When I was first training to be a teacher we were encouraged to write a lesson plan for individual lessons. One of the key elements of the plan was to incorporate timings of the session. Generally lessons included a ten minute starter (to whet the appetite for learning) and a ten minute plenary (during which time we would muse over what we had learnt) with the main bulk of learning taking place in between.
As time went on these lesson plans would become obsolete – reserved for only the very special occasions, like a visit from Ofsted. It would be impractical to write such a detailed lesson plan for every lesson taught in the school week and by the time we were qualified teachers it would also be less necessary. By then we had acquired the skills we needed to structure lessons without individual pieces of paper dictating to us minute by minute.
In those early lessons timings would often wander off the page and take a casual stroll down the corridors looking for trouble. A ten minute starter session could accidentally last the entire lesson and after 40 minutes of an exciting input the bell would sound, signalling that once again we had forgotten to move on and actually teach the core of the lesson. Likewise the plenary was a thing of myth and legend – rarely did a teacher in training fit one in whilst trying to cover the necessary lesson content and keep children engaged and excited about learning.
Timing was everything. As we grew as teachers and learners ourselves we found our rhythms and started to time our lessons more successfully. We learnt the flow of a lesson and knew when to stop and move things on or tie things up. In the early days those planned timings were much more important.
I have found the same with running. I finished the Couch to 5k app this week (did I mention that already?) and yesterday I attempted my first run without Sarah Millican (my in-app trainer) to guide me. I set a timer on my phone for 30 minutes and just started running. There were three points during the run when I checked the timer. Almost to the second those times were 5 minutes, 15 minutes and 29 minutes.
Those times coincided exactly with my training. They are the times when Sarah would have popped up had I been listening to the app. She always told me when I’d completed the first 5 minutes, when I was half way through the run and when I had only a minute left. I had been conditioned to expect to hear her voice at those times and I found I really missed it yesterday. I missed her encouraging words and clear guidance. Running without her just wasn’t the same. I’ve realised I’m not ready to fly solo yet. As time goes on perhaps the timings will seem less important but for now I definitely still need my lesson plan and my teacher on hand to guide me.
This morning I woke up in the fog which follows an intense dream, or in this case – nightmare. It took a good ten minutes with my eyes closed, before I let anyone know I was awake, for me to process the dream and work out if it was real or not. The level of intensity was so great that I knew I had to work this out before I could face the day. If the dream wasn’t a dream and had in fact really happened then it would mean that upon waking I would have to tell my husband the truth and watch my marriage and my family fall apart, alongside losing a good number of my best friends.
I was delighted, after much unscrambling of my brain, that the nightmare wasn’t my reality – just a figment of an overactive mind during the night. I didn’t have to start the day with confessions of guilt and knowingly cause upset and distress. It was just a dream. But boy was it powerful. Our imagination can be extremely impactful. Have you ever walked down a dark street and convinced yourself that every sound and trick of the light is someone lurking in the shadows? Have you ever waited for a reply to a message, meanwhile convincing yourself that the person who hasn’t replied must be upset with you in someway when the reality is they were just busy? Have you ever purchased a lottery ticket and really, truly, believed yours was the winning ticket?
Our imagination is made of serious stuff. It is the ethanol of the mind – it’s hardcore. How we use it and harness its energy can vary deeply. There are lots of Halloween “scare events” popping up at the moment. We spoke to an actress yesterday who dresses as a witch and scares people who buy tickets to walk through a “haunted” maze in the dark – the event is only available to those over the age of 18 and identification is required. Reasonable, logical, educated adults go home terrified and haunted by the maze – yet they know it is all a trick; they paid to be entertained so they know it’s not real. Still the fear stays with them.
Motivational speakers often talk about positive affirmations – if you repeat positive phrases over and over again you will feel more positive; you will become more positive. I know people this has worked for – women who have sworn by the power of positive thought during labour for example (hypnobirthing is a popular approach whereby the mother-to-be uses meditative techniques to help ease stress and have a calm and positive birthing experience). It’s all in the mind, so they say.
Whilst away my husband and I (like the true literary geeks that we are) pieced some tenuous clues together and decided we were staying opposite the home of one of my favourite authors. A number of her books feature hauntings and the paranormal and so my imagination was fired up again – suddenly I was seeing ghosts and haunted toys all around the cottage, convinced all inspiration for her books must come from the house opposite. I got quite carried away if I’m honest.
If our imagination can be harnessed for good then its powers know no bounds when it comes to exercise. Sometimes when I complete my 30 minutes I use my imagination to firstly distract but also to inspire. When I’m struggling to complete the 30 minutes I imagine myself crossing marathon finish lines, being awarded Gold at the Olympics or setting up my own yoga studio after converting our garage. In reality I think it would take a lot more than 30 minutes of exercise a day for 100 days to achieve these daydreams. For now, however, my imagination can take me there and keep me motivated and inspired to keep going.
I’m going to write something now with absolute clarity of the fact that 57 days ago if I’d read it I would have immediately stopped reading it whilst declaring something along the lines of, “Who does she think she is? Sanctimonious busy body telling me what to do with my life. She obviously doesn’t know what real life is like.” So here we go…what I say is not meant to be anything other than what it is.
Go and put on your trainers. And go and do some exercise.
Yeah, yeah – sure. I’ve heard all the excuses you’re about to make. I’ve made them myself, countless times. I’ve made every excuse under the sun and all the excuses under the moon.
Just go and do some exercise.
You will not be sad you did it. Imagine that – imagine something that can only make you feel better for doing it. Maybe you only do one minute of exercise. There will be no “only one minute” about it. “Only” has no place for you. It’s one minute and one minute is amazing; it’s fantastic; it’s incredible. It’s one minute you weren’t going to do. One minute you didn’t do yesterday. One minute is everything.
How do I know? 57 days ago I ran for one minute. One minute was all I could manage and maybe at the time I thought that wasn’t great. Maybe I downplayed that minute as me being unhealthy and unfit and unenthusiastic. But there was no “un” about it – because I did it and for one minute I was working towards being healthy and fit and enthusiastic, without the “un”.
GO AND DO SOME EXERCISE.
One minute. Do one minute. Do anything. Just get it done. Even better – wake up and do it. Start the day on a high and the rest of the day will follow in the same way. You can ride the high for as long as you want – take it to work with you and drop it into conversation during your tea break, “Yeah, I did one minute of exercise this morning. Just got out of bed and did it. One whole minute. I’m a legend.”
We have been away for a few days to a remote little hamlet a couple of hours away from our home. It’s not the middle of nowhere but it’s right next door. This is the first trip I’ve been on where exercise has been part of my life and two things happened which are somewhat alien to me. Firstly I took exercise clothing and my trainers with me – unheard of as they wouldn’t normally scream “weekend away” attire to me. Secondly when we arrived and we were trying to find the holiday cottage – satnav was useless, we were way off the grid – I found myself looking around (not for the nearest pub like I would normally) but for where I would be able to go on my run days.
Going away with two small children takes a lot more planning and thought than pre-children. We spent 55 minutes packing the car with all the home comforts our children might need – high chairs, travel cots, blankets, toys, books – and 5 minutes hurling a few clothes and a toothbrush into our own case. Our children could survive without a lot of the things we have brought with us but we know that we are taking them out of their comfort zone and (although trips hold great excitement and wonder) we know that going somewhere new and different can be unsettling. So Big Monkey and Little Giraffe and the wobbly ball and the toy lawn mower have come along too, just to keep everyone feeling safe and happy.
My husband has his book as his happy item and I have my make up bag and my trainers. I have never travelled anywhere without my make up bag. I know that probably seems vain – I actually don’t wear much – but I just like to know I have it. It’s like a suit of armour against the world and I don’t feel quite myself without my make up. A bit of mascara and I feel more confident. Over the last 56 days my trainers have reached new levels of power – make up power – when I am putting them on to exercise I feel stronger and more empowered. I wouldn’t have imagined ever packing my trainers and my make up bag next to each other before. Nestled between the baby’s playmat and the toddler’s diggers, they made me smile. A funny coupling if ever there were.
It’s easier not to go away with small children. It’s easier to stay in your house with all the things you and they need around you. It’s easier not to visit new places that might not have good changing facilities. It’s easier not to cart around 16 changes of clothing per person for a long weekend because the weather is bound to be wet and cold.
It’s also easier not to exercise.
It’s a lot easier not to exercise.
The last 56 days have been far from my comfort zone but like going away with our children, exercise has taken me to places I haven’t been before. Sometimes the best thing you can do is challenge yourself to step outside your zone of normal and try something new. There’s nothing wrong with staying at home but going on adventures are when we learn the most about ourselves and each other and that, to me, makes it more than worthwhile.
Today we realised late in the day that we had said yes to a swimming trip without our daughter owning a costume. In the past we might have driven around looking for somewhere to purchase a swimming costume last minute in October or even cancelled the plans. Now we are unphased by a situation like this – we are the mighty Olympians of online shopping (next day delivery). We have instant choice and instant purchasing power for instant delivery to our door. We are Generation Instant: used to getting what we want and what we (think we) need in an instant.
Yesterday we went for a walk to our village allotment. We don’t have an allotment ourselves but there is lots to see and our 3 year old loves pointing out fruit and veg, gardening tools and fun contraptions to collect rainwater – one gardener has an old bath tub set up at the bottom of theirs. I like playing “guess the gardener” by the way they have organised (or not organised) their plots. We met a man yesterday with the most efficiently organised vegetables – neat rows with carefully planned pathways. No space was wasted and he told us he had planted with ease of access and productivity in mind. His profession? Now a retired engineer.
Him and his wife told us how they had grown so many tomatoes this year they had a freezer of homemade passata and shelves full of ketchup. Last year they had an abundance of cucumbers which now fill jars, pickled to preserve them for many years to come. It’s not for ease or even cost – the lady told us it would be much cheaper to buy a bag of veg from the local supermarket and certainly easier. So why did they bother?
Today I went for another 30 minute run and I thought a lot about journeys. Journeys have an end point – a destination. But there is a difference between being interested in the destination and being interested in the journey. If the only thing the allotment couple were interested in was the end result – having a jar of passata – they would have visited the shop to buy one. Their interest lies in the journey. They clearly love the time spent working on their allotment and the energy they put into growing their vegetables is not resented, it is relished.
So much these days can be done in an instant that we can lose sight of the journey. The journey to town with two children under 3, traipsing the shops in the cold to look for an out-of-season swimming costume for a baby, might not have been the easiest of journeys – sometimes instant online shopping is most definitely a preferred choice. But are we missing out on other things because we live this instant life?
Certainly in the past I have only been interested in an end result – a body that looks and feels like it has been exercising without any interest in the journey or any desire to put in the effort required to get the end result. This challenge – to exercise for 100 days – has been about the journey between 0 and 100. I’m not sure what the end result will be yet and that in itself is quite liberating. There is no instant result when you make a lifestyle change like this – things take time and progress can sometimes seem slow. I can’t buy a ready made jar of healthy – I have to grow it myself over time. If I wasn’t enjoying the journey I’m not sure why I would continue with the effort.
Of course there are lots of benefits to one click only purchasing and being able to have our needs met so quickly. Information is delivered to us instantly too – news feeds pop up throughout the day so we have instant access to the big news as it unfolds. Social media tells us instantly what people we know are doing, or want us to know that they are doing. Sometimes, though, when the world is flying directly at us – wham bam instant jam – we can miss out on the steps between, the journey along the way. And sometimes that journey is worth slowing down for.
Over the last 54 days I have been heard to say things that I have possibly never uttered before. It’s become a bit of an ongoing joke as I surprise not only friends and family but also myself, as previously unknown phrases tumble out of my mouth. And so with this in mind, it’s time for another list. This list is titled, “Things you never thought you’d hear me say”:
I’m going for a run.
Have you seen my trainers?
I’ll call as soon as I’ve finished exercising.
Look at my arm muscles – I’m so strong.
I can’t wait to do a Zumba workout later.
I need to finish my yoga before bed.
After dinner I’m going swimming.
I didn’t even know I had a muscle there.
Of course I’ll bring our 4 month old to an advanced level abs workout class
I run now. I’m a runner.
I’m just going to look in the sports section
Thank you but I don’t need a lie in – I’m using that time to exercise.
Race you to the park.
Look how good my bum looks in these trousers.
I’m good thanks. I can run for 30 minutes without stopping.
We are currently at a soft play centre. For those who do not have young people in their lives – either their own or ones they help out with or borrow occasionally for day trips – soft play is probably a bit of an alien concept. It certainly was to me before we had our children. They are simultaneously the best and worst places to be – generally a massive hygiene risk from start to finish as hundreds of children have bounced, crawled, jumped, run and clamboured their sticky, snotty hands over the room full of soft obstacles. Yet they are also relatively safe, contained, child-centred prisons which children love.
They love them so much that our son chose soft play as the reward he wanted to work towards this week. Without going into too much detail he had to achieve a toilet related task successfully 5 times to earn this reward. We gave him the choice from several treat options and soft play came out on top. So here we are. I currently have the easy job – feeding the baby – whilst my husband squeezes his way through tunnels and launches himself down slides whilst our 3 year old squeals in delight at this sight.
We’ve been to soft play many, many times before but this morning’s trip holds a different kind of magic for our son. It’s the magic of control – he made this trip happen. He is unaware that we probably would have been going to soft play soon anyway now that the weather is making it harder to spend all day outside. As far as he is concerned there was only one thing that could make this trip possible and the onus of that was all on him. We knew he had the capabilities of achieving his goal but it had to come from him – he had to take control and make it happen. And the reward is so much sweeter for it.
This morning Sarah Millican (my couch to 5k in-app coach) said to me, “You’ve done it. You’ve done what you set out to do all those weeks ago. You’ve run for 30 minutes and covered a distance of 5k.” Or words to that effect anyway – I couldn’t quite make all of them out through great big teary sobs. They weren’t tears of exhaustion or even happiness – they were tears of disbelief. I really didn’t believe 53 days ago that I could do it. I really didn’t have faith in either the app or myself to complete the 5k goal. Then again, maybe I cried because my past self was wrong and I really hate being wrong.
Like our toddler and his soft play challenge this 30 minute running goal was in my control – and for the first time after declaring that I would achieve something exercise related, I actually took control and did it. And like our son running around with pure delight written all over his face, hair plastered to his skull with sweat, the reward for completing the challenge is all the sweeter.
Which got me thinking. What exactly am I going to do to reward this achievement? I normally congratulate myself with alcohol and chocolate – but I am trying to be healthier. Funnily enough, soft play isn’t top of my reward list either. I’ve decided to treat myself to a new top for running in. Now the weather has turned I am getting a little chilly running in a vest top and it seems a challenge-appropriate reward. Maybe I’ll have a glass of wine tonight too – after a morning in soft play I think we deserve one.