Some of you may have notice that Cycle 4, or what is actually Intermediate Cycle 1 on the Body Coach App has lasted rather longer than 28 days. It has in fact been about a 6 week cycle. Honestly, the cycle just never really happened. I checked in this morning partly for a re-set really. I have put on a kg since the last check in and the rest of the stats have pretty much stayed the same. That’s actually better than expected given that I have done very little and not really stuck to the food plan that well either. It’s nothing the app does wrong. But sometimes life just happens. And life happened.
But let’s think about the app and review it for what it is. Let’s start with the exercise sessions. There did not seem to be a huge step up from Beginners Cycle 3 to Intermediate Cycle 1. It was pretty much more of the same. To be honest I was so crap with this that I think workouts 1-3 I only did once each. In fact I am not entirely sure I ever did workout 1. I did workout 4 and 5 a couple of times and quite liked them. I think that’s all I can really say because my head just wasn’t in it. What I did notice though is that just changing the order in which exercises are done or how they are grouped can make a huge difference to how the session feels so even if it looks like more of the same on paper, subtle differences can make a huge difference.
The food for the cycle adds another set of recipes for both refuel and general meals and another set of snacks. Honestly I can’t remember what was on that cycle and what came from previous ones but there is certainly a pretty nice recipe library building up overall! We probably stuck to the food plan 80% of them time in terms of meals. However, I have been really snack-y with nuts and cheese and chocolate and we’ve had hot chocolate more often than not.
Exercise wise, over the last 6 weeks I have been for a few walks. If I have tracked everything then 17 walks. Some of them have just been 2 miles though. 9 of them were over 4 miles with the longest being about 8. I went for one run. A 2 mile run which doesn’t sound like anything but was actually very positive. I did 9 Body Coach app workouts and 7 yoga sessions. So all in all not a great 6 weeks for fitness and mental health. Too much going on and I sort of just didn’t have anything left for self care in that way. I know, I know, I should prioritise it and if I did I would probably feel better. But I didn’t.
There’s lots of change and lots of shifting energies etc and this weekend I felt ready to check in from the Intermediate Cycle 1 and start the next cycle as part of a sort of re-set. I am acknowledging me tiredness and my need for rest but also the fact that I am ready to move more and push a little harder with this. Let’s see what the next cycle brings.
I am again writing the review as I go through the cycle and before I see my stats so that my thoughts are not skewed by what the numbers eventually say. I will add the stats and update the post just before I publish this. So, The Body Coach App Cycle 2. Hm. As I wrote earlier, Cycle 1 was pretty good. I have struggled more with cycle 2. I suspect progress has been limited. If I had to guess I would anticipate a slight weight gain and a small loss around my chest and maybe waist with everything else staying the same. Motivation has been harder to come by and a lot of Cycle 2 has been a little half hearted if I’m honest. Or at leas that’s what it feels like. It actually isn’t all doom and gloom when I think about it. Week 1 was pretty solid. Week 2 threw me off and weeks 3 and 4 were mixed. If you want a more detailed look at how the app works, have a look at my review of Cycle 1
The exercise sessions
Cycle 2 steps up a little from Cycle 1 but it is not unmanageable. On the beginner level there are no weights, so all exercises are bodyweight only. Having already done some of the bootcamp workouts that Joe Wicks did live on the app throughout January and which are available on demand, Cycle 2 workouts feel ok and not really a huge step up from what I had been doing in Cycle 1. I do think if you just do Cycle 1 workouts in Cycle 1 and then step up there is quite a difference though. Cycle 2 workouts definitely do not feel easy. I quite like workouts 4 and 5 which surprised me because I generally don’t like a low number of exercises and high number of sets. I generally prefer lots of different moves and just 1 or 2 sets. So the workouts are fine and challenging and sometimes fun and sometimes just bloody hard. The first 3 workouts continue the ratio of 30 seconds work and 30 seconds rest familiar from Cycle 1 but they are 30 minutes long rather than the 25 of most of Cycle 1. Workouts 4 and 5 go to 35 seconds work and 25 seconds rest. Who would have thought those 5 seconds either way make such a difference. Well, they do! Workout 4 doesn’t look like anything. It’s 5 moves six times and I have picked it twice thinking it would be a bit easier so I would have enough left in the tank for a run. Ha! It’s a bugger. It must be the repetition and using the same muscles. I have been a sweaty mess with jelly arms and legs every time. I have also done the odd bootcamp session. I think I have done all 20 at least once now. I like 17 which is a bums, tums and core one and I have a love hate relationship if 18 which is a killer cardio session (and I can’t do it all but will keep working on it) and 20 is just plain evil with the 40 second work/ 20 second rest ratio for the second round.
Initially when we scrolled through the food for Cycle 2 we weren’t excited. There didn’t seem the be the same number of meals that made us think ‘oh good, yummy’ as there had been on Cycle 1. But when we actually sat down to plan our food, there is actually plenty of yumminess there. Refuel favourites have been Spaghetti Bolognese, Toad in the Hole and the Full English Frittata which I prefer deconstructed to a full english breakfast. The Chicken Jalfrezi from the general meal section is delicious, as is the Low Carb Lasagna. It was nice to try more new recipes and add some to our list of keepers and know that some others were just not for us (I am just not a Chia and Coconut Breakfast Bowl with Spiced Plums kinda girls, just no). For many the biggest change from Cycle 1 to Cycle 2 is that the plan now suggests 2 refuel meals a day rather than just one after a workout. We’d already been doing some of that because we know from when Kath did the 90 Day Plan that it works better for her.
So how did I get on
Well week 1 of Cycle 2 kept the motivation and enthusiasm from Cycle 1 up and I had a strong week with 5 workouts and 4 runs. I felt pretty good and like I was getting stronger. In week 2 I started the period from hell. I only ran once and while I did manage 4 workouts that week the first 2 were a little half hearted and I didn’t really push myself and the the other 2 were half hearted and lower intensity. One was bootcamp 17 which was focused on core strength and the other was the introduction to weights from the 90 Day Plan. I definitely didn’t want anything jiggling! Week 3 still felt a bit half hearted. Period bleurghness lasted the full 6 days rather than being confined to days 1 and 2 and I felt sluggish and heavy. I did however manage the 5 workouts and I went for 2 runs. One of the workouts was just a short ten minute one but still. In week 2 the February Abs Challenge started on the app and I managed 2 of those and then did 4 of them in week 3. Week for was a funny one. I had more energy and worked harder during the workouts and deliberately chose harder ones but motivation was tricky and I ended up not doing anything on Thursday. I did have good runs on Wednesday and Saturday managing to run for 30 minutes without walk breaks for the first time in absolutely ages. Maybe the way I have the rest days structured at the minute needs a little re-think. The Saturday rest days seems pointless as I often want to do something so maybe I need to put both rest days in the week.
Week 1 was mostly still using Cycle 1 recipes just because of when we do our shopping. From memory week 1 was pretty good in terms of meal planning and sticking to the plan. We used recipes from Joe Wicks’ books, the 90 Day Plan and the app throughout this cycle and meals were overall good. Snacks however are another story! I made some peanut butter fudge things but got my measurements wrong because I didn’t realise my scales were wedged on a spoon – so they had far too much peanut butter in. They were delicious though and I couldn’t stop eating them – a snack was meant to be 2 of my little pieces but I could have eaten them all so I gave most of them away to Kath’s mum. It was just pre period which explains everything. I continued to have ridiculous period cravings and basically just hoovered up any food I could find. I had toast, I had extra peanut butter, I had nuts, I had chocolate, I had cheese and and and. We’ve also had hot chocolate on most evenings throughout the Cycle. Somehow it has felt important and nourishing and calming to have a mug of bliss as we curled up for some downtime before bed.
In all the general grumpiness I stopped tracking my water intake and of course drank less as a result. A lot less I think. I restarted the tracking for week 4 and intake went back up but I am still not hitting 3.5 litres. I’ll keep trying.
Towards the end of week 3 my cravings and general food hoovering finally subsided and I felt like I had more energy for the workouts. During weeks 2 and 3 my knees had become really quite sore. I am not sure whether it was just because the workouts were getting harder and therefore my knees were struggling or whether my technique had been poor because my exercise had been a bit half hearted and I had aggravated something. I tried switching from barefoot to trainers but that made things worse so I ordered some HIIT trainers which arrived in time for week 4. I also stepped up the stretching for a couple of days with some 20 minute post run yoga sessions which really target the hamstrings and calves which, as usual, are stupidly tight. The combination of stretching and HIIT trainers made the first half of week 4 ok on the knees. There was still some residual nigglyness but easing and not getting worse during workouts but on Friday after the HIIT session they were really sore. I had been really careful during the session, had avoided squat jumps because my technique is a bit questionable when I get tired and had really focused on form -so it was annoying. I decided not to go for a run on top. During the Saturday run my knees were fine but a bit niggly during the day walking upstairs. More stretching needed!
The Facebook group is still not my tribe. I thought I might try and engage a little – after all you generally get out what you put in. I have commented on some posts and posted a couple of things but I’m not feeling it. There is too much diet talk, too much I have x amount of weight to shift, too much ‘my progress is too slow’, too much ‘how can this be allowed’, too much feeling guilty of going ‘off plan’. I find it quite hard to read that. So many people basically feeling guilty for living their life normally. I can’t decide if I want to hug them or scream at them. I scroll on. There are also lots of repetitive questions about stuff that actually is really clear on the app if people bothered to read the information or which has been answered countless times in the group if people bothered to search or even just scroll a little. Odd. Why pay for an app and then not look at it properly? Weird. The other thing I just don’t understand is sharing the progress pictures. Keep in mind these are generally pictures of you in your underwear. Why would you want to share them with a bunch of strangers – lots of strangers – on a social media platform? I just don’t really get that. The pictures are actually a really good way to see progress but the progress doesn’t change depending on how many people see or like the pictures. I’m not sure posting pictures of yourself in knickers and bra in a Facebook group with close to 10000 members is a smart thing to do. And I generally have no issues over-sharing!
Like I said, this cycle was harder, I pushed myself less because of general life stuff and because my knees were sore. I also snacked quite a lot, particularly through week 2 and into week 3 and I didn’t once hit my water target. But there were still wins. My push-ups are getting better. Obviously I still can’t do a full one but I can now do 10 from my knees and I am getting much lower down than I was. I have started jumping out and in for the slow motion burpees rather than just stepping out and back in and I can now hold the bear crawl pose without the crawling for the duration so next time will try a little crawl with it. I haven’t felt hugely energised or motivated or more confident or anything like that but I also haven’t felt worse. My black puppy, while still very much there, has been confined to her place in the corner of the room and is allowing my poorly brain to recover and heal. I think the exercise and the relatively healthy food allowed things to stay calm-ish over the last 4 weeks and that’s a big win. Remember also that my main exercise thing is running and that’s really the only exercise I don’t hate. If I keep the workouts in perspective as something to help my running I find them easier to get into and more fun. Seeing benefits in running helps with that. And there have been running wins. I ran for 30 minutes nonstop twice this week and I can really feel the increased strength when, for example, running up short sharp hills. I have butt muscles and they activate and work! Whatever the numbers say, the app is doing it’s job at keeping me vaguely on track to do the things I want to do.
So, Cycle 2 round-up. I struggled. Motivation didn’t come easy. I think that horrendous period has a lot to answer for here though rather than it being a reflection on the app. I definitely had the munchies but I don’t think that had anything to do with the food plan or portion sizes. There’s also been a lot of crap to deal with and I can’t wait for all that to be over which I think will help with head space and motivation to get off the sofa. Overall I have done 16 full HIIT workouts, 1 short body blast, 7 abs sessions and I have been for 5 runs and 2 longish walks. I have not yet done anything today on the final day and maybe I should have done before doing check in stats but that’s not how it worked out this morning. Given that my knees are still niggly I think I will run instead of a HIIT today and maybe tomorrow as well. I have lost 1kg on this cycle and a total of 8cm although apparently gained 1cm round my chest. The thing about some of these is though that it is actually hard to measure in the same spot each time so the measurements are not actually likely to be all that accurate. Interesting to note how the one place I felt like I might have lost a bit is the one place where the numbers suggest otherwise – and we measured repeatedly to check!
Roll on cycle three and a new set of recipes and workouts. I think it might even be quite fun.
As promised, here’s my review of the first 4 weeks of using the Body Coach App. It will come as no surprise to those of you who know me that when Kath decided she was going to do the Body Coach 90 Day Plan last year I was sceptical. It all sounded too much like diet to me. However, we were already cooking quite a lot of the recipes from Joe Wicks’ books and as Covid-19 meant the gym and sessions with RunRight weren’t an option, having a structured set of exercises to do at home did make some sense. I was in no state to join the 90 Day plan at that point but I very much enjoyed the food and had a go at one or two of the sessions towards the end of the year.
The more I looked at the meal plan and the more I looked at the exercise stuff, the more I thought that actually maybe the structure it provided would be quite useful, the workouts would push me and make me do some of the strength work that would help with running. Once I got back to running it would also provide a way I could do stuff at home if I had run out of brave to make it outside. So just as I decided that the 90 Day plan might work, the app was launched. I wasn’t sure about an app. It somehow in my mind made it sound even more diet like. But then maybe that’s just because my brain went straight from ‘app’ to ‘tracking’ or ‘counting’. After a bit more research I decided that I did want to give it a go. So both of us signed up to the app at the end of December.
Here’s how it works
You sign up and chose your level – Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced. You start with cycle one. Each cycle lasts 4 weeks. At the start of your cycle you add your starting stats which include weight, hip, chest and waist as well as arm and leg measurements and if you want to, photos. Then you ignore all of those things for the entire cycle until it is time to check in again 4 weeks later. The check in triggers the move to the next cycle. As I understand it there are 3 beginner cycles and then you move up to intermediate where there are also 3 cycles, then to advanced where it seems cycles will be unlimited. Workouts and recipes then move into your library so you can get back to them if you want to. The recipes will adjust automatically so the quantities are always tailored to you. I like the fact that the workouts stay there. While I want to push myself, I also know that on some days my head won’t play ball but when that happens it might still be persuaded to have a go at one of the easier and familiar workouts.
In cycle one we got recipes for 27 different refuel meals, 33 general meals and 12 snacks. Each of those recipes has the amounts tailored to us individually using our basal metabolic rate. I have absolutely no idea how accurate this is at all. And I don’t care. The cycle also provides 5 Cycle 1 workouts. They are pre-recorded and easily accessed from the app. The idea is that you do 5 workouts per week and have a refuel meal after each of those workouts. All other meals should come from the general plan and you should also eat 2 snacks each day. In addition the app recommends the amount of water you should drink. Right, there are a lot of shoulds in there. I am not good with should, at least not without understanding things a bit more. But it does all make sense. Hydration is important so I’m good with the drink lots of water (I’ll come back to specifics in a minute). Giving your body what it needs after a workout also makes a lot of sense – so eating a meal which is higher in carbs within a short-isn window after a workout seems sensible as it replenishes the body and aids recovery. Not eating loads of stuff we don’t need and which isn’t good for us obviously also makes sense – as does the idea that sometimes we all need a treat and that what we fancy as a treat might vary so chocolate can be part of a snack and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of popcorn!
I started the app a day before Kath although I will do my check in on the same day as her so we are back in line, so I did workout 1 twice. On the 90 day plan I found the cycle 1 workouts challenging when I tried them. I really noticed that the Beginner Cycle 1 workouts on the app are much more beginner level than on the 90 Day Plan. I like this. My critique of the Plan would have been that the cycle one workouts were not beginner enough. The app is gentle and gentle is good. It builds confidence. In the first week we simply did workouts 1-5 in order and I liked them. I could do them mostly and occasionally I could even do the next step up. So instead of marching on the spot I could jog, I could do an elbow plank without having to go from my knees and I can do star jumps rather than stepping out. So I am impressed with the beginner workout and I am also impressed with the way Joe Wicks presents the exercise to beginners. He takes care to demonstrate good form and to remind us as we go through and he makes absolutely clear that it is ok to pause the workout if you need a longer rest or to miss out an exercise or substitute it for something you can have a go at or to just do what you can and have a longer rest. Having lost all confidence with exercise, this was all really good for me. I never actually paused or took additional rest but it was good to know I could.
Our second week then coincided with the start of the January bootcamp on the app. This was/is a series of live workouts 5 times a week at either 7am or 7pm and they were obviously aimed at everyone using the app at whatever level. We did the first one live simply because it was about the time we were going to do a session anyway. The live workouts save to an ‘on demand’ section though so can be done at any time. I was anxious about having a go but actually have enjoyed all of the ones I have done so far. They work well when Kath and I do our workouts together because Joe gives different options for different levels of intensity. I have done 11 of the bootcamps and they have allowed me to push a little harder than the Cycle 1 workouts and have probably given me confidence to try things I didn’t think I could do. On a few occasions I went back to workouts 4 and 5 of Cycle 1. The first time because I wanted to wait for Kath to do the next bootcamp, the second because I was thinking about perhaps going for a little run and wanted something comparatively easy and the third because I had been for a run earlier in the day and it was late and what I really wanted to do was go to bed. On the first occasion I really noticed how much easier the workout was compared to the bootcamps and that to push myself to the same extent I needed to step it up. It was a nice feeling. The second time was this week on Thursday when I had a crappy weird day and couldn’t be bothered with the world. I was too scared to go out and thought that maybe a workout would help me snap out of it and I could go for a little run and get some air after. Well I was just dead. Some days you just don’t have it but I managed to finish the workout and I did feel better for it. Friday was really the first time I nearly didn’t do my workout. I wanted to go to bed really but instead I had a go at workout 4 and while I didn’t enjoy it much, I did enjoy having done it. This morning I did workout 5 of the first cycle and Kath did it with me after having done a bootcamp workout already (mad woman). It felt fitting to finish cycle 1 with a cycle 1 sessions. So in terms of workouts, I have really just done what the app told me to do. That’s not likely to last is it!?!
The food wasn’t really new to me. Kath did the 90 Day Plan and we have several Joe Wicks books. We also know at least a little bit about nutrition and from our running etc have a pretty good idea about what our bodies need in terms of fuel. I think it is also important to remember that this isn’t meant to be a diet. So no, I didn’t stick to the food plan all the time. All meals over the last 4 weeks came from Joe Wicks but no all of them came from the app. When using the books we adjusted the quantities to be more in line with the quantities in the app recipes and when using recipes from the 90 Day Plan we used Kath’s quantities from that plan which are very slightly lower than mine. The biggest deviation from the app was probably that we realised quickly that Kath in particular struggled on one refuel meal and was tired, hungry and a bit flakey. So on some days we had 2 refuel meals and one general. We did try, and mostly succeeded, to have a refuel meal after a workout but sometimes things changed and we didn’t do the session when we had originally planned. Yesterday we were meant to have some home made fish and chips but our heads just weren’t in it so instead of sorting breadcrumbs and coating the fish and faffing, we had fish fingers from the freezer. Yep, that’s right, it has to fit in with life or it’s just another diet to make us miserable. We also had quite a lot of chocolate and biscuits left from Christmas which we enjoyed without the slightest hint of guilt and Kath made a delicious fruit cake which we enjoyed with cheese from our monthly cheese subscription. I am really happy with the food. It’s all lovely, none of it is difficult to make, we haven’t had any major cooking disasters and I love the idea of peanut butter and apple as a snack. Of course I could do much more to ‘be good’ but I don’t really want to be good. I want to enjoy yummy food that fuels my body well and provides the energy to do the things I want to do and I want to enjoy a biscuit or three.
According to the plan I am supposed to drink 3.5litres of water. Hahahahahaha. Yes well. I might as well just sit on the loo, stay there and pour water in the top. I started using Garmin to track hydration as that seemed the only way I was actually going to manage to keep an overview of how much water I am actually drinking. I have been tracking for 15 days and have drunk 3.5 litres on 6 of those days. I am consistently reaching at least 2.5l sthough which, I am fairly sure, is more than I was drinking before.
The Facebook group
The Body Coach website and app are clear about what it is, the app also gives loads of useful information. It’s all there, it’s all pretty clear. The key message is always, it seems to me anyway, that the app is about helping people become healthier and fitter. It’s basically a training and food plan for those of us who are too lazy to figure one out for ourselves. The focus is most definitely not on weight loss. It’s not a diet. If I thought it was I wouldn’t be doing it. That is not, however, what the Facebook group feels like. I joined the Body Coach app official group on Facebook because I sort of presumed that it would be a very supportive and positive space to share thoughts and ideas. I was quite shocked. There are clearly lots of people who do find it supportive and inspiring but mostly I was really taken aback by how much focus is on weight. I was disappointed to see how many in the group seem to measure their moral worth by the number on the scales and how many are really disappointed when the scales don’t move even when they admit that they feel better and stronger. I was surprised at people apologising for going ‘off plan’ or ‘falling off the wagon’. I was concerned about questions about alcohol or biscuits or whether the plan would be less effective if you use natural yoghurt rather than fat free versions. The Facebook group mostly talks about this as a diet and there are lots of posts about how great the food is with comments like ‘how can this be allowed?!?’. After first scrolling through the posts I was quite upset and I took some time to think about why.
I thought about why I was shocked. Over the last few years I have been a member of various exercise, or rather running, related groups on Facebook. There was the Too Fat to Run Clubhouse, various runDisney groups and of course the fabulous Trail Running Magazine Run1000Miles group. While the general runDisney and also the specific Dopey Challenge groups had their fair share of stupid questions and questionable running advice at times, they were never about weight. Too Fat to Run was about being fat and running and I left when discussions about weight started being policed a bit too much which bizarrely seemed to push a focus onto it more than there ever was when there were no rules about posting about weight. Run1000Miles is just about the joy of being outside and enjoying putting one foot in front of the other. The tone when people do post about weight in any of those forums is markedly different. People celebrate their own weight loss, or that of others in a completely different way. There is no moral victory assigned to the weight loss or for that matter any moral value to weight. If someone wanted to shift a few pounds because being a bit lighter makes running easier then that’s something to support and celebrate. If someone managed to stick to a strength training plan or a series of HIIT sessions they wanted to do because it makes them stronger and fitter then thats something worth celebrating too. And the groups I have been in did that. There were some incredible weight loss stories in all of the groups but they were framed in terms of health and fitness and what it allowed the person to do and not in terms or weighing less making you a better person. What shocked me was how normal it seems for so many to think that to be valued and valuable you have to weigh less than you do now and of course be thin. It made me realise how lucky I have been with the Facebook groups I am part of. In particular the run1000Miles group which is so supportive of everyone’s achievements whether that is running a mile or 10, whether it’s a 7 minute mile or a 14 minute mile and whether it’s a 100 mile week or a 100 mile year. The group also overall projects a much healthier relationship with food. That’s not to say that individuals within the group won’t have their own issues. Food and weight can be tricky in all sorts of different ways but overall conversations are about fuel needed for running, treats that nourish body and soul and that food, all food, is part of our lives and often part of what makes it pleasurable and sociable. There isn’t anything that ‘isn’t allowed’ although I’m sure we’ve all made bad pre-run choices that have come to haunt us a few miles in!
So the Facebook group that goes with the Body Coach app just isn’t my tribe. Partly I am tempted to reply to so many of the posts or even post what I just wrote but I would be screaming into a void. Marketing is powerful and the diet industry even more so. As a society we have so much work to do. I have remained in the group and every now and again I scroll through for the odd good tip on modified recipes but I have turned off all notifications and the posts don’t appear in my feed. I spent too long working through my own issues and moving away from the number on the scale meaning something to be dragged back to having debates about the moral value of fat.
Is the app working?
Yes it is. I have done 19 of the pre recorded or live sessions on the app and 6 30 ish minute runs in Cycle 1 and I have enjoyed the food. I am feeling a little bit fitter and a little bit stronger. I haven’t really struggled with motivation to do the exercises. Once or twice I’ve had to give myself a kick but mostly I have enjoyed the routine of ‘this is just what I do’. Of course that has been relatively easy as I haven’t been working and even if I had, I’d just be at home. So the routine aspect of this and the planning ahead and then just doing what it says on the plan without having to think about it might become more important as I go back to work and eventually even actually go to work, as in – leave the house. So I wanted to get into a regular exercise regime that ultimately supports my running and which can be done easily at home to deal with those days where going out is just a step too far. I wanted to build fitness and strength and feel better, more energised. I also wanted to try new recipes and move away from the same handful of meals we always used to have. So by those measures of success, the app is doing exactly what I wanted it to do and I am very happy with it. For those of you who care more about metrics: I lost 3.5kg, I lost 2 cm each off my chest, waist and hips and another 5cm total off arms and thighs. And just to make sure that my evaluation of the app isn’t coloured by those stats but is based on how I feel, I wrote almost all of this post yesterday, before doing the measurements and photos and hopping on the scales this morning after workout 5 of Cycle 1. I’ll report back after Cycle 2.
I am finishing this year much as I started it really. I will, as always, await the magic of New Year and will, as usual, be disappointed that the magic is no closer as we roll from 2020 to 2021. I will still be grumpy, assholes will still be assholes, friends and loved ones will still be friends and loved ones and life goes on, just like that. It goes on in spite of 2020 being the year that finally convinced me that some people are just nasty and will never choose to be kind; in spite of 2020 being another year highlighting that I do not understand, even remotely, a huge proportion of my fellow humans; a year where we could all have chosen to be kind, compassionate and caring and instead chose not to be, where we could have gone for ‘together’ but didn’t, where we needed action and leadership and got neither. 2020 has been quite the year. My mental health dipped. I could pretend it was Covid and lockdown related, yeah for the purposes of this blog let’s pretend that it had nothing to do with work, probably best that way. I found my self hurtling towards the abyss and slammed on the breaks. I did that really radical thing of putting my mental health first. I have cried less this year but I have laughed less. I have spent a fortune in therapy and it is working. As I slowly begin my climb back out of that hole, at least I think I am slowly starting to climb a little – I no longer feel like I am falling deeper, I am thinking about the magic of New Year again.
And I think I was wrong. There is magic. A different sort of magic to the one we might find in the Solstices or as we listen to the Godesses of the rivers we run alongside or the one the wind whispers to us as we quicken our descent down the side of our favourite hill. But magic. And it’s not magic that is unique to New Year. It’s magic that comes with every new beginning, every week or even day holds some of that magic, every marker on a calendar. Every point which we long ago decided marks time is and end point and a new beginning and each one holds magic. We just feel it more at New Year because of the importance we assign to the ticking over of one year into the next. And I think that it is a powerful magic and that it’s frightening in so many ways. It’s the magic of knowing who we are and what matters. It’s powerful and it means taking responsibility for all of it. It’s the power to define who we are and want to be. It’s the power to say yes to things and no to others, the power to stand up and make out voices heard, it’s the power to be kind and the power to let anger go (or not). It’s the power to be truly ourselves and finally, finally, abandon ‘should’. “That’s not magic”. I can almost hear you say that, but it is. If magic is a forgotten power that makes us all part of the universe, a power that can be used for good and bad and a power deeply connected to nature then the power to be truly ourselves and define what that means every single day is indeed magic and it’s radical. And that magic is closer on New Year because it’s a time to reflect and to define who we want to be. We’ve just forgotten how to do that in a way that puts kindness to ourselves at the centre. We’ve made it about metrics, we’ve made it about having to be better where better is narrowly defined by others. We’ve made it about resolutions, about weight lost, races run, personal bests achieve, number of books read, research outputs produced… and better is always about thinker, faster, lighter, further or more.
I am not going to tell you how many miles I ran in 2020, how many books I read, research outputs I wrote, classes I taught, pounds I lost/gained, inches I lost/gained, dress sizes changed, units of alcohol consumed or chocolate bars eaten. The cake is uncountable anyway. None of that is important. As much as I am often drawn to cold hard logic and plans and tracking and numbers, the magic in everything we do comes from something else, something that I can’t always capture but something that running somehow brings me closer to.
2020 magic has come from very different sorts of achievements than the ones I see being shared on social media. By the usual metrics I have failed this year. And yet it doesn’t feel like that at all. Work has been horrendous but even as my anxiety soars just thinking about it I know what I want, I know what sort of academic I want to be, I know where my focus has to be for me to get there. I know what matters. 2020 running magic on first glance has been absent. I have started again and again and again, my feet have hurt, my calves have been tight, my hamstrings tighter. Then lockdown and people everywhere and then I was ill and kept trying until eventually my body screamed stop and I finally heard it. Tests, rest and now finally baby steps back to fitness. It has been frustrating at times but even when my anxiety is through the roof and depression stops me from getting off the sofa, I know that I will get back to that feeling of strength and wellness. 2020 magic has been about learning to connect in different ways and re-affirming that I don’t need small talk and lots of friends but that I do need a handful of meaningful and deep connections and that I need connection to outside, to nature, to something bigger than people.
2020 magic has come from sunrises and sunsets and watching the seasons change, seeing curlews and lapwings in spring and summer and grouse, herons and kingfishers regularly. It’s come from getting angry at people out on ‘my’ routes and then remembering that they too just need to breathe. 2020 brought the excitement of entering Marathon Number 5 and the disappointment of having to cancel and then the relief as my training never got going anyway. It brought planning excitement for holidays to Iceland and Florida and the disappointment of cancelling and the calmness of accepting that it just is what it is. The time for those place will come.
2020 brought Odin into our lives and with him a healthy dose of chaos.
2020 brought more ‘starting again’ efforts than any previous year as I kept trying and trying to get going again. It brought reminders that nothing is every guaranteed and it put health at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I stopped watching the news because it just made me cry. But the year also brought sleep outs in the summer house, and it brought me back to yoga in fits and starts. 2020 has taught me something about patience and about listening more, it has taught me something about calm and acceptance. It has also taught me that I am strong. That when I want something and believe in it I will keep trying and I won’t just walk away. I want to run. Running is so impossibly hard and has been all year. I have not had an effortless run where everything comes together for longer than I can remember- and I don’t think there was one in 2020 – but I am not walking away from that possibility.
So 2021. No resolutions, no plans to be a better me. Just a hope that I can keep listening. A hope that the sunsets and sunrises are as beautiful next year as they have been this year and that I can get to see some of them during runs along the canal or on the moor. A hope that the kingfishers stick around and the deer and the long tailed tits, goldfinches and all the other birds that come to our feeders. I wish for a kinder world, where the news doesn’t make me cry and in the absence of that I hope for the continuing love and friendship that makes me laugh to balance out the sad tears with the good ones. I hope for hugs and simple kind gestures that shows us that the magic that connects us all hasn’t abandoned us, that all we need to do is take time to stop and breathe. Or, if we’re lucky enough, we just need to run, the way we do when it all comes together, when running is fluid poetic motion that feels like flying. And I wish you that perfect run, whether metaphorically or an actual perfect run. I wish you magic and the power and strength to be you – the you you really want to be, not the one you feel you should be.
Stay safe in 2021 and here’s your annual reminder:
I wasn’t really expecting to tell you this again this year! I had moments where I hoped and the odd glimmer of total madness where I dared to plan. But I didn’t really believe I would manage another actual run this year. When I last wrote I was testing the fitness water with some HIIT sessions at home – well parts of HIIT sessions. Well they felt sort of awful and I felt not quite right and weird. And then one day, about 10 days ago I managed all 3 sets, and it didn’t feel weird. It just felt hard. It felt like being unfit and not being used to any of the exercises and like maybe having started on the mince pies just a little too early this year. It felt familiar. My body does unfit really well. It understands what it feels like and what is asked of it. It grumbles in all the usual places and ways when asked to do something about it. It wobbles and creaks a little and grumbles but it also secretly knows which bits will be slightly less wobbly first, which bits need nursing along and which bits just need to get over themselves. It knows my thighs lie when they say ‘can’t’ but that my shoulders know their limitations and ignoring a ‘can’t’ from them is likely to result in a dropped weight or face plant. It also knows that my hips are quite bendy, my hamstrings are not. Being unfit and starting to get fitter is familiar territory, I was beginning to come home.
So if the HIIT sessions just felt hard but not being-poorly-weird then there was no real reason I couldn’t have a go at a run. Running feels scarier simply because I have to leave the house. If I don’t feel well I still have to get home; there might be other people (rude!) and there are other things to think about like traffic, curbs, potholes, dogs, cars, wheelie bins with minds of their own… so I made a very very gentle plan:
Week 0: Complete 4 HIIT sessions
Week 1 (now): 2 runs of 30 minutes running only 10 seconds of every minute; 1 longer run -same running interval
Week 2: 2 runs of 30 minutes running 15 seconds of every minute; 1 longer run using same intervals
Week 3: 2 runs of 30 minutes running 20 seconds of every minute; 1 longer run using same intervals
Week 4: 2 runs of 30 minutes running 30 seconds walking 30 seconds; 1 longer run 30/30 on Christmas morning
The I panicked about everything and did very little. Out of the 4 sessions I managed 2 and I struggled to get out to run. It’s now Thursday of Week 1 and after a day of pottering about in the kitchen baking I decided it was time. I found a pair of new New Balance long pants I bought a century or so ago (it’s 2020, time is meaningless) and got wrapped up warm. Then I went to set my watch and discovered that I couldn’t set a 10 second/50 second alert – it would have to be 15 /45 seconds or I’d have to set up a new workout to upload first. Hm. Ok well 15 seconds run it had to be then.
Kath came with me and we agreed just to do an out and back to the end of the road section of our sheep loop. It wouldn’t be quite half an hour but it would be a good start. So that’s what we did. 15 seconds of running – really concentrating on running form and going at a decent pace. It was pretty good. It wasn’t easy but my legs remember how to run and actually they weren’t too grumpy about having to move a bit faster and get the knees a bit higher and my lungs didn’t protest too much either. 1.5 miles all in and I am looking forward to the next one. I ran.