The world is a playground, are you coming out to play?

I’m not afraid of dying, no more than anyone else anyway, but I am afraid of getting old.  Not grey hair, crow’s feet old but the kind of old where you can no longer care for yourself.  When you are forced to be dependent on someone else, be they a devoted family member or someone earning minimum wage in an unflattering uniform.  When I was in my early twenties I worked as a Health Care Support Worker for a nursing agency.  Many of the shifts I got were in the elderly unit of the local hospital where, in the naivety of my youth, I was confronted with the cruel indignities of ageing.  For those poor, lonely souls, personal care was no longer personal but, regardless of how sweet and well meaning the carer, painfully public.  Incontinence pads, commodes, hoists; a deadly arsenal in the assault on independence, dignity and youth.

I have talked before about the way that Crossfit has challenged my own perceptions of gender both in myself and others.  It has also been a powerful tool in shaping my goals and aspirations and how I view my future.   I am 35 years old and I feel stronger and more physically confident than I ever have.  In the community that I train in age is irrelevant.  All around me I see strong, powerful women and men and many of my real life heroes are my age or older.  In the Crossfit Games there are several categories for masters (over 40) including 60+ and much has been written about starting Crossfit over 40 (check out this excellent blog post for example).   One of the owners of Reebok Crossfit Connect, Holly Gehlcken, won World, British and Southern Masters Olympic Weight Lifting titles in 2010.  She is not just the owner but one of the head coaches, mum of two and a bloody lovely lady to boot.

Holly 2All my life I have seen sport as something for young, fit people with natural talent and ability but why should they have all the fun?  Why do only young people get to skip and jump and run and swing?  Why do only young people get to play?  The answer, of course, is that they don’t.  Anyone can, you just have to make the choice to get off the sofa and do it.  You have to come to the realisation that moving is more fun than eating.  I don’t really drink anymore and I don’t remember the last time I went to a pub in the evening but I’m okay with it.  If other people think thats boring I don’t mind.  I spent many, many years feeling lost and sad and hating my life.  Now I love my life and I don’t want it to change (there is an enormous change coming up but more about that later, and no, I’m not pregnant).

Since I started Crossfit, I don’t worry about my age so much.  I spend less time looking in the mirror and fretting over my grey hair (which, by the way, I have had since I was in my mid twenties).  I no longer analyse my reflection in the mirror for new wrinkles, I don’t have time!  If I am looking in the mirror I’m checking out my guns for progress or laughing at how funny I look in my crazy new leggings.  One of the great things about Crossfit boxes is that they don’t have mirrors so you spend less time worrying about what you look like and more time thinking about how you feel (at times, like in the middle of a WOD, that is a mixed blessing).  As for my long term goals and aspirations, I hope that one day I can spend my retirement playing and instead of visiting me in the old people’s home or hospital ward, my grandchildren are working out with me at the box.

kay and tonyReebok Crossfit Connect members Kay and Tony after the Colour Run in September.

Photograph of Holly Gehlcken by RX’d Photography

True Grit

I have been thinking a lot about grit.  I don’t mean that fabled southern (American) food that looks a bit like porridge; I mean the personality trait where you are willing to put interest and effort into something in order to achieve a long term goal.  My husband (who is an absolute brainiac) is working on some research using Angela Duckworth’s Grit Scale and when I watched her talking about Grit, I was intrigued.  In truth because when I really look at my own personality, for much of my life I have not been a very ‘gritty’ person.  I passed my driving test first time and have never driven, not even once, since.  I qualified as a teacher and never taught.  I wrote a book and it is hidden away where nobody can read it.  I am a non completer.  That is definitely something I’m working on and is what Crossfit is all about.  You don’t get instant results; it is a long, slow, challenging process to get where you want to be.  There is no magic secret to success, just many, many hours of hard work and perseverance.  One of the most important guidelines in Crossfit is to train your weakness.  That means not just going to the box and taking the easy option (whatever that may be for you) but specifically working on what you find the most difficult.  That is true grit: deliberate practice of something that is difficult and challenging in order to improve.  In my case there is a long list, the first item on which is pull ups!

When I was a kid I was absolutely convinced that I was rubbish at all sport.  I’m very short, I have big boobs (as discussed here) and for a large majority of my life I have been overweight.  So that was it.  Sport wasn’t for me.  End of story.  But guess what was for me?  Smoking, eating, drinking, partying!  I had found something I was good at! For nearly 15 years I treated my body with absolutely no respect and wondered why I had no body confidence or self esteem.

At several points I reached what I thought was rock bottom and signed up to a weekly diet club (you know the ones).  I bought into the multi million pound, evil, manipulative diet industry and paid my weekly subscription to weigh in, quite often forking out substantial amounts of extra cash to buy their own brand diet bars.  I distinctly remember one such diet club where the consultant (alarm bells should have rung; as well intentioned as she was, she was almost as tubby as me) told us all that exercise, or ‘body magic’ as they called it, was optional and not necessary for weight loss on the programme.  Unsurprisingly I did not show grit and determination, I failed.  Time after time I lost weight only to put it all back on again.  Weeks or months of deprivation were followed by equally long periods of absolute bingeing and if I had a pound for every time I told myself ‘I will start again on Monday’ I would be a very rich lady.

It wasn’t just the diet clubs that took the money I willingly, gratefully offered them.  There were also the gym memberships.  Full of good intentions I would trot down to the local globo gym and gleefully sign up an 18 month contract because that would inspire me to go regularly, wouldn’t it?  Studying the class timetable I would feel a mixture of fear and intrigue at all they had to offer but the few times I forced myself to go I would spend the entire time lost and confused, not knowing the moves and feeling out of place amongst the gym bunnies with their tiny little butts who obviously all knew each other.  So back I would trudge to the exercise bike or the treadmill where I would plod on, whilst scanning the pages of Heat magazine.  Soon my good intentions would once again fall by the wayside and I was paying considerable sums of money for a gym that I never went to.  I think my record was a whole year of monthly payments where I didn’t go once.  Not smart, but I wasn’t alone.

Big girl 3

When I saw this photo I could have cried.  This was when I was at my heaviest – 12st 4 pounds (79 kilos)

I am happy to take my part of the responsibility for this wasted opportunity but I didn’t know any better.  I didn’t know what weights I should be using or how to work the machines.  I had thousands of pounds worth of equipment available to me and no idea how to use it.  And as for the free weights, there was absolutely no way I was going to enter the testosterone filled man zone where pumped up guys bicep curled whilst gazing adoringly at their own reflection in the mirror.   I was scared and I couldn’t do it alone.

The first big, real, change was in 2009 when I moved to Ecuador for a year with my husband.  We started watching The Biggest Loser and I joined a gym.  This time it was different.  Instead of just aimlessly plodding I went every day and did Jillian Michael’s Thirty Day Shred there at the gym (I had written down all of the movements).  The faces of those Ecuadorians as they saw this chubby little white girl doing star jumps and butt kicks was priceless, but it worked!  It wasn’t just the exercise, it was my diet too.  My husband and I became vegan, which didn’t last long to be honest, but it was the first time I began to really consider that food should be real and not a concoction of chemicals.

A few months later my husband entered the Quito Marathon and I decided to do the half marathon.  We did it, we were slow and it hurt, but we did it!  For the first time in my life I had shown grit and determination and had successfully trained for and completed something using my body.  I wish I could say to you that I lived happily ever after but I didn’t.  When we came back to England life got in the way and despite good intentions I lost sight of my long term goal, replacing it with short term pleasures.  But this time there was one difference: I now knew what it felt like to be fit.  I understood what my body wanted and needed.  I had shown grit and determination.  I was capable of succeeding.  It may have taken me a while to get back on track but now that I have found Crossfit I know that I am not alone.  If I don’t know how to do something there are always coaches and other Crossfitters there to help me.  If I feel like giving up there are people there to cheer me on.  If I stop going my coaches will notice and want to know what’s wrong.

If you are anything like me then the answer to health and fitness doesn’t lie in trudging away on separate treadmills, watching TV or reading a magazine, it isn’t about paying to go to a diet club and bingeing after weigh in.  When you find something that is fun, exciting and challenging having grit, determination and perseverance is not so hard after all.

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General Physical Preparedness or why you should always wear a sports bra and a belt

The first day back after half term was an inset day, and as I dressed myself in the dark I never for one moment thought that in just a few short hours I would be in the gymnasium at my school in front of a group of  30 or so colleagues with my right boob falling out of my bra whilst my trousers simultaneously fell down, but Crossfit is all about general physical preparedness so I’m seeing it as a learning experience.

The morning proceeded uneventfully but in the afternoon we were separated into groups and given different tasks to do.  When the PE teacher announced that each group needed one member to undertake a physical task whilst the others worked on an academic test I was only too happy to volunteer.  At last I wasn’t that person cringing at the thought of being asked to exert myself!  I was delighted and, with a confidence that I have rarely seen in myself, I stood up and muttered ‘bring it on!’ with a huge smile on my face.

We could choose from two tasks – either skip for 5 minutes straight or hold plank for 5 minutes.  My core strength (or lack thereof) has been an ongoing issue for me.  Just the previous weekend I had declared ‘I don’t have abs, I have jelly!’ to one of my coaches as he gave me instructions on how to plank properly, so I knew that wasn’t for me.  But skipping for 5 minutes?  Piece of (paleo) cake!   I was just a few skips in when I began to realise my mistake as my 36 E boobs bounced violently and the straps on my bra began to slip.   Yes I could skip for five minutes when the puppies were strapped down in my Shock Absorber bra, but could I skip with just a bit of cotton and lace for support?  As with so many things in my life, I hadn’t thought this through.

I have always considered myself an uncompetitive person but I think that has been a way to keep myself safe from failure or to pretend that I don’t care if I do fail.  Not any more: I wanted to win!  I had to find a way to pull up my bra straps and continue skipping, but how?  In the end it was no good. I had to stop the rope but the PE teacher (seeing the desperation in my eyes) said that if I kept on bouncing it was okay, so that is what I did.  Brilliant!  Panic over…  or so I thought.  A few skips in and they began to slip again, but this time, to my horror, my jeans began to slide down too!  I was nearing the end of my 30 day paleo challenge and it had clearly been effective.  Not wearing a belt had been a terrible mistake – what kind of fool fails to anticipate that they will be skipping at work?

Using the same one handed skipping technique as before, I had to save the jeans from falling down and, just in time, I did.  Phew!  Disaster averted.  It was the final minute and despite the odds I was still going.  Thank God!  But that’s when it happened.  The trousers migrating south had distracted me from the ongoing issue with my over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder and before I knew it, it was too late.  My right breast had made a bid for freedom and had bounced out of my bra.  The horror!  Who knew the devastation a boob of such magnitude could reek when left to bounce unfettered and unconstrained?  Would I knock myself unconscious?  How many innocent bystanders would I take down with me?  What else could I do?  I had to keep going!  By the time the whistle blew I was too preoccupied with dressing myself to even notice if we’d won but it didn’t matter – I had won by not giving up.  Dignity is over rated.

So that was Monday.

crazy leggings Monday                  crazyleggings mondaygeorge

In case anyone is interested, I got my final results from the 30 day paleo challenge* on Wednesday and I was very happy.  2 inches lost from my waist, 8 pounds and 2.5% body fat dropped. Not too shabby at all, and I certainly wasn’t the only one with fantastic results across the board.  I have come out of the end of it feeling as though it is more than just another diet fad, it is a way of life that suits me very well.  It has totally dealt with my IBS and my raging PMT feels much more manageable now.

* Lots of people from the box did this together under the instruction of the gorgeous Barnaby Gabos Gehlcken featured below in gold leggings.

Crazy leggings Monday Barney and Holly

The return of Crazy Leggings Monday was definitely a winner at Reebok Crossfit Connect!  Look at those shiny, happy people!  Thanks to the lovely Jen of Two Itchy Feet for the idea.

crazy leggings monday chloe and marie

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WODs and a Wedding: a year of Crossfit

I get really tired of all the negativity that is written about Crossfit, often it is poorly written, childlike mudslinging.  My experience of Crossfit, like many, many others, is that it is an incredibly positive, life affirming and inspiring sport … Continue reading

Trying to be Tough

I don’t know when I stopped being tough.  When I was younger I’m sure I was fearless and brave and unafraid of life, people, consequences.  I would stay up all night, speak to strangers, take risks, laugh, shout, scream, fight if I had to, and often if I didn’t, live impulsively and party, party, party.  At some point along the way I got really, really scared of everything and tried to hide myself away from the world.  Instead of shouting and screaming into the wind I whispered into a pillow.  For a long time I thought that this was a preferable choice and was part of ‘growing up.’  I have recently realised that this is unbearably boring and have been attempting, with varying success, to do something about it.

wonder-woman

In reality the fearlessness that I see when I look back at that old version of myself is a trick of the light and is not fearlessness at all but recklessness that had far more to do with dutch courage than actual bravery.  Nowadays I have nothing to hide behind and although it makes me feel vulnerable and exposed, it is also exciting in the way that only scary things can be.

 

Thanks for reading, I’m now blogging over at joskibyrne.wordpress.com come and join me!