I joined a gym

I don’t really like gyms. I have had memberships at various places over the years and I can’t say I’ve ever really enjoyed going. Sometimes I managed a solid workout and felt good afterwards but mostly I was vaguely amused and vaguely put off by blokes strutting in front of the mirrors stroking their biceps.

So why join now? I think this might be complicated. I have joined the university gym. I can see it from my desk (it’s in the building next to mine) and it never seems to be busy which is good. It’s cheap for staff which is also good. I  went and had a little look around last week. It seemed fine – maybe a little tired around the edges but the equipment looked good. I thought about it for a few days – not liking gyms is a pretty good reason not to bother after all.

However, I do want to keep running and it is fairly obvious that in order to avoid injury I am going to have to cross train a little and make sure I build a bit more core strength. I am also stupidly weak – I have no upper body strength at all and apparently the sheep aren’t keen for me to practice holding and turning them every day to build up some muscle. I suspect the gym can help with that. Essentially going to the gym is about being a better (and by that I mean healthier rather than faster or whatever) runner.

That’s not the most important reason to join though. I felt like I needed a space away from my desk where I can go and take time out for me. I can’t shut the door as I’m in an open plan office and I don’t want get stressed or anxious so I need a a sort of safe space or escape route. I think the gym will work for that. Just going outside won’t work because I’m in the middle of Leeds with the city and traffic noise. I will try go on Fridays in-between teaching (I have one class at 9am and another at 3) and although I haven’t got as much time in-between classes I could also do Wednesdays. I just figured that I can disappear for an hour and burn off some adrenalin if I’m having a tough day.

The key to making the gym my safe space (or one of my safe spaces anyway) is to take the pressure off. I need to shake off my history with gyms and just focus on what I want it for now. I may only go once a week. I may use it mostly to get a few short runs in when the weather is hideous and I may never really get into the weights stuff. I think I’m ok with all of that. So I went to join at lunchtime today and took my stuff with me. I filled in the form, got everything sorted and looked around – there were 4 people on the gym so it wasn’t busy but they all looked like super fit gym bunnies so I lost my nerve and went back to my desk. No pressure remember, that’s fine. I’ll have another go another day. For today I’ll take the flights of stairs that trip made me do!

And we’re back

So, flu. Is that nature’s way of telling me to stay in bed for two weeks? I could have done without it. I didn’t have time to be off work ill. The thing about academia is, if you’re off sick, your work just waits for you and piles up and you get back and there’s all the work there just going ‘hello, welcome back. You were 2 weeks behind already, you’re now 4 weeks behind and the week you had planned this week was always totally unrealistic, so make that 5 weeks’. But it is  what it is, it’s just that without running I am not very good at the ‘it is what it is’ mindset. I knew running was helping me keep a level head and I’ve blogged about my mental health and my little black labrador puppy (my symbol of depression) before but I didn’t quite realise how much it makes a difference to the little day to day niggles and stresses that we all have. So while I was getting more stressed about being off work and generally feeling crap the three things I do to destress and make sense of the world around me where all out of the question: reading – couldn’t see the page without inducing a major headache, writing – ditto and running – I could barely walk upstairs. That mix made for a particularly grumpy and gloomy me.

I started feeling much better on Wednesday and went back to work Thursday. By Friday I was looking forward to trying a run. We had talked about possibly Saturday. Kath’s knee is much better and she is keen to get going on it and start getting back into things and luckily the flu didn’t hit her quite as hard as me and she is recovering well. However, we had to move our sheep from one field to another – sounds simple, it’s only 200 metres or so along a track but add in 7 perfect, experienced and willing sheep and 7 inexperienced, highly strung and skittish ones and you end up with quite a lot of running around, then there was the 5.30am start to avoid dog walkers etc and then the work to get the field and shed tidied up and sorted… We were really quite wiped out after that. Run postponed until this morning.

I woke up and was quite surprised to see it was 8am. Not sure why I was surprised, I’ve been sleeping at least 10 hours a night for the last week or so. I got up and was even more surprised to find that Kath had only been up an hour or so – she’s usually up really early. We had a cup of tea and then did 15 minutes of flexibility yoga. We drove down the hill just in case Kath’s knee relapsed and we’d need the car to get back up the hill. Then we tried running along the canal..

The autumn colours along the canal are stunning at the moment. We’re clearly not the only ones who think so – it was quite busy with walkers, runners, cyclists and dogs. We had set the intervals to one minute running/ 30 seconds walking and planned to be out for 45 minutes. It felt so good to be out. As I was trying to suck the oxygen into slightly unwilling lungs I also made a conscious effort to look around, take in the colours, watch the ducks, watch the dogs – some excited to be out, some plodding along in the slight drizzle; same as their owners really.

It would be wrong to say that the 45 minutes were easy. That’s not quite it. Running for a minute at times felt about all I could manage (but that’s because I knew it was all I had to manage!) and my body didn’t really quite agree that this running things is a good idea. It felt like I had accumulated a load of crap in my lungs, it felt like my legs were a mixture of concrete and jelly – heavy and wobbly at the same time, I felt slightly uncorordinated and not very sure-footed but I also felt a sense of being able to do it. Maybe my ‘I can’t do this’ voice still has flu, or maybe it’s gone on holiday – whatever, it wasn’t there today. Eventhough the run was hard physically it was probably the easiest run I have had mentally. I was excited to be out, running, doing, getting back on track.

We didn’t worry about pace at all. We didn’t look until we had finished. We were at just over 13 minutes per mile. It may sound slightly ridiculous but I am really quite happy about that – we used to work hard to get to 13 minutes per mile and now this was just a first jog after weeks out. I really do think we are making progress and the training is working!

Kath’s knee held up. She said it is a little achey now and she’ll be careful and get some ice on it etc but there is no pain.We came home and did 15 minutes of yoga for runners. Then Kath made pancakes but not before we got on the scales for our weigh in – I have lost a pound, Kath stayed the same. Happy Sunday.

We’re back!

Thursday – crashed with a weak middle

Well I’m doing well aren’t I. After my panic attack yesterday morning I then went to bed early (like 9pm) and read a little bit and fell alseep quickly – for about 90 minutes. Then I woke up. And stayed awake, and stayed awake and stayed awake. I finally dozed off again around 4.30am and when 6am came I was just exhausted and tearful and generally not coping. I hate that feeling, I am a successful, strong and pretty competent woman and should be able to keep my shit together… but no. I can’t, or not all the time anyway. I felt – as you’d say in Yorkshire – proper poorly. So back to sleep I went – until 11.45am. I think that’s what you call crashed.

Then I got up. My leg is still much the same as it was yesterday I think but I had the osteopath appointment this afternoon – possibly the only reason I actually made it out of bed. I wrote about the osteopath a bit back in May. but it is worth repeating: They are amazing. So I toddled off to the Practice, for anyone locally, they are in Keighley at Farfield House Clinic and they are worth bearing in mind for any niggles. I don’t really know how they compare on price but £40 for a session doesn’t strike me as massively expensive.

I saw the same guy as last time (seemed to make sense to me and he had apointments available when I phoned). I was, as I always am for any medical appointment, apprehensive. I tried my best to explain what had happened and he seemed to get it. I can’t quite explain how grateful I am not to be told to stop running or to lose more weight before I even think about running. So after a few tests which had me standing up and touching my toes, standing on one leg, leaning back, twisting my torso etc he examined the muscles in my leg. The good news – I am flexible (for my age – the ‘for my age’ bit being added is a new development!) and the yoga we’ve been doing is clearly working. There is now hardly a difference between left and right in terms of flexibility which is good. The bad news – I’m a bit weak round the middle. Basically the niggle I have comes from the top of my legs and hips not being strong enough. It’s a common issue and thankfully it has an easy solution – strengthen the weak bits. After a little bit of work on the back of my right hip which I can now feel but which I’m sure will be tons better tomorrow, I was shown to simple exercises to do.

The first one is the Monkey Squat. There are loads of videos and descriptions out there but I quite like this one because it is simple. Basically you stand with your feet hipwith apart and then go to sit down on a chair but don’t, stand back up. The second exercise is even simpler – all you need is some stairs. you put your foot on the second step up (facing up) and then step up (hold onto something for balance if you need to) and then lower back down. If you don’t cheat and use momentum or pull yourself up this does work – I did a few on my left side to practise earlier.

As well as these exercises I think I will have to get over myself and start doing the strength session from the yoga app rather than sticking to the flexibility and relaxation ones. Anyway, all in all good news. I haven’t been told to stop running, not even for a short time and it looks like the 11 miler may be on for Saturday – as long as I can stop feeling poorly and sleeping all the bloody time.

Finding out which bits don’t bend – the yoga experiment

One of my best friends and colleagues swears by yoga, my mum does yoga and we have been saying for at least a year that we should try it – it will be good for Kath’s back and my core strength… But as usual we didn’t do anything about anything. Then my friend mentioned a yoga app called Yoga Studio (I’m sure others are available but I’m not one for re-inventing the wheel). I had a look at the app, downloaded it, had another look, ignored it for a little while, had another look and then eventually we had a go. Together, sharing a mat because we only had the one; in our hallway because our living room is stripped back to floorboards and full of plaster dust at the moment…

The app has 15 minute, 30 minute and 60 minute sessions for each beginners, intermediate and advanced and splits them into sessions for balance, flexibility, strength, relaxation or a combination. I like this. 15 minutes is easy to fit in. There is actually a chance I will get my butt out of bed to do 15 minutes in the morning. When working at home 15 minutes relaxation at lunch time sounds like a lovely thing to do (not actually had a day working at home to try that yet) and doing 15 minutes relaxation just before bed might be just what I need to clear my head of the clutter accumulated during the day.

What’s interesting so far is that I am clearly very flexible in some areas and not at all flexible in others. My legs, hamstrings, hips, thighs and calf muscles are pretty good and stretchy and bendy although my right side is slightly tighter than the left (which might explain the injury to my right calf). My upper body is shocking and I have no core strength at all. None.

So here’s what I’ve tried so far. All are obviously the beginner sessions

15 Minute Combination

A nice 15 minute session with gentle stretches and about as much strength stuff I can cope with. A good way to start the day because I feel like I’ve done something but it’s not too tricky. The only thing in there that I can’t do for some reason is extended puppy, as mentioned in a previous post somewhere I just end up face-planting. It’s odd because it shouldn’t be a difficult pose!

15 and 30 minute Relaxationcat-supported-shoulder-stand

I like this – probably because I don’t really have to do anything other than stay still in various poses and breathe. I can do breathing. The 30 minute one does have a supported half shoulderstand in it and the ‘instructor’ tells you to enjoy the relaxing feeling of being upside down. This is usually the point where I loose it and start giggling. I do not find being upside down relaxing. I mean does that look relaxing to you? (The picture is from Yoga Catz)

15 Minute Flexibility

This ends up being half ‘oh yes this is fine, I like this stretch’ and half ‘How the bloody hell are you supposed to do that?’ I am hoping that as I do this more often there’ll be less of the latter

The app works well for me, there are pictures and explanations/instructions of each of the poses so you can check what you’re supposed to be doing and the ‘instructor’ talks you through the session in a voice that I thought might get annoying but actually hasn’t so far. We’ve now got two mats and the iPad hooked up to the TV in the living room which is still just floorboards and doesn’t have any furniture in but we are making progress.

I’ll let you know when I tackle strength and balance sessions – could be amusing!

Strengthening the Calf Muscles

We ran 4.25 miles today. Just had to get that in eventhough this post isn’t about that!

My injury was due to my calf muscles, or more accurately, my right calf muscle being too weak. Actually  it still is too weak. My osteopath recommended a very very simple exercise for which you need no equipment and very little time: Heel raises. So while my calf muscle was still recovering he recommended doing heel raises using both legs at the same time – so basically standing with your feet evenly placed and raising yourself up until standing on your tiptoes and then lowering yourself back down in a controlled way (you can hold onto something for balance). Now though I am supposed to do this standing on one leg – apparently people should be able to do about 20 one leg controlled heel raises generally and runners should aim to be able to do 30. I am currently aiming for 5 without falling over.

The heel raise exercise does get slightly obsessive. I did 20 while in the supermarket queue and I keep doing it when standing in corridors, offices, at the roadside etc talking to people – usually both legs at the same time though. It’s so easy and yet so effective. There are loads of clips on YouTube showing how to do them but the osteopath recommended just doing them on a flat surface/floor and not on the edge of a step as many seem to suggest. He did recommend standing on the edge of a step and pushing your heel down for stretching the calf muscle but I think those two exercises should be seperate so as not to risk injury – I might be wrong there of course but doing them seperately works for me.

Next on the list is to make time for yoga using a yoga app I recently downloaded. It has several 15 minute programmes at different levels. I’ll let you know once I finally get round to building those into a routine properly!