The Biggest Step (so far…)

This time next week I will have completed my assessment to practice as a fully qualified Personal Trainer- hopefully successfully, but of course that depends on my performance on the day.  This slightly-overweight-middle-aged-woman, the person-least-likely-to-do-anything-sporty, seems to be, well, doing ok on the sport front.

The last few months have been quite a journey, and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  The more I learn about the human body, anatomy & physiology, biomechanics and the psychology of exercise, the more I realise there is to learn, and the idea of working with clients to achieve their sport, fitness or health goals is daunting but extraordinarily exciting.

However, a wee fly in the ointment… I’m injured.

The psychology of injury is complex in one way, but simple in others: if you’re active, and enjoy it, being injured is hard!

My unique combination of biomechanical quirks (after all, we’re all unique) means I’ve developed an injury to my IT band, a notoriously difficult issue to fix.  Luckily I have a physio who is fascinated by such things, and so I’ve decided that, alongside advice from Sean Webb at Physio Inverness, I am going to conduct an experiment on myself.  I’m going to try out my own PT skills, programming my own training in order to strengthen my Glutes, rehabilitate my IT band, and eventually return to running.

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Image: http://www.physio-pedia.com

First, I plan to use my sports coaching skills on myself: in a nutshell, I will need to learn to walk and run using different muscles.  It appears that – for 44 years – I have been using the muscles at the front of my hips to ‘pull’ myself forward, and particularly up hills or stairs, instead of using my Glutes to push me up those steps.  So for the last week – and from now on – I am trying to remember to always engage those glutes.  How do I know it’s working?  Well, using a self-check that my hips feel like they’re staying level… and my glutes feel tired, so they must be doing something!  As an added bonus though, if this works it will improve my balance, and help solve some issues caused by hyper mobility and a leg length discrepancy.

Secondly, I am going to keep running, but only for very short periods, and beginning very gently, just twice a week.   This – I hope- will allow me to slowly change my running gait.  Then, once I can do that pain-free, I can start to increase my running frequency, and eventually, its duration.

And finally, using the skills I’ve gained (and will continue to learn) during my PT training, I am going to work on strengthening those glutes.  Having taken advice from Sean the Physio, I’m confident I can incorporate appropriate exercises into a strength training programme for myself whilst also continuing to work on strength and power for the rest of my goals.

I first wrote this blog about two and a half years ago… how things have moved on since then!  All being well I will (I hope) qualify as a Personal Trainer at the end of this week, and begin the next stage of my journey, passing what I’ve learned onto clients in order to help them achieve their own goals.

My own journey continues, and I’m not sure which is more daunting; but for the next few months, I’ll be learning to walk in more ways than one.

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Stepping Up

I haven’t posted on here for a while, and boy has life moved on since then…

In the last year I’ve learned a lot about my body and mind, and how they work – and have taken steps to help me feel better about myself, inside and out.  With Tim‘s help I’ve got stronger and lighter, improved my running performance, and as a result improved my confidence and self-esteem.  My performance on the water has also improved, I think, by tiny increments:  whether that’s as a result of improved confidence or strength, or whether it’s in my own mind I don’t know – but it feels pretty darned good either way.  I’ve also managed, for the first time in the five years I’ve been working in the Outdoor industry, to maintain a constant weight throughout the summer season, rather than gaining body fat whilst working away from home.

So this week I’ve taken a big step.  I posted a while ago that I planned to sign up with Future Fit Training, to train as a Personal Trainer.  Well, I’ve done that – and this week was the first practical step to achieving that goal.

Now, I’m a coach.  I coach movement – albeit on the water, in kayaks – but it’s still movement.  But this is different:  two years ago I didn’t know what a Deadlift was, let alone being able to do one well, even less coach it.  I found the gym environment incredibly intimidating, and suffered from a huge lack of confidence in my own body and what it could do with my brain powering it.

So heading down to London for my Gym Instructor practical training this week felt like an enormous leap: I still find it intimidating going to a new gym, and I still lack some confidence.  Would I turn up to find a course full of skinny teenagers, expert lifters and gym bunnies?  Would I be the weakest link?

As is often the case with these things, the reality turned out to be a long way from my imaginings:  a course with a really varied group, of all ages, both genders and a wide range of backgrounds, all wondering if we would be the weakest link!

So I stepped up to the plate:  3 days in a gym environment with other people, learning from a very experienced and really excellent tutor, passionate about coaching, just like me.  Not surprisingly, I found the coaching element came easily; but so, to my surprise, does the movement it seems.  Despite my under-confidence I thoroughly enjoyed refining skills I already understand, and learning new ones; and I left the course feeling hugely enthused about coaching others in a gym environment.

So here’s to the next stage.  Even a year ago, I couldn’t have imagined sitting here writing these words.  Never say never…

Putting my money where my mouth is.

I never, ever thought I’d say this:  Personal Training has changed my life.

Just under two years ago I wrote the first post on this blog, documenting how I felt about where I was with my weight and fitness.  Despite being a professional sports person I was unhappy with my weight, with how I looked and with how I felt other people perceived me.  I’ve battled since childhood with all of these things, struggled to break habits and to really understand my own body.  The last two years – and in particular the last 6 months- have completely changed that.  My own journey continues, and I now realise it always will, but I now feel much happier in my own skin, as though I know myself and my body better, and have the tools to manage it.

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What is it that helped me get there?  Pretty simple really:  working with Tim.  Having a coach to train and advise me, to give me a kick up the backside when I’ve needed it and feedback and encouragement when appropriate.  Given my job, you’d have thought I might have worked that out earlier…!

So, I’ve made a decision.  As the title says, I’m going to put my own money where my mouth is, and begin training as a Personal Trainer myself.  I’ve learnt an enormous amount so far, going through this process to get where I am, and am now thoroughly converted to the use of strength & conditioning training for all aspects of fitness.  So, I want to use my coaching skills to add another ‘string to my bow’ as they say.

I plan to complete the training in the spring of 2019, and from then on be able to offer training services – one-to-one and group sessions – to paddlers and non-paddlers alike.   I don’t know yet quite where this will take me, but I’m incredibly excited about the idea, and about what it might allow me to do for my paddlesports clients, and for non-paddling clients too.

I’ve become more and more convinced of the benefits of strength training for paddlers, and have changed the way I coach on the water as a result.  I hope that from 2019 onwards I’ll be able to genuinely mesh the two, for those that want it, to offer a unique package of services for recreational paddlers in the UK.

I also hope to be able to help those that struggle in the same way as I do: with weight, self esteem, and confidence in a society that wants us to be slim-looking and fit, but bombards us with food that does not help us to be so.

I’m a firm believer in the ‘Pass it on’ principle.  I’m daunted, and a little nervous, but very excited about the prospect of being able to pass on the good stuff that Tim has given to me so far, and to the finding out where the next stage of my journey is going to take me.

Learning to Fly…

I’ve just had a holiday.  A few days on the beautiful North Coast of Scotland with a good friend, having adventures.  On the surface, a similar trip to many I’ve done in the past.

The difference this time was in me.  What do I mean?  Well, Martin (the pal in question) is also a kayaker and runner, and fellow training-convert.  So we went equipped with a multitude of toys, ready for whatever took our fancy but determined to paddle and train as much as possible.

We had an awesome few days away, and managed to surf and run most days.  We trained on the beach, and ran to stunning landmarks at both of the top corners of this fabulous country.  Could I have done that 6 months ago, or more?  Absolutely not!  We were able to surf in the morning, and then ask ‘What’s next?’ and go for an adventurous run or train on the beach in the sun.

The feeling of freedom and the high provided by my new-found fitness and strength was transformational.   I feel as though the work I’ve put in over the last few months has been training for this: the feeling of flying.  I can do more, perform better, and have more energy than I’ve ever done – and then I can get up the next day, and do it all again.  I have never, in my life, felt this good, both physically and psychologically.  If I can do this now, what could I be capable of if I can keep this going??!

So I’ve now reached the end of this ‘training cycle’, and amazingly I’ve managed to achieve everything I set out to do!  Not because those goals were easy or not stretching enough: they were pretty tough!  I’ve done it because I worked hard, put in the hours and persevered in finding a system that works for me.  I’m not normally very comfortable with blowing my own trumpet, so to speak, but in this case I’m really, really proud of myself.  I just need to make sure I remember this feeling when things get tough in the future.

Since New Year 2018 I have:

  • Lost 10kg in weight
  • Reduced my body fat by 4.8 percentage points
  • Trimmed 5cm off chest & waist, and 7.5cm off my hips
  • Set a 5k PB of 29:44 (my time in January was closer to 35 mins)
  • Deadlift PB is now 89.5kg (In Jan it was 65kg)
  • Back squat PB is now 70kg (Jan was 42.5kg)
  • Completed 5 push ups (I couldn’t even come close to doing one!)

So what’s next?

My next training cycle is going to sit over my busiest working season of the year.  Working as a sea kayak coach & guide means lots of time away from home, and ironically isn’t always conducive to the healthiest of lifestyles.  So it will be a challenging period: I won’t always feel like training, and will often be surrounded by temptation where food is concerned.  However, I feel as though I know my body better now, and I understand what I’m capable of: when I genuinely need rest, and when I’m just being lazy! I will also be flying solo, so to speak:  running and training when I can, fitting in whatever I can, rather than following a programme set by Tim.  We will reconnect in October, when I’m able to devote more time to a routine over the winter.

So, I’m going to set myself the following goals, to complete by the end of October:

  • Run a 10k in under 60 minutes
  • Deadlift 100kg
  • Squat 80kg
  • Do 10 push-ups
  • Maintain (or preferably reduce) weight/ body fat percentage

This summer is going to serve as a ‘dry run’ in discipline terms for next year’s marathon training: I plan to run the Anglesey Half Marathon in March, followed by Marathon Hebrides in August.  In the past that thought would have been daunting; even terrifying. Now, though, it fills me with excitement and joy.  Like a drug addict looking for their next fix, I can’t wait to get out and run again, to get stuck into my next training session, to surf or paddle and feel great in my boat.

Can I imagine returning to my old habits?  Absolutely not.  I feel like the last few months have educated body and mind: I know how much food I need, and when, rather than just what I want.  I also understand my own physiology better; I’m beginning to realise I’m stronger than I thought… As for the future?  Who knows where this could all lead me…

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There are No Shortcuts

Three months ago I set myself a goal to run a 5km in under 30 minutes.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years (I’ve now been running, on and – sometimes for a year or more -off, for about 10 years), and only come close when I was at my previous lightest in 2012: a year in which I ran 5 half marathons.  On Saturday I completed that goal:  Strathclyde Parkrun in 29 minutes 44 seconds.  I really, really wanted this one…

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I have a bee in my bonnet though.  I often feel like we live in a society where everyone is looking for a quick fix.  And the truth is, for most things – and particularly for fitness and weight loss – there are no quick fixes; no shortcuts.

So, since I set that goal I’ve lost 8kg in weight, and I’ve trimmed just short of 5 minutes off my 5k running time.  But what did it take to achieve that?  I thought I’d try and illustrate the effort and commitment I’ve made.

According to my Garmin, I have:

  • Run 100km (I was carrying a calf injury for 2 out of the 3 months).
  • Cycled 131km- mostly indoors (it’s been cold up here!)
  • Spent 42 hours in the gym
  • Burnt a total of 58,000 active calories in 128 hours
  • Averaged a calorie deficit of over 500 calories a day, or a total of over 50,000 calories for the 3 months.

Is it worth it?  Yes, yes and yes again!

And next?  Well, I still have two goals to complete before the end of April:  Back squat 70kg or more, and do 5 push-ups.  I’m getting there with both, but also looking ahead.  Next for the running me?  A 10km at the same pace, of course!  I’m going to give myself the whole summer for this one, and try to use it to establish a training regime I can maintain through my busiest season, to carry forward into next year’s marathon training.  There are a lot of miles to go until then, some of them will be tough, I won’t want to do some of them, but will it be worth it?  Yes it will!

A Fresh Pair of Eyes

In my very first post on this blog, I said that I would love to post a photo with me in it.  I was referring to a photo I could be proud of; one that I could look at and not be filled with a sense of distaste or disgust- and perhaps even like the way I look.

Well, here it is:

ZN Alness March 31st 2018

This picture was taken by a marshal (on her phone) at this week’s Alness ParkRun.  For the first time in my life, when I look at this picture I see a runner.  I don’t see an overweight middle-aged woman who would like to look like someone else.

I’ve passed a few milestones in the last couple of weeks: I’ve now lost 10kg in weight, achieved a Parkrun PB (I set the last one in 2012, a year in which I ran 5 half marathons), and I’m closing on my goal of running 5km in under 30 minutes.  I’m also beginning to ramp up to the summer: to working away more, and to training without Tim to hold me accountable during my peak working season.  I’m feeling motivated though – and best of all I realised this week that I couldn’t imagine going back to my previous habits.  Of course, time will tell.

I’ve been looking ahead, too, to the next year.  An opportunity popped up last week that seemed too good to pass by.  In 2019, a new marathon will be running on Harris – possibly my favourite place on the planet.  So, I’ve entered!  I have new habits, and a newly-rediscovered love of running; I also have 12 months to work out how I can train for it during the busy summer months!

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I won’t pretend for a moment that the changes I’ve made in the last few months have been easy.  I’ve worked hard, shed tears and been frustrated; but I’ve also learnt an enormous amount, and experienced real joy and satisfaction.  I’m nowhere near the end of this journey, though:  I’m coming to realise that these changes are for life.

I suppose we all look at ourselves differently, through a lens shaped by our experience and conditioning.  Today I feel like I’ve been given a new lens to look at myself through, and I’m beginning to like what I see.

The Joy of Movement.

A quick update before I share a few thoughts…  I’ve lost just over a stone- or 7kg- since New Year (and 9kg in total since I started this blog), and have achieved one of the goals I set myself in January: my Deadlift personal best is now 89.5kg!

In February, I headed down to the south coast of England to pay Tim a visit at Peak Performance Sussex/ Crossfit Lineside HQ, to train, catch up, check my form and keep me motivated.  A long way to go for a visit to the gym you might think… but it was worth the effort.  On the wall of the gym is a wee saying… Very apt, I thought:

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Tim was able to look at how I worked doing all the movements we regularly use in training sessions, give me tips and tweaks where required, and teach me some new, more complex lifts.  Snatches and Cleans for example, best taught in person and broken down to their component parts to ensure complete understanding of the movement, and avoidance of injury.

This got me thinking about movement, and how we go about it every day.  Whether we’re getting out of bed in the morning, lifting a weight, running for the bus, or paddling a kayak, our bodies work in the same way.  Most of our strength and stability comes from intelligent and practiced use of the core: literally the centre of our bodies.  Unfortunately modern life has left many of us without the means to use that part of our bodies in an efficient way, or to understand it physically: we sit in office chairs that remove the need for muscle use to support our skeleton, and in car seats that cradle us completely.   As a kayak coach I regularly see clients who struggle to sit with good upright posture, and have genuine difficulty understanding how to use their core muscle groups: no fault of theirs, simply a product of the lives that many of us now lead.

Going through the process of losing weight and improving my fitness, I’ve been trying to educate myself – both intellectually and physically- about movement.  About how my own body works, and how it moves; how to prevent injury and to improve speed, strength and stamina.  About it’s quirks and eccentricities: hyper mobility, and a leg length discrepancy in my case.  Of course for me, as well as informing my own strength and fitness I hope this will all help me to provide better advice and coaching to my clients: after all, my business is in coaching movement, albeit in a kayak.  I am finding parallels in all sorts of places, whether it be in the use of legs and core to lift a heavy weight vs driving a kayak forward, the use of intervals for speed training, or how head position influences the movement of the rest of our bodies.

So as I lose weight and feel leaner and more graceful, I am enjoying the feeling of movement more and more.  Other people may not be able to see the difference in my body yet (though my partner says he can), but the most important thing is that I can feel a difference.  I feel lighter, stronger and faster.  My running speed is increasing despite running reduced distances because of a calf injury for the last few weeks – which is improving with physio and a gradual return.

So, one goal down, three to go:  I also committed to improving my 5km run time to under 30 minutes, increasing my back squat personal best to 70kg, and completing 5 push ups by April 30th…  Am I feeling confident?  Well actually, for a change I think I am!