Day 8

And so week 2 begins. Thanks for coming along. Yesterday I shared my blog on Facebook. I’ve never put my writing into the world quite so publicly before. To say I had butterflies would be wrong. It was more like massive, great pterodactyls were flying around inside. Some very kind comments and some great suggestions for exercise came back at me – thank you to my new readers; I’ll try not to let you down.

I woke up this morning with an excited energy for Day 8. I also woke up feeling like my body had been put through a mangle. I wonder if this is why Davina insisted I complete the “cool down” yesterday. Cool down? Cool down? I’m smoking hot, Davina. I’ve got 18 follows – I don’t need to cool down. I need to prance around the kitchen and have a light chocolate mousse as a treat. I’m too cool for a cool down.

Ouch.

Ok. Maybe this wasn’t a great move. Maybe there really is a reason you stretch out your muscles post exercise. Maybe this is it: So you can continue to function the next day without sounding like a bleating lamb everytime you bend or reach or lift or carry.

My history with stretching is as successful as my history with running. I went to a yoga class back in 2009. My body was 10 years younger and had little to complain about – it hadn’t grown two new human people, it was a couple of stones lighter back then and all its parts were slightly higher up and firmer than they are now. Of course I couldn’t see or appreciate any of that at the time.

But I must have still had that little voice somewhere whispering – you should look after yourself better, because along I went to Yoga for Beginners. Those people were not beginners. Where’s the class for people who are actually beginners? Pre-beginners? I need the pre-beginners please, because when the instructor asked everyone to get into the downward facing dog position – they all did. And it looked nothing like the dog position I’d heard of.

I tried. I really did. Well I sort of tried and sort of made fun of the whole thing. But in my defence I was only being silly because I couldn’t do it. And making people laugh with me rather than at me seemed like a better option.

It did not go down well.

Two thirds of the way through the class the instructor instructed me to adopt “Child’s Pose” – I looked around the room. No one else was in child’s pose. Everyone else was continuing with the previous stretch. I looked at her again. She was firm. She was serious. Like a very bendy, super beautiful version of the Trunchball in Roald Dahl’s Matilda. She instructed me again – go into child’s pose.

So I did.

And there I stayed for the rest of her class. At the time I convinced myself she was helping me to find a comfortable beginner’s position as I was new to this yoga lark – unlike all the other “beginners” in the room. But years later and a teaching degree in the bag, I know what she was doing. She’d singled me out as the disruptive kid in the class and she’d used her powers of stretch and calm to silence my silliness.

I never went back.

I thought about having yoga as one of my exercise days – I do have 92 more to fill – but I have this weird mental block about it. Is it really exercise? Aren’t you meant to move more when you exercise? It feels a bit like cheating at exercise – but maybe that’s because I have never done it properly before.

Today after my next installment of the couch to 5k run I will stretch. I will stretch my muscles and try to stretch my mind too – to open up to the power and possibility of yoga, because I searched the internet for images of yoga and I’ll say this – those people don’t look like they’re cheating at exercise, they look like they’re nailing it.

Day 7

Day 7! I’ve done a whole week of exercise. This is the first time in my life I have ever completed an entire week of exercise. 30+ minutes a day, trying not to work the same muscle groups on consecutive days (look – it even sounds like I know a bit about what I am doing. Thank you Google).

I feel…good.

I feel quite chuffed if truth be told.

I also feel cautious. Cautious of getting ahead of myself because, let’s face it, I’ve been here before. If not with exercise with some other mad idea or quick fix for a lifestyle change that lasts a week or two and then just sort of fades away.

My husband and I have a saying – “One last blow out”. Unfortunately we’ve had one last blow out on many, many occasions. They always look the same – a large bag of crisps, curry with all the sides, a share bag of chocolate. Each. Then we empty the cupboards of anything that might tempt us as we embark on this amazing new lifestyle where we change everything all at once – “Go big or go home.”

We’ve done it all. Diets where the food is delivered to the door in astronaut style vaccum packed bags, groups where you count points, groups where you count syns. We’ve bought badminton rackets and announced that we would play three times a week but never did. We’ve tried the ‘no alcohol on work nights’ diet. We’ve tried telling people about our plans; we’ve tried keeping them secret. We’ve taken countless ‘before photos’ ready to place next to our transformation ‘after photos’ which never made an appearance.

So why should this be any different?

Today’s workout is Davina McCall’s DVD – another gem from the bottom shelf of our rack. I’ve chosen her DVD because I have a lot of time for Davina and her journey with health and fitness. I’ve had a bit of a girl crush on her since watching her present Big Brother – a show where we got to be super nosy and invest in strangers’ lives from the comfort of our own sofas.

Look up Davina if you don’t know much about her. She’s done it all – stumbled, fallen and got back up again. She’s a cheerleader for overcoming adversity and looking within rather than blaming external factors for how you feel about yourself. I like the Boxercise section on the DVD. Davina makes me laugh because she doesn’t take herself too seriously and punching the air in time with her makes me feel pretty empowered.

Someone once noted that I have a large number of very basic skills. I never stick at things long enough to get really good at them. I learnt to juggle 3 balls so why would I need to learn how to juggle 4? I can make an origami paper crane so that’s origami mastered. I can bake a Victoria sponge cake, so I always bake a Victoria sponge cake. Recently I learnt about imposter syndrome – when you believe you’re always on the verge of being revealed as a fraud. My solution to being found out seems to have been to never let myself get good enough at any one thing for someone to question my levels of fraudulency.

Because trying to get good at something new is risky. It means you might fail.

But I want to get good at this. I want to follow through on my goal to exercise for 100 days – to see the impact it has on my life. To see if I can do it. The risky part is telling you about it. It’s writing this blog. But that’s the part I am hoping will keep me going.

You are my Big Brother. You are popping into my world and taking a look around – brace yourself. Anything could happen. I’ve invited you in to hear about my journey. I am sure, like Davina’s, it will have stumbling blocks and unexpected twists – so thank you for bearing with me. Thank you for being my audience as I take the risk of trying to get good at something new.

This time I didn’t take a before photo. I couldn’t capture how I was feeling 7 days ago in a photograph. I needed to use words.

7 days in. 93 to go.

Day 6

After the primary school Fun Run, the next time I remember actively choosing to run as a form of exercise was during my teenage years. My little brother (I have 3 younger brothers all of whom are 6 foot plus, so I am not sure that little is really an accurate adjective) had been training with the Territorial Army. The TA drills were, as one might imagine, pretty tough work and he was really seeing and feeling the benefits from all that exercise. I felt inspired and asked him to go on a run with me.

After less than 10 minutes I was lying on the ground refusing to continue. He tried encouragement. He tried tough love. He tried emotional blackmail and positive reinforcement. To be fair to him, he gave it his best shot. But my mind was made up – I was not going to continue. I lay on the grass until he gave up on me and completed the run solo. When I sheepishly got home half an hour later he told me he would never run with me again. Yay I thought, success.

Several years later, at University, I put on a pair of trainers and decided to try running once more. This time I would have the support of my super healthy best friend who ran miles each week and loved it. Surely this would be more fruitful?

Sadly not. The same thing happened. Within 10 minutes I was stretched out on the grass by the Clifton Suspension Bridge – what a view – declaring that running was not for me. My friend finished her run and promised to come back to where I was lying. She was true to her word.

Unfortunately, I was not – bored of waiting I had wondered off in search of an ice-cream. By the time I’d made it back to her flat to find her (2 Magnum Classics down) she had called all our friends, called my mum and was contemplating calling the hospital – convinced I must have had a heart attack and died after she left me. It didn’t say much for my general health at the time.

Both runs ended with me lying on the ground, defeated. But it wasn’t my body that had given up. I hadn’t felt that breathless and my legs could have carried on. My mind gave up way before. Possibly even before I’d finished tying the laces on my trainers. I just didn’t want to run and my brain had already admitted defeat.

A few months ago I saw on old friend at a wedding. We don’t see each other that often as she selfishly decided to move all the way to Devon to live a beautiful seaside existance. I can’t think why. When I saw her at the wedding she looked incredible. She was genuinely glowing – and I don’t just mean her glitterball disco leggings – her skin was glowing and she radiated health. She looked happy and positive – this wasn’t just “night off from the kids happy” – she had that internal glow. What was her secret? She’d taken up running. Of course.

Why does everyone else seem to click with running and I end up eating Magnums in the grass? I know I could run – if someone put me on a treadmill and told me my children’s lives depended on me running – I’d run. I would run and I would not stop. So how would I convince my mind to keep going (without putting my children in mortal danger) – well, of course I turned to the App Store once more.

I love the idea of Couch to 5k – a programme of 3 weekly runs which are broken into walk-run-walk-run intervals and narrated by your voice of choice to keep you on track. Perhaps this would be the way to build up slowly – no more 10 minute burst of running before giving up – I only had to run for 60 seconds at a time in week one. Barely time for my mind to register it was running. Day 6 (almost a week of exercise in the bag) I decided to give it a go.

Sarah Millican was my chosen run narrator. I liked her because in her “pick me” bio she said she liked cake. I like cake. I think we would be cake friends. I googled her and it turns out in 2013 she was listed in Radio 4’s top 100 “most powerful women in the UK”. She’s funny. And powerful. And she likes cake. I was sold.

I was a little bit excited about the run and it turns out I was right to be – I really enjoyed it. I think it was because I could do it. Every time I was about to find it hard Sarah told me to walk again. Ok, Sarah – if you insist. And then just when I was thinking I could probably run again now, there she was piping up in my headphones, encouraging me to get going.

It’s a really good plan. It’s simple and clear and it really is for total beginners. I’m not sure if my mind believes that I will one day run 5 kilometres. It’s not convinced of the end goal but maybe that’s where I’ve gone wrong before. I shouldn’t be thinking about the marathon ahead – I should be taking it one run at a time – in the same way I am approaching my 100 day goal. My brother, by the way, went on to run the London Marathon. Twice. Talk about inspiring. Maybe one day I will be able to run that far – perhaps if there is an ice-cream van just ahead of me.

Day 5

Today I am working out with a DVD called “15 Minute Workouts for Dummies” with Gay Gasper. I have absolutely no idea where this DVD came from – I have no memory of purchasing it. But there it sits on the bottom of our DVD shelf alongside the other workout DVDs which were purchased over various New Years in the vain hope that I might start January and actually achieve some of the resolutions I had set myself in the lull between Christmas and New Year’s Eve – when good intentions are turned into a list and stuck on the fridge.

So, Gay. She really is. She has a permanent smile etched on her face for the entire workout. I have never seen anyone look so happy about exercise – or manage to coordinate their body, talk non stop and smile at the same time. The woman is a machine. She is all muscle – she is strong.

I’ve talked about wanting to be physically stronger. I want my body to be strong but I am also interested to see if exercise will help me feel stronger in other ways. Braver perhaps – less worried about things. Our daughters are growing up in a world which increasingly encourages them to aspire to be strong and warrior esque, rather than placing value on being “Princessey”.

I still want to be a Disney Princess. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just the nature of Disney Princesses has changed over the years – they’ve updated themselves. I don’t have a problem with Princesses who slept all day and waited for a Prince to wake them up – they were of their time – but I am excited that my daughter will grow up with Princesses like Moana.

I want to tie my hair in a messy bun, board my metaphorical boat and be totally badass saving the world. She literally took out hundreds of angry, weapon carrying coconuts with an oar and her brain. She is strong. She has moments of doubt too but she has self belief at her core. She defies the norm and leaves her island to help save the day. I want to be Moana.

Moana was one of the first Disney Princesses whose story did not revolve around romantic love. Her story did, however, still revolve around love. She loved her family and her home and she set out to save them. Because great love takes great strength. To love deeply you have to be strong – you have to trust someone else with your heart, your most precious organ. And that takes a type of strength you can’t learn from a DVD. I am lucky to love and be loved deeply – so now I need to do what I can to strengthen my heart as a muscle so it can keep me loving for as long as possible.

And all this in just 15 minute workouts, designed to “work around your busy schedule” – they couldn’t make it sound easier if they tried. And actually it was easy – or if not easy, it was easier than it would have been 5 days ago. It was easier because I felt better about exercising and motivated to get going. Could it be the start of a new love affair? Am I starting to feel those magical exercise endorphins that I’ve read so much about? Was it Gay’s insanely positive approach cheerleading my fitness journey and willing me to be strong? Perhaps. But I like to imagine it was my inner Moana, boarding her boat and sailing into the unknown – a little bit braver than she would have been 5 days ago.

Day 4

My earliest memory of organised exercise (not that wonderful exercise you do as a child not realising you’re exercising – like climbing trees and roller skating to the park after school) was a one mile race I completed at primary school.

I don’t remember how I felt about having to race a mile but I do remember that race well – which is pretty impressive as those who know me will vouch for the fact that I often forget people I knew at University and rarely remember whether I went upstairs to brush my teeth or find my phone.

It was called a “Fun Run” which I now understand was the teachers’ oxymoronic sense of humour but at the time probably sounded like a great idea. I set off at a good pace with a girl called Fiona. Fiona and I had already planned ahead – we would run the race together and keep each other company. We knew we wouldn’t be the fastest in the race but we fancied our chances of coming in at a respectable position.

About half way round the ‘Big Field’ (which as I remember it was only ever used for the annual Fun Run) Fiona started dropping behind. I could see she was struggling to keep up. I felt great. I could have increased my speed at that point – possibly moved into second or third place. I can remember looking over my shoulder and seeing her slowing to a jog.

We said we would run together. We said we would look out for each other. I slowed my pace too and let her catch up. I ran the rest of the race at half the speed I was capable of and even cracked a few jokes to keep her going.

As the finish line drew closer – only a few metres ahead of us – she sprinted. The absolute cow. She shot off like a stealth cheetah (cheater) and I watched her leap across the finish line to claim 7th place whilst I, in shocked silence, was awarded 8th. I knew in that moment that I was never going to make it as a professional sportswoman. I was just too kind.

It is my belief that kindness is the most important trait a human can possess. Above all else I value kindness and it is something my husband and I hope to instil in our children first and foremost. Our son was given a t-shirt by his Nanni with the slogan, “Cool to be Kind” – the same Nanni who stood at the finish line of that Fun Run as Mother, 22 years before she would become Nanni, and hugged me and told me how impressed she was – for coming 8th and for being kind.

Over the years I have talked to many people about the concept of being kind to oneself. Kindness is something we bestow on others but it is also so important to be kind to yourself. I often use this as an excuse – I’m being kind to myself by sitting down with half a bottle of wine. It’s been a long day so I’m being kind to myself by eating three bags of chocolate. I’ve worked hard so I’m being kind to myself by collapsing on the sofa with my feet up.

It’s Day 4. Things haven’t changed that much – I’m sure I will still continue to do all those things. And as with most things – moderation should be at the core. But I wonder if these 100 days will help me think differently about exercise. Because I want to be kind to my body.

I’m going into this evening’s exercise feeling positive and excited. The memory of Fiona crossing the finish line makes me smile now, it’s a story and I love storytelling. But a tiny part of me is probably still a little bit bitter about the 7th place I missed out on. Tonight I am going to harness that energy and push myself to knee lift a bit higher and squat a bit lower.

I am not on a massive weight loss mission or a total body image change. But I would like to know I am being kinder on my body – helping to make it stronger. I want to roller skate to the park again and not be out of breath or uncomfortable. I want to climb trees with my children. Big ones. Right to the top.

Day 3

It is the era of the App. I wake up in the morning and look at an App to see how long I slept for, I check the weather with another and then put on clothes I purchased using a new App my phone recommended for me. If I want to I can use an App to check what mood my baby is likely to be in and another to plan our day out. In fact, on average I’ve used 7 Applications on my phone before I’ve even made it downstairs.

It is not surprising then, perhaps, that when I decided to start exercising I turned to the mighty App store in the sky…or the cloud…or wherever this magical place is. A few key words, “keep fit”, “fitness”, “exercise” and a wealth of new Apps flooded my screen.

These ones were full of toned, oiled up, weight lifting, squatting and presumably inspiring bodies. Use this App and you too will be able to plank like a pro, lift like a legend and gallop like a gazelle. Well – it was worth a try and it was free (although if I do want to purchase “add ons” I have another App which I use to earn points which can be redeemed in the App store – the madness never ends).

Using an App to exercise also met some key requirements for me – I didn’t have to go anywhere, spend money, commit to a regular time or be seen exercising by anyone until I was ready. On the downside I have absolutely no idea if I am squatting correctly and long term I might get a bit lonely (and lazy) prancing around the garden in a sports bra and big pants.

The App of choice is called W – Workouts for Women. I liked the simplicity. I liked the countdown to each exercise. I liked the different lengths of workout and I liked the little cartoon lady demonstrating the moves – she seemed friendly.

I need to be accountable to someone or something. Which I guess is a key reason for starting this Blog. I don’t like to lose face so now I’ve committed to writing this for 100 days I know I will. I am in competition with this App now and I absolutely hate not winning. But it’s not just about that anymore because something I hadn’t really imagined would happen has happened. Someone has read what I’ve written. I received an email saying someone was following me. Following me! Not round my garden as I squat and lunge and plank, but following my words. Hello and thank you!

So now I really have to keep this going. My inner competitor has been summoned. I can’t quit now. 97 days to go. At some point I will have to brave the world outside my garden…go for a run and risk being seen by the outside people. Or go to a group and join other people who like to squat and lunge. But for now it is enough to know that someone is reading this and wondering what I might write next. Oh, and it helps that the App also reminds me it’s time for exercise.

Day 2

I love lists. It is possibly the former teacher in me or perhaps the organised/assertive (read bossy) older sister, but I cannot help feel a sense of calm when I sit down to make a list. For some people I presume it is the sense of accomplishment they feel when they tick things off a list (certainly this is the case for my husband) but for me the joy is merely to write it – to remove said lists from my brain and commit them to paper. Which is perhaps why our house is a list battleground. Me – frantically writing lists and adorning the fridge with them. My husband – frantically trying to tick things off them. Luckily for him I also always provide a highlighter in a ziplock bag next to the list… definitely the teacher in me.

So, in true list spirit – from what I have been told, or read or seen – the reasons to exercise include (but are probably not limited to):

Improved general health

Improved mental health

Increased life expectancy

Stronger heart

Stronger muscles

Improved condition of skin, hair and nails

Stress reduction

Better digestion

Shared experience

It’s free

The list of reasons I have given for not exercising in the past include (but are definitely not limited to):

I don’t have time

I’m not good at it

I don’t have the necessary equipment

I can’t afford it

It’s boring

It’s too hard

It hurts

I’d rather eat cake and drink wine

Well now there is only one thing on the fridge – a chart with the numbers 0-100 and Day 2 just got crossed off.

Day 2