little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: exercise

Hitting my stride

I’m not sure what the deal is with exercise and plateaus and progress and all that, but it’s been a hard slog for the last month or two and then this week I think I turned the corner. I’ve been fighting low-level colds and a sinus infection for weeks, off and on, sometimes winning, sometimes feeling like shit.

I kept going to the gym and barre class during that time, but more sporadically and with variable energy levels. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, was struggling with everything and getting cross with myself. Rest felt more urgent, something needed rebuilding.

At the same time (and probably relatedly), I hit a work, identity and relationship jag. The details don’t matter too much — what am I doing with my life? what happened to my creativity? why the fuck am I logisticising everything around my partner’s work again? when do I get to throw myself into work? do I really have to spend another afternoon doing chores and cooking dinner while being a rubbish mother? will my brain ever work at full stretch again? blah, blah, blah — but the feeling was the same: stasis, frustration, emptiness.

But, you know, little by little, things shift. I started to nail chin-ups, took my cardio right back to a manageable level then built from there, kept warm, walked lots, cried a bit, gave it my best shot, did some thinking, had another look, a gentler look, at my partner and kids.

And this week I went to the gym four days in a row, kept my temper, firmed up some boundaries, let myself play, wrote a bit. It was better. Maybe I’m on the up. I hope so.


There’s a new activity in our household, and it may be the salvation of us. It’s parkour, or — as we called it in olden times — playing outside.

I’ve been encouraging the boys to get outside forever, and they seem strangely resistant unless they have an adult with them. The Cat bemoans our lack of a soccer pitch, which is an odd thing to expect a house to have — although he would settle for a flat bit of lawn — and somewhat unnecessary given that we have four or five school playgrounds, two public gardens and three playing fields within 20 minutes walk of our front door. Not that I expect them to trot off alone because kids don’t do that these days, but they do have fairly regular outings to places where they can kick a ball around.

Anyway, the soccer at home seems a bit fraught and I find the afternoons get swallowed with chores and cooking, so we often end up inside more than any of us really need or want.

But then we discovered this parkour thing. My acquaintance with the sport is extremely nascent, but it seems to be basically moving in interesting ways around urban environments. This gorgeous video shows what you can do with some walls and a fence, and this one takes things a bit further with a field of aeroplanes and high-level gymnastic skills. We have neither aeroplanes nor gymnastic ability, but we have a deck, a path, some fencing, garden beds and a guinea pig hutch, and there’s a lot of fun to be had with those ingredients. Essentially, the trick is to find a space with some stuff in it, then work out how to run, jump, climb, crawl and slide around that stuff. We can do that.

The Cat has made up a basic route around these items, and everyone in the household has had a go. I like the way it draws on the different skills and characteristics that we each have: the Cat’s inventiveness and spatial creativity, the Rabbit’s agility and love of play, Ian’s sense of fun, and my enjoyment of movement and dance. It’s also completely non-competitive, so the boys can go outside, make up a route and each have a go without it descending into a scrap over rules and outcomes.

It was so successful yesterday that they moved on to picking blackberries down the back of the property and harvesting zucchinis and potatoes from the vege patch without any maternal prodding or, indeed, attention. There was a wee incident with the spade, but we resolved that one without major bodily harm. So, parkour for the win. We’ll head out this weekend and try it in the urban wilderness.

After that, things got a bit busy while Ian did the frying part of the stir fry and I lit the fire, and through it I had a vague sense that the Rabbit was up to something, possibly in the bathroom, but I assumed it related to a bodily function and ignored it. So then I met him coming out of the bathroom looking damp and on-a-mission-ish. The bathroom also looked damp, and there were five facecloths in the sink and a sneaker and a fair bit of dirt in the bath. “I’ve just been washing things,” he said. “My hands, all these things (gesturing at his clothes), my shoes … well, mostly my shoes. They were very muddy, but they’re clean now.”

Which is delightful, because I had been fearing all week that my inability to get the bathroom cleaned was procrastination or laziness or poor time management skills or something morally questionable like that. But, no. It was prescience.

Being old

I’ve seen a meme floating around Facebook and it’s really grinding my gears. I won’t link to it, but it originated on the page of some bloke called David Beansprout Beare or Paul Apple Foxi or some such. It shows two women. One is very muscular, is in gym gear and is smiling at the camera. The other is in a flowered blouse, has soft grey hair and it looking out of a window with net curtains on it (subtle touch, that). The caption says, “Both of these women are 74 … what choice are you going to make?”

Some thoughts:

  1. Great. We’re body-shaming 74-year-old women now.
  2. These pictures tell me nothing about the women depicted apart from the most superficial — it’s not even straightforward to assess their health, let alone how they have lived their lives, what they have accomplished, the sorrows they have faced, the love they have given and received, the learning that has marked and shaped them.
  3. The woman in the blouse looks a bit like my Granny, and she was a gardening, walking, whiskey-drinking, agile, sociable ninja-nana for most of her old age. At a certain point, her choices became much harder and her resilience took a blow too many and her physical health deteriorated. To blame her for that (to blame anyone for that, at any age) seems cruel and illogical. The individualising of health messages without recognising structural impediments, inequalities, privilege and disadvantage is bullshit.
  4. I’m 40, I go to the gym three or four times a week, I eat reasonably healthily and my life is generally happy. I have never had the physique of the woman in gym gear, and the thought that I might get there by the age of 74 is laughable.
  5. Do we really fetishise youth to the extent that we value the body of a gym bunny more highly than wisdom and life experience?
  6. The expectation that women should be beautiful has not served me well at any point in my life, and the idea that I will still be measured against that ideal and judged on my physical appearance when I’m 74 is utterly depressing.

Anyway … another day, another dose of internet outrage. My granny wasn’t on Facebook either. Might be time to introduce whiskey to my life.

Then I got curious and decided to find out who these women are and why Donald Beetjuice Ramface was using their images. The woman on the left is Ernestine Shepherd. She’s the world’s oldest competitive bodybuilder, a marathon runner and personal trainer, she was inspired to compete by her sister’s death, she likes Sylvester Stallone and Michelle Obama, and I hope she gave permission for her image to be used like this. Here’s her website. If the meme was just about her, I might be fine with it.

But there are two women in the picture, and the one on the right is more elusive. Her picture comes up when you google ‘elderly woman looking out a window’. The image is by Chalmers Butterfield, but I can’t find anything about her name, age or life.  To use an image of someone like that as a marker of what bad or unthinking or socially driven choices look like … well, it’s just damn rude, isn’t it?

Taking stock

The holidays are over, and I’m ready for this new year. The boys have one more week of holidays: the Cat is at soccer camp for four days and the Rabbit is hanging with Ian in his last week before he turns five and starts school. I’ve booked a Mama–Rabbit day for Friday, so have four days to get myself organised for the year and start working out the patterns and routines that will carry me through. And I should tidy my office. And get things for two birthdays. And weed the garden.

I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’ve got a fair idea of what the building blocks need to be and mostly need to work out how to fit them all together.

Slightly odd choice for my number one concern, but one of my big lessons of 2015 was that regular exercise makes a big difference to my mood and ability to cope with shit. By shit, I don’t mean big stuff like deaths and discord and disaster, but more the mundane things like cooking dinner, folding the laundry and getting the kids to bed.

I had a break after Christmas and was a bit nervous about going back this morning, but I survived. We did lots of walking with hills and steps over the holidays, which probably saved me, but it will be ‘interesting’ to see how I go with resistance work tomorrow. I reckon I need to go three or four times a week and I don’t know when to fit that in. My favourite times are in the morning after breakfast, around 4pm, and in the evening. The morning is probably the most practical option most days, but needs to be early enough that it doesn’t cut into my work day too much. Am open to suggestions from people with experience in juggling all the things, but please don’t suggest early early morning or any time before I’ve had something to eat. That ain’t gonna happen.

I guess the other thing to do more of would be walking to pick the boys up from school and more family adventure outings at weekends. Oh, and we’re hoping to walk the Rakiura Track in a year or two, so we’ll need to practice with longer day walks and some overnighting in huts.

A few changes this year. I’m done with Critic, so it’s back to building up the business and keeping a wee eye out for a dream job. I’m pretty excited about having more time when Rabbit starts school, although not really ready to lose all those extra hours with my baby. But one lot of pick-ups and five clear days a week will be AMAZING. My main aims are learning how to be more productive and focused, running more workshops, finding a few more key clients, doing most of my work during ‘work hours’ and not in evenings or weekends, and honing my editorial chops.

I kind of wonder whether I might start reading in my thesis area again. I was doing a PhD taking a postcolonial look at contemporary settler writing from Australia and New Zealand when I had the Cat and gave it up to find something that fitted better with family life, but there are days when I miss it bad.

Yes, well. A bit like the exercise, I’m aiming for regularity here and for gradually building up my skills and capacity. One focused hour a day is my goal, and I guess we’ll just have to see how that goes. Sometimes it’ll be the blog and sometimes … other stuff.

Look, this one is always the same. I want to be calmer, less grumpy, better at resolving arguments between the boys and to have more time to play, listen and understand. I’m also on a ‘reclaim the evening’ mission, and it would be great if everyone cleared their dishes and kept their clothes in order.

And that’s me. What about you?

Exercise is a box of chocolates

How ridiculous, but wouldn’t that be awesome, right? If exercise was like a box of chocolates, full of variety and treats and dark and light and with plenty of hard caramels, I would be all in. As we’ve established, however, I’m more of a dabbler.

Still, what I am working on is variety.

I run every now and then (I might run today, and having written it, am slightly more likely to —will let you know), but running doesn’t feel very good if you only do it every now and then, so I’m going to have to make a call on that one. To run or not to run? I need to answer this question before I turn 40. That doesn’t give me very long.

I tried cycling for the first time since childhood over the summer, and I really like it. It’s time consuming, but extremely pleasant, so I think I’ll do that more. The little things trip me up, though. My partner made me shift my bike from the back porch to the garage for aesthetic reasons. So you can guess what that did for my motivation.

Yoga’s good. I like yoga. Also a time investment. And the money! Yikes!

And last night I returned to an old love — I went to an adult ice-skating class. It’s been about 15 years since I skated properly, so my brain keeps getting in my way (what? go backwards? you must be joking!), and a few muscle groups think it’s madness, but my legs remember the flick of speed and pull of an edge that had me hooked all those years ago. So, that one might stay in the mix. The rink has weekly classes and I’ve written them in my diary until July. Wish me luck. I need my brain to behave and my knees to bend.

Update: Well, I did go running. I think I feel better? Apart from wanting to lie in a small, quiet heap somewhere for about half an hour.

Jogging along

I’m a woman of good intentions but somewhat lazy too, until I get going, so my “exercise” is a hopeless mix of overly ambitious theory, sporadic attempts, wild enthusiasm, over-extension, and procrastination.

I am absolutely not a team sport person, but I like to move, to get my heart rate up, to break a sweat. When I go regularly, I enjoy yoga, but if I’ve been away from it too long, it terrifies me with the endless down dogs and dolphins and horrible upside-down things and all. Walking is my happy option — no fancy clothes, just a matter of proper shoes and heading out the door. And Dunedin has enough hills to make a decent workout possible, especially if you throw in a buggy, a 10-kilo child, two backpacks, a handbag, a lunchbox, and a thunderstorm, ahem, yesterday.

But the last couple of years, I’ve been feeling the need for something that pushes me harder and takes less time, so I’ve been circling the whole running thing. It freaks me out, if I’m honest. I spent my childhood and teenage years being emphatic in my non-running-ness, dedicated to the idea that I had legs that could walk, dance, ice-skate, stretch, but never and in no way run. God knows why; it was a block.

So, I’m still surprised when I start running now and manage to not stop for a while. It feels very strange, as if I have to convince myself that what my body is doing is not a betrayal of the laws of physics. But I don’t get out often enough to make it fully manageable either (see paragraph one), so the strangeness is slow in wearing off. Also, and I’d like a physiologist or a trainer or a GP or someone to weigh in on this,  I tend to liberate whatever viruses are locked up in my system, so going for a run is all too often followed by getting a cold, which pushes the whole experience to the “this is crap” rather than the “this is amazing and I’ve got to do it again” end of the spectrum.

I’ve got a new trick, though. I round up the Cat and his bicycle, and we skid down to the bottom of the hill. Then he bikes and I jog alongside, sometimes behind, sometimes ahead, watching all the intersections, waving my boy across the roads, and setting little targets all the way, red-faced and puffing my way through the geography game the Cat inevitably wants to play.

And I like it.

We are company for each other, cheer-leaders too, dramatic in our falling through the door after the final push up the hill, talking big our minor accomplishments — another block without walking, up the hill without pausing, a alphabet of countries without swearing.

So that’s what we’re going to do this afternoon. I promise.

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