Making pig tracks – how to get to your destination by the shortest path

Box Hill pig track

Heading up the west face of Box Hill in Surrey, running in between the zig zag road and the Burford slope is a track, half made and half mud called the ‘pig track’. Not being a native to Surrey, I had heard the track referred to as such, and as is the way of fitting in, I adopted the name and never asked why it was so called. Privately I wondered about the history of the name. I assumed it was an old farm track for herding animals – there are a number of ancient paths that criss-cross Box Hill. It was not an unreasonable assumption, although the escarpment these days is more usually home to fluffy black and white belted Galloway cattle with ne’er a pig in sight.

Then, very recently, I have been researching a phenomenon called ‘Psychogeography’ for another project and learned the following. A pig track is a common name for a ‘desire line’, and a desire line is a path created as a consequence of use caused by animal or human footfall. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between origin and destination. Desire paths are often a rebellion agains the will of the planner, as creators deviate from the path designed for them.

So it turned out that this was not the first time I had heard of pig tracks – although in my defence I had never heard them referred to as such. My old geography tutor used to say that a sensible urban planner would delay setting official paths until the end users had time to explore the space. As people would naturally take the most advantageous routes, plotting paths that planners could then formalise in the more permanent way. When it comes to travel, the path of least resistance appears to be the most favourable.

But then I wondered if the concept of ‘least resistance’ is applicable elsewhere in life, so I had a scout round all the usual media channels. And well, it’s every where. We lay our own pig tracks everywhere we go, both physically and metaphorically. They’re called habits.

In a recent blog post I talked about the problem of waiting for inspiration to drive you out the door. The problem with inspiration, is that the couch is mighty comfortable, and it’s dark and cold outside and there’s an important television program you want to catch up on and there’s always another reason not to do what you would like to do. The trick is to remove enough barriers to get your shoes on.

#thedoorstepmile

You don’t need to do any of this on your own. There is a lot of help out there for people who want to realise dreams – no matter what they are. But in my opinion, the best two to start with are:

James Clear has written a wonderful book on how to break destructive habits and build constructive ones. Start here to get the basics.

Adventurer Alastair Humphreys has devoted an entire website to help you remove the barriers to allow you to take the first step.

Building habits is repetitive but not difficult. You just need to be consistent and improve by 1% each time. Take the path, see how it feels, it takes a couple of weeks to trample the grass down, if it works then great, keep ploughing. If it doesn’t then identify the barrier and either move it or go round it. Make your own personal pig track.

Training journal | Week 26 to 27 | Running from the Black Dog

A friend contacted me yesterday. ‘Alright you – how’s it all going’ he asked. It is a reasonable question and I didn’t really want to answer it truthfully. We danced around the subject, being a little more polite than we would normally be. It was lovely to hear from him and I cherished that he had taken the time to get in touch.

I didn’t want to answer the question truthfully because to do so, would be to admit the return of the black dog. I can’t believe we’re back here again but then again, I would extremely naive to expect it to be any different. I do find it difficult to talk about, but I think it’s important to do so. I’m worried that people are bored of hearing about it in the same way I’m bored of my own internal monologue. Although, I guess you have the option to stop reading. I can tell you it’s as bad as it’s been for a long while. But I’m grateful this time I’m more prepared to deal with it.

I’ve tried the usual distraction techniques; music, denial, reading (although that becomes much more difficult during an episode – trying to read through fog makes the words all blurry!) In the end sometimes it’s just tears and a kind soul to hold my hand that helps to make things better. Kindness is a corrector of many ills. Deploy it at will if it is your power to do so, you have no idea how much it can make a difference.

The one distraction I have no shortage of at the moment is exercise. The structure of the plan helps, although it does add more stress to the whole proceedings too. I have fourteen weeks left of the programme. It’s sufficiently close to help focus a fuzzy mind. Tricky too though. The fibromyalgia is closely linked to mental health. The deterioration of one invariably drags the other with it, screaming and kicking. The ticking clock does help me to get back up of the metaphorical floor and try again, day after day. With varying degrees of success but at least the fight is there. In times past I would sink into a stupor for months and then have to start again from scratch.

Week 26 was a great week. It started with ‘Defender’ and finished with a fun Mountain Bike exploring a world beyond Torrington on the Tarka Trail. ‘Defender’ was a turbo session, rescheduled to take in account a trip to Surrey for work later that week. It plays around the Functional Power thresholds but since I don’t have any fancy equipment and my heart rate monitor is a tad temperamental these days, it was effected using mostly guess work.

It was a good start to the week and led nicely into a mostly rubbish Tuesday run and a mostly strong Wednesday brick session. Thursday, G and I headed to Ashtead and then onto Banstead pool after work which was gloriously cool and empty. We compounded the swimming on Friday at a boiling Leatherhead pool and then shunned Woolacombe in return for a ‘home’ trip to parkrun Mole Valley on the Saturday.

Saturday was long run day. I intended to run to parkrun but got waylaid by a dodgy looking bloke in the car park. It’s a long story, that basically resulted in a slight rain check until I got to Denbies where I planned to hot foot it up the North Downs Way for a bit before coming back down for the run. I had barely got to the old Bed and Breakfast when was accosted by another dodgy looking bloke in the shape of Andy Fay. This waylaid my plans again for the second time. We had a lovely catch up while walking up the hill to accommodate Andy’s dodgy ankle and a run back down again where it didn’t seem to bother him too much and I had to sprint to keep up with his warm up pace.

We then headed back to the run start just in time for the off. I changed my shoes for trail shoes as the course has the potential to be a bit muddy. But, the recent rain rendered it almost not runable. At times I could barely stay upright. G fell over at the top of the hill and reduced his effort to mostly a walk. It was not our finest hour, not particularly enjoyable either. I could barely contain my desire for sand.

The combined effort of a weeks solid training and a trip to Surrey pretty much finished me off for the start of the next week. I was exhausted and reduced to living in five minute segments, just to get through the day. I lost co-ordination and tripped over a chair trying to get out of it, hurting my leg in the process. I didn’t trust myself going out for a run so went out for a walk instead. I abridged the weights session to prevent more fatigue but goodness, lifting those weights made a great different, injecting energy and helping to light the spark of recovery.

On Saturday and going slightly stir crazy for being indoors most of the week, G and I headed back to Woolacombe. We got there early, deliberately so I could head out for a leg stretch while G sat in the car with his book and a beautiful view of the Atlantic. It was one of those runs that felt faster than it was, but the legs were strong and the heart was willing and for a while I was free.

The following day, Storm Ciara hit. It was too windy to keep the garage door open and I couldn’t face sitting in a dark garage with the door closed for over two hours so I opted to sit that session out. Focusing instead on self care which I felt would yield better results. Like the sun shining through the cracks of cloud after a storm, the fog is lifting and I’m hoping to be back to proper training soon.

Inspiration

Back in 1988 I was studying English Language. Part of the syllabus of the newly formed GCSE’s included an option for ‘Oral’ English. This was essentially a presentation to the rest of class on a topic of your choice. Some of the topics were eclectic and on occasion even fictional. My friend Terry Holdcroft chose to tell a tale of demise involving a pigeon and a steam roller (although this, like his story, may not be the complete truth. Memory is fickle, especially after all these years).

I chose to talk about Daley Thompson. At the time I was a budding field eventist in athletics and had a reasonable aptitude for them. Well, shot and discus at least. I was too terrified of planting the javelin in the back of my head to do anything really tasty with that. The mastery of two events – essentially following the same technique – was tough. I could barely imagine how decathletes found the time and inclination for ten events.

Thompson was my inspiration. I adored him. As I took my place in front of the class, I did so with pride. Although many in the class described their allotted time as hellish and very long. Mine was quite the opposite. I loved being in the limelight talking about a man I idolised.

I still love Daley Thompson. I’m still greedy for information on him. Often mining social media and my friend Google to see what he’s up to these days. When I do, something strange happens. Those feelings I used to get competing in an event I was actually good at come back to me. I get the urge to pick up a shot and go back to the field. The urge is strong enough for me to check out the results for my age group these days – I reckon I stand a really good chance of winning stuff – but not enough to actually get me out of the chair and do anything about it. Then the dream fades for another day and I go back to living my life of mediocrity.

When we think about inspiration we often think about people. We idolise people we would like to be, use them as a template in the hope it will prize us off the couch. To be fair, it’s a reasonable assumption. Inspiration is defined as ‘someone or something that provides an idea’.

I’ve been curious about inspiration (the initial idea) and motivation (enthusiasm to put the idea into action) for some time. Throughout my time in the running shop, we talked many times about the ‘magic’ ingredient. I’ve often wondered why, when we desperately want something to happen, that desire on its own is not strong enough.

What do we need in order to turn desire into results? In relation to losing weight, or training more or getting faster or running longer or learning that new skill or whatever it happened to be. I figured that if I could just find the secret and write a book about it I’d be famous. Well it turns out that someone did and it wasn’t the answer any of us were expecting.

The problem was, we were expecting inspiration to become something more than a catalyst. For it to morph into motivation and then action. In the way that I would see Daley Thompson and then hope I would leap off the couch to throw a competition winning throw. It was enough to inspire me to check the results but did not contain enough energy to overthrow the inertia that consumed me. We use the same logic when we enter a race in the hope it will spur us into action. We would witness it even on the beginners run groups where we would have a 5% drop off on the night of the course which magnified 10 fold by the time we got to six weeks in. Anthony Moore refers to exactly this phenomenon in his excellent article, ‘If you’re relying on inspiration, you’re doing it wrong’ published on Medium.

The author referred to above who opened my eyes to the reality of inspiration is James Clear and his book, I was convinced would make me a millionaire is called ‘Atomic Habits‘. Clear argues that passive inspiration is all well and good for creating a spark but in order for it to yield the results you want, that initial inspiration needs to be active not passive. In other words, Nike had it absolutely spot on… Just do it!

It seems obvious now that action – as the opposite of inaction – would be the solution. Waiting for inspiration to hit me in the face would just result in more waiting. The right time almost never comes along on it’s own and there will always be barriers to achieving the goals I want to achieve.

In ‘Atomic Habits’, Clear explains that the secret of over riding inertia and building motivation is to take action in small steps while at the same time removing barriers to change and growth.

It’s important to say here that no one expects you to be perfect or nail it at the first attempt. You just have to keep showing up. No one is expecting it to be easy but consistency is key.

As Mark Manson says, ‘Who you are is defined by the values you are willing to struggle for‘.

20/20 Challenge | January update

After January feeling like the longest month ever, the last few days have sped by with the urgency of a high speed locomotive. So, now it’s time for the monthly 20/20 challenge update. You can read the original post about the challenge here.

My first impression of the challenge was somewhat naive. I genuinely thought G and I would breeze through the whole thing in the first few months. Now we’re a few weeks in, the enormity of the challenge is becoming apparent. Mostly, I think because although relatively easy, they do require perseverance and our the tasks are not ingrained in habit yet. We’ve been to the supermarket countless times in the last month and have forgotten each and every time to get something to put towards the food bank. Shameful really.

Other times failure has been more practically based. It turns out the Highways Agency in Devon are committed to cleaning the road signs. Most of the ones we drive past are really quite polished. Those that aren’t tend to be out of reach. I need to take the cleaning fluid when I head back to Surrey where the Highways Agency aren’t quite so fastidious. In any respect, this one will need a little bit of planning in order to complete it.

But we are having lots of successes. We started on Jan 1st when we shoved the telly up in the loft and rearranged the sitting room. During the rearranging, we cleared loads of books and DVD’s into bags to take to the charity shop. The purge extended to the kitchen where unused tins and bits and bobs went in the bag. Between us, G and I corralled over 40 items so in theory, we could cross that one off the list.

Three £20 notes have been banked. Well, it seemed sensible to do that at the start of the month rather than the end. Books have been read, blog posts written and rubbish picked up.

We’ve been diligent with self care. G and I starting the year with a *ahem* refreshing dip in the Atlantic sans wetsuits. We were due to join a group dip that turned out to be at the other end of the beach from where we were. On the dot of 11am, they charged into the sea while we debated whether to jog down the beach to join them.

Although we could see them, we were at least 10 minutes away, so in the end it was a moot argument. After playing ‘I will if you will’ for a few seconds, we both caught a dose of ‘Sod it’ and stripped off ready to charge in, much to the alarm of a family who were walking along the beach.

It was freezing and invigorating in equal measures. The sea temperature was higher than the air temperature. In part due to a chilly northerly blowing across the beach. But neither was balmy, so we soon got out again, clambered back into dry robes and marched back up to the top of the dunes and the safety of the Porthole cafe.

I’ve taken a day off when the weather was forecast to be nice. Heading to RHS Rosemoor for a wander around in the beautiful winter sunshine. G and I have also made it our mission to roam around various venues across Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. It’s an area neither of us know particularly well. We’ve explored National Trust properties at Killerton and Trelissick and enjoyed an exciting trip to the Eden Project; getting there in sufficient time to complete the park run. It’s been a brilliant way to get to know our new surroundings.

I’ve also attended a soap making course earlier in the month. I’d branched out to make my own deodorant – which turned out to be easier than I though (partly because the ingredients are mainly inert; coconut oil, Shea butter, arrowroot and bicarbonate of soda with a few oils thrown in. Soap making needs more chemical interference and since I got 26% in my last chemistry exam in year 9, I didn’t feel confident to experiment on my own.

The chemical in question is sodium hydroxide, a strong alkali. Know as lye in soap making, it does something chemically to the oils added to leave soap behind. We used a mix of olive oil, coconut oil and sustainable palm oil (Shea butter would be fine too). And added essential oils for aroma in some or honey and oats for a delicious exfoliating soap. The process was in no way scary – care was taken – and the process was really quite therapeutic. The soap is currently curing in the spare room and should be good to go by the end of the month.

We’re also experimenting with less time on social media. We’ve completed one day successful, but a couple more have been scuppered early doors because we’ve forgotten and logged on to Facebook first thing to catch up. Purely habit.

So, in order to instil better habits, I have deleted my Twitter account (which only makes me rage and adds nothing positive to my life at the moment) and will experiment with no social media Sunday’s.

Training journal | Week 25| The Eden Project

Exploring new spaces was one of the goals G and I set ourselves at the start of the year. We’re relatively new to Devon and still laying down favourite paths and mapping out new routes. So, the pinnacle of this weeks training would be a trip to the Eden Project near St Ausell in Cornwall. The site, originally a china clay quarry was developed over the end of the last Millenium and opened in 2001. Designed as a charity and social enterprise with its feet firmly in the environment, it opened to great acclaim. I had been desperate to visit it for years.

But first, at the start of another week to excel, I had training to do. I had missed a running session the previous week and started the week with good intentions to nudge the session to the rest day on Monday. I’m sure it’s not the best way to plan training (my plan, certainly not Jon’s) and I’m sure I’ve read that Fink would advise to let the session go. In any respect it was a moot point. I was still sore from the previous weeks efforts and couldn’t bring myself to get dressed, never mind complete a session. Tuesday we were back in the pool and still trying to find the best time to go. We opted for after work – G met me there and we were delighted to find a rather empty pool.

It was an unstructured hour swim, my favourite! For some reason I could not get my arms and legs to work in rhythm, so it ended up being rather a slog. I was happy to get it done nonetheless. It’s no secret that I’m desperate to get in the sea. Open water is much more refreshing and invigorating. And therefore more satisfying. But as Hollywood pointed out, I may be waiting a while for it to warm it!

The weather in the first part of the week was gorgeous and I was a little envious of people posting outdoor training sessions while I was looking at the sunshine from my desk. I snuck outdoors for a weights session during the week which I loved. I love the freedom of riding my bike or exploring new places on foot but nothing generates exhilaration than lifting heavy weights over my head. But, it was with some relief I headed outdoors for a rescheduled run and first of the week on Thursday.

It was only forty five minutes long, so not enough to head for trail on the South West Coast path (at least not the bits that are still firm enough to make progress on). So I opted for a gentle loop around the peninsula through Appledore and back up the hill to Northam. It was one of those runs! The good ones where you felt liberated and like you could run forever. I was aware of fresh air and space around me. I felt like I could finally breathe deeply. Which is rather fortuitous considering what I was doing! After being cooped up all week, it was delicious.

On Saturday I woke just before the alarm with a sense of excitement not normally experienced by this 47 year old. We were off to Eden. G and I got dressed, filled the travel mugs with coffee, picked up packed bags and headed off on the two hour journey into Cornwall.

It was dark and at times foggy. Despite that, we made good progress, not hampered by too much traffic on the roads and arrived just after 8am. My scheduled run was longer than the time it would take to do parkrun so I headed out on one of the cycle trails into the hills behind the park. The trail was (ahem) undulating and would have made for a very exciting ride. But for running it was perfect.

The trail climbed steadily over a variety of surfaces. Occasionally swinging sharp left or right through a gate until I was properly up and away from Eden. I plodded steadily, feeling the effort of yesterdays run in tired thighs. I was keen not to get lost, so stuck to the path and planned an ‘out and back’. The up was more up than I thought and so I made much better progress on the way back, falling short of the extra half an hour by five minutes or so.

Even so, I reached the new runners briefing just as they finished (some would say perfect timing) and looped round the car park a couple of times to try and makeup the lost time.

As you would expect, the run attracts a lot of tourists and I estimated numbers of around 300. The start was a gentle climb out of the car park, over the lip and down what I assume is a service road into the park proper. It offered an unencumbered view of the whole site. And it was exactly how I had imagined with steep sides, geometric biomes mushrooming out of the ground and lots of structured areas for planting. My legs felt tired but strong enough not to collapse under me so I pushed the pace slightly down the hill. I made up a reasonable amount of ground and despite starting at the back, I was certainly not last as we entered the park.

The route was described as two and a half laps of the venue. It became clear that this was actually almost three. It was wonderful seeing runners looped around all of the paths and I stopped a couple of times to take photos and just take it all in. Then to the business of running. I was surprised, that despite the loops the climbs were relatively short and steep and the descents were long and steady. A much faster course than I had originally imagined. The course was narrow in places and once the faster runners started to lap back markers, it got a tad congested. Here I was happy enough plodding along and looking at all of the plants until the paths opened up again and I was able to push on.

G was back running after a persistent knee problem. Taking it easy but still faster than my efforts. At times he was walking faster than I was running! But despite this, we finished together strongly and I was overjoyed with a time of just a smidge over 36 minutes.

We popped for a quick coffee before heading back up to the car to get changed. Then headed back to the project for a good look around.

I paid for the effort and particularly the downhill the day after. My quads keep locking and I couldn’t bend my leg . Not really conducive to a two hour cycle so I opted for a gentle walk to aid recovery and start getting things moving again. Not he perfect end to the week but a week where I feel like I’ve made progress nonetheless.

Training journal | Week 19 to 21| building greenhouses

A few weeks ago G and I started building a greenhouse.

To own a greenhouse again was a dream come true. It means a healthy lifestyle, outdoors, fresh air and possibilities.

It’s been a labour of love. When we moved into new home, the perfect spot for a greenhouse was occupied by a huge camellia. We had to wait until the nesting period was over (we’re blessed with lots of birds in the garden). Then dig out the camellia before preparing the ground to lay the concrete base. I’ll be honest, that bit took quite a long time too. The weather had closed in by then. Storm followed storm turning the ground into a quagmire. We were distracted by other projects until eventually we went to the garden centre and bought the bloody greenhouse. That move sharpened the focus. With the help of our (wonderful) next door neighbour and his cement mixer we got the based laid.

We took delivery of the greenhouse. It was in a million pieces and the most complicated set of instructions I’d seen in a while. But we found a dry(ish) day and set to work.

I remembered the last time I’d built a greenhouse. It was time consuming; painful (those window clips); and took way longer than I’d expected. This experience was not dis-similar.

We started to build. We threaded screws (hacksaw rescues), put bits in back to front, nearly stood on the fragile (but strong) aluminium several times. And swore a LOT. But with perseverance, we got the frame finished just as the sun was going down and the frosty air rendered our hands numb and unusable.

And then the rains got worse.

Over three weeks later we finally married a quiet weather window with time off. (It was called Christmas). We invested another three days. Building windows and doors. Threading glass lining on the frame and finally, gloriously fixed the toughened glasses and pinned everything down (hopefully to survive the glorious Devon weather).

Despite the frustrating moments, it was worth it to see the finished product.

This is the story of building a greenhouse. But it could just as easily be a story about training for an Ironman.

The weather, the apparent lack of progress, the joy when a little part goes well and mostly the time it takes to get anywhere (much longer than you think!)

I have a regular run route I’ve been repeating for my 45 minute recovery run. Apart from parkrun, it’s one of the few sessions that is measurable and consistent. A little while ago I noticed I was getting further round the route in the allocated time. Last week I managed to get to the top of the hill and beyond for the first time ever. I was excited and curious and so I checked my results over the same course going back eight months:

Blimey! Well it was a shock to see such a clear line of progress. And very confidence building.

I took that confidence into parkrun later that week and buoyed ran a stonker of a pb, taking another 45 ish seconds off my time. So, I checked my results there too… since May this year I’ve achieved four PB and chipped 4 minutes and 16 seconds off my original time. Happy days. 😊

I’m half way through my coached sessions with Jon and while progress has been slow, it is there. I’ve laid the foundations, it’s now time to start building the greenhouse.

Happy New Year!

Training journal | Week 16 + 17 | Rest and recovery

If you read any autobiography of an elite athlete – involved in a sport that requires a lot of cardiovascular effort – you’ll know there is a fine line between peak fitness and injury. Paula Radcliffe spent a lot of her time seeking painful treatment. Dame Kelly Holmes was almost always injured, until she finally bagged double gold in London in 2012.

I’m not suggesting I’ve reached elite athlete status (the very thought haha)! What I do know however, is that even at my level, it’s tricky to balance sufficient effort to gain results and not overcook it so much that you end up injured. Especially considering the widely held belief that lots of cardiovascular based exercise is bad for humans. Google ‘chronic cardio’ and you’ll get a myriad of articles attesting to the evil of it.

My point? Living with fibromyalgia means I know roughly where my limits are. Although my body will constantly surprise me by mostly delivering what I ask it to. I also know when it’s had enough, it’s time to rest before fatigue becomes injury. So, at the start of week 16 I made the conscious decision to take some time off. It was bloody amazing.

Training for an Ironman is hard. It’s also time consuming. Suddenly G and I had time to go for leisurely walks along the beach again. Get fresh air without an agenda and start to pick up other hobbies that have been left by the wayside while training builds. I had a wonderful week and after a couple of days of feeling really rotten and washed out, started to look forward to proper sessions again.

On Saturday, G and I once again headed to Woolacombe parkrun for our weekly dose of sand. This would be a test to see how recovery had gone with an hour run written on the schedule. We arrived a little later than we normally would and so didn’t have time to warm up first. We would just have to throw ourselves straight into it. The first few hundred metres made my legs go wobbly. I think it was shock! After a few days off they’d acclimatised to not doing anything. But soon, they recovered and felt ok. The purpose of this run was to take it easy and just get used to activity again. So, I was really happy to cross the line in a new PB. Eight seconds quicker than my previous record. It looks like the rest was a success.

The following week started positively again. This was a week where speed work had more than a walk on part and so I was apprehensive and really excited to get going. Saturday had boosted my confidence. 

The week started off gently with a recovery trot to meet G for coffee in Bideford. These jaunts out are really important. I work from home and so have little opportunity to escape the confines of the four walls until the weekend. Often I can go for days without seeing another person other than G. It can be quite debilitating. 

The next day was a double bag of a swim followed by a session I’d been looking forward to for a while. ‘Defender’ is essentially an inverse ramp. Start high and then reduce either speed or resistance over a set period of time to lower the heart rate. The idea being, you’re working around threshold but because it’s getting easier, psychologically it helps with ‘perfection of effort management’. I loved it.

The next day G and I headed to the Tarka Trail for run reps. This session was a true measure of progress made. It was the same location as the miserable 400m reps in week 7. This time, the trail was dark and although we’d donned head torches, it was still difficult to get a real sense of pace. Despite that, I felt more in control. Able to concentrate and focus on form. It was world away from the last effort here. 

The idea was 3 x 1k reps, each a little faster than the last and then 1 x 3k rep in zone three. The reps successfully done, we headed back on a reasonably protected route to get the 3k section in. Because I’m lugging around so much timber, its a real challenge to keep the heart rate down. So the final rep was slightly easier than my general running pace. I focused on holding a strong core and good posture and completed the session with ease. Phew!

A thankfully relatively quiet lunchtime swim the next day set me up nicely to do the second challenging bike session of the week. 4 x 5 minute efforts followed by 5 x 1 min efforts. The minute sprints were killers but it was a fun session.

The last two sessions of the week (a long run and long bike) were interspersed by building a greenhouse. Although G and I only got the frame done before darkness fell and we had to stop building and get on the turbo instead. My legs were tired, but it was a good tired and a great end to a more consistent training block.

20/20 challenge

So, a change of pace and topic here for a little while. Three and a half years, waking up after a vote (that should never have happened and as it turns out was conducted illegally) my heart was broken. I didn’t agree that the (advisory) vote should be honoured and I don’t believe it was to destroy democracy to think that way.

In time, I hoped a way would be found to reconcile and remain in the EU but after Thursday devastating result, that hope turned to hopelessness. And frankly I’m scared. I’m scared for society, democracy, people on the brink of poverty and those already fallen into the crevasse, those relying on the wonderful NHS now and in the future and ultimately the safety of the world. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a lot of tears yesterday. Shed for everything we’ve lost for apparently very little gain.

So now, more than ever is a time for love and kindness. For the world and personally. Inspired by my great friend Lee. G and I have made a commitment to the 20/20 challenge to complete 20 things in 2020.

The twenty ‘challenges’ are personal and designed to contribute to self care, care of my community or care of the environment. They are meant to be fun but not frivolous. And a beacon of hope in a very dark time. Here’s the list…

1. Donate 20 items to charity.

2. Visit 20 new places (can be local).

3. Donate to a food bank 20 times.

4. Get back into volunteering and volunteer 20 times.

5. Spend 20 days where I don’t go online at all.

6. Read 20 books.

7. Watch 20 films I’ve not seen before.

8. Complete 20 thirty minute lunchtime walks.

9. Try 20 new exercises (dragon walk anyone?)

10. Replace 20 household/garden items with a more sustainable version when needed.

11. Pick up random street/beach rubbish 20 times.

12. Go on 20 different walks.

13. Lose 20 lbs

14. Save 20 £20 notes

15. Write 20 random cards to family & friends.

16. Do 20 random acts of kindness.

17. Do 20 things as a means of self-care (e.g. massage, or visit to art gallery or something relaxing).

18. Write 20 blog posts.

19. Cook 20 new dishes in a year.

20. Clean 20 road signs.

So, there you go. Starting Jan 1, I’ll keep you updated with how it goes.

And for those of you feeling similarly despondent at the moment. I need to borrow the words of ee cummings. ‘i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)’.

Stay strong x

Consistency

One of the best parts of owning a running shop was having so much opportunity to talk about running. People from all different walks of life, with varying goals and a vast array of experience, would approach us for advice and guidance as well as getting a shoe fitting or sourcing the latest bit of kit.

When people came in searching for the answer to improvement, I would talk to them about consistency.  

It didn’t matter what their starting point was, whether they were a beginner or experienced runner or a three hour versus a ‘just wanting to get round’ marathoner. The key to running longer or faster or even on some occasions both, is consistency.

It feels a bit phoney to write about rediscovering consistency for myself. After all, as a personal trainer and having owned a running shop for ten years, it’s almost engraved on my soul. I believe in the concept wholeheartedly. I’ve rattled on about it more than I care to mention, but since my fibromyalgia diagnosis, had forgotten what consistency looked and felt like.  

It’s been just under three weeks since I’ve been following a training plan under my coaches beady eye. A bit like PT Pete, Jon isn’t emotionally affected by the fibromyalgia. He doesn’t judge it or accept ‘excuses’ (not that I’ve tried). I respect his experience and his fairness too much to play that card. 

At the moment the whole point of the training is to instil habit via consistency. A message Jon has reiterated throughout our communications so far. It’s an important message to receive and gives me confidence that what I’m doing is worthwhile. He summed it up rather nicely the other day. ‘All we want to achieve at the moment is routine… hit the session as best you can then before you know it, fitness, pace, power, strength, recovery and weight loss all follows.’

The repeated message helps to reduce the barriers to achieving a consistent behaviour. Forgetting the ‘why’ for example or getting distracted in a session by combining it with other tasks. Cycling and shopping anyone? (Actually I did that one and got a little rap on the knuckles for it).

I understand why. Training needs to be specific and focused. Unless I plan to go shopping in Lanza while cycling around the island, stopping to shop does not represent specific, focused training. Consistency also helps to stymie excuses; ‘the pool is too hot or the wind is too strong’. There’s a reason why my triathlon group’s mantra is ‘just f**ing do it’.

Consistency is important. It allows you the space to focus on what you want to achieve and more importantly it takes away the need for perfection. If you don’t hit your session today, well don’t worry – you’ll get another chance tomorrow.

It helps develop routine and builds momentum. It offers a way to measure. It generates accountability via reporting mechanisms, either to Jon directly or to friends via my Strava account or event to follows on Instagram – there’s always a training photo opportunity.

Consistency also offers reassurance. Against the fear of starting or inertia or the goal being too big, or too looming. After all, little steps are much easier than big steps, especially when you have a metaphorical hill in front of you that needs climbing. 

I’ve surprised myself, that by taking the pressure off, I’ve been able to start every session I’ve been set. And if I start, my likelihood of hitting the session improves tremendously.

I’ve also surprised myself by enjoying the routine and discipline of consistency. I’ll still be singing its praises, but now with a little more understanding.

Investment

About 25 years ago I bought a pair of bowls from a department store in London. They were fine bowls, ceramic, cream coloured with dimpled squares on the outside. I was looking for bowls for soup. The hearty kind, full of meat and vegetables. I ate a lot of soup in those days – a by product of a weight watchers diet where vegetables were ‘free’. The bowls were tactile, looked great and the perfect size for a hungry girl. They made me look forward to eating soup.

I hadn’t noticed the bowls were made by Wedgwood until I got to the checkout when the assistant asked me for £32.  Thirty two quid was a lot of money in those days and a whole lot more than I would ordinarily have been willing to pay for two bowls. But, by then I was in the queue and rather than cause a scene, I paid the money and took them.

Those bowls are one of the best things I’ve ever owned. I’m glad now that I hadn’t checked the price before I bought them, as undoubtedly I’d have put them back on the shelf.  Twenty five years later – they’re still going strong – and still look as good as the day I bought them.  

What an investment they turned out to be.

I often think about investment when I look at the bowls. The initial purchase was a luxury, born out of a desire to be healthier. I had joined weight watchers and had committed to it heart and soul. Those bowls were an integral part of that commitment. An enabler, physically and psychologically to be able to eat the soup that was in my mind, fundamental to success. I was successful in the weight loss, attaining a healthy weight and the confidence to be able to join the police service.  

Those bowls indirectly changed my life. All for £32.

I’m convinced that if I had known the price before purchase, I would have hesitated. Probably put them back and looked for other, lesser (and cheaper) crockery. It makes me wonder, in a world where we are constantly prioritising, why do we always put our health and wellbeing bottom of the pile?

I’ve started working from home. It’s primarily a desk job for a company who are based in Surrey. I’m so grateful they allowed me to bring the job to Devon and work from home. That gratitude makes me feel like I need to spend almost every minute of my working day at the desk… well working. I’m invested in the job, at the moment more than I’m invested in myself. I know that not moving from the desk is bad for physical health, concentration even performance.  And yet I don’t move, often for hours at a time.  Even though it causes me physical discomfort.

G and I have been talking a lot about physical and mental wellbeing in the last few weeks. Even today, G quoted the ‘Supple Leopard’ by Kelly Starrett at me. Starrett states that in order to practice good posture, it is essential to move from the desk every 15 minutes.  Structural muscles, responsible for good posture, fatigue in that time and need a break to rest and reset. In essence, being sat at the desk is muscular endurance. And we expect those muscles to perform for several hours at a time without a break. It’s no surprise that desk work is bad for our health!

I’m conscious that, as I get older, investment in self is much more important that it used to be. Sleep, mindfulness, saying no to things that do not positively contribute to your life, eating well, moving more and all of the day to day stuff that’s easy to ignore but does add up.

It feels – almost selfish – to put oneself first.  But I’m getting to age now where if I don’t start, I never will. Or if I do, it will be too late to make a real difference.    

Actually, G and I are much better at it than we give ourselves credit for. We left situations that were bad for our mental health, gave up careers that were asking too much for little return, relocated to a different county with a much bigger focus on being outdoors and have started to change our lifestyle to incorporate more self care.  

But now I need to ask for help.  

So, I’ve enlisted the help of a coach to focus on fitness (and weight loss) for a period of nine months. Actually this is my very clumsy way of telling you I’ve entered Ironman Lanzarote (again) and this time I’m going to get to the start line. As bizarre as it sounds, I genuinely don’t care if I finish it. I’m focussing on the process of getting to the start line in one piece (which as we know from previous experience is the hard bit). What I’m actually doing, in the same way I bought those bowls, is investing in a way to facilitate change.  

So my advice? Go and seek those metaphorical bowls and start prioritising yourself. In hindsight, it will be worth it.