Finding motivation: counting down to Spartan

Spartan-Race-Spartan-Logo2

I’ve lost some motivation recently. Not only with my eating (which didn’t surprise me at all), but also in my training (which did). Losing training motivation snuck up on me and yes, it surprised me a bit, because for the majority of the last 18 months my motivation’s been strong. While I’ve not enjoyed specific exercises, or had down days in the gym, for the most part I’ve wanted to be there and I’ve wanted the results. But over the past couple of months I’ve found myself consistently thinking about skipping-out on PT sessions, and dragging my way through them when they do happen. My PT’s noticed it too. At the start of the year I set a couple of goals for myself- weight loss (not specific), to be able to deadlift my own body weight, and to do a pull-up.

Turns out I’m very motivated by an end-point, but when I set that end-point myself I don’t work so well. This isn’t new to me- I’m constantly dealing with this exact same thing in the workplace when it comes to deadlines- but it’s a new concept for me in the gym. Needless to say, with no ‘other-imposed’ due date on those goals, they weren’t pushing me very hard.

Late last year I completed The Stampede, a 10 km obstacle event. It’s not a race- it’s supposed to be fun, supportive and non-competitive. My partner couldn’t do that event, so we’ve been keeping tabs on the obstacle race calender for a similar event to do together ever since. There’s been plenty happening across the first half of the year, but none of them at a convenient time. Anyway, Spartan Race recently announced their next Melbourne dates and races – on September 12 their running a 7 km, 21 km, and completely insane 42 km. So we signed up for the 7 km.

It’s crazy, but the day after I paid my cash and signed up, my motivation in the gym shot through the roof. Suddenly I had a six month time frame in which to achieve some fresh goals, and my mind was really really happy with that. Spartan seems to have a lot of monkey-bar style challenges (although it’s hard to tell, because they don’t release a map of the course), so my first goal is to improve my grip and upper body strength enough to be able to complete at least one of those obstacles. And if I can do one, hopefully I can do more.

We’ve signed up for the 7 km, because let’s face it, 21 km is just a bit nuts. The furthest I’ve ever run non-stop is about 3.5 km, and I’m definitely not up to running that right now, so my second goal is to get my running back up to a fairly decent standard. I’d like to be able to run 5 km of the 7- which should be doable, seeing as there’ll be obstacles breaking up the running. So it’s back to the Couch to 5km running app for me- and with six months, I know that’s realistic. I think the time-frame is the best bit about all of this. Not only do I have my motivation back, but I also have goals that I can actually achieve in the time frame. Run 5 km, do one monkey bar obstacle, and of course generally kick the rest of the course’s bum.

I know Spartan is a tougher, more competitive course and environment than the very family-friendly Stampede, but I’m really looking forward to giving it a go- and giving my body a go at pushing hard.

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Pull-ups and t-rex arms

t-rex

This is how I feel this morning. My arms are swollen from the top of the bicep to mid-forearm, and holding them in any position other than a weird kind of bent right-angle hurts. A lot. Straightening them out is pretty much a weird kind of hell, that results in my fingers going tingly. It started yesterday, the day after I did the most full-on pull-up training session I’ve done. I’ve set a goal with my trainer for 2015 that I want to be able to do one unassisted pull-up by the time the year is out, so the pull-up activity has been upped recently.

I most often do pull-ups on a machine, the kind that counterbalances your weight so you’re only pulling up with the weight you’re capable of. I also use the bands, but only when I’m working with my PT- even with the thickest band I still need help. Traditionally I’ll use the thickest band, and do 3-4 sets of 10 pull-ups. The first 5 are easy, the next 2-3 get harder, and I need assistance with the final 2. I’ve also done jumping pull-ups: jumping to the ‘up’ position, then focussing on a controlled ‘negative’: the decent.

On Monday we tried a whole new ballgame though- a very thin elastic that, while providing some resistance, seemed to go further in stabilising my movement that relieving weight from my arms. My trainer was lifting me when I needed the help (the whole time), then I was doing a controlled decent. Because this was pretty foreign to my body, we did 10 sets of 5 reps with a good minutes rest in between (minimum). I played with different techniques during the session and walked away feeling pretty positive- until I woke up Tuesday morning. The T-Rex arms had hit.

Since then, even the most basic tasks have brought tears to my eyes. Brushing my hair, opening a door, typing, holding a coffee, eating soup, holding a phone to my ears… they’ve all become very complicated tasks, given my very swollen and sore arms.

I consulted Dr Google (I know, I shouldn’t), pretty much to get an idea of whether I’m being a big baby or whether I should be thinking about heading to see a doc. My body’s experienced a lot of new and foreign things since I started training with a PT, and many of those things have been painful- but never in a way that made me think something was wrong. Only in a way that made me realise I’d worked my body hard, and it was repairing.

So Dr Google (and the gazillion Cross Fitters online) reckon that my symptoms add up to some kind of mild form of Rhabdomyolysis. The general consensus seems to be that it’s pretty normal when starting out on pull-ups or doing a lot of negatives. It can be super serious in that it can effect your kidney functioning, so I guess for now I just keep an eye out for other symptoms. Given that it’s day 3 post-workout, and my range of motion has definitely improved overnight (albeit mildly), I’m going to see what tomorrow brings. When I experience soreness post-workout it normally flares up on day 2, and by day 3 is starting to go away again, so this is an interesting exercise in pain threshold and sensibility. Stay tuned- I’ll keep you updated on the T-Rex arms in the next few days.

The flu, cheat meals and realisations

So, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. Nearly two weeks, in fact! There’s a pretty simple reason: I’ve been sick. Blegh. At first I thought it was hay fever, then I thought it was a bad cold, then I suspected it was a migraine… I finally settled on the realisation that I simply had the flu.

Keeping up with the challenge while I’ve been sick has been hard, although not as hard as I might have suspected. After my first day off work I let myself get a little bit to sorry for myself and ended up eating fish and chips for dinner. But funnily enough, sitting on the floor surrounded by greasy paper and cold chips, I didn’t feel better after eating them. Nor did I feel really satisfied after eating something I wasn’t supposed to. So while I’d allowed myself a cheat meal, and I was not feeling (and continue not to not feel) guilty about eating it, it was all a bit of an anticlimactic cheat meal consumption.

I had another moment when I went to my parent’s house for dinner later in the week. Mum had made me chicken soup (she’d even made her own chicken bone broth to use as a stock base!), and it was delicious. But (there’s always a but!) she’d also made a batch of macaroni cheese for a visiting cousin. Mum’s macaroni cheese was my absolute favourite meal when I was growing up. It’s the dish I’d request on my birthday, paired with a chocolate pudding for dessert. In fact, I still love mum’s macaroni cheese, although opportunities to eat it are rarer and rarer these days. So despite having sworn myself off wheat, gluten and cheese for the duration of the challenge, I did eat a small bowl of the magic stuff. It was gooooood.

So I ate fish and chips, I ate macaroni cheese, and I had no regrets. What I couldn’t control though, was when my body would be up to getting back to the gym. All in all I had to take 6 days away from exercise, which bugged me no-end, but I really didn’t want to push my body before it was ready to get back to it. Even once I did get back and have a session with my PT, it was still a struggle. I reckon I was probably operating on about 60%.

So the result of the week of the flu was a disappointing weight gain. I knew I wasn’t going to lose weight, but I figured that because my eating was still pretty much in check I’d perhaps just hover at the same figure I was at the week before. Not so. When I jumped on the scales yesterday, they revealed that I’ve put on nearly half a kilo. I think the most disappointing this about that is the realisation that no matter how healthily I eat, I’m going to have to exercise consistently for the rest of my life to avoid weight gain. The other realisation is that no matter how small, any cheat or treat is going to have an impact. There’s no hiding from it.

Don’t get me wrong- I knew these things already. But at this point my head is saying “I don’t ever want to eat most of that stuff again- it’s just really bad for my body” but my heart is saying “eat the cupcake. eat the cheese. eat the pasta”. This is definitely a case of listening to my head over my heart, but it’s another reminder that I’m only at the start of week 6 of this challenge, and really it’s not just six weeks into a challenge but six weeks into a changed lifestyle. I’m breaking habits and I’ I’m starting new ones, and as painful as some of these realisations are, there’s really no turning back from this point.

Time to step up the exercise

day 21

day 21

Well, weekend #2 is down and I’m officially heading into week three- I’m up to day 15!! Time’s kind of flown and it makes me worried that I’m not trying hard enough, not pushing myself hard enough. My food’s been pretty great- the only thing I wasn’t completely happy with over the weekend was dinner last night- Indian takeaway. Having said that, I didn’t have any rice or bread- curries only- which means I was consuming veg and meat (all good) and a bit too much oil (not so good). As far as ‘bad’ meals go, that’s not too bad. Especially when the rest of my weekend was very good- I even said no to garlic bread on Saturday night. Garlic bread!!!! I was so so so tempted to just have on small piece with my pea and ham soup, but J was great and kind of talked me through it. His support has been so awesome over the past two weeks, I wouldn’t have got this far without it.

On Thursday night my trainer weighed me, and told me I’d lost 800 grams since Monday night. What!? 800 grams in three days?! That was pretty exciting. I’ll weigh in again tonight, so it will be interesting to see where I’m at post-weekend. I’m feeling a bit frumpy, and I’m a bit worried that nothing will have fallen off over the last couple of days (then again, I was feeling this exact same way last Monday and ended up having lost 500 g across the weekend).

So why am I feeling like this? The answer = exercise. I normally have a PT session on Friday night, but last week he couldn’t make it. He left me with exercises to do, but life got in the way and I didn’t make it to the gym (I would have had to cancel my session with him even if he’d been around). That meant I’d done three days of training in the week so far, my old benchmark, so I definitely needed to do some moving and shaking over the weekend to make sure my days were up from 3 to 4 or 5. Needless to say, it didn’t happen. It’s not like I sat on my bum for two days- I was busy the entire time, doing ‘weekendy’ stuff. Visiting a market, spending time with the family, all those kinds of things.

But three workouts in a week is not enough any more. One of the habits I want to kill is thinking that three in a week is enough, and one of the habits I want to kickstart is getting at least four workouts happening per week. For the duration of the challenge, it should really be a minimum of five.

I’ve been reading the forum on the Challenge website. Some people have shed more than 7 kg in the last two weeks. That seems pretty dramatic weight loss in a quick time to me, and I’m wondering whether some of them are becoming truly active for the first time at the same time as changing their diet, which is leading to such dramatic weigh loss? For my own part, last time I weighed in I’d lost upwards of 2.5 kg in less than the two weeks, and I was stoked. I guess I’m just at the point where I actually know I’m capable of more than that, and if the scales don’t show me what I want to see this afternoon then I’ll be really disappointed in myself. Honestly, whatever they show I’ll be disappointed in myself- because I know I could have done more to get a better result.

But I didn’t, and the lesson is learned. I’m heading into week 3, and it’s time to stop making excuses. Food’s doing really well- time for the exercise to match it.

I weigh how much?!?!

I’ve always prided myself on having a pretty realistic view of my body. I know I’m not tiny, and I don’t try to squeeze my way into clothes that are too small for me in the desperate hope that fitting into a size 8 means I actually look like I’m a size 8. That’s not to say I’m beating up on myself about my size either- what I know about my body is that, in reality, I am ‘average’. My dress size is average, and my shoe size is average (how do I know this? There’s never any sales items left in my size. All the other average sized women have already gotten in ahead of me and bought those average sized clothes). Over the past few years I’ve learned, more or less, how to dress to best flatter my body.

And for that reason, I’ve never been too fussed about my weight. “It’s not about the weight, it’s about the shape” has been a common thought flitting through my brain. Similarly, “I feel pretty good, and I exercise regularly, the weight’s not an issue” and “I’m tall- I’m supposed be heavier than someone that’s shorter than me”. Funny. As I write this, I know I still believe these things, but seeing them written down also makes them sound pretty lame. They look like excuses right now. The only one that doesn’t is my firm belief that weight is not an indicator health- you can be heavy but that weight can be made up of muscle, not fat, and therefore you’ll be extremely healthy and fit despite what the scales say.

Anyway about 12 months ago I got myself a personal trainer. I imagine I’ll write about him a bit in this blog- let’s call him PT for the sake of ease. When I first saw PT I had goals besides weight loss- I was mainly wanting to focus on injury recovery. Despite that he weighed me, we set some secondary weight-related goals, and I assumed that without changing my diet, if I added exercise into my week I’d probably see some weight loss happening. It didn’t. When he weighed me 12 months ago I weighed 75 kg, and when he weighed me week after week, I still weighed 75 kg. There were some weeks when I put in a really concerted eating effort and would drop a couple of kilos, but inevitably I’d stay at 75 kg. During all of that time I was really upping the exercise- over the last year I have consistently done 2-3 PT sessions per week, focusing on strength-building and weights. I lift weights. I’m not afraid to lift more than 1.3 kg just in case I build muscle. In fact, I want to and have built up some muscle in the last 12 months, and as we know, muscle is heavy. So in my head, while my weight has stayed the same, I’ve been thinking “yeah but I know I’ve put on muscle, so I must be losing fat”. Nuh-uh.

Last week, following a hiatus on the weighing-in and my spending some time in the USA, PT decided it was time for me to weigh-in again. Now, I wasn’t expecting anything amazing. I wasn’t expecting miracles (despite that little voice in the back of my mind that says “maybe we’ll have miraculously shed some k’s” every time I jump on that scale), but I was expecting that I’d still be at that stable weight of 75 kg. Not this time. This time the scales flashed up a number I truly wasn’t expecting… 85 kg. I weigh 85 kg. I am a 26 year old female, and I weigh 85 kg. I’m definitely not that muscley- this is fat, and it’s got to go. Seeing that number flash up actually took my breath away for a second. I shocked myself with just how much I was kidding myself.

Technically speaking, I could lose 25 kg and still be within a healthy weight range for my height. I say technically because if I lost that much I’d look sick and out of proportion- I once did weigh that amount, maybe even slightly more than that, back at the end of high school, and looking at photos I don’t look good at all. I am not on a mission to become as skinny as I can- I’m on a mission to get healthy again.