Day 66

I took piano lessons for 5 years. I really liked the idea of playing the piano. For five long years I kept up the pretense that playing the piano was something I really did want to do and I kept thinking that at some point I would actually sit down and practise. Sometimes I sat at the piano for 30 minutes and looked at the music, turned the pages, played an occasional scale, looked at the music again, turned more pages, played a few notes – finally declaring my excellent practice to be complete. I could while away many an evening pretending I was trying.

The truth was I didn’t want to learn. I wanted to be able to play but I had no interest in practising and getting better. I imagined myself playing at concerts or writing songs which I would perform in front of large crowds. But I hated practising. I also hated that year after year I was put in for grade examinations by my teacher. Each grade was the same – from sitting outside the exam room nervously clutching sheets of piano music, to flapping my way through scales and arpeggios and then finally the dreaded singing element when the examiner played a tune I had to echo back. Each exam ended in the same way – with me in floods of tears and the examiner taking pity and awarding me the lowest pass mark possible.

Until grade 4. At grade 4 you can’t fake it anymore and no amount of tears will distract from the fact that if you don’t know what you are doing then you just don’t get to pass. I was told a few weeks later by the music teacher who whispered it as I walked into assembly, “I don’t want you to be upset but you won’t hear your name when the certificates are handed out.”

I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t really anything. I certainly wasn’t surprised. I stopped playing the piano after that; it was a lovely idea but it just wasn’t the right fit for me. I still love the idea of being able to play the piano but not enough to go back to sitting down at the keyboard and actually working to make it happen. Then again, 66 days ago I didn’t like the idea of working hard on being healthy. I didn’t think exercise was the right fit for me either. Maybe there’s still a future when I am a talented musician – I’d be surprised but I don’t think I’ll rule it out as a possibility just yet.

If the last 66 days have taught me one thing, it’s that you never know what you might be capable of until you actually try.

Day 65

Over the last few days it just so happens that I have seen people who I haven’t seen for a while. Each one has taken the time to comment on how I look well; some have mentioned that I look as if I’ve lost weight. I haven’t funnily enough – according to the scales I am still within a pound or two of where I started. I have, however, very much enjoyed the compliments – who doesn’t?

I look in the mirror every day – when I get dressed, when I brush my hair or put make up on; I check my reflection when I’m washing my hands and I even take a sneaky look when I pass windows or car doors and that’s before I count the number of selfies I take where I, once again, am looking at myself. I’m not trying to win a vanity contest here but it did occur to me that I see myself a lot during an average day.

When you see something everyday you don’t really look. Not properly. You look superficially or you glance. The look is often fleeting – it happens all the time when people see our surname written down. They always add in an “r” which does not exist. They glance and fill in the blanks because they are looking but they are not seeing.

When you see someone you haven’t seen for a while you look more closely. You take them in and you notice things if they’ve changed. Today I decided to look properly at myself – to look but also to see. Here’s what I saw:

I saw someone who still had energy at 9pm.

I saw someone who didn’t crash into a glass of wine as soon as the children were asleep.

I saw someone who is proud of themselves and probably talks too much about running now but hopes that she will calm down again soon.

I saw someone who is excited to get up early and exercise before the rest of the house is awake.

I saw someone who has surprised herself.

I saw someone who still can’t say no to Jaffa Cakes but doesn’t feel guilty about eating all 10 in one go anymore.

Day 64

When I was in Year 9 I caught the bus to and from school. I loved the school bus but for one term before a space opened up on it my dad drove me in on his way to work – this meant that after some excellent early morning Meatloaf sing-alongs in the car, I got into school very early. Early student arrivals are not much fun for the staff as they often get up to mischief. To combat this the school had put on a number of early clubs which we were encouraged to sign up to.

We had a table tennis table at home and I thought I was pretty good at it so when I saw there was a club I could attend playing table tennis in the morning, I signed myself up. It was run by a teacher I didn’t know as she predominantly taught the 6th form. A note went round during registration the next week asking me to arrive on Monday morning at 7:45 for the club which would take place on the Red Corridor.

Monday morning came round and the clocked ticked over to 7:45. I went to the toilet and I hid. I hid for 30 minutes in a toilet cubicle until I knew the club was over and then I went back to my form room. I sat down at my desk and I didn’t mention my toilet hiding episode to anyone.

During one of the morning lessons there was a knock at the door. I knew as soon as I saw the teacher she’d come for me and sure enough, after an inaudible conversation between the two teachers, I was summoned to the front and then asked to have a “quick word” outside. I shuffled out feeling guilt wash over me and fear like only a school child who thinks they’re about to be told off can feel.

“Why weren’t you at the table tennis club this morning?”

A simple question. The real answer was actually pretty simple too. But it’s not the answer I gave. I gave a very different answer. An answer which involved an elaborate tale about falling from a bunk bed (I didn’t have a bunk bed) and landing awkwardly and causing great injury to my back (I hadn’t) and then when I realised I had made the lie so big it sounded like I was too injured to be in school, I pulled back and started down a different track. A track where I was indeed injured but my dad, a highly regarded surgeon, had assessed the damage and deemed me fit for school but unfit for table tennis.

A long, awkward pause followed. During which I am sure the teacher was assessing whether or not to call me out on the lie or let it, well, lie. Through her frown she said, “Well you should have informed me you weren’t coming. There is a long waiting list for my club. If you don’t make it next week, I will assume you don’t want to be involved and I will give your space to someone else.”

I didn’t make it the next week.

The real reason I hadn’t gone to the club? I didn’t know where the Red Corridor was. It was as simple and as ridiculous as that. I should have just said I hadn’t known where to go or asked someone, but I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know where it was having been at the school for nearly 3 years. Even as an adult I sometimes feel embarrassed to ask questions I think sound silly and that’s despite having been a teacher and truly meant it when I promoted the belief that it’s never silly to ask questions.

I’ve noticed a shift in the last 64 days – a new sort of confidence in myself. There’s a little voice in the back of my head now, a sort of mini-me dressed in sports gear, who just quietly, every now and then, whispers – “You can run for 30 minutes; you’ve totally got this. Just go for it; you’ll be great.” And that little mini-me cheerleader stops me from feeling embarrassed if I don’t know something or I have to ask a question which might seem obvious. She’s still small but she’s there and I really like having her with me.

It’s been 20 years since I started at secondary school and I still, to this day, have no idea where the Red Corridor is. But if I go back to visit I promise you this – I’m going to find out!

Day 63

Our three year old and his best friend are “going through a phase” as toddlers so often are. The phase goes a little something like this:

Stage 1: overtired/hungry toddler wants something his friend has

Stage 2: he goes and takes the precious item (normally a leaf covered in bird poo or a bit of old brick covered in snail slime) directly out of his friend’s hands

Stage 3: friend (understandably) is very annoyed

Stage 4: one or both friends resort to either screaming at or hitting the other to get back/keep hold of said precious item

This is not unusual behaviour for toddlers. As parents our job is to explain why the behaviour wasn’t kind, teach them alternative ways to communicate their needs and encourage them to apologise. This takes time. Many, many attempts will be made to learn this important skill – because we are asking 3 year olds to take responsibility for their behaviour and even adults find that hard.

Our son and his best friend love each other very much. They are as close as brothers which means they fight like brothers. But like brothers they are always quick to forgive and forget. Watching them play and practise these key social skills makes me think about my own responsibilities. Not to other people, objects or situations, but responsibility for myself and my own actions.

I (like many others I am sure) have been known to utter such phrases as, “I had to drink because everyone else was” or “I had to eat 30 Jaffa Cakes because it’s been a stressful day”. Phrases like this remove the responsibility from us and place it on someone or something else. I can blame friends for “making me drink” or stress for meaning I “had to eat rubbish” but this deflection is just done to avoid taking ownership of my behaviour – the only person responsible for me drinking was me. The only person putting Jaffa cake after Jaffa cake into my mouth was me.

A glass of wine and some treats aren’t the end of the world but my attitude towards them is similar to how I’ve looked at exercise before. I can’t because… I won’t because… Always someone else or some extenuating circumstance to blame for the lack of exercise in my world.

But when I stopped making excuses – 63 days ago – and took responsibility for making exercise part of my life, my whole outlook on it changed. I am the only one who can make me exercise. I am the one who is responsible for looking after my body. I am responsible for my own health. That’s the simple truth of it. This morning I set the alarm for 5:45am. I got up, put my trainers on and stood next to the back door looking at the cold, dark morning. No one else would be to blame if I didn’t run. I could say it was because it was cold or dark or early but that wouldn’t stop it from being my choice not to go out and get going.

So I took responsibility for my fitness goals and I ran.

And the sunrise when I’d finished was most definitely worth it:

Day 62

A couple of years ago I was giving our son, who was about 9 months old at the time, a bottle of milk to settle him for a nap. I was sat in his room with the lights off and the curtains closed. It was early evening but around this time of year so it was dark early. All was calm and peaceful. Then I heard the floorboards on the landing half way up the stairs creak. We don’t have an old house. The only reason it creaks is because someone is moving around.

My husband was at work. We have two house keys; I have one and he has the other. There was no way it was him and even if it was he always calls out hello when he arrives home. So my brain jumped to the only possible scenario – someone had broken into our house and was now on the stairs and approaching our son’s bedroom.

I have never felt panic like I felt in that moment and then I heard the unmistakable sound of the stair gate being slowly opened. They say in moments of real terror, flight or fight instinct kicks in. I felt mostly paralysed as I clung to our son. After what felt like a lifetime the door slowly opened and my brother’s face popped round the corner.

I had messaged him about 30 minutes beforehand to say I’d left the backdoor open and he should just let himself in when he arrived. Of course I had completely forgotten he was coming and that I’d sent that message. I am not a violent person at all but when I saw his face pop round the door I was so relieved and so full of adrenaline that I slapped him on the face. I have no idea why and still to this day feel bad about it – sorry Little Bro. Some kind of post-stress fight reflex kicked in, triggered by the absolute relief it was him and not a psychopath or a burglar.

My brother, somewhat shocked by my greeting, knelt down and said hello to our son who was sitting on my lap. I encouraged him to “Say hello to Uncle Richard” at which point our 9 month old son smiled and then promptly slapped his uncle round the face.

Monkey see. Monkey do.

Not a great start to my brother’s visit and a stark reminder that we are such powerful role models in children’s lives. Parents, uncles, grandparents, strangers in the street – children watch and absorb everything. There are always stories of children picking up the “naughty words” and announcing them in the middle of nursery or preschool. They copy the bad that’s for sure but they also learn from our good.

Today I have been bouncing on castles and running around the park. I didn’t make excuses to sit down and watch, I just got stuck in with the good old business of play. I flew down zipwires, jumped on trampolines and climbed across logs. I want our children to see me having fun and playing and getting stuck in with the imaginative play and the rough and tumble and the climbing and jumping and spinning and flying. If toddler see, toddler do then I want them to see me having the best time playing because that’s what it should be about when you’re growing up. And I am definitely loving having more energy and stamina to play.

Day 61

My husband and I (and a number of our close friends) are big fans of musical theatre. We absolutely love it. We love theatre and we love music and the combination of people expressing their feelings through the power of song is the best of the best. One of our favourite musical theatre songs is called “Seasons of Love” and the central premise is the idea that there are different measures of time.

“How do you measure a year?” 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 525,600 minutes. Rather than time, the song asks us to imagine measuring a year through cups of coffee drunk or journeys that were planned. Tonight the fancy clocks of the UK will automatically go back an hour for daylight savings time; other clocks we will manipulate by turning them back 60 minutes. Even as an adult I am baffled by this concept. The idea that we can just turn back the clocks and an extra hour will appear as if from nowhere. What power we hold.

I’ve thought a lot about measures of success as I’ve been completing this 0 to 100 days of exercise challenge. My overall measure of success is whether or not I actually complete 100 days in a row where I exercise each day. The next level of success should surely then be linked to the quality of the exercise I do. Certainly some days, the enthusiasm and energy I put into the 30 minutes set aside for exercise are not as high as others.

And then there are the effects of exercise, which are much harder to quantify. How successful will this process be for mental and emotional well-being? How will I unpick and measure if I feel better for exercising in ways other than being able to run for longer or squat lower than I used to? Will exercise make me more positive or determined or focused as so many health gurus suggest it might? How will I measure the impact it has in other areas of my life?

As I creep towards day 100 I can feel myself reflecting more on changes that have occurred and are occurring. But for today, instead of measuring in merely minutes spent exercising or days passing, here is my alternative version in honour of the clocks going back and just for fun:

How do you measure 100 days of exercise?

In number of sports socks

In runs round the park

In audiobooks downloaded

In squats, lunges and jumps

In muscles that ache

And in bras that have broken

In the moments I’ve taken

In Sarah Millican’s praise

In lengths of a pool

In words that I’ve written

In sweat that I’ve dripped

And in people who’ve helped

How do you measure 100 days of exercise?

Day 60

My sports bra came undone when I was exercising today. It just pinged right open at the top. At first I didn’t know what had happened – I thought my boobs had collapsed. I suppose they had in a way. A good bra is essential these days and even more so when exercising. Without one, bouncing around becomes a dangerous sport – I am pretty sure I could take down a grown adult by flinging my boob around at the wrong angle, and I don’t even mean in the fun kind of way.

Support is so important when we try something new. Encouragement, praise and reassurance form the cornerstone of support and with them we feel stronger and safer. I have been overwhelmed by kind messages from people reading my posts each day – family, friends and even strangers. Sometimes, on the days when it is harder to motivate myself, I think of the support I have received along the way and it powers me up to keep going.

When my little brother ran the London Marathon (what a legend) we went to support him. We got completely caught up in the overwhelming excitement from the spectators. Stood on some railings at one of the mile check points we were giddy with support. Everyone around us was cheering and yelping and waving and smiling – and all this for mostly complete strangers. They were supporting everyone as they ran past – cheering them on with claps and praise. It was a wholly positive experience standing there and watching the runners pass.

Opposite us one guy had taken things to a whole other level. He’d turned up with a speaker system and microphone and was playing Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” whilst saying over the microphone – “Listen to Tina. Let her words guide you.” He was having the best time supporting the runners and providing some classic hits for the crowd to sing along to. And we did.

I have really appreciated the support I have received for the last 60 days – it has made me smile. It has kept me going. So in return here is some support for you. Maybe you’re exercising – maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re trying something new or working towards a goal. Maybe you’re just living life in whatever form and shape that looks like for you. Whatever it is you’re up to, this is yours:

YOU ARE AWESOME! Keep going. You are so much stronger than you know and you are doing great. Well done for being YOU and for being AMAZING!