Here’s the thing

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364 days to go, weight loss 3.5lbs.

It was four years ago, this week, I started this blog.  By now I figured I’d be gracing the success story page of Mark’s Daily Apple.

The reality is that actually I’m almost back to square one, in every respect other than one.  This time, I’m starting with all of the shit clear from my life and for the right reasons.

Sadly, due to financial constraints, I’ve had to put Pete temporarily on hold.  But I’m determined more than ever to live the life he showed me and to follow the philosopy he utilizes.  I also have a fabulous friend who records my weight virtually so I have accountability and support.  Absolutely vital to this type of project.  So, I’ve set myself a target for one year’s time and this blogs 5th anniversary.

Here we go again, wish me luck…

Posted in Holistic Lifestyle, Paleo | 6 Comments

10,000 hours

Gary Fisher

After a wonderful trip to Lanzarote last week and a week long catch up with old friends, G and I cycled down to Shoreham yesterday to meet up with one of them, the lovely Lee, for coffee and post holiday gossip.

The weather forecast was generous for a Bank Holiday weekend and with G’s steed ‘Merc’ currently in the bike shop for a bit of tinkering offered the perfect opportunity for a bit of off road action along the Downslink.

The Downslink is a disused rail line following the old Steyning railway line, a victim of Beechings Axe and has been coverted to a pathway for users on foot, bicycle or horseback.  It’s pretty much flat and traffic free and leads all the way to Shoreham by Sea.

I’ve travelled the Downslink many times in the past few years from Cranleigh but have not really taken full advantage of our proximity to the coast from Southwater since we moved.  It was time to make amends.

G and I set off at a clip and although comfortable, worked hard to make progress on the way down.  Neither of us are great time keepers and set off later than planned.  So, although we thought we had plenty of time to get to our pre arranged appointment, we weren’t taking any chances.  The route was busy so we had to stop or slow down many times for other users but still made it with plenty of time to spare.  We even had time for a celeb spot, seeing Sally Gunnell running along the Downslink just north of Steyning where she apparently lives.  She had the decency to look knackered when we saw her showing that Olympic champions have to work hard too.  It’s not suprising though, conditions were warm and the air full of the moisture of promised rain later making it very clammy indeed.

We had a lovely chat over coffee and then after an hour or so remounted and set off North back to Southwater the way we had come.

Despite promises of ‘taking it easy’ we found our rhythm pretty quickly and pushed on for the return journey.  It was great to be back on the bike and feeling strong.

There are a couple of hills in the middle section of the return journey.  Although neither terribly long nor steep are challenging partly because of the terrible pot holed surface.  The second of the two climbs is long enough to leave one breathing heavy and glad to be at the top once there – co-incidentally this is where we saw Sally on the way down, maybe that’s why she looked a bit puffed.

We had overtaken a couple on the first climb who had dismounted and were walking.  They retook us as we stopped for a few moments.  We caught them again on the second climb as they got off to walk again.  G powered ahead, overtaking both and made it to the top first.  The pair stopped for a breather at the top and as they turned to watch me ascend the climb, she turned to G and said ‘how is she doing that?’ slightly put out and referring to my ability to ride up rather than resorting to walking.  G made a comment about riding regularly and by then I’d got to the top, he remounted and we carried on.

He told me of the conversation as we cycled along.  It was evident she had looked at me and made a judgement based on the way I look without taking anything else into consideration.  And certainly, because of a lot of time off training lately, I’m by no means at my fittest.  Although I had a good ride yesterday and did feel strong.

At first, I didn’t really know how to feel about her comment.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion and it amused me to see that she was so evidently put out.

Of course what she wouldn’t and couldn’t know is the amount of time over the last thirty five years I have spent on a bicycle since I first learned to ride.  Riding is a skill like most things and I have more than invested the 10,000 hours needed to perfect it.  Fitness aside, I know HOW to ride a bike and that counts for a lot.

Her comments did serve a purpose though.  They reminded me just how much I love to ride my bike.  How confident, comfortable, balanced and able I feel when I’m on it…. The epitome of being alive.

I’ve written a eulogy to cycling already in this blog, you can read it here.  That feeling has not gone (and never will go) away.  It’s just that I’d laid those thoughts down, let the bikes get a little dusty and lost myself in the detrius of life for a while.  And now?  It’s time to get back on the bike.

 

Posted in Holistic Lifestyle, Training | Tagged | 2 Comments

The carb fuelled cardio-vascular lie

coffee on teh beach

Here’s the thing…  For years now we’ve been told cardio-vascular exercise is essential for weight loss and while you cannot outrun a ‘bad diet’, an exercise programme rich in CV workouts in conjunction with ‘healthy’ eating is the way to lose weight.

I’m slowly coming to the conclusion the above is mostly bullshit.  And frankly I’m getting a tad pissed about being lied to all the time by the ‘experts’.

Before you tell me to take a chill pill, I am going to quantify all of this.  And because I don’t want this post to sound like a research paper, most of my observations will be just that, anecdotal observations.   But, I will say, there appears to be plenty of research out there to quantify the outburst above.  This is a very good place to start if you are interested in reading more.

Anyway, last Sunday I was in Brighton.  It was a beautiful warm sunny day (my poor peeling face is testament to that) and I was supporting my beloved who was running the marathon.

The day prior we had to visit Brighton to pick up race packs and since it was rather lovely, we opted for coffee and a seat on the beach to watch the developing sunset.  While waiting in line for coffee the lady in front of us (clutching a marathon pack like her life depended on it) had a breakdown because the stall had ran out of porridge.

I mean like seriously, it was about 5pm.

On being told the news, she panicked and ordered a hot chocolate as a replacement item.  It was a bit like asking for Jif Lemon juice and being given a banana.  Especially since the coffee shack was actually Oatopia who at the time were proffering a stunning array of flapjacks right in front of her face.  “I’m supposed to eat porridge” she huffed as she turned to her companion.  “How am I going to carb load now?  I’ll have to put sugar in the hot chocolate”.  Her partner sensibly kept his opinions to himself after presumably assuming the question was rhetorical.

Meanwhile I was coming to the conclusion that carbs actually make you dolally.  Or maybe it was the marathon running?  Who knows?

Anyway, I tucked the thought into my unconcious mind for filtering, got my coffee and went to sit on the beach and pocket pebbles for using as paperweights in the office because they felt nice to touch.

The next day, having squeezed McGill and wished him good luck, I wandered down the road away from the race start at Preston Park and into Brighton centre to set up camp at my personal supporting station just before Mile 15.  I grabbed a coffee from the kiosk there, enjoyed a nice chat with a local about this being the much better end of town and then settled in my position.

I love watching marathons.  Especially in the later stages when I’m fuelled by caffeine and the relaxing notion of not having to run myself.  15 miles is about the time when the truth serum kicks in.  Honesty etched into each runners face as the glide or plod by.  Here, you can almost see into their soul.  And in a world currently turned on its head, it was a relief to be in a familiar place.

I was lost in thought through much of it, consumed by mixed feelings: a desire to run; frustration at being in less than optimal health at the moment; enjoyment of the sunshine; annoyance at the bangy inflatable stick thingies a supporter was relentlessly drumming and counting runners wearing headphones (I’d hazard a guess at a disappointing third of the runners were embracing them).

My thoughts turned to running, the motion of running, the science behind it, did I miss being all embraced by it and talking about it.  And so, I just started to watch the runners.  Observing their different gaits, biomechanical quirks, what shoes they were wearing and clothing choices and then I noticed something very, very strange.

A significant proportion of participants were displaying excess body fat.  Mostly around their abdomen and enough to be considered overweight.  Now do not get me wrong here, I’m in the wrong sort of glass house to be throwing those kind of stones.  I wasn’t in any way judging, just observing, and it was really quite bizarre.

For ages, I could not focus on anything else.  We were still within the sub 3.45 and 4 hour finishers here, so they were running relatively fast but many, indeed a significant proportion, were running with protruding, wobbly tummies, man boobs and fleshy bottoms.  I compared with the general public around me and (as long as I keep myself out of this), people running IN the marathon (and this is just a visual comparison) appeared to be ‘unhealthier’ than people around me supporting.  And the longer I watched and the slower the field became, the more overweight (and now clearly obese) people passed.

It was completely bonkers, and then the penny dropped.

Despite being told by the highest official health authority in the country that the secret to losing weight is to eat more fibre based carbohydrate, reduce dietary fat intake and exercise more.  Training for and running a marathon did not automatically help you lose weight.  In fact, it appeared to be quite the opposite.  And I wondered why, especially as these people in front of me would surely be the best examples of the advice given by NHS England?

I reflected on the countless seminars I had chaired or sat in on regarding training for marathon.  The question of fueling for training and carb loading for the race itself came up a lot.  (In the last 10 years I can actually only think of one person who said they did not eat refined carbs and refused to succumb to the circus around carbs).  When questioned, runners time and time again would insist they had to eat a diet high in carbohydrate with particular focus on porridge, bananas, gels and energy drinks.  The classic example being my lady at the coffee kiosk above.  If I even questioned this theory, I was met with hysteria and distrust.  But too be honest, I can’t really blame them, almost every ‘expert’ and governing body sells them the lie and it takes a strong person to question the status quo.

Want an example?  Here’s an exert from Runners World UK on the process of carbohydrate loading prior to marathon running published in 2016…

Give yourself a week before race day to focus on carb-loading

You can begin carb-loading as early as five days prior by slightly increasing your carb intake and then, in the two days before the race, really start to pound those carbs. In order to not totally overwhelm yourself with calories, it’s not unusual for protein and fat to fall by the wayside during these two days. To get into the specifics, aim for a carb intake close to 3.6 to 5.5 grams per pound of body weight in those one to two days immediately before the race. When you do the math, this tends to be a whole lot of carbs, and the reason why protein and fat often get put on the back burner in the hours before the race. 

The easiest way to achieve a simple, successful carb-load is to include carbohydrate-rich foods at every meal and snack. This means bread, pasta, rice, cereal, potatoes, and fruit should be mainstays.  Simple sugars and refined grains, while usually not a large component of your diet (right?), get the green light in the days leading up to the race. These foods are quick to digest and don’t often contain the fibre which has been known to cause GI distress as the mileage piles up.

Now let’s really look at it. Firstly, it suggests carb loading for a week prior to the race.  A WEEK!!!  Now, how many of you have gone on holiday for a week with a ‘sod it, I’m on holiday I’m going to enjoy myself’ and come back 7lb to 10lbs heavier than when you went?

Yup, my hand’s up too.

That’s how much damage you can do in a week.  Especially if you follow my favourite bit in the above passage… ‘To get into the specifics, aim for a carb intake close to 3.6 to 5.5 grams per pound of body weight in those one to two days immediately before the race‘.  Flipping heck – an average slice of bread is around 12 grams of carbs net.  If you multiply the top recommendation of 5.5g per POUND OF BODY WEIGHT for an average bloke weighing 80kg that would be 80 slices of bread in the days leading up to the race.  We don’t call it a ‘food baby’ for nothing and good luck on race day with that.

Now let’s take race day itself.  Even if we accept the general calorie laws we’ve been fed (ie, you burn approximately 100 calories in a mile – don’t forget your basal metabolic rate would burn around 30 calories anyway so you can really only claim 70) that would add up to around 1800 calories burned during the course of the marathon – not enough in the general consensus to burn 1lb of fat.   And while we’re there…trust me, don’t believe the calorie burn on your garmin – that’s a sure fire way to gain weight when marathon training.

But of course, we have to add in the calories ingested during the course of the marathon – breakfast, the pre race energy drink and the advised gel every 20 minutes of the race – an average of 88 cals per gel so if we only take these into account for a four hour runner it would add up to a whopping 1000 calories in gels alone.  The spare 800 would barely cover a post run ice cream and bag of chips. (we were in Brighton after all) and it certainly won’t touch the weight you gained in the week prior to the race carb loading.

Actually, looking at these figures was mind blowing but at least now I had a context to what I was seeing in front of me.  Basically, following general nutritional and exercise advice when training for a marathon is a sure fire way to get fat – even if you are trying to achieve the opposite.

Following on from the above, it certainly put my own experience into context.  I’ve ‘trained’ for over 20 marathons in the last 15 years.  Not once in that time have I ever lost weight doing so while following a carbohydrate focused lifestyle.  But, when following a paleo focused lifestyle I got stronger, leaner, lighter and became a better (faster) runner even while my run training was relatively low in comparison.   I was also injured and ill a lot less and so was able to train much more consistently.

A high carb, high cardio lifestyle to lose weight and get healthy just does not make sense anymore.  I’ve said to many in the last few weeks that now my old life is behind me, going forward, my new project is me.  In the next few weeks, I’ll be cataloguing how I’m focusing on regaining my health and fitness (and the progress I make) and you can bet your house I won’t be following governement guidlines anytime soon.

Posted in Holistic Lifestyle, Paleo, Training | Tagged | 8 Comments

Daylight Saving Time

IMG_4645Ages ago I made a resolution to myself to write more frequently.  When I read the blog through a little while ago, I was aghast at the gaps in time between posts.  Mostly because, this is essentially a record for myself.  And since there are huge gaps in my memory – it would have been useful to have a written record of the past however ghastly it is.

No matter.  Now is as good a time as any to start again.

At the end of last week, Grant and I celebrated our first anniversary in our new home.  While it’s taken a little while for us to prioritise exploring the area (and decorating!), we wasted little time in securing a plot in our local allotment.

The space is very precious to us because, as we live in a flat, we have no outdoor space attached to our abode.  We were lucky enough to secure it quickly, and over the past year, have spent increasing amounts of time converting it to a workable space.

It was obviously important for us to be able convert space to growing herbs and plants, it was also somewhere for us to have an outdoor area to be able to sit and enjoy the sunshine.  (I think they would draw the line at us taking our washing down there to dry sadly!)

Allotment showing ground cover

So, on possession of our new plot, we re-established the raised beds that had been discarded and then weed suppress the rest until we had the time to turn it over properly.  It was important to do so as the allotment was sprouting a healthy crop of bindweed and dandelions as well as other garden treats.  If we could at least slow down the growth of the weeds, we could spend time making progress when we did get a chance to get there.

allotment in June 2016

Slowly but surely we progressed.  Planting the herb garden (to the right of the above picture) replanting strawberries salvaged from the previous allotment in Leatherhead.  They sulked over the transplant yielding only one strawberry in 2016.  This year they look very healthy and should do well (as long as we can get to them before the birds!)

We heavily pruned back the gooseberry bush in autumn last year and after much thought we turfed up the established summer raspberries and replanted with a mix of summer and autumn raspberries.  It was a difficult decision since we haven’t got a massive budget for it.  But the aforementioned weeds in the raspberry plot were so well established and bound around the canes it would have been impossible to clear it sufficiently.  And now, from 2018 we should have raspberries from June through to the first frosts of the winter.

Yum.

Then came the process of clearing all of the rubbish previously left on the plot.  An old bench storage unit, oodles of knackered netting, stakes, pots and goodness knows what else all went to the tip.  We re-used what we could and have saved other stuff like chicken wire for the future.

Last autumn we invested in two mini plastic ‘greenhouses’ half price in the sale.  They slot against the fence nicely and give us a space to plant seeds.  We are lucky to have a plot reasonably sheltered and (as my already developing comedy tan would testament to) a sun trap.  The greenhouses are currently home to kale, cucumbers, courgettes, beet, broccoli, onions, sweet corn broad and French beans.

Left until last was the turning over of the weed suppressed area and building the runner bean support for use later in the year.

I’ve been doing a little bit of gardening work for a friend of mine in the last three months or so.  I’ve learned a lot, mostly that the body can cope with quite a lot of physical activity.  So although the soil is still reasonably heavy clay (Southwater was a village established on the industry of brick making) ten years of working it has loosened it up a lot.  Happily the digging ended up being only a couple of full days.  Followed by the erection of the bean poles and the marking out of the other beds around the already established onion, garlic and shallot beds.

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So, only 11 months in we are done with the back breaking work and can settle down to nurture the plants and wildlife found on the plot…

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Posted in Allotment, Holistic Lifestyle | 3 Comments

A letter to myself about Fibromyalgia

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A couple of days ago I answered a twitter #journoenquiry regarding ‘invisible disabilities’.  I’m a long term sufferer of fibromyalgia which since it has reared its head again in a quite spectacular fashion has also reminded me how bloody painful and debilitating it can be.  Although I don’t regard my fibromyalgia as a ‘disability’ I contacted the lady in question to see if my story may be of interest to her.  As I answered her questions, I was astounded to recall the memories.  Just how much pain I live with on a daily basis (not normal) and that yes – it does affect how I live my life.  But the memories also a reminder that it does not have to be a disability if you do not want it to be.  Anyway, I thought I would share the Q&As here, not least as a reminder to me that as I have over come it before, I can do again…

1. How does fibromyalgia affect your daily life – and a bit of background on how long you’ve suffered from it?

I suffered my first episode of fibromyalgia in October 2005.  I was training for the New York City Marathon at the time (after completing London in April 2005 in just over five hours).  I scored a personal best in a hilly half marathon of one hour and fifty eight minutes in September 2005 and was in the condition of my life.

In Oct 2005 I attended a three week training course via my work at the time.  It was a course to teach me how to teach self defence.  I was already employed as a trainer in my workplace and taught first aid as well as classroom based stuff.  On the first day, I was told (because I was overweight) that I did not ‘look the part’ and I should not be on the course.  I was ‘too fat’ to be a self defence instructor and it showed a ‘lack of discipline’.  Then they started failing me.  In each of my assessments whether classroom, practical or lesson planning.  After two weeks of being failed at every lesson, my confidence was in tatters.  I had no idea how I was going to go back and do my day job.  A job that I was good at (I’d just passed my PGCE prior to the training course and so had been assessed yielding positive results there).

The tutors of the self defence course destroyed me and I started to develop symptoms including muscle pain, depression and joint stiffness from then on.

The effect on daily life varies depending on how I’m feeling on the day.  I can’t maintain one position for too long.  I have to vary my movement which means being desk bound can have consequences.  I struggle to concentrate for long periods of time and have a very poor short term memory which means I have to write everything down.  I make constant notes on paper and iphone.  I’m constantly in pain which is incredibly tiring and also means sleep can be very poor.  I also suffer from depression at times, although I have resisted taking medication preferring to use exercise as therapy.  But if manage it properly (ie healthy eating, regular exercise and plenty of sleep) I can manage most of the symptoms.

2. How does the fact that you are not registered as disabled affect your life?  I’m not sure it does actually.  I hide most of my symptoms in an attempt to have a ‘normal life’.  My control measures tend to work reasonably well.

3. Could you tell me a little more on why you decided to start sport – especially what it was like in the beginning? and did it get easier?

I’ve been a runner all of my life.  I started running with my Dad when I was young and played a small amount of county hockey for Durham and netball for Hartlepool town in my college years.  I was a promising shotputter with Gateshead Harriers as an intermediate (age 15 to 17) and attended three English Schools champs as well as English and Scottish Nationals.  I also studied sports science as part of my degree.  Sport has been part of me forever.

When the episode that I describe at the training course above happened I really struggled to go back and do my job properly.  Physically it was excrutiating to move.  I could barely walk at times and was in constant pain through my shoulders, back and into my legs.  It signifiantly restricted what courses I could teach.  Even my first aid (which I loved) I struggled with because I couldn’t get down to the floor (or back up again)!  I had the support of a wonderful colleage who helped me out a lot!

But when it came to the self defence classes I should have been teaching, my employers could not understand why I couldn’t teach it.  They sent me to occupational health for tests, many times, all which came back negative.  They accused me of lying about the pain and blamed my running (I wasn’t running then anyway because I couldn’t).  They issued me an ultimatum.  Either I give up sport or face disciplinary action.

I stopped exercising altogether and the symptoms got worse.  Then, I went for tests at St Georges hospital.  The muscle response test and bone density tests came back normal but the consultant called me in to see him.  He listened to my story and said that although I had fibromyalgia my muscles were working fine and were desperate to be used.  Because I was young – early 30’s – he told me to treat my symptoms holistically – massage therapy, counselling, music therapy and most importantly exercise.  He said giving up my sport was the worst thing I could do and to go back to running (and not be ashamed to walk – lots to start with – and start slowly – literally five minutes at a time).  It’s not an exaggeration to say that he saved me life.

I did what he said – five minutes running in between lots of walking.  Stopping to stretch helps lots so I did that too and signed up for lots of massage – I found a wonderful massage therapist who I sometimes saw twice a week – she almost always worked much later than the hour I paid her for – but she believed I could start running properly again and never gave up on me – even when just touching my skin was almost unbearable.

Soon, I could cover one mile and then two and then in November 2006 I completed the New York City Marathon.  The training was sub optimal for the marathon.   I shortened my ‘longest run’ to only 14 miles and often had to walk all of that to complete it and did lots of cross training (turning my legs on a bike) but it did get easier.  With confidence in myself growing and in my job receding, I resigned and opened a specialist running shop in Surrey.

I then signed up for Ironman Switzerland in 2009 and following a training programme heavily based on cycling, I completed that with 20 minutes to spare before cut off.  I’ve since finished several marathons, some thirty mile runs and three Ironmans.  Sometimes with a sprained back or shoulder if I’ve pushed myself too far in training or it’s just ‘gone’ beforehand.

A true testiment to what the body can do if the mind is willing.

4. How does fibromyalgia affect your sport? And do you feel like it’s benefitted you mentally?

I’ve had to adapt my training significantly from that seen as ‘traditional’.  I don’t follow a ‘training plan’ as such.  I haven’t done a long run over 14 miles for marathon since the first one.  But have found that if I substitute some runs for high intensity cycling (spin classes) I get a good training effect from less time which reduces my symptoms.

Consistency is king though and little and often definitely yields the best results.  I’ve never got any where near the fitness I was before I developed the fibromyalgia symptoms – a sub 2 half is long gone and I’ve never broken five hours for marathon – I think that is a symptom of a lack of time on feet.   I also find after a bout of more severe fibromyalgia symptoms, I often have to go back to basics: beginners running group with 1 minute runs followed by 1 minute walks; gentle 15 minute spins with no resistence just to get moving again.

I can’t hold onto my fitness like I used to… (that could be age too though ;o)

It has definitely benefitted me mentally though.  It helps me lift mood when I can feel the depression cloud coming in.  It helps me think – especially when I’m planning or trying to recall short term memory.  It helps me plant memories in my head – I can attach them to locations (a fence post or a tree on a cycle path), or songs or smells etc which makes them easier to recall in the future.  It also helps me to live in the moment.  Reminds me how lucky I am and how much I have to live for.

5. What advice would you give any other sufferers of fibromyalgia?

I would reiterate what that consultant told me… holistic pain management is the key and don’t ignore you treating your head as well as your body.  Look at stress relief.  Keep moving, even if it hurts.  Little and often is great.  Address your diet; a paleo outlook with high fat low carbs, no grains, no nightshade plants, little dairy and alcohol and definitely no sugar works best for me.  Look at Vitamin D suppliments and lift heavy weights (under supervision – taking up Olympic weightlifting almostt four years ago with my PT has helped enormously)

Most importantly, never give up!

Posted in Holistic Lifestyle, Paleo | Tagged | 1 Comment

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who-am-i

The other day I was sat in our local coffee shop watching the world go by.  I had taken my crochet, as I often do, and settled down to a pleasant half an hour immersed in the hubbub of the conversation around me.

I like the feeling of companionship in these situations.  I used to like it in races too;  listening to other people chit chat, relishing in the brief snap snots into others lives.  The trials and tribulations, excitement and heartbreak.  The café is a fabulous source of all.

This day I found a seat directly in the middle.  The café was full and conversation surrounded me.  It was the usual mix of clientele.  Primarily female, mums relieved temporarily of the care of their children, business meetings and older women meeting friends for coffee and chat.

The coffee is normally incredibly prompt, but this day, I had waited a few minutes longer than normal.  Unusually long actually.  So, I found myself tuning into the conversation behind the counter.  “Have you done this Americano yet?”, “Ah, no… not yet, it’s for…”, “Don’t worry, I know who it’s for…crochet lady right?”

I glanced down at the crochet in my hands and then around searching for anyone else, who may be a drink absent.  All of the other tables were occupied and charged with drinks.  It could only be mine.

I thought about the label ‘crochet lady’.  That was how they saw me – a reasonable label too since I often took my crochet to the coffee shop – much more than any other distractions such as a book or newspaper, the common decorations for lone visitors.

But crochet was not a way I would describe myself at all if asked.  It’s just that I happen to be in the middle of a blankie project and crochet is an easy way to keep the hands occupied and the mind empty.  It leaves me free to ear wag on others unnoticed, the real reason for my visit.  (I have a coffee machine at home – so I don’t need to go to the shop at all really).

I then thought about my recent visits to the post office in my endeavours to get rid of the last of the shop stock.  There, I am asked to declare the content of the packages.  “Shoes” I reply.  A couple of weeks ago, the counter assistant had misplaced one of my packages, which then went unprocessed.  She had not noticed her mistake until I had left and then processed in my absence thinking since I was a regular I could pay for it next time I was in.

An incredibly kind gesture actually.

When I returned to the post office a couple of days later, a receipt was waiting for me.  The label at the top said “shoe lady”.

So there you have it.  So far, my assault on the community in Southwater is ‘crochet and shoe lady’.  Not very auspicious but I guess its better than some other labels thrown my way over the last two years.

How we and others identify ourselves is always an interesting question.  My first wedding to Chrissy, was scheduled to co-incide with my graduation from university.  When we went to see the vicar for the ‘interview’ he asked for my occupation to eventually end up written on the marriage certificate.  I couldn’t bring myself to live with ‘unemployed’ on their forever so after some discussion we agreed on ‘Geographer’.  ‘Human’ I said clarifying the specification of the course’.  ‘I would hope so’ he quipped back. 

It raised its head again recently when I was asked what I do for a living.  This time I opted for ‘resting’.  Apparently, I really want to avoid ‘jobless’ as I moniker.

Labelling is a natural process I think.  But we do need to be conscious of the consequences of such behaviour.

At Run to Live, the fact we labelled ourselves as a ‘specialist running shop’ had a huge implication on what people expected when they walked through the door.  Often, that label would prevent them from coming in at all.  Particularly if it did not match their own label.  ‘Runner’ carried a certain expectation.  Around pace and ability and aesthetic for that matter. 

‘How can I be a runner if I don’t look like a runner’?  (A rhetorical question!)

Once a customer came into Run to Live and asked to speak to the manager.  I was the only person in the shop at the time.  I explained that I was the owner and offered my assistance. 

Oh no, I couldn’t possibly be the manager, I didn’t LOOK like a runner she exclaimed.  She neglected to tell me why she needed the assistance of the manage but instead made her way to the magazines on the coffee table in the corner.  After some perusing she folded a page down and then came back over to me.  “I’ve left it open at relevant page dear”, she explained, “you might find it useful”.  When I went to look, I found the article in question was ‘Five ways to run yourself slim” or some other trite crap that running magazines seem to publish these days. 

I understood her label loud and clear.  Actually I had a couple of my own to put back to her.

How I define myself at the moment is causing me problems.  It shouldn’t but having come from very deliberate classifications; Business owner, triathlete, runner, cyclist, paleo advocate, I find that unemployed shoe and crochet lady don’t really cut it.

I have tried to implement a non goal oriented lifestyle over the last few weeks.  And whilst I has helped to build a routine.  I’m struggling to prioritise myself, without a label, I’m not really anything at all.

336-days-to-save-my-life

But then…think!  I have 336 days left of this self imposed year to save my life.  And although it is not a goal lead lifestyle at present, my goals in some respects are clear cut.

Diabetic, bulimic, clinically obese are labels I’m avoiding.  And when compared with these maybe crochet lady isn’t too bad.

 

 

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Cognitive dissonance in isotropic spaces

polesden-woods

 

Earlier this week I was reading a book about journeys on foot around the British Isles.  The author, Robert Macfarlane, pulls together commentary from other travel writers and one in particular struck a chord.

At the time, Macfarlane was embarking on a walk across the mudflats of Maplin Sands in Essex.  He was describing the dangers of navigating his way across a habitat of great danger.  Now you wouldn’t think walking across a patch of sand would pose too much of a problem, especially one that contains a ‘designated footpath’ (albeit the footpath is not always visible).  The problem in essence is that because there are no identifying features across the flats, if you get disoriented, you cannot tell between the way to shore and the way out to sea.

I had a similar experience myself in a very different situation.  One night I got very drunk, almost as drunk as I have ever been in my life (in my defence it was accidental, maybe I’ll share the story another time).  Now while drunk we went to an Indian Restaurant for a birthday dinner and while there I needed to go to the loo.  Unfortunately for me, the toilet walls and ceiling were all tiled white and as you would expect the ceiling was also painted white.  This wasn’t really relevant at all until I fell off the loo.  And because I was drunk, and everything was white I couldn’t get off the floor because I did not know which way was up!

Macfarlane quotes the American artist, William Fox, who described his experience as ‘cognitive dissonance in isotropic spaces; or ‘how we easily get lost in spaces that appear the same in all directions’.

And it struck me this morning when thinking about this blog post that there are a plethora of comparisons between this and embarking on a journey to lose weight or follow a life plan when there is so much information out there.  It is easy to get lost when looking for the right path, especially when many of those paths look essentially the same and so as a result we become inert and make no progress at all or get lost looking for identifying features that we’re not sure we can identify if we did see them.

It’s telling that when Macfarlane walks the flats he takes a friend with him and leaves a trail of shells as he traverses the sand.  In the same way, when at Lanzarote, the lovely ladies and gent and I set up what is for all intents and purposes a support group where we share our thoughts and experiences (and new to me… my actual weight to be plotted in a chart).  It feels like we are laying shells in the sand so if we do get lost there are people to bring us back on track.  The support group is not just about accountability but because some of us have got to the same place in a similar way – its also about shared experiences and reminders.  And an investigation of the habits that we all have.  It’s fabulous.

In a similar vein, G and I have been establishing our process of routine discussed in depth in the two or three blog posts prior to this one.

The conclusion I have come to there is to not think about it too much.  To be neither too positive (I’m excited, I’m excited, I’m knackered from being so excited) or too negative (I really can’t be arsed!) and rather view it as a done deal without emotion, or to paraphrase a company we all know… Just do it!

I really believe ambivalence is a strength in these circumstances, it neither develops into inertia not disappointment.  Just a routine appointment scheduled in the diary to be done.  That’s not to say I do not love exercise.  I do, it’s a passion.  And it’s also not to say that I don’t get an emotional benefit afterwards, I really do.  But, the amount of times I have convinced myself in my head that I could run 7 minute mile pace if I just trained enough and then felt disappointment when I’m still running 12’s.  I figured that since I spent so much time dreaming of running faster that it should just…well…happen!  And then I find I go out less to avoid the disappointment when I should just stop bloody thinking about it and more time running in the moment and enjoying it running it at whatever pace I wish.  After all, consistency is king and fantasy is the jester that mocks the establishment.

In some respects, the same could be said of food too and one of the great benefits of settling back to a paleo lifestyle is that much of the thinking and many of the decisions have already been made.  We have moved on from the junction where all of the paths looked the same and indecision became inertia and we’re starting to make progress.  The cognitive dissonance is dissipating.

 

 

 

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