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Exercise my enemy

Please don’t think this is going to be some preachy post about how good exercise is for you and how I am a changed woman, fitness freak and health buff. I’m far from a pro and I am by no means fit. Yet. But this is my honest account on my journey to fitness and as this blog is called just beginning the journey it seems too appropriate…

My exercise journey started about 6 or 7 weeks ago when I got nominated by a friend to run 5k for the NHS. You know the craze everyone was doing, run 5k, donate £5 and nominate 5 people to do it. Well as a big believer in the NHS and the pandemic we are fighting I wanted to take the challenge on, knowing I could probably not run to the end of the road. Its fair to say I thought I was going to die and I did not run much of it at all! But something weird happened, I wanted to try it again. I was ashamed of how unfit I was. Since having Zak I have lost nearly 2 stone of my pre pregnancy weight and I have learned to love my body, yes even the mum tum I tuck into my knickers. I hated my body for so long but now I look at it and thank it, it gave me Zak. So its not like I wanted to exercise to lose weight, if that happens then bonus but this is about fitness. Zak is a big motivator for me in this I want to set him an example and show him we can do anything we put our mind too. He’s probably going to have a fair few challenges in his life and I want to show him that we all have our own challenges to overcome. Its about being healthy and fit and not being a hypocrite! Perhaps Covid-19 has helped too as there’s nothing like a pandemic to open your eyes and make you consider how healthy you are. If you are carrying weight or have underlying health conditions the virus hits you hard, I need to be at my healthiest for my little boy. My goal was simple – I want to be able to run 5k.

I have never been fit and I have always hated exercise. I used excuse after excuse and avoided it at all costs I could barely run a bath before I had Zak, let alone workout but I somehow managed to get a bit fitter whilst pregnant. At 40 weeks pregnant I was still walking the dog 4 miles a day thanks to an AWOL husband and crumbling marriage. I refused to let pregnancy stop me doing anything and I decorated the nursery by myself, worked full time and did all the housework etc and it meant I gained hardly any weight in my pregnancy. I’m sure in the months that followed Zak’s birth stress was a factor in dropping some of the weight and it wasn’t unusual for me to skip a meal or 2 as I tried to find my feet as a single parent. But I reached my current weight just as I returned to work and I have stayed at that weight ever since. If my first pregnancy could be this successful with my weight and fitness then I am optimistic that if I get fit before my next pregnancy then I have a better chance of bouncing back. Its no secret I would like more babies but I am scared my next pregnancy/labour won’t be as good so I’d like to be as healthy as possible to help my chances.

Zak keeps me active; I certainly have a lot to juggle in ‘normal’ life and generally have no problem sleeping as I pass out from exhaustion most evenings but it also means I barely have anytime for myself. Its not like I can ever go to a gym or exercise class as they are typically in the evening and I have Zak. Don’t get me wrong people offer to babysit all the time but I feel guilty, he’s my son and my responsibility I should be with him even if he is sleeping. So lockdown has given me the time to take a new challenge on. Its also given me the mental challenge I so desperately craved.

I decided to download the couch to 5k app as a couple of friends recommended it and I loved I could have Sarah Millican as my coach throughout, us Milican’s have to stick together! With childcare changing in lockdown and me furloughed Tom is having Zak all weekend every weekend so I can only run on the days I don’t have Zak which is Saturday and Sunday. Not ideal as the app suggests a day off between runs and 3 runs a week. So this was already going to be a challenge and probably take me longer than the recommended 9 weeks but I refused to make that an excuse. This was about my journey and a lifestyle change, its not a race.

The first step had to be getting some proper exercise gear that actually fit me. My first disastrous run was not helped by my leggings falling down, knickers going up my bum, earphones falling out, blisters the size of golf balls from new trainers and a phone holder that broke. A few purchases on eBay and I was sorted. The app starts you off slowly and my progress has been slow but I have persisted to my surprise and most other peoples! when I started I struggled to run the 60seconds it starts you with. Today I ran 20 minutes. I NEVER thought I would be able to run for that amount of time so for me the progress in my fitness level has been undeniable. I’m about to start week 6 of the app so I still have 3 weeks before I hit the 5k target but I have never felt more determined. In my mind if I can run 5k I am fit.

Around the time I started the running I also decided to start working out in the evenings via YouTube videos. I’ve always liked and followed the body coach (though never implemented anything) so I decided to start with his beginner’s kettlebell workout. Its 12 minutes and I use a 5kg kettlebell. Jesus Christ the next 2 days I could hardly move without wincing. Every single movement felt like my thighs were being stabbed and carrying Zak up and down the stairs was terrifying, it felt like my legs were going to give way at any moment. But I knew I needed to persist, everyone says hard work pays off and when it comes to exercise it’s the one thing I always quit too easily. In the past the minute I would start to sweat or get out of breath or hurt I would stop. That is the point I should have kept going. This time had to be different. So I upped it a little more and started with a couple of HIIT workouts a week. That definitely took things to another level! All kinds of my body hurt now – like armpit fat. I didn’t even know I had armpit fat until I started working out! As it stands now I generally do 3 kettlebell workouts a week, 2 HIIT workouts and 2 runs. I obviously still walk the dog everyday as well. I love seeing on my fitbit app that I have done 7 days of exercise. Now I know I should take a rest day but I’m really struggling with this at the moment, it’s like it’s completely flipped – I’m scared to take a day off in case I either hurt too much or I get lazy and don’t go back to it. Don’t get me wrong I have had the odd day off since I started working out but only a couple. It’s something I need to work on but I don’t trust myself! The only slack I have given myself is if I have done over 10000 steps then I don’t have to worry so much about doing a workout, but I still don’t like missing one!

Running has surprised me with the mental challenge it brings. When I had to run 20 minutes for the first time I thought there’s absolutely no way on this earth I am going to be able to run for that long as I was struggling with 8 minutes in the last run. A good friend pointed out 10 minutes is like 3 ½ songs and that’s all I needed to get through it then its halfway and that really did help. I was so surprised when Sarah Milican interrupted Beyonce to tell me that I was half way through. Now I didn’t quite manage the full 20 minutes as I had to walk off a stitch so bad I nearly puked but I ran a good 80% of it and my friends tip definitely made a difference. Its mind over matter when it comes to exercise and youtube workouts are easy enough for me to follow that I don’t clock watch so with running it was finding good songs I could get lost in that distracted me from thinking about my aching legs or how far I had run or had to go. I am still currently at the point where I have to have my music so loud I can’t hear myself breathing as I gasp for air and sound like a fat pig being chased to the slaughter house. The app has helped with my breathing techniques and pace and I don’t get a stitch everytime now but I’m definitely still not at the point where I would say its easy. Some runs are so hard and I don’t know why but other days I surprise myself. I can’t run in the heat that’s for sure and I have to run first thing, literally a brew and then I;m out the door because otherwise I won’t do it. I get so hot and I sweat in places I didn’t even know I could sweat! I look a red sweaty blob gasping for air at the end of a run. I also struggle a little as I am a mouth breather – I can breathe through my nose but 90% of my breathing and particularly in exercise is through my mouth so sometimes I find it hard to regulate my breathing but I’m learning. I see other runners go by who don’t have a drop of sweat of them and they say good morning and I can barely even raise my hand in acknowledgement as I stagger on. Typically when other runners over take me or look like they’re breezing it I give them the finger behind their back but have to remind myself they’ve been running a lot longer than me. Its been a good run if I didn’t swear at anyone! In the last couple of runs I have also been getting pins and needles in my hands which I think is from where I am so tense and keep my arms so rigid and I grip my water bottle so tight I have to learn to relax a little and I am hoping over the coming weeks I will find it easier.

One of the biggest changes I have noticed and not just in the amount of time I can run is my resting heart rate. An average adults heart rate should be between 60-80bpm and an athletes resting heart rate can be as low as 40-50bpm. Your resting heart rate is a key indicator of physical fitness and it will decrease as your heart becomes stronger. This is something I have become really aware of since I find out I had sepsis in labour. In the last 10 minutes of pushing Zak out my heart rate was 196bpm and as the doctor explained this is actually so dangerously high they are still unsure how I was not more ill. Although not my fault as my body was fighting sepsis and delivering another human, it should never have got that high and she would’ve expected it to be around 100bpm, maybe increasing more as I worked harder to push Zak out. This was shocking information to me and scared the hell out of me, I hadn’t realised how close I came to being so poorly. I obviously will never forget that meeting but its always niggled at the back of my mind that if I was fitter would it be as bad? So when I decided to start working out I was paying close attention to my resting heart rate as this indicates fitness. My theory is if I have a strong heart I have more to fight with if I ever have to endure sepsis again (hopefully not!). When I first got a fitbit about 4 years ago my resting heart rate was 82. When I started working out this year it was 70 and my resting heart rate as of right now is 59bpm. To say I am pleased with that is an understatement, to me its been the best result so far as I am on a journey to decent health & fitness.

I do see some subtle changes in my body and I am sure as I continue I will see more but I don’t really want to make this piece about weight because there is definitely a big part of me that thinks what the scales say is bullshit. I weigh a lot more than you would think but I judge by how I feel in my clothes. As I said previously I have maintained the same weight for over a year, which is probably a record for me as my weight has always fluctuated. I am a comfortable size 12 not the 14 I pretended I was for so long. I am currently in the middle of doing a special diet challenge for my PCOS (expect a blog post about it when I finish) so I have not weighed myself for a month and I can’t comment if it’s the exercise, new diet or a combination that has resulted in my body changing. Other people are also seeing the changes too. My legs are more toned and shapely, my thighs now don’t look like 2 huge whales squashed together! I really hate the terms skinny or thin because I think they are just as negative as fat or overweight because it should be about being healthy and my mum tum is yet to disappear!

One thing exercise and in particular running has highlighted is my pelvic floor. This section is mainly for the fellow mums out there who know what I am talking about but I always thought my pelvic floor had recovered well after having Zak and I think I was a little bit in denial about it. Zak was a whopper of a baby at 9lbs 4oz and theres no denying pushing him out completely obliterated my pelvic floor and I spent the few days following his birth permanently wetting myself. I clearly remember the day after he was born when I woke in the early hours needing a wee and I got out of bed to go, with Tom asleep on the floor of my hospital room and just standing gave my bladder the green light as it proceeded to empty right there and then all over the floor and I watched a river of bloody urine run under the bed towards Tom. I had absolutely no control and couldn’t stop it, all I could do was wait for it to end. When I started venturing out of the hospital in the coming days to get some food and fresh air I would get so anxious about being too far from the toilet and I had a couple of accidents. God bless my parents as they got in the habit of finding tables near the toilets, cleaning me up after accidents and always reassuring me. No one tells you this stuff and I was mortified! Thankfully after a few days I managed to get a little more control and I worked really hard on my pelvic floor muscles for the next few weeks, breastfeeding (well attempted breastfeeding) and pumping my milk helped everything to contract and recover too. However when I started running jesus Christ it was like reliving that period of time. Now I wasn’t quite at the full on river or flood stage but I definitely had an accident the first couple of runs and even now after a run when I sit down a bit of wee escapes. My 2nd ever run was when I was on a period as well, I’ll save you the gory details of that but you can only imagine the state I was in. I have heard a few mums say they avoid cardio for this reason as its known to increase your risk of accidents and the strength (or lack of) pelvic floor muscles. I am lucky as some women suffer things like prolapsed bladder or prolapsed wombs after babies and I thankfully have nothing like that to complain about, I can clench and control my pelvic floor most of the time and can stop mid wee etc. But clearly I need to do some more work – I’ve had to now add the goal of not pissing my pants when I sit down after a run to my fitness list! I know most of you probably didn’t care for this information but I think its really important that we don’t feel embarrassed to talk about these things. Women are incredible humans who birth other humans and sometimes that brings scary complications and consequences but we should not be made to feel awkward about it. Its not stopped me running I persist with determination to heal my body and build strength not just in my overall fitness but my pelvic floor.

Now I couldn’t write this piece without talking about Jay. And thanking him. He would tell you that he is the reason I started working out. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that, but he has certainly helped me to persist. Maybe it helps that I’m dating a demi god as he makes me want to do better and try harder at everything not just fitness. And considering he can literally run laps round me and is a workout machine he has been so patient, supportive and not patronising at all. Hes done pretty well to only laugh at me a couple of times – like when I rang him to ask if I was doing a squat right because when I did it, it felt like my knee was breaking. Unsurprisingly I was doing it wrong and his response was how do you even do a squat wrong?! I really am a novice and he answers all my ridiculous questions with kindness. When I’ve wanted to quit and stropped about my lack of progress he has had words of encouragement. He keeps joking about us going for a run together – that will absolutely never happen as the thought of running with anyone makes me want to quit. I;m not competitive and I don’t want the push to run with someone I would just give up, I know myself too well. But Jay’s support and compliments have been enough to spur me on.

In a nutshell I still hate exercise. I don’t ever look forward to going for a run or doing a work out but afterwards I am so pleased I did it. Its helped me to sleep better, eat better and ultimately be a better mum to Zak. Its hard, boring, sweaty, time consuming and not my idea of fun but I can see the benefits. I barely recognise myself at times, particularly whilst I have been doing this diet challenge, if you had told me 6 months ago I’d be changing my lifestyle this drastically I would never have believed you! They say it takes 21 days to break a habit and I am over 6 weeks in so I am hopeful I have broken the habit and this is my new lifestyle. With lockdown rules easing and me finally reunited with my family I am hoping I can squeeze an extra run into the week with their help so I can finish the couch to 5k app. I am nervous about going back to work and normal life and getting lazy again but if the last 6 weeks have taught me anything its that I have incredible mental strength and determination. On the days I really struggle I think of Zak, I think of the challenges he’s already facing with walking and his right hand and my heart swells with pride at his determination and persistence, I owe him the same. This is for me and my future babies and its for Zak, he deserves a fit and healthy mum.

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