Motivation

Undoubtably, the one question I am asked more than any other is, “how do you stay so motivated?” It’s a fair question as motivation is one of the most important factors in success for fitness, but also one of the most difficult to maintain. Different people have different ideas about what success looks like and for me, it’s usually to finish the race or project I have set myself. Generally, once I decide I’m going to do something, I write a plan and then I just keep going until it’s done. I’m a bit like a robot and this has been the normal state for me since January 2016 when my new life in fitness started.

But let me tell you, I am struggling at the moment. REALLY struggling to motivate myself to do ANYTHING.

I completed the Joe Wicks 90 day plan and on the whole I was pleased with the results. I lost weight (8 kilos) and lost 17.5 inches in total across my body.

Joe Wicks resultsMy jeans are now loose and I have bicep muscles. I can do a chest to floor burpee (although they are still my least favourite exercise ever) and can do 1 full press-up. Yes 90 days of HIITS, watching what I have eaten and weights and I can do 1 full press-up – full nose all the way to the floor and up again but only 1 before my arms feel like they will explode. I blame my boobs which even after losing 4 inches from them, are still significant. They must make it harder for me to push up as they weigh the top half of my body down too much…….maybe? But I can also do 30 pushups from my knees now without a break and when I started I could only do 3. So all joking aside, it’s a definite improvement.

The Joe Wicks plan for me was incredibly useful. Not only because I learned to use dumbells and finally understand the importance of and enjoyed strength training. But also because I learned so much about nutrition and what works and does not work for my body. In cycle 2, we were permitted a second carb meal on the day when we trained. I was relieved and excited and definitely looking forward to more carbs as I had been a bit hungry from time to timevon cycle 1, but the reality was that my body struggled.  I was bloated and felt very sluggish. I was also thirsty and I was drinking 3.5 litres of water on cycle 2 so I did not understand how this could be true. Cycle 2 was the hardest of all the cycles for me. Weights and not enough cardio coupled with too many carbs did not make me smile. But I kept going.

By the time cycle 3 rolled around, I knew what worked and what didn’t and so when we were allowed to choose between 1 or 2 carb refuel meals on a training day, I shocked everyone (myself included) by opting for 1 and this is largely what I will do from now on in my life I think.

The most important thing I learned however, was nothing about sport at all. I am 45 and probably perimenopausal (although that’s not been officially confirmed by anyone medical) but I have lots of the symptoms. The most difficult symptom for me to manage has been that on day 1-3 of my period I am exhausted and completely lacking in energy, which causes me to want to binge and eat chocolate.  However, the 90 day plan taught me , critically, that eating 3 healthy Joe friendly carb meals on each of these days (regardless of wether I trained or not on that day), helped with my energy levels and stopped my need to binge. Honestly, this revelation was worth the money for the plan alone.

I finished the plan a couple of weeks ago and then worried about being in limbo, signed up for a sprint triathlon which is taking place on Bank Holiday Monday. It’s a very small rural event and is also being staged as a time trial rather than a race as social distancing will be adhered to. I decided that I needed this as a motivator to kick start my running again.

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that I just cannot be bothered with anything running related at all. Now I can run for 30 minutes if I have to (and I will because in the next couple of months, Covid allowing, I will start leading runs as a Run Angel for “This Mum Runs” again as they hope to get the runs up and running in the next couple of months) but usually I just can’t be bothered. I much prefer run/walking in a structured manner – 3 minutes running and 1 minute walking. It’s just so much easier and less stressful. It also doesn’t help that in my head I think that after a swim and a bike ride, it’s unlikely I can run a 5k fast anyway so why try? I know this is stupid, but like I said, at the moment, I’m seeking excuses.

TT rideI do like my bike though and so have been doing fairly regular spin classes to keep my cycling legs strong and I also completed my first ever bike TT or Time Trial a couple of weeks ago. This was a 10 mile ride where you literally cycle as fast as you can. I rarely cycle as fast as I can as a social cycle is, well social, and long rides in races are never flat out at your top speed as you’re trying to save your legs for the run part. It was exhilarating to cycle at average speed of 27 km/h with a top speed of 48.2 km/h as I literally cycled as fast as my little legs could pedal. There were some fairly professional looking characters there with skin tight outfits and pointy helmets and I’ll be honest and say that I was very nervous indeed. I think without the encouragement of the lovely “Breeder of Boys” who also was there, I may well have not bothered, but I was pleased I did. I was last of course, but everyone was very friendly and encouraging and I am hoping to go again next week. I have also been lent a couple of “pointy helmets” to try by a lovely chap from our triathlon club and I am sure that they will make all the difference to my speed…..

But then what to motivate me to train beyond the triathlon in less than a fortnight’s time? 2020 has been an absolute disaster for races. Now I am not making light of the horrifying consequences of Covid 19 and I understand that for big races, it is right that they have been cancelled. But it is very hard to remain motivated to train, day in day out, without something to aim for.

I was down to do the Great North Run in September (cancelled) and then my final race of the year was to be the Great South Run in Portsmouth in October. This was cancelled last week. This was to be my final target, the one which forced me to focus on my running and hopefully would result in me falling in love with running all over again, which has been sadly absent since I twisted my ankle in March 2019. But now it wasn’t to be.

So my dilemma is now, what do I do? And the answer is I don’t know. Some days I have enormous plans and I am highly motivated but it isn’t consistent enough and I also find that trying to be positive all the time (which is my personality type), is absolutely exhausting and this further compounds my lack of motivation. On average I am still exercising 4 days out of 7 so it’s not terrible, but I do feel rudderless and without a focus.

I have ideas of course. I could just run socially over the winter. Not focus on time at all only aim to run 3 times a week and hope that the consistency will be the reward?

I could focus on trying to make my 5k time faster. I never did this as I started running in January 2016 and went straight to the Bristol 10k in May of the same year, so perhaps this would be a useful goal?

I could also redo cycle 1 and cycle 3 of the Joe Wicks plan to try and lose more weight, which in turn will help me to be a faster runner? I also have the “Graduate Plan” ready to go (which is Joe’s follow up to the 90 day plan) so could do this also (although I’ve had a sneaky look at the workouts and they look HORRENDOUS so there’s no need to rush into this!)

I could focus on weights? I will continue to weight train anyway as I know that a good level of base strength will be critical once races return, not to mention general health and well being. But I don’t get the buzz from weights in the same way that I do from cardio so this will only ever be a warm-up for me rather than the main show.

The honest answer is I don’t know what I’ll do but I will keep going, probably with a mixture of all of the above. Who would have ever foreseen that medals and races would be so important to me and therefore so missed once I couldn’t do them.

But it’s only temporary and we need to keep reminding ourselves that the “new normal” we live in currently, will not be forever. Races will happen again and so training, in some form or another must continue. I need to keep reminding myself that forward is forward regardless of how fast or slowly I move. Perhaps it will be useful for me to simply try and enjoy the exercise rather than making it time focussed? Time will tell.

However, until, I have a proper race to train for, or unless something specific crops up that I feel I need to talk about, I am going to rest my blog for a little while.

I do post regularly on Instagram under @ladyclaireabell about my fitness exploits so do feel free to keep in touch this way if you’d like to.

Stay well and safe and thank you for reading.

Running at Burnham on Sea

All in one leotards and Covid-19

So. How is everyone? Aren’t you sick of people asking you that? I am but largely because the answer can vary so very much over even such a short timeframe, sometimes changing dramatically over even just one hour.

Some days I am fully motivated to work, exercise, cook, clean, learn a new language, teach the dog how to walk nicely on his lead (not cracked that one yet) and then other days I can barely be bothered to get out of bed or brush my hair. I know I am not alone in this as my friends tell me that they feel the same. Covid-19 certainly has been a game-changer for everyone.

In my last blog which I wrote a few months ago now, I was planning a big year of exercise but the reality was that I was barely holding anything together at all, apart from work. I was working hard and enjoying my job again which was wonderful and extremely welcome. But as for everything else, well, everything else was collapsing. I had totally lost my ability to multitask and as I am a person who often has 17 balls in the air at once, and needs to have that many balls in the air to get through each day more importantly, this was a problem. Panic attacks and random hysterical sobbing started for no apparent reason (including one in a business situation, which was a real low point) and finally, mid February, after a particularly frightening couple of days, my husband suggested that I seek some professional help.

I was so angry that I couldn’t seem to pull myself together and felt utterly defeated. I had been continuing to walk to and from work, sometimes running to try and use exercise to pep myself up, but nothing was working. So, rather reluctantly, I met with a counsellor. It took only a couple of sessions to establish that I have PTSD as a result of what happened last Summer and I am still in the process of learning how to deal with this.

In those early sessions, we discussed many things, but the most important one, was that I needed to do “less”. This was to allow my body and mind to relax, reset and rest. Of course, one of the early sessions was us discussing that although I needed to do this, it wasn’t realistically possible due to work, family life, daughter commitments, races, training and social engagements. I did however cancel some upcoming social engagements.

Then Covid-19 happened and so now I am definitely doing “less”.

Work is slow, but ticking over but everything else has completely stopped. On top of this, the Government have advised that we don’t do too much “endurance” related exercise as it depletes the body of glycogen stores and limits our ability to fight the dreaded virus should you be unlucky enough to get it.

WeightsTherefore, whilst I am not exercising as much as I was this time last year, I am definitely still ticking over and managing to do something every other day, sometimes a bit more often than that and sometimes not quite as much.  Exercise has reverted to base levels for me and I have re-visited “Step Aerobics”, although without the all in one leotard I wore when I was a teenager and have also been doing some Joe Wicks HIITs. (Give them a try if you haven’t already). I was also very lucky to win a spin bike which arrived the week before lock-down (perfect timing) and so I have been doing an online spin class twice a week too to keep my cycling ticking over. I have weights but have always been terrible at doing strength work, but I have been using this time to embrace this a bit more. So all in all, when we are finally released from this lockdown, I should still have some level of fitness. Hopefully I will also be mentally rested and recuperated also and be ready to start training again.

All of my triathlon events have been cancelled and the Bristol 10k is not happening so all pressure has gone. Again, not having pressure is good for me at the moment and so currently, the Great North Run in September is my next event.  I have plenty of time to train for this and hopefully it will be enjoyable. Running currently is very hap hazard as I am largely preserving my outdoor activities for dog walks and although I sometimes run around a field with Bruce, it’s more for him than me, meaning it’s very stop/start and not very productive for training. But at the moment, it’s enough.

Running with Bruce in Lockdown

Stay safe and I’ll write more blogs as normality returns and training for the GNR starts in earnest.

The Great North Run

This is not a blog about grief and it never will be, but it’s impossible to write this post without touching upon it a little bit. My Mother sadly passed away on the 6th August and the grief is heavy. It’s debilitating and it is physical. I am surprised by just how physical it is and I am exhausted. All of the time. Some days walking is difficult, but I have been forcing myself to run and then walk and then run a bit more as often as I can. The days when I run are really the only days when I manage to sleep at night too so there is added incentive.

The topic of the Great North Run was weighing heavy on my mind as Mum had told me to do it.

A few people messaged me to say, “don’t do, it’s a terrible idea and you have enough on your plate” and they were absolutely right of course. Also a few people messaged me to say “do it. It’s a race unlike any other, but only do it if you can enjoy it”. I had no idea what to do. I decided to leave it and believed that the right answer would present itself, one way or another.

In the weeks after my Mum leaving us, I was lucky to have the support of family and very good friends. The Red Lady was always coming to support me running the Great North Run, if I did it, but she was never going to run it with me. She wasn’t trained for it, last having run a half marathon in 2016 and only running a couple of 10ks this year. One very good friend, I won’t embarrass her by naming her, has contacts at the Great North Run and over coffee when she was checking how I was, asked me if it would help me decide if the Red Lady could get a place to run it with me? I decided it would and she worked her magic and before I could even blink, the Red Lady had a place. The conversation when I spoke to the RL went a bit like this: “so, er, if I could get you a place on the GNR, do you fancy running it with me?”……….”what? that is INSANE! and yes, definitely!”.

So we were doing it.

GNR Celebrity busesWe arrived at the hotel the night before, following a 5 hour train ride, stiff, hungry and wondering what on earth we were playing at! An early night followed, during which I slept for about 45 minutes  and then a 6.45am alarm. At breakfast I was too nervous to eat but forced down some porridge and toast and then we went to wait for the bus and meet our “Team Bodie Hodges” team mates. What an absolutely lovely bunch of people they are. Many of them had run the GNR before and they were full of tales about how incredibly awesome it is. I was excited and nervous. The bus arrived to collect us and with a severe case of “imposter syndrome”, we boarded the bus.

We were deposited around 300 metres past the start line into a VIP area which had private toilets (I need about 74 pre race wees on average so this was magnificent news) and were able to watch the elite women and wheelchair athletes warming up. It was AMAZING.

GNR Nell and Gabby Logan

Dropping my bag off, I finally got to meet Nell McAndrew. What an absolutely lovely lady she is. Completely down to earth, friendly, and chatting like she was An old pal we’d met for a drink in the pub with even though this was the first time I had ever met her. We chat a bit on Instagram but we’d never met and I was so incredibly grateful that she had arranged this whole day for me. I tried to tell myself to stay cool, but I probably wasn’t! I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

We were able to mill around near the start line and watch the elite ladies go off. Being 10 metres away from Brigit Kosgei, Mary Keitany and Charlotte Purdue was an absolute highlight and privilege . They look so strong and fast. I could have started in the front row if I’d wanted to for the main race (and a couple of the Team Bodie Hodges did!) but I’m afraid that fear of being trampled to death got the better of me and so the RL and myself bid my team mates farewell and moved about 10 rows further back.

And then we were off.

With neither of us being even close to being half marathon fit, the Red Lady and myself had devised a strategy to get us round in one piece, and hopefully without injury. This was to run the first 3k in one go (in order to stop being crushed by the masses) and then run the rest of the race strictly adhering to run 3 minutes and then walk 1 minute and to keep to the left as much as possible to try and keep out of the way of the speedier runners. However, we needn’t have worried as the start of GNR is on two sides of a road. The elites were on one side and the celebrities and charity runners were on the other side so the first couple of kilometres were fine. Not one person was trampled and we were all smiling.

All was well until the runners came through who were chasing times. It became a bit “pointy elbowed” at this point and we did our best to keep out of their way as they speeded past us. We got into a habit of tucking in tight as soon as the red pacer flags ran past knowing that this was “peak” trample period. I understand what it’s like to go for a time if you’ve trained for long weeks to achieve one, but trampling over a middle aged trundler to achieve one is not ok and runner etiquette should be considered.

I have run quite a few races in my short running career, but I have never, ever, EVER run a race that is as noisy and well supported as the Great North Run. The crowds are SO LOUD that I found myself almost begging for some peace and quiet. Every third person had a tub of jelly babies, haribo or sweets, there were motivational signs, kids demanding high fives, spectators shouting our names, offering us ice-pops, setting us their own impromptu water stations, beer stops (yes at Mile 10 there was a chap filling up cups of Newcastle Brown and handing them out – obviously I had one), handing out cups of Lucozade that they had bought themselves, getting their garden hoses out to spray us and cool us down. It was AMAZING. It was not just for the beginning and end, pretty much the entire route was like this. It was hot and Newcastle was ready to party.

There were many highlights, too many to mention, but Elvis, singing karaoke in the middle of the road at mile 11(ish) was definitely one of them. The Red Lady and I danced past him and sang a bit too.

But it wasn’t just the spectators having a great time, the runners were too. Newcastle has a lot of bridges and under passes and so everytime we went under one, it is apparently law that we all shout “Oggie oggie oggie…….”. After about 57 rounds of this, I was ready to hit the open roads.

Running over the Tyne Bridge was epic and it was then, for the first time, that I got a sense of just how many people there were running the race. We could see runners as far as the eye could see and for the first time on the race, I felt a bit emotional.

Our 3/1 strategy worked remarkably well, on the whole. We had promised each other that we would strictly stick to the gameplan, otherwise, we knew that we would end up walking more than we wanted. I kept an eye on my Garmin watch and was in charge of shouting run and walk. 3 minutes is not a long time to run and I quickly got into a routine. As we ran, by the time I first glanced at my watch, it was usually showing that we’d been running 90 seconds, then I would look again and we only had 20-30 seconds left. 60 seconds was enough time to recover and RL was very good at reigning me in when I would go off too quickly at the start of each 3 minute segment. I tried not to think about the distances only the next 3 minutes. 10k rolled around and I have to tell you that it was the best, easiest and most enjoyable 10k I have ever run (running is always more enjoyable when you don’t care how fast you are going). We didn’t chat much whilst running, but chatted plenty whilst walking, often laughing about something we had just seen. I knew that kilometres 10-16 would feel tough so just tried to focus and on the whole it was ok although clearly it wasn’t entirely comfortable.

GNR Mile 10 ALONE High Res

Around the 10-11 mile mark, I felt tearful suddenly and this threatened everything because 3/1 works because your breathing is regulated, but crying really messes up your breathing, and I could feel proper snotty, gut wrenching tears bubbling under the surface. I confided in my buddy what was happening and we decided to take a couple of longer walk breaks to get things back under control, which we did. 2 walk breaks of 2 minutes and we were back in business.

We were now into the final 3 miles and we were tired but could feel the end was close. At the end of the GNR, you see the sea, then go down a very steep hill (which hurt my knees, ankles and boobs as the bounce factor on a steep downward hill should not be underestimated) and then you turn onto the final stretch towards the finish line for the final mile. We cheered when we saw the sea. I could hardly believe that we were already nearly there, but the final mile felt long. My legs were tired and my feet were burning.

If the crowds along the route were loud, they were nothing compared with the final straight. I couldn’t hear anything that the RL was saying to me at all. They were 10 deep at the barrier and people were sat on a Grandstand clapping and cheering us in. We crossed the line and I absolutely sobbed my heart out. We completed the race in 3 hours, 6 minutes and 15 seconds. It was slow, but I genuinely didn’t care a jot. It was magnificent and I truly count the GNR as one of my greatest ever achievements.

GNR finishing on my own

It is now that I must pay tribute to the Red Lady. Not only for agreeing to run a race with me that she wasn’t trained for (she’s mad), but also for how incredibly happy and smiley she was throughout the entire race. As we chugged along, she practically skipped, almost dancing and grinned the whole way through the experience.

We both lost our Mums this year to cancer and so we both had moments of pain during the race but we got through it together.

After the race, being in the VIP pavilion, we had a shower (yes, a SHOWER) something to eat and then we were on a coach that was given a police escort back to the hotel afterwards (as the roads were all still closed!)

I bid my team mates farewell and we went back to the hotel to head to the airport.

It was the most enjoyable race I have ever run. More importantly, it has re-ignited my love affair with running which has been absent for many months now. The Red Lady has told me it had the same effect on her. Therefore, we are both signed up to run it again next year but have made each other the promise that the GNR will always be our “happy” race and we will never rush it. It will never be our PB course, because there are too many kids to high five and too many beers to drink en route…. I will also be running for Team Bodie Hodges next year again and intend to raise some money for them.

Fearless Westonbirt Sept 2019

For the rest of this year I have only one plan. Keep running. I’m not going to put myself under any pressure for times but I’m just going to take each day as it comes and hopefully complete a few races. Life is for living and it should be enjoyed. I ran a 10k at Westonbirt at the weekend (slowly using 3/1 again) and I also have a place for the Cardiff Half marathon at the beginning of October.

One day at a time and keep moving forward. There are times in life when training hard and pushing for fast times are right but there are also times when they are not.

I have some plans forming for next year already, but for now until Christmas, the only plan I have is to keep moving forward and try and smile as much as possible.