Articles

If Not Now, Then When?

Back in June, gyms were allowed to reopen after a prolonged Covid related closure. For most of us, without the luxury of extensive home gyms, this would be the first time we had touch a barbell in over six months. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to get back to squats, deadlifts and bench presses, not to mention snatches and clean and jerks. Excited as I was, I was also rusty as hell. All muscle memory seemed to have vanished. I literally felt like I was back to square one. This was especially true with the Olympic lifts.

I have always enjoyed doing snatches and clean and jerks, even though I was far from proficient in either. Their complexity is part of their appeal. When you are focusing all your attention on nailing that triple extension, it’s hard to obsess over that mistake you made in work, or the current family drama.

Olympic lifting demands concentration and going through the motions simply won’t cut it. There are times when it can be infinitely frustrating. With each failed or less than perfect attempt seeming to push the goal further away. However, on those rare occasions when you execute it perfectly, it is one of the best feelings. When you hit your snatch just right, and the bar feels like it floats through the air, you don’t need your coach to tell you that you nailed it. You can feel it. It is one of the closest things to a flow state I have experienced.

Before the pandemic hit, I had been working hard on my lifts. I felt like I was making a little bit of progress and had hoped to take part in an Olympic Lifting competition during 2020. Don’t get me wrong, I had no notions of winning, or even doing well. I simply wanted that experience of standing on a weight lifting platform. I wanted to see how it felt to perform my six lifts, in front of the judges. Also it would give me an honest line in the sand. This is where I am now, let’s see where I can get to with another year of training!

My post lock down goals, however, were a little more modest. I just wanted to try to remember how to do the lifts. Thankfully my current gym, Primal Performance and Fitness, is well stocked with expert coaches. They possess the skill and perhaps more importantly, the patience, to help me get going again.

As the weeks went by, I began to feel more comfortable with the barbell. Although not quite like riding a bike, my body did start to remember the movement patterns. I could almost feel the rust coming loose as my brain seemed to say “oh yeah, something is ringing a bell.”

We approached the end of our nine week block of Olympic Lifting and our coach suggested holding a friendly inhouse competition to round it out. I experienced a strange confluence of conflicting emotions. On one hand, this was the moment I had been waiting for. On the other hand, I wasn’t ready! On another hand (high functioning anxiety often requires octopus like limbs) this would be the safest and least judgemental environment in which to do it. It would be happening in my own gym, with the folks I had been training with for the last couple of months. Nobody was waiting for me to fail! I nervously agreed to take part

In the days leading up to the event, I struggled to silence the nagging thoughts that maybe I should wait for the next one. Maybe I should wait until my snatch was “insert arbitrary weight here” before giving it a go. Wasn’t it ridiculous to take part when my lifts were so pathetic? What if I bombed out? What if I made a fool of myself?

These intrusive thoughts are nothing new. I think we all wrestle with them at certain times. They are insidious. Their number one objective seems to be to convince us that now is not the time. Our comfort zones are so warm and cozy, wouldn’t it be better to stay here for a while longer?

They are the voices that tell us we are not fit enough to join the gym. Not qualified enough to apply for the job of our dreams. Not attractive enough to ask for that guy/girls’s phone number. They will try to convince us that when we lose weight, we will be worthy of happiness. When we earn x amount we will have made it. Their chorus will only be happy when we are content to play small and sit in the shadows of our own lives.

Silencing them is hard. It can require herculean effort to get them to shut the hell up. But like with any skill, the more it is practiced, the easier it becomes.

So, last Saturday, I did just that. I decided that the potential risk of failure was worth it. I didn’t want to miss out on ticking something off my bucket list just because I didn’t feel quite ready. At almost 40 years of age I have learned that we rarely feel ready. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.

Arriving at the gym, I suddenly couldn’t wait to get it over with! The irony wasn’t lost on me. Taking to the platform for my first lift, I noticed a little group of members had gathered to cheer us on. I felt buoyed by their supportive presence. Nobody was standing in judgement. Everyone genuinely wanted to see each lifter achieve their best. Whether that best was 20kg or 200kg was immaterial.

I hit my first two snatches, missing the third lift. The applause for the missed lift was the same as it was for the successful attempts. I had three good lifts for the clean and jerk. Setting a new PR in the process. Overall it was such a brilliant day. I feel like I learned so much and honestly can’t wait for the next one. It saddens me to think I could have missed out on the whole experience by not getting out of my own way.

So lovely readers, I urge you. DO THE THING! Don’t wait until the time is right, because it never will be right. Don’t wait until you reach your goal weight to begin to enjoy your body. Don’t wait until you’re as fit and athletic as you would like to be before you allow yourself to appreciate what you can do now. After all, the time on the platform is mere seconds, enjoying the process is much more important.

If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that there may not always be another opportunity. If not now, then when?

Be well xxx

Articles

Vaxxed and Relaxed (Kinda!)

Last Friday I received my second Pfizer vaccine. As I walked through the car park to take my place in the neatly spaced line, I experienced all kind of emotions. Relief, excitement, anxiety to name but a few. I could tell I wasn’t alone in this, as nervous tension seemed to pulsate through the assembled crowd. This was the moment we’d all been waiting for, after all!

The vaccination itself, much like the first one, couldn’t have gone better. The staff and volunteers were all competent and caring, and I was struck by the overall slickness of the operation. I have also been lucky to experience only mild and very manageable side effects. Nothing more than a few body aches to report.

Phil is having his second dose this week, and I will definitely feel relieved when that is done. He has been working from work the entire time and the risk that he could be exposed has been at the back of my mind. I can’t adequately express how grateful I am that we have both managed to get through the last 18 months without contracting Covid.

One of the strangest parts of the whole pandemic experience for me, has been the hypochondria. Since March 2020, every time I have woken up with a sore throat, coughed or had some unexplained ache, I have felt a tiny trill of panic. Thinking to myself, is this it? Have I got Covid? It doesn’t help that one of the virus’s main symptoms is fatigue. I think the stress and anxiety of living in a pandemic also has this affect!

I had been expecting that being fully vaccinated would make me feel bullet proof, but it hasn’t. I had expected that I would feel less apprehensive about the return to “normal.” Over the last few weeks, my job has been planning for our return to the office. This is going to be done in a phased way and with a hybrid approach, with most of us still working from home at least a couple of days a week. My company has really looked after us as best they can through all this and rationally I understand that we will be made as safe as possible. However, this doesn’t stop me from wanting to scream “I don’t want to go back” every time the topic comes up.

It’s not just the thought of sitting in an office that is making me uneasy, it’s all the accompanying activities too. I don’t relish the idea of sitting in traffic each day, and the thoughts of shopping for a new (roomier) work wardrobe makes me feel ill. I also don’t want to leave Annie home alone, when she has gotten so used to company.

I have always been someone who suffers from a degree of social anxiety. Over the years, I have managed to build up resilience to it, forcing myself to get on with it, until eventually it’s not a struggle. Like any other muscle which has been out of action for a year and a half, this resilience has atrophied. This coupled with all the new regulations and overall layout, has me feeling like I am not returning to the familiar. Rather, journeying into the unknown. It’s enough to make me break out into cold sweat.

Again, rationally, I know it will be just fine. A few days in, and once I have figured out which machine makes the best coffee, I will be as comfortable as ever. I dearly wish, like with everything Covid related, that we could just fast forward this part. I would love to just wake up and find myself on the other side of this. The first time I have a cold, and don’t associate it with Coronavirus, will be a happy, if miserable occassion.

I have been lucky in life so far, in that I have not had to endure much by way of grief or trauma. Any time that I have experienced grief, it has followed a similar pattern. All consuming, until it isn’t. The first and only thing on your mind, for what seems like forever. Until eventually, you find yourself realising that you haven’t thought about it for a minute, an hour, even a day. The grief doesn’t shrink, but your life expands around it.

Maybe our collective Covid trauma will be like grief. As we emerge from it, and hopefully that will be sooner rather that later, maybe it’s natural for the affects to linger. Only fading over time, as it takes up less of the discussion. It certainly seems like we will need distance and perspective to be able to move past what truly has been a traumatic time. We need to process.

Perhaps some time in the future, the memory will fade and we will look back on it as something which changed us. Something which made us value our relationships more, and the grind less. A time in our lives when we were forced to slow down and take stock. My sincere hope for us is that in our rush to get back to normal, we don’t miss the opportunity to evaluate how much of life before Covid we actually want back.

In the meantime, we still need to look after ourselves. Getting vaccinated is a great thing to do both for ourselves and for our communities, but it is not a suit of armour. We still need to wash our hands and keep our distance. If we have learned anything about Covid, it’s that it will exploit any vulnerability.

It is said that most car accidents happen with a mile of home. It’s easy to see how. The end of the journey is in sight and we are on familiar ground, so we let our guard down. We are now a mile from home with this pandemic. Let’s make sure we arrive alive!

Be well xxx

Articles

Detrimental Data!

Hey there readers! It’s been a minute, right? I apologise for my absence of late. I think I had been hoping to start writing again when life felt “normal” once more. Seeing as that seems to be taking longer than any of us anticipated, I have decided to flip the switch. Maybe writing again will be the thing that makes me feel like the old Arwen? Please bear with me as I attempt to shake off the cobwebs.

As many of you will know, I am an accountant by trade. I adore numbers. I love that they are either black or white. There are rules to follow with numbers. Debits on the left, credits on the right. No matter how screwed up the world gets, 2×2=4.

It would seem to follow then that my constant quest for information is a natural enough thing. It’s useful to have empirical data to establish the direction things are going in. We measure all kinds of data. It can inform us that today is the hottest day of the year so far, (this reassures me as the act of typing has me sweating!) Or that Avatar is still the highest grossing movie of all time. These facts interest us and at the very least give us something to talk about.

For the past 18 months, statistical data has been a big part of all our lives, as we try to comprehend the incomprehensible. We have sliced and diced numbers every which way trying to make sense of the pandemic. Sometimes these numbers can reassure us, make us feel that those in charge are doing a good job of navigating the Nation through this. Other times, however, they do the complete opposite. They can cause anxiety and panic. Fear and anger, and perhaps most worryingly, they instil a deep sense of helplessness.

As I was gathering my thoughts to sit and write this, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between how some of us data junkies respond to external events, like Covid 19, and how we manage our own lives.

Over the last few months, I have begun to notice just how many parts of my life I am measuring.

I keep an eye on my weight. I track my steps, sleep and resting heart rate using a fitness tracker. My heart rate monitor lets me know how many calories I have burned during my workouts. I periodically track my calorie intake and macros with MyFitnessPal, and I ALWAYS log the weights I lift in the gym. With the technology that exists now, we can literally measure and monitor everything that we do, and the impact it has on us. However, just because we can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean we should!

Is all of this data really helping us to “hack” our health, or are we simply seeking validation from our myriad devices? Are we merely finding new ways of asking “am I doing this right?” The more important question perhaps is if this over dependence on tech is muting our ability to maintain health intuitively? Are we building a rod for our own back?

In my own experience, I have often found myself feeling guilty or inadequate when the numbers don’t go in the “right” direction. One example of this is with my resting heart rate. Before Covid, it was usually around 58-60bpm, which my Fitbit tells me is good. External validation achieved. The wearable Tomigotchi God has been pleased! Now, it is hovering in the low 70s. This is rated by Fitbit as fair/average for my age. External validation not achieved!

There are lots of factors that have may have influenced this increase. I have put on weight in lockdown. I am more sedentary when working from home. There had been long periods during the pandemic when I have not trained like I normally would. I have probably drunk more alcohol in the past 18 months than I typically would and I for sure have experienced more stress. This is to name but a few of the potential factors which may explain the shift. In other words, the cause and effect are not easy to ascertain. There isn’t one thing I can do to guarantee a reduced HRH. It is not simply a case of trying harder.

There are lots of things in life which are like this. Our bodies are not algebraic equations where you can always solve for x. Our methods for analysing our inputs, for example our food intake, can be mistaken. And the devices which measure our outputs, such as calories burned, can be inaccurate. Yet we still sacrifice at their alter. Tell me I am not the only one who has done laps of the kitchen at 5 to midnight, trying to hit that arbitrary 10,000 step goal.

You see, the truth of it is, we have very little clue what we are doing. We make literally hundreds of decisions each day. Sometimes, we will figure out quickly whether it was the right decision or not. When we wake up hungover, we can be pretty sure that last drink was a mistake. But other decisions, especially if they are longer term, do not readily yield this kind of feedback. If you start a new job in the morning, it might be months before you can be sure if it was the right move. Start seeing someone new, it could be a few dates before they reveal that they think Brad Pitt is a lizard!

It is easy to understand the allure of these devices and their instant feedback. That buzz on your wrist or notification on your phone to tell you that you got it right. You did what was expected of you. You won the day!

How can we strike the balance between observing and chasing? How do we recognise when these numbers have stopped helping us to achieve our goals and have become the goal in and of themselves. To go back to the steps example, many of us will have first bought a fitness wearable out of curiosity. We wanted to figure out how active we were at that time, and see if we could be encouraged to move more. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. The goal was to become more active and the wearable was the tool. However, when we allow ourselves to become overly fixated on an arbitrary number and allow hitting this number to define success then it has become the goal and may no longer be helpful.

We are all rational people. We understand that 9,950 steps is as close to 10,000 as makes no odds, but it doesn’t deliver the same dopamine hit, does it?

It is a hard and scary thing to rely on your body to tell you what it needs. Sometimes my body lies and tell me it needs 6 hours of Netflix and a pint of ice-cream. But other times it will tell me exactly what I need, if only I can log off my devices long enough to listen to it.

Phil and I have been back to consistent training for about 10 weeks. Prior to that it had honestly been about 6 months since I had done much more than walk Annie. Obviously it has been an adjustment getting back into the swing of things. But we are doing our best and had been hitting the same number of sessions each week. Before I knew it, this number of sessions had become a little goal of mine. Another external validation point. Do x number of workouts per week and you’re a good girl, otherwise you fail!

This was all fine (not fine but you know what I mean) until last week. We trained on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as usual. The plan was to train on Thursday as well. However, when Thursday came, I was seriously sore. I am not entirely sure why. Maybe there was a lot of interference between sessions, maybe it was doing something new that caused it, or maybe I just hadn’t had adequate sleep or nutrition to properly recover. Who knows. The point is, by Thursday, my body was in no fit state to train again. So, I didn’t!

This was not an easy decision to make. Not only would it make it impossible for me to hit my workout quota for the week, but in a world where resting is for the weak, it seemed like a cop out. No excuses, right? Was I a loser for not sucking it up and getting it done?

I will admit that I felt conflicted. I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. I continued to stress about this until I got out of bed on Friday morning, feeling fresh and without soreness. I had gone against the numbers and it had turned out to be just what my body needed.

This is just a small example of how chasing numbers can be detrimental. The vast array of data available to us can be really helpful, as long as we don’t live and die by it. I am toying with the idea of going it alone for a little while to see if it will give me back a little more space in my head. But I am not sure I am brave enough to go cold turkey just yet. I mean, how will I know if I slept if I don’t wear my FitBit?

If you have thoughts on this, I would love to hear them. Be well, with out without your wearables xxx

Articles

Seven

As I sit down to write this, it has been seven months to the day since life as we know it changed. Irrevocably. Seven months since I last drove to my office, parked my car, greeted my colleagues and drank crappy canteen coffee. More than 200 days since the world last felt “normal.” Since it felt safe.

For more than half a year, we have waited. Held in suspended animation. Unable both to plan and to be spontaneous. More than half a year has been cruelly taken from us. Pilfered. Erased. And it wasn’t just any year. I, for one, so looked forward to 2020. Eagerly anticipating what seemed destined to be the most momentous of years.

As with most of the pieces I write, I am aware that this too is written from a place of privilege. I am extremely lucky that this pandemic has not impacted my own health or that of the people closest to me. I have been able to stay working, albeit from home, and so has Phil. Financially, at least so far, we have been unscathed. I know that makes me a lot more fortunate than most, and I try to remain grateful.

It’s not easy.

I often want to scream about how unfair it all is. I have spent the time since early Spring bouncing between bouts of uber productivity and complete hibernation. It was easier in the beginning. Baking banana bread and revealing my lack of general knowledge in Zoom quizzes. There was a sense of solidarity in the early days. A sense too of novelty. None of us had ever experienced anything like this, and seeing as it was only going to last for a couple of weeks, why not make the most of it?

Spring became Summer and still we waited. We busied ourselves with DIY and BBQs. We talked to our neighbours across our fences. Enjoying a feeling of vacation time, lulled by the long evenings, and the sound of children playing.

All the while we were bombarded by data. Each of us becoming budding epidemiologists as we practiced our new vocabulary. The R number. The 14 day incidence. The death rate. We absorbed it all in the hope it might provide some clarity. In the hope we might one day learn our wait was over.

It’s not over.

It is the complete opposite of over. Autumn colours have overtaken Summer sun. The seasons have moved on, but we have not. We cannot.

The situation is so abstract that it has taken me seven months to even begin to process it. To try to name it. The feeling in the pit of my stomach that defies any label. It’s not depression, but it gets me down. I miss people, but loneliness doesn’t quite fit either. I try to make sense of being utterly exhausted when I have had less activity and more rest than ever before.

The best way I can think to describe it, is that I want to wake up from this. I want to recover. Like as if from the virus itself. I long for the feeling of knowing I have come out the other side. The feeling of being weakened, but looking forward to getting back to my old self.

You see, I miss my old self. I miss that girl who worked hard and was always busy. So many of the things which defined me are now either altered or gone entirely, that I find it difficult to recognize myself. I am now a woman with a hermit like existence. Working from home, in sweats or pyjamas, talking to people remotely. Trying to fill the hours between clocking out and falling asleep. Thankfully with gyms re-opening I have training as an outlet and some semblance of my previous life to hold on to.

I don’t know where all of this is going to end, and personally that’s the part I struggle with the most. Always a planner, I am used to being ten steps ahead at all times. I have spent my life constantly focusing on the next thing. Be it in my career, or with my fitness goals. There was always something to work towards. The absence of a plan beyond today and maybe tomorrow is unsettling and unmotivating.

I am sure we will look back on this time and be grateful. When it is finally over, we will recognize how much it has taught us. Maybe it has prompted us to rebalance life and work. Perhaps it has helped us to gain some perspective over what it is that really matters. Maybe we have learned how to slow down and be in the moment. I hope so. I sincerely hope this will not have been all for naught.

As I lay in bed last night with the idea for this piece bouncing around in my head, I began to get excited. Throughout this experience, I have not felt inspired to create, and writing had become something else that I “used to do.” A visit from my muse made me feel a tiny glimmer of hope. Perhaps despite what is happening in the world, I might be able to get back to myself.

Trying to coral my thoughts into some sore of order, the words of William Wordsworth kept coming to mind,

“Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters!”

They resonate with me because time has taken on a strange quality. Seven months have both gone by in a blink and have seemed interminable. As we learn to navigate this “new normal,” we can be overcome by a sense of aloneness. It comforts my to know lines written in 1798 still ring true today. As if to prove the singularity of the human existence.

Thank you gentle reader. I will try not to be gone so long again. Wash your hands and be well xxx

Podcast

Fitty & Fatty Ep.87 – A Lot to Unpack

https://fittyandfatty.podbean.com/e/fitty-fatty-s3-ep87/

This week we have a lot to unpack as always! Fatty is moving, Fitty is still decorating, we have updates on our nutrition plans and we talk about the latest coming out of Crossfit HQ. Don’t worry, we still had time to talk TV.

Thanks for listening x

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Podcast

Fitty & Fatty Ep.85 – We’re Back

https://fittyandfatty.podbean.com/e/fitty-fatty-s3-ep85-were-back/

This week we are FINALLY back in studio and not a minute too soon. With lots to discuss from the recent controversy surrounding Crossfit, to how we are navigating the “New Normal!” seasoned with a smattering of TV news as always.

We want to thank everyone who has stuck with us during lockdown. Our sound quality wasn’t always up to par, but we love you guys and wanted to keep showing up for you, even though it wasn’t perfect. Thanks for listening xxx

 

Podcast

Fitty & Fatty Ep.75 – The World is On Fire

This week we talk about what is going on in the world right now. We have advice for staying sane and occupied while stuck at home. We also talk about how to stay calm and not be a d**k during the pandemic

I love Fitty & Fatty | Fitty and Fatty – S3 Ep.75 – The world is on fire, let’s play it! https://www.podbean.com/ea/pb-q6afu-d629da

Podcast

Fitty & Fatty Ep.68 – The Four Agreements

https://fittyandfatty.podbean.com/e/fitty-and-fatty-s3-ep68-the-four-agreements/

This week we talk about Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements. We give a review of some of the vegan fast food options out there and as usual we talk TV.

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