Day 15

After two weeks of exercise it is time to make another list. Here is a list of what I have learnt in the last two weeks:

It is possible to exercise every day.

Sometimes you have to work really hard to make it happen.

HIIT workouts are not for me.

Always have water close by.

Going back a step is not the same as failing.

Stretching is important.

100 days is a marathon. Not a sprint. But that doesn’t mean you can run a marathon after 9 days.

Not all exercise is made equal.

I’m looking forward to the next week of exercise whilst keeping in mind that week 3 is often a point where people quit new habits. Perhaps they haven’t achieved results as quickly as they’d like or results have started to slow down (often by week 3 of a diet the numbers on the scales are going down in much smaller increments and that chocolate cake seems suddenly much more appealing).

When I’ve attempted crash diets before I’ve always crashed around now. Crashed straight into a massive plate of fried food. Often we talk about “lifestyle changes” but whilst our plan is long term, our mind quits early… it’s not worth it; I’m not that bad really; I’d rather be happy and overweight; life’s too short.

I’m hoping one of the strengths of the challenge I’ve set myself – to exercise for 100 days – is that I’m not taking anything away, I’m not depriving myself of things I enjoy. I am only adding something in. There is nothing this time to crash into – if I stop exercising I can’t provide myself with the usual justifications.

So I don’t intend to quit. I haven’t already decided that the grass is greener on the sofa. I’m staying focused on my goal – because life is too short. It’s too short to waste sitting around wondering what could have been. I’d rather look back in 85 days and see what was, where I have been and what I’ve achieved.

Day 14

Today I ran.

And I loved it.

I ran when the sun was still rising in the sky.

I saw one car, two people and seven cats. Other than that the village was still sleeping.

As I ran I thought about how our toddler travels from one place to another. He sometimes has a destination in mind – we are walking to preschool or heading to the park. Often we are just walking – nature walks we call them. I have no doubt that the reason I promote nature walks is because I can remember them so well from my own childhood. We collected leaves and sticks and took them home to make pictures with them. Hundreds and hundreds of leaf collages. My mother clearly had the patience of a saint. Either that or she just really loves leaves.

Our son loves everything. He can summon boundless enthusiasm for everything from an interesting stone to a spider’s web to the little hats on top of acorns. He is delighted by them all. As I ran this morning I tried to see the village through his eyes.

I looked.

And it was beautiful.

Two weeks ago I would have been in bed. Today I was running through the empty village and feeling awesome. I have got a lot of time for early morning running – not least because when I got home it was breakfast time and I really love breakfast.

I was also done for the day. I didn’t need to think about when to fit exercise into my day – it was already complete. It can’t happen every morning due to baby feeds, toddler wake ups and my own internal motivation – but today the stars aligned. They repositioned themselves into a massive thumbs up and spelt out the words ‘Go for it’.

So I did.

And I loved it.

Day 13

What on earth is HIIT? Why? Why would anyone thinking HIIT is a good idea? It’s like salted caramel. Don’t ruin caramel people – salt is not something you should mix with caramel. It is just wrong.

It transpires that HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. Although I can only assume its creator used this acronym because as you are attempting a HIIT workout you want to hit the instructor and hit them hard. Anything to make it stop.

Perhaps exercise on the 13th day was always going to hold these dramas – superstitious as I am. I don’t walk under ladders, I don’t cross on the stairs and now I don’t do HIIT.

The HIIT workout I did today using YouTube was 30 minutes (I managed 20) of short, very intense exercise followed by rest periods. I enjoyed the rest periods. What I couldn’t seem to do was get my body to exercise with the kind of intensity the video demanded. The whole thing was a shambles. Limbs were flying off in different directions, I couldn’t hold my weight up long enough to complete some of the exercises – the intensity was just too intense.

Something I wasn’t expecting to happen on this journey of 100 days is that I am starting to categorise different types of exercise – exercise I like, exercise I don’t mind and exercise I loathe. I loathe HIIT. This is a good step forward as 13 days ago I would have grouped all exercise in the category of things I don’t like. In the Venn diagram of things I hate – exercise would have been central. The only exception would have been swimming. I do like swimming. I just don’t like driving to the pool, or the cold changing rooms or getting out of the water all wrinkly. Although perhaps these are just more excuses not to exercise.

In contrast to today’s exercise I am actually looking forward to the simplicity of going for a run tomorrow. Although day 13 was unlucky for HIIT I do feel fortunate that the message I can take from today is the knowledge that I am starting to enjoy some types of exercise, to actually look forward to completing them.

Tomorrow when I run I will feel positive, I will feel excited but mostly I will feel grateful that I’m running and not completing another HIIT workout.

Day 12

I’m out of my rhythm and I don’t like it. For the past 11 days I’ve had a routine. I’ve exercised at roughly the same time. I’ve written my blog post at a similar point in the day. I’ve known in my head how and when I would fit it all in. I’ve also replaced my evening wind down glass of wine or chocolate treat with exercise, after which I’ve not felt like I’ve needed to wind down anymore.

Last night we had guests. Lovely guests. The kind of guests you can stay up enjoying the company of for hours. Who you share a bottle with and good food and good chats. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. But now I’m out of step – I haven’t got up with the same enthusiasm for exercise or organising my day. I’m tired from a late night and I feel lazy – I want a pyjama and heist films day.

Luckily with young children this isn’t an option. Children want (and need) to be outside. They need big open spaces to run in and land to dig up and sticks to find and tunnels to explore. They crave the outside world – far away from the land of pyjamas and television. So that’s where we are going – the outside world – and I know I’ll feel better for it once we are there.

I will fit in exercise today – I am determined not to skip a day. It feels as if somehow it would make all the other days invalid if I cheated today. I think I would also feel annoyed with myself for last night’s fun if it imposed on my 100 day challenge. And I don’t want to resent that evening – because it was lovely – and having fun relaxing with friends is something we love to do.

So today is about finding the mental strength to keep going. My body is fine – a bit tired but more than capable of running or completing an aerobics session. My head, however, will need convincing…

And no sooner had I written these words three messages popped through. One from a friend cheering me on – she’s reading my blog and encouraging me to keep going. Then two messages from people who say they have read my blog and want to try making a positive change too – one who wants to give up a bad habit she’s got into and another who has been inspired to get up and get her body moving.

All I can say is thank you. You wouldn’t have known this morning how much those messages would mean for me on my journey. I thought I would have to convince myself to keep going today but in the end I didn’t need to, because you have convinced me instead. So thank you. And good luck on your journeys too – you are all remarkably strong women who I admire and respect. You are capable of so much and more than you probably know. So go for it – we can be each other’s support network.

On the way to the outside world we played one of my favourite Meatloaf songs in the car. We sang-shouted the lyrics whilst our toddler joined in with his own version and the baby slept – operatic rock, the best lullaby. One of the lyrics of the song is “you were only killing time, and it’ll kill you right back” – potentially a bit morbid but overlook that and it is a good motivator.

I don’t want to waste time feeling out of step or annoyed for having a drink or staying up late last night. I want to complete day 12 because this journey is important to me and maybe, just maybe, it’s important (or at least interesting) for other people too. I didn’t want to exercise today but I’m going to and I’m feeling inspired – thanks Support Team for the reminders this morning not to kill time – instead to get up and get going.

Day 11

This evening I entered the sexy world of Zumba. What an exercise experience. I wasn’t brave enough for a class but I dug out a DVD which welcomed me to “the exercise dance party”. Not my normal kind of party – alcohol and cake were noticeably absent, but still it was hard not to have fun with this half hour dance workout.

Beto Perez (the creator of Zumba) is a choreographer and aerobics instructor who forgot his usual CDs at a class one day. Reaching into his bag he pulled out some Salsa music he happened to have and he promptly winged it from there. Zumba was born and I’m sure he’s never looked back! What a serendipitous moment for Beto and for the world of exercise.

It was really good fun. It was high energy and it felt like I was working hard but it didn’t feel like exercise. It reminded me of my first year of University when every Friday we would head down to the Waterfront in Bristol and dance for hours on end at a club called Wedgies. I was never hugely into nightclubs but I did love this one – it was cheesy tunes all night and we had that Freshers’ enthusiasm to keep us dancing until the lights came on at closing time (at which point we made swift exits and headed for kebab vans before sleep claimed us).

I’d forgotten how much I loved to dance. These days we dance at weddings once or twice a year. My husband and I love a night of dancing – we have absolutely nailed the routine to Blame it on the Boogie and we own the floor when Bryan Adams and Mel C come on singing Baby When You’re Gone.

Of course, working out to a Zumba DVD in the sitting room (trying not to fling my arms too wildly and hit the ceiling light), whilst the toddler and baby are asleep upstairs and I can hear my husband cleaning the kitchen, is not quite the same heady rush as being on a dancefloor at 1am jumping up and down with a room of strangers all peacocking to Summer of ’69. (We really did think we looked good by the way).

The women on the Zumba DVD did not look like me whilst they danced. No sports kit, ponytails and hairbands for them. They both had hair down to their waists which they dramatically threw around as they zumba’d – and smokey eye makeup that didn’t smudge once. It was impossible not to swing your hips a bit more and wiggle your bum a bit lower. They oozed strong and sexy and I wanted to ooze it too. I just wish I’d closed the curtains as our poor neighbours probably didn’t need the image of me attempting to ooze whilst they put their bins out. Sorry guys.

The music played a big part at this party. It made me think how motivational the right music can be. This morning I took our children to Jungle Boogie (the Boogie was everywhere today) – a 45 minute toddler group that kept both children and adults enthralled for the whole session. The lady who runs it spends the sessions prowling and leaping and flying and dancing in time to music whilst combining storytelling and puppetry into a theatrical experience for young and old.

As I watched her in her leopard print leggings I spotted it again – secret exercise. It was everywhere. She was squatting and lunging and twisting and turning and exercise was happening before my very eyes – but she was having so much fun I doubt she even knew.

Parties are, at their core, meant to be fun. You don’t invite your friends to your birthday party and expect everyone to sit around in miserable silence. The dance party I was promised on the front of tonight’s DVD turned out to be a lot of fun. And Antonia (our Jungle Leader) was clearly having fun – as were her captive audience.

Maybe some people find squatting in repetitions of 8 fun. Maybe it is fun. I haven’t found it much fun yet. But today I did have had fun – dancing around my sitting room imagining I was in a sweaty Latino bar at midnight, swinging my hips and feeling empowered by my own body. I feel sassy and sexy and today didn’t feel like I thought exercise was meant to feel at all.

What can I say? I blame it on the Boogie.

Day 10

10% of the way through my self imposed challenge of exercising for 100 days.

When I became a teacher I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed teaching maths. At school I had bumbled along in maths classes, just good enough for teachers not to worry about how I was doing but never really understanding what or how or why the answers were as they were. Luckily I sat next to a girl called Hannah for most of secondary school maths classes – she was a walking, talking calculator. She just got it. Numbers were her friends. They were not mine.

When it comes to healthy changes, numbers are everywhere. Often we start with a number which represents weight, normally we want that number to get lower. So we calculate our BMI, count calories and keep score of how many weights we’ve lifted, lengths we’ve swum, minutes we’ve run for.

When I became a teacher it was the first time I really understood how much fun maths could be. I had two excellent mentors who showed me how to break down the concepts and explain them to 7 year olds and suddenly, when working out how to articulate numbers to children, I understood them myself. I saw patterns everywhere and I went from someone who could work out percentages and decimals to someone who actually knew why and how percentages and decimals worked. Suddenly maths wasn’t scary anymore.

This time round the number in question is 100. 100 days. I recently read a book about addiction and it said that it takes 100 days to break a bad habit and see the benefits. Google will tell you it takes 21 or 60 or 90 or 365. You can pick your article to meet your requirements – the magic of the internet. I liked 100 though – it’s a lovely round number and when it is a percentage it’s the maximum, the top score, the goal.

On the wall in my year 6 classroom (10/11 year olds) there was a number line from 0 to 1. It had decimals and fractions and percentages in the spaces between the two numbers. One term I held a lunchtime club for some of the younger children and one of them asked me what the numbers were. He pointed to 0.25 and asked why the number had a full stop in the middle.

It was one of those lightbulb moments in teaching when you see the world through the eyes of someone small. His world existed with numbers which went 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on. Nowhere in his concept of number did anything exist in the void between 0-1. Yet here they were adorning my walls. More numbers and these ones had symbols after them and dots in the middle and some were on top of each other. He was absolutely fascinated.

That memory popped into my head last night and got me thinking. I’m counting days and ticking them off one at a time. I get a little bubble of excitement everytime I cross out one of my 100 boxes. But those boxes don’t show the smaller wins – the little bits of achievement that take place every day. I am recording 1 day at a time, but so many fractions of wins and decimals of achievement are happening in-between.

Yes I completed another day of exercise but first I had to find time in my day to make that possible. I had to summon the energy to get changed into my PE kit when I wanted to put on pyjamas. I had to keep my mind focused on my goal when so many other thoughts fought for first place. When I tick off Day 10 later I am going to celebrate the small wins from today too – the fractions and decimals that make up the journey from 0-1.

Day 9

I. Have. Messed. Up.

I blame Sarah Millican. She told me I could do it. She told me I was doing great. And I believed her.

Week 1 of couch to 5k (with Sarah as my chosen coach) seemed pretty chilled. I walked. I ran. I walked. I ran. I really could do it. I’m a legend at running! I’ve found my sport. Woohoo! Images of marathon finish lines met me at every turn. Suddenly I knew what the future held for me – I’M GOING TO RUN THE LONDON MARATHON!

So I cheated.

I skipped Week 2. And Week 3. I went straight to Week 4.

Do you know what happens in Week 4? You have to run for 3 minutes. Then 5 minutes. Then repeat. With shorter intervals of walking in-between. I’m not sure what I was thinking. That’s not true – I know exactly what I was thinking – I was thinking, this exercise business is taking too long to get good at. I need to get on with it and be marathon standard by the end of the week.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t finish the run and I couldn’t keep up with Sarah’s quite frankly ridiculous demands. 5 minute runs indeed. So now I am back home, hot, sweaty and feeling a bit defeated. And annoyed. Because I know really that this isn’t Sarah’s fault – only a few days ago I wrote how simple this plan was, how it built up slowly to keep you on track, how perfect it was for beginners.

But I don’t want to be a beginner. I’ve been exercising for 9 days now. I want to have mastered it. I want to win. And now I’ve gone backwards and I want to throw in the towel (as sporty people say) and give up. I also want to eat a lot of chocolate. Backwards is the wrong direction.

When we met, my husband introduced me to a Danish phrase – “Frem og tilbage er lige langt” – it translates roughly as, “Forward and backward is the same distance”. It is one of those brilliant phrases which is either an extremely profound and powerful concept or is absolute nonsense. I like it though – we often say it on car journeys when we’ve taken the wrong route and ended up back where we’ve started. (This happens on a scarily frequent basis. Even with Satnav. Clearly orienteering is not the sport for me.)

Whilst I did my cool down stretches (that’s right, I stretch now) I reflected on the idea. I set myself the goal of exercising for 100 days. And I am still on track. I exercised today – I ran and I walked. I didn’t keep up with the App but I still put on my trainers and got moving. So why do I feel like I’m going backwards?

The reality is I do need to go backwards on the couch to 5k plan now. I need to go back to Week 2 and do it properly. Normally I would give up at this stage – because going backwards means I’ve lost the game. And I don’t do losing well. It’s why I don’t play Scrabble with my mum anymore. If I don’t think I can win then I eliminate the possibility of faliure by not trying.

So I am going back to week 2 to build up slowly but I’m not giving up. I’ll see you tomorrow Day 10 – I’m coming for you. Because I did exercise today – I didn’t win but I didn’t lose either. I’m going backwards but I’m moving forwards.