and one elderly runner looked absolutely terrified. Apologies, Sir. I got a little carried away by my fellow runners and wanted to share some of my newly acquired enthusiasm. So I whooped, and I’m not ashamed.

But I don’t think the whoop was the cause of my struggle last night. I think it was pacing again. Because when Sarah said to run for 5 minutes (unlike the previous run which I’d started at a maintainable pace) I sped off. Filled with naivety and confidence, I shot off like I was back at sports day taking part in the 50m sprint. I completely forgot to pace myself. By the time I’d run for 2 minutes, I was out of breath and struggling; 48 hours ago I had been nailing it.

Now, on Day 33, almost a third of the way through this challenge, I am considering my pacing. The last 33 days have been my introduction to exercise, the fun part where I get to try something new and be excited – where progress and achievement happen via a steep learning curve. The next third – days 33-66 are going to be about consolidating the things I’ve learnt. Like Sarah informed me – now is about building on what I’ve done and pushing myself to keep going – even if that means the pace needs to slow down whilst I work on technique, stamina and motivation.

As for the treasurer role… If I can exercise for 33 days then I’m pretty sure I can learn how to budget better and balance books with authority. I wonder if there are meetings for fellow treasurers – maybe we can catch up, chat about preschool finances, whoop a little about budgets and help one another with our annual pacing.

Day 32

When I was at school, we were asked to write a speech to deliver to the rest of our class. The speech was meant to be about a famous person who inspired us. The teacher gave the example of Mother Teresa. There were 27 people in my class. 24 of them chose Mother Teresa (myself included) and we all delivered a very similar speech the week after.

Aged 11, and with less frequent use of the internet and social media, we weren’t as clued-up as young people are today. No memes of famous quotes by inspiring people punctuated our everyday lives. Who were our influencers and our inspiration? Of course I’d heard of Mother Teresa and there is no doubt she did inspire and achieve great things. But looking through an old text book didn’t give me that instant connection with her and her work like the internet can help us do today.

My influencers were people who appeared in my daily life. People I’d met, family and friends. I am still influenced by them now. Two years ago I went on a hen do. Part of the hen do was in a gym – a gym which was regularly attended by the bride-to-be. Not that unusual – hen dos should reflect the bride’s hobbies and interests – and this one was no different. We all took part in a Clubbersize workout class.

Here’s the inspiring bit – when I met this lady years before the absolute last thing I would imagine we would be doing on her hen do was going to a gym. I say that with love and respect and I am sure she won’t mind me saying it – because exercise and the gym were not an important part of her life back then. In fact I’m not sure they had any part in her life.

When we arrived at her gym, the instructors we passed in the corridors waved at her and greeted her by name. She was a celebrity in this gym – and rightly so – she has had a genuinely inspiring journey seeking and finding a healthy lifestyle which now includes regular exercise. I was completely in awe of her as I watched her jumping around with glow sticks in her hands having the time of her life. She’s a modest lady and I think probably doesn’t know how amazing she is – in many areas of her life – but she should know this, she is an inspiring lady too. A real-life influencer in the world of health and exercise.

Clubbersize – by the way – is awesome. You exercise in the dark (amazing – inhibitions immediately lowered) with glow sticks and disco lighting. I wore a fluorescent green tutu and neon pink leg warmers (Richard Simmons would be proud) as I tried to keep up with the moves. It was a lot of fun – as was relaxing in the sauna and hot tub afterwards. Maybe I haven’t given gyms a fair trial, come to think of it.

Influence and inspiration are both important to me on this journey of 0-100 days of exercise. My social media pages and daily news suggestions are often flooded with amazing stories of strangers achieving awesome things. Social media has no doubt brought us closer together than we were in the days of being inspired by stories in old text books, but still it is the people I am surrounded by who both influence and inspire me most. It is often just in the way they go about their day-to-day lives, probably not even aware of the impact they are having on others – the kind actions, the brave moments, the fiercely loyal or wonderfully humourous people.

My hen-do friend, by the way, read my blog when I shared it on Facebook. She immediately sent me a supportive message in which she invited me to a spin class. I haven’t been yet but before the 100 days are up I am going to go. I can’t exactly say no to one of my key influencers now, can I? I’ve never spun before – it sounds absolutely ridiculous. Bicycles that don’t move? It’s almost as mad as clubbing in a gym, sober. I think I’ll go – I’m feeling inspired – I just hope I am allowed to wear my tutu and leg warmers again. After all, who knows who I might influence?

Day 31

Secret exercise is everywhere. It’s going on around us all the time. It’s happening to us without us even realising. It’s constant and mesmerising. Yesterday I tried to keep track of some of the more note-worthy secret exercise in my day.

I walked to the preschool and back home again for pick up and drop off. That’s a total of 1 hour of walking, whilst carrying over 17 pounds of baby in a sling. I spent 25 minutes weeding the driveway in a squatting position. Apologies again to the neighbours who had a good view of my bottom for most of that time. I played chasing games for 40 minutes with a toddler who is wired up to some sort of energy machine that never runs low. And in the evening I assisted in holding pieces of flat pack whilst my husband and I built a wooden toy kitchen. Which took over 2 hours.

So why, in my mind, did none of this secret exercise count? Because of course it did really – my body was moving, my heart rate was up, I even worked up a sweat – especially on hour two of the flat pack when we realised we’d put all 6 of the doors on backwards.

But still, when we’d finally built the kitchen toy and set the table with birthday cards and flags, after we’d tidied away the packaging so it looked like elves had magically made birthday fun appear, by the time we’d settled both kids and had dinner, oh and fit in a quick chat about each other’s day, and done an online food shop, and blown up balloons – when we’d finally done all of that, then, at that point, just before 11pm I realised I hadn’t fit in my exercise for the day.

In my head I tried to justify it to myself. One day wouldn’t make a difference and just think – I did all that secret exercise today. Can’t I just count that? But I knew I couldn’t. I knew that if I didn’t put my PE kit on and do something before midnight that I’d use it as an excuse to quit and not complete my 100 days of exercise challenge.

I should say I am not condoning this level of madness. And certainly once this challenge is done I am looking forward to planning in exercise at a sensible time in the week – when it fits in and around the rest of life – but whilst I’m doing this, I’m going all out. Go big or go home. I’m meeting my goal. So what on earth do you do at 11pm at night?

I had to be reasonable – I couldn’t put on music and dance around with the rest of the house asleep. I couldn’t go out for a run in the pitch black and I couldn’t do anything that would leave me feeling too energised just before bed. It was time to try yoga again. And of course – like everything else – there’s an App for that. After a hasty download I completed a yoga workout.

It is a very different kind of exercise and it was the perfect kind of exercise after a long, busy day and just before bed. As I held my body in the different positions (as best I could – some of them are surely not designed for humans) it was impossible not to feel calm. I was forcing myself to stay still for minutes at a time and as my body stilled, so too did my mind. I slept much better for it. I’m sure taking that time before bed to unwind mentally and stretch out physically, uncurling any tensions from the day could only have been beneficial.

Our son loved his play kitchen this morning. As he cooked me up a healthy breakfast of plastic play cupcakes and steak on toast suddenly 2hrs+ of construction time seemed more than worthwhile. I’m also glad that leaving exercise as a last priority in my day helped me recognise the benefits of taking that exercise time as an opportunity to relax and unwind – helping to keep my mind healthy as well as my body.

And perhaps that – finding a balance, picking a time, utilising it for all its possibilities – maybe that is the real secret of exercise.

Day 30

Thirty days ago we had a thunderstorm. It was Day 1 of my 0-100 days of exercise challenge. I wrote that I hoped the weather was a good sign of things to come which probably seemed a bit strange at the time. But for me thunderstorms represent power and strength. They are the big boss of the meteorological world. And strength was what I sought. They also leave behind them a sense of calm in the air. A stillness and a quietness when things have settled again.

We had another thunderstorm yesterday. And rain. Lots of rain. The radio described the conditions as apocalyptic. Quite fitting I thought then that yesterday was when I would try running again on a recently injured ankle. This sprain seems to have recovered more quickly than previous damage I have done to the area. Perhaps it wasn’t hurt as much as I first thought, but I do wonder if I have aided the recovery through this challenge.

Normally I sit with my feet up watching television and using the sprained foot as an excuse to eat cake. This time I carried on as normal in the day (to be fair two children under 3 won’t let you sit down for long) and also completed my 30 minutes of (gentle) exercise. I stretched the afflicted area and kept it moving – it would normally be stiff and sore by now but instead it has made a quicker recovery.

It was nice to have Sarah Millican (my in-App fitness coach) back in my ears and guiding me on my couch to 5k journey – like an old friend calling for a chat. Except this friend wants me to run for 20 minutes without stopping. Quite a big leap this week then, Sarah. Thanks. She assured me I could do it though and she hasn’t misled me so far. As well as Sarah popping up to chat I have also finally worked out that I can play the radio at the same time the App is running. So this was my first run with music. And what a difference it made.

Halfway through the run Sarah told me that by now my body is able to run for 20 minutes but my mind would need to believe it can. A childhood memory popped into my head – Mr Motivator playing on the television in our sitting room and my mum working out along to him. At one point he gestured to the viewer and said, “It’s mind over matter people. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter!” – I haven’t thought about that memory for many years but it really made me smile and as that phrase looped in my head I realised it was true. My body felt fine – it felt better than fine. It felt great. A couple of times I almost stopped. Almost. But it was a fleeting thought of stopping which was quickly rewritten by reminding myself that there was no reason to stop. My body fought back and told my mind it was going to carry on and get this run done.

I needed the music today to help distract my mind and also because 20 minutes of listening to your own breathing is just too long to be good for you. And I honestly couldn’t have written the playlist better. Every song felt like it had been written to keep me moving. It was extremely helpful. It was also a bit bizarre to run to music having not used any before.

My pacing (which I didn’t even know I had or could do) was somewhat thrown – I kept trying to match my steps to the beat of the music, which of course kept changing. And not being able to hear my own breathing actually turned out to be a bit confusing. I’m not sure why because I get through everyday life quite happily inhaling and exhaling without putting much thought into it. I do seem to have a set pace that I struggle to change. I noticed when Sarah suggested slowing down the pace, my mind agreed that sounded nice. Unfortunately I couldn’t coordinate my body to match up.

But it doesn’t matter.

Because I did it.

I ran for 20 minutes. Without stopping.

Afterwards I felt shaky and exhilarated. I also felt a post thunderstorm sense of calm. The streetlights had come on and were making the puddles from the day glisten like a secret prize only I knew about. And so after running for 20 minutes without stopping, I stood for a minute and just enjoyed the stillness.

Day 29

With my sprained ankle recovering I have been trying some new workouts. The Pilates App on my phone has proved quite successful and not too strenuous but my favourite new find has got to be “Richard Simmons – Sweatin’ to the Oldies, Volume 4”. I judged a DVD by its case and decided that this one should be fairly easy going. The people on the front look like they’re having a garden party rather than working up a sweat.

This DVD has blown the world of exercise DVDs wide open. It is like nothing I have ever seen before – from the moment it begins you know you are in for a treat. Richard (accompanied by actors in role as police constables) makes his way through a warehouse as it has been “leaked” that someone is illegally making copies of his exercise VHS. After much suspense it is revealed that the culprit is none other than his very own mother – who admits to making over 50,000 copies “for her friends” and is promptly driven away in a police car, whilst Richard informs us that this could happen to us too (or our mothers) if we commit copy fraud.

It’s brilliant before it’s even begun. What a legend. And then, just when you think it’s peaked already, the show (exercise DVD) starts with a full gospel choir and live band singing “Shout” which is the song everyone warms up to! The gospel choir accompany the entire workout – yes! Genius at work. Just imagine the meeting where they were throwing ideas around and they came up with this concept.

More modern workout DVDs I’ve used have had between 1-5 people working out and demonstrating the routines. Richard had a troupe of around 20 – none of whom fit the expectations for fitness enthusiasts. I loved this. Instead of seeing two or three super toned and super fit exercise buddies alongside the presenter (presumably giving the message “do this workout and you can look like us”) here were a group of adults of very varying ages and sizes all rocking out to some brilliant gospel singing and having the time of their lives. And actually that was probably even more inspiring – seeing people not as finished products, but at the start of their fitness journeys giving it a go.

Richard himself was a revelation for me. Rocking a fantastic perm, hotpants and a fluorescent pink vest top which revealed a large amount of chest hair, he was a far cry from the current work-out influencers and social media fitness leaders. I loved his genuine delight at the success of his followers and the way he sang along with the gospel choir whilst he demonstrated the moves – lots of which were extremely literal. I “climbed the ladder to the roof” and “deserved a halo” on many occasions, according to Richard.

I was given this DVD a few years ago and (like most things) probably tried it once and then deemed myself an expert and gave up. Going back I have looked again with fresh eyes. Day 29 eyes. Starting with Volume 4 does make me want to seek out Volumes 1-3 incase I’ve missed anything brilliant on those (I’m sure I have). When you search the internet for “Richard Simmons” one of the first questions you come across is – is he still missing? After a brief moment of panic where I envisaged someone kidnapping this luminous, lycra clad, hairy, fitness enthusiast (possibly his mother seeking her revenge after he had her arrested for fraud) – it transpires he was never missing, just taking a well deserved break from the spotlight after a busy career. That sounds fair to me.

Sometimes having a sprained ankle is a pain – both literally and metaphorically. Other times it opens doors and takes you down paths you had never imagined. When I hurt my ankle on holiday I was given a complimentary wheelchair to use for the rest of the trip to help me move around the park and buildings. I looked with fresh eyes at the challenges faced daily by those using mobility aids – not least accessing buildings and toilets or reaching counters and shelves. Things I was aware of but had no real concept of. This time round, injuring my ankle led me to Richard Simmons, a very different kind of experience – a much more sparkly Spandex kind of an outing which I very much enjoyed. Now if only I could get the songs Dance to the Music and Heat Wave out of my head.