Ring that (PB) bell!

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I had a great day at the box today.  This week was 1 rep max week but I have only made it in once due to work commitments.  On Wednesday I had a 2.5 kilo gain on my back squat taking it up to 72.5 kilos.  I have to confess that I was a little disappointed in that as I have been working really hard on pause squats for the last four weeks and I felt like I should have improved more BUT a PB is a PB and I can’t allow negativity to creep in.  Today was great though.  I can’t remember the last time I did deadlifts – it has been months – and I got 77.5 kilos, which is a 7.5 kilo improvement on my 1 rep max.  I also gained an extra 2.5 kilos on my bench press taking it up to 37.5 kilos.  It is really interesting to me that even when focusing on one particular movement, in this case back squats, you can still see improvements in other lifts.  I also have to keep in mind that as the weights I lift are going up (even if it is by a very small percentage) my body weight is going down.  Here are some stats on my weight loss/ body changes since January:

  January Now
Weight 69.5 Kilos/  11 stone 63.8 Kilos/ 10 Stone 0.5 pounds
Body fat percentage 35.1 33.2
Waist measurement 35.5 31
BMI 29 26.6

This is no staggering weight loss (I have been to Slimming World before are lost a stone in a week) but to me it is better because it feels more permanent.  It feels as though I am going in the right direction and that this is a change that will stay with me for the rest of my life and if I can lose weight and body fat whilst also increasing the weight I am able lift then I am a very happy bunny indeed!

What is also really interesting to me is the continued effect that CrossFit has on the rest of my life – yesterday I spoke at a teachers conference at University of Sussex in front of a room full of highly educated and intelligent people.  I told them about the work that I do with the project I run and I know that before I began CrossFit there is absolutely no way I would have had the confidence to do that.  Today marks three months that my husband George has been away and again, without CrossFit I know that I would not have been able to cope without him for all this time.

It is a glorious day here in Brighton so I am now off out to enjoy the sunshine.

* Good luck to all of the Connect Crew who are taking part in the Pound for Pound competition this weekend.

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Stranger Danger and other newbie CrossFit problems

Chris Spealler

Chris Spealler

  • Don’t be judgmental.  When I started CrossFit I had never done anything like it in my life.  I was terrified.  I was overweight, unfit and, if I am totally honest, had been hiding behind a place of judgement my whole life.  I am thoroughly ashamed to admit it but I had convinced myself that men and women who were really muscly and fit were shallow, vain and probably quite stupid.  I told myself they couldn’t be that smart or funny or interesting…they just looked good.  That made sense to me in my smoking, drinking, junk food eating bubble because I was afraid and I was jealous.  I have been astounded at how sweet, friendly, intelligent and kind the people I have met through CrossFit are.  Even the ones that look like gods are only human!
  • Give yourself some credit.  I remember really early on puffing and panting my way through a WOD, face like a raspberry about to explode, and noticing that someone was looking at me.  Straight away I made the assumption that this big, muscular hulk of a man was judging me as I had judged people like him.  I bet he’s thinking look at that fat bitch.  Ha ha look at the state of her!  I put it out of my mind but I could not have been more surprised when later he came to me and said how impressed he was with how hard I worked, with how much effort I put in.   If you are new to CrossFit you have to get used to the fact that people might be looking at you, especially if you are last in the WOD.  It is a CrossFit tradition to gather round and cheer on the last person and that is not going to change –  what you have to change is the voice in your head telling you what they are thinking because it is probably less like look at that fatty and more like check out that badass, giving it everything they’ve got.
  • Be okay with being beaten.  Unless you are super fit and healthy already you will have to accept the fact that you are going to get beaten by middle aged women on a regular basis.  They will run faster than you, they will lift heavier than you, they will be able to do things you can’t.  Just go with it.
Annie Sakamoto

Annie Sakamoto

  • You are going to sweat.  Unlike globo-gyms, where perfectly coiffured women complete workouts with full makeup intact, CrossFit is a dirty, messy affair!  You are going to sweat so much it feels like even your eyeballs are sweating and in winter you will see steam rising from your sticky carcass as you stretch after a WOD.  Try and just view it in a positive light – as evidence of how hard you worked.  Take a hand towel and make sure you clean up that trail and wipe down your equipment.
  •  There will be strange things afoot.   This is not like a gym you have ever been to so when there are children and dogs running around, naked people (hopefully not at the same time as the children) and general oddness – embrace it – it’s fun!  CrossFit boxes are loud places full of the myriad sounds of grunting, shouting, sometimes crying, and very often laughter.
  • Don’t be a stranger.  It is really difficult going to a new place where relationships seem so secure and people are very familiar with one another but you have to dive in head first.  Introduce yourself, ask questions, speak to people, pair up with someone you’ve never met before.  It will enhance your experience and you will probably learn a great deal from them.
  • Etiquette.  There are definitely a lot of rules of CrossFit that you need to adhere to to ensure that the box is a happy little microcosm of humanity.  Read this article…its a good un’.
  • Learn the lingo.  There is a whole other language that comes with CrossFit and it will help you immensely if you learn it.  Ask coaches and fellow box goers by all means but here is a list from CrossFit HQ.
  • Be a social butterfly.  If there are events and socials make sure you go.  You might not want your entire social life to centre around the box but it will make your sessions better if you have chatted to people outside of a class environment.
  • Do your research.  This one is not a necessity but it will be helpful to you.  When we started CrossFit my husband did a lot of research on the origins of the sport of fitness.  I found it really inspirational finding out about the CrossFit Games and athletes like Chris Spealler and Annie Sakamoto (I love them because they are small like me).  Also when the 2014 Games come around and everyone at the box is talking about it, you will know what the hell they are going on about!  Watching the Games is SO much fun.  I have never in my life enjoyed watching sports until I started CrossFit and now I love it.

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Perspective

food

It’s very tempting to only blog when good things happen.  To edit out the bad days, low moods, rough times and pretend that everything is all hearts and flowers and rainbows and sunshine.  I’ve talked before about how life is not a show reel and in the interests of honesty I don’t want to pretend to be something, or someone, I’m not.  I have been really, really struggling over the last week and finding life hard to deal with.  A week of extremely long days with work (students from my school performed at the finale of the Brighton Festival and I could not be more proud) coupled with a horrible bout of PMT have knocked me for six and I have been struggling to make the right choices for my health.  Sometimes I have failed to do that and I have beaten myself up about it and felt guilt and shame for eating things I shouldn’t.  Aside from work and hormones I have also been really missing my husband.  I am extremely blessed to be married to someone who has seemingly never ending patience and understanding with me and without his support, sometimes it is really tough.  In these times of instant communication it has been hard to deal with the fact that I have been unable to even speak to him for a week and it is amazing how long a week can feel.

The best laid plans of mice and men

The best laid plans of mice and men

I tried really hard to be well prepared and take healthy food with me on set (see above), but I think it was the lack of exercise that broke me.  For almost a week I didn’t go to the box and I can see now that had huge effect on my mental state.  For some of that time I wasn’t physically able to go (if you are working 15 or 16 hour days and you can find the motivation to go to the gym before or after work you are a better person than I).  This week I have been three times and it has been hard.  I feel as though my body is made of rock, that I am running through treacle, that I am weak.  But even though it is hard, it is better than sitting at home weeping into a box of chocolates whilst my cats look at me indignantly for not stroking them.  Even if when I am there I am so hormonal that I can’t stop sweating just from the warm up, or I’m so grumpy I can’t even bring myself to talk to the lovely people I am surrounded by, it’s the right place to be (for me, maybe not for everyone else!).

This month I was Member of the Month at Reebok CrossFit Connect and when I read the newsletter I felt like a fraud because I know there are so many other people who are fitter, stronger and more committed than me.  Today a fellow box goer and truly lovely lady got frustrated with herself for finishing the WOD last.  She was using the same weight as the male coaches.  When people were looking at her as she finished those last few reps they were thinking’what an absolute bad ass.’  I know because that was what I was thinking and she has been a constant source of inspiration to me since I joined.  CrossFit encourages us to strive to be better, work harder, achieve more and we do, but sometimes we just need to get a little perspective.  We set enormously high standards for ourselves but we have to remember that we are only human.  Today I may not be exactly where I want to be, but I am on the right path and I am closer than I have ever been.

My 30th Birthday.  Drink in one hand, cigarette in the other.  Standard.

My 30th Birthday. Drink in one hand, cigarette in the other. Standard.

* Fellow CrossFitter Kay has written a lovely blog about how important CrossFit has been to her and her husband recently, whilst they have been dealing with some difficult health related issues.

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Thighs, thighs, thighs

sam briggs

I have always had an issue with my thighs.  Even as a small child they were a source of great embarrassment and shame to me.  I’m really short so my thighs should be perfectly petite like Kylie Minogue’s, right?  Except they’re not.  They are large and chunky.  Solid.  My body image has improved dramatically over the last year and a half, I am very happy to be able to say that, but there is still the thigh issue looming in the back ground.  My good friends went to America recently and brought me back a very cool top from CrossFit Brick City in New York and some long, purple socks.  I took a picture of myself in my new gear, with very short shorts, but I could never imagine actually going to the box in them.  I would be too self conscious.  I am a reasonably intelligent human being, I know this is ludicrous, but still I have this crushing fear of people looking at me and judging me.

This bothers me.  It bothers me that even at this stage in my life I allow myself to be governed by these ridiculous ideals of beauty and that I continue to feel ‘less than’ others because my thighs are thicker.  I don’t want to be bullied into believing that I am not good enough because I don’t have perfect thighs (this could easily be substituted for boobs, bum, tummy, face), and when I have children I certainly don’t want to pass on these worries and concerns to them.  It infuriates me that we live in a society where the worst possible insult you can give someone is fat.  Surely it would be worse to say I was mean or cruel or selfish?  A British comedian was recently heavily critisized on twitter for the dress she wore at the Baftas award ceremony.  She wrote this fabulous, but very sad response, here.  The critics, in my opinion, don’t care about the dress she is wearing.  The message is not ‘buy a nicer dress and fancier shoes,’ the message is ‘who are you to be a successful woman if you are not skinny and pretty?’  It is a message that we have forced down our throats day after day and I’m sick of it.

camille

It is the same message we get when we support CrossFit and people like Camille, Annie and Julie Foucher are the darlings, whilst the actual reigning champ, Sam Briggs, is sidelined.  Don’t get me wrong I adore those women, I think they are fantastic, but if you really pay attention t0 the media coverage and the language used by the commentators there is a marked difference.  Why?  Because Sam Briggs is a total effing bad ass and she does not fit in to the prescribed view of what a woman should be.  Because Annie, Camille and Julie are strong, with big muscles, but they are also very pretty, very feminine, and they smile a lot.  I had an interview with the youngest member of our box, Madi Farley, on BoxRox website recently (you can read it here).  She is 12, almost 13 and she is incredible.  Her mum and dad (and extended family, who are all super human CrossFitters too) are doing a great job of raising her but I think its sad that these young girls are being raised in a world where if you are a woman it matters more what you look like, and less what you do or say.   That’s the world I was raised in and it didn’t do me any good.

Beast mode

I have been inspired of late by the awesome, hard working, dedicated women competing in the Regionals, many of whom are very well endowed in the thigh department themselves.  So today I tested myself.  I decided that I would go out in public wearing what I like to call my booty shorts (they are just normal adidas shorts really) and see what happened.  So I got on my bike and went for a ride and a few things happened.  First of all the world did not stop.  Nobody crashed their car or dropped their small child out of shock at the offending hunks of meat.  In fact, I was just cycling along wondering how many people were silently judging me and my thighs, when a man called out to me ‘hey baby how ya doing?’  Obviously I blushed furiously and looked away but inside this made me laugh because I realised that its all about perspective.  If someone is looking at you, you don’t have to assume they are thinking the worse.  Try assuming they are thinking the best.  If they aren’t its their problem, not yours.  And me?  I will try assuming that nobody else gives a crap about the size of my thighs but me.

*  I have been loving watching the Regionals and I am really excited to catch up with the action today.  Go Sam and Will, Go Go Go!

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In the (paleo) zone

zone plate

I have flirted with the concept of zoning before and I’m not going to lie, its not easy.  Schools of thought about diets have varied dramatically over the years and as science has progressed we have been given contradictory advice on what is healthy for us to eat.  Should I restrict my calories?  Restrict my fat?  Eat lots of red meat?  Cut out red meat?  Are grains good for me?  Is veganism the right choice?  There is so much information available that it is not surprising that we can all feel a little overwhelmed and confused.  As I have talked about before, my personal choice, and the one that fits in best with my personal stomach issues, is the paleo diet.  So what happens when you find that you feel great, you are happy and healthy but you are just not losing weight on the paleo diet?  Old school science taught us that a calorie is a calorie and they were all created equal.  Now, of course, we know that is not true.  There are 112 calories in an individual Weight Watchers Carrot Cake, whilst there are 156 calories in just 1 ounce of cashew nuts.  So does that mean that I should opt for the lower calorie snack?  Personally, no I don’t think so, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else to do so either.

Here is the ingredients list for the Weight Watchers Carrot Cake:  Sugar,Wheat Flour ,Carrot (9%) ,Pasteurised Whole Egg ,Water ,Vegetable Oil ,Pineapple ,Humectant: Vegetable Glycerine ,Pasteurised Egg White ,Citrus Fibre ,Raising Agents: Diphosphates, Potassium Bicarbonate ,Coconut ,Glucose Syrup ,Skimmed Milk Powder ,Caramelised Sugar Syrup ,Ground Cinnamon ,Tapioca Starch ,Preservative: Potassium Sorbate ,Gelling Agent: Pectin ,Dextrose ,Fructose ,Ground Nutmeg ,Emulsifier: Sucrose Esters of Fatty Acids

carrot cake                              cashew nuts

Cashews may contain more calories but they also contain these nutrients:  Copper, Phosphorous, Manganese, Magnesium and Zinc and they do not contain a plethora of additives, preservatives and chemicals.

Whilst in the short term if you follow a calorie restricting diet such as Weight Watchers or Slimming World you will undoubtedly lose weight, in the long term, it is not sustainable AND if you buy the products that they make you are also giving your body a smorgasbord of chemical crap, entirely devoid of any real nutritional value.  If you decide to do exercise whilst you are dieting, (which I hope you will) these foods will not provide your body with enough energy to sustain even moderate levels of movement.

However, one aspect of the paleo diet that cannot be ignored is the fact that if you eat excessive amounts of calories (albeit of healthy, nutritious, wholesome foods) you will not be able to consistently lose weight.  At this point in my life, having lost and gained weight to varying degrees over the last twenty years, I would still like to be leaner.  That’s not because I think I’m fat.  Gone are the days when I look in the mirror and hate what I see, where I talk about myself in terms of being less than others because I weigh more.  What I do want, though, is to be a more efficient athlete.  I am carrying excess weight and that makes certain aspects of my training more difficult.  I find it hard to run, I am unable to complete an unassisted pull up, I struggle with box jumps.  All of these things would be improved if I lost weight.

So what is the answer?  One diet that is very popular with athletes is The Zone.  The Zone separates food into blocks, the amount of blocks you are advised to eat is dependent upon your size and gender.  According to the chart below I am a small female and should need 10 blocks.  When I had a brief soiree with The Zone Diet I found that with my training that was simply not sufficient food and I had to up it to 11, which was sustainable.  So 11 blocks of food per day, I’m not going to lie, that is not a lot of food and it does take some getting used to.

zone-chart

Many athletes bulk cook zone meals on a Sunday so that during the week they don’t have to worry about their preparing and cooking food.  This is particularly helpful if you are trying to juggle work, training and possibly a family all at the same time.  This kind of practical approach means that your food goes from being something that is regulated by your emotions, to something that is very much a tool to fuel your body.  If you are training for a sport or are trying to mend a broken relationship with food, this could be a good solution for you.  I am going to give it a whirl and see what effect it has on me.  I will let you know how I get on!

5 weeks

Weight: 67.3 kilos/ 10 stone 6 pounds (- 3 pounds)

Body fat percentage: 34.9%  (+ .4%)

BMI: 27.6 (- 1.5)

Dress size: 12/14 (same)

Bust Size: 34 DD (same)

Waist measurement: 82.55 centimeters/ 32 inches (-.5)

Height: 154.94 centimeters/ 5 foot 1 inch (same!)

The way I look at it is this: over the last 5 weeks, which have been incredibly emotional for me, I could have binged on all sorts of foods and gained a lot of weight.  That is what I would have done in the past but this time I took control, to some degree, about the kind of foods that I was eating.  Now to get serious about actually losing some weight because lets face it, who doesn’t want to look good in a bikini!

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Freaking out about fertility

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Like many people, my life looks very different now that it did ten years ago.  At 35 years old I like nothing more than a quiet night in snuggled up with my cats and a nice cup of tea.  Ten years ago I was a drinking, smoking, festival frequenting mess, fluctuating between bingeing and half starving myself.  I was also miserable.   Now here I am and, other than the people I love, I would say my number one priority is my health.  I eat (mostly) paleo, I CrossFit, I sleep well.  I try and do everything right.  So what was my motivation for this dramatic change in lifestyle?   Am I trying to look hot to find a man?  No!  I got married last summer and bless his heart, he loved me when I was at my heaviest, most unhealthy self so I think he is pretty happy with how I’m doing right now.  Am I hoping to squeeze in to size 0 jeans?  Definitely not, and if I was it wouldn’t be CrossFit I was doing.  These thighs!

No, my one true motivation is that I want a family.  I love children and I want a family of my own but the timing has just never been right.  I know what you’re thinking…the timing is never right.  Whilst that may be true to an extent there are varying degrees to everything and trust me when I tell you that emotionally, spiritually, financially and geographically, the timing has never been right.  It is a sad fact that as a woman, regardless of what else is going on in your life, you only have a certain amount of time to reproduce and as soon as you hit your 30s you become only too aware of that.   This is a direct quote from the NHS about age and fertility:  ‘When it comes to fertility, age matters.’  Right, no beating about the bush there then!  That is not all.  It goes on to state ‘In women, fertility declines more quickly with age. This decline becomes rapid after the age of 35.’

I am a natural worrier and I have shed many, many tears questioning ‘what if I have left it too late?’  I know I’m not the only one.   One of my best friends wanted nothing more than to have a family of her own but she never met the right guy and when 35 came and went she began to give up hope.  But she did meet someone rather wonderful and when they started ‘trying’ she was pregnant in the first month.  They now have a beautiful, healthy son who they adore.  This may have been luck, she may just be a very fertile person and she never knew it, I don’t know.  What I do know is that she is one of the healthiest people I know.  She runs marathons, she rides a bike, she climbs, she gardens, and she eats well.

rach and trev  preggers rach  Otto

Here’s the thing.  Whether you are single or in a relationship, gay or straight, rich or poor, you can’t predict how age is going to affect your fertility, so there is no point worrying over what may or may not be.  The best thing you can possibly do is concentrate on what you can control and ensure that you are your healthiest, happiest self so that if and when the time comes you are mentally and physically ready to be the best mum you can be.

Main photo courtesy of Rx’d Photography

Baby Otto courtesy of Rachel Hatcher and Trevor McDermott, two of my favourite people in the world.

The author trains at Reebok CrossFit Connect

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Easter: a time for new life and transformation

photo

This has been an egg-stremely busy week for me (sorry).  I was kind of dreading the holidays because with my husband gone it could have been a very sad and lonely time for me but I made sure that I kept myself really busy and it has been loads of fun.  We have been blessed with beautiful weather (until yesterday when all the rain came down in one go.  I got very wet) and I have even got a bit of a tan, which never happens.

A few things have happened over the last week that I want to share.

  • I stopped taking my medication.  For a very large part of my adult life I have been taking medication for depression and anxiety.  I don’t think I should feel ashamed to admit that.  It has helped me enormously to have a life that I can cope with.  It has enabled me to sleep at night, to get up every day and go to work, to function as a ‘normal’ human being.  The reason that I decided to come off of my medication was because when my husband left and went to the other side of the world for over a year, I didn’t feel anything.  I was sad and I missed him but I felt separated from my emotions in a way that I did not appreciate.  When I stopped taking them a few things happened.  First of all I felt really dizzy for a while, which was not entirely pleasant.  Then I started to cry A LOT!  Then I found an enormous pool of energy that had obviously been bottled up inside of me.  With this enormous pool of energy I did a few things.
  •  I got all of my hair chopped off!  I had very, very long curly hair and I just went to the hairdressers and got it all chopped off and it feels great.  I love it and I love being able to wash and dry my hair in about 5 minutes after I have been to the box.
  • I was barely able to sit down.  I have always thought of myself as quite a lazy person.  I know I work out and do CrossFit but apart from that I have never had a great deal of motivation to actually move.  This week I have been unable to sit still for any length of time.  I have been cycling, walking a variety of dogs and WODing and I have loved it.  One of the trainers at the box said I look about ten years younger and although I know he is just being sweet, I feel it.  It feels great.

hair                                                                          photo (1)

  • I have been creating.  A few years ago (the last time I was off my medication) I wrote a book.  After a few half hearted attempts to get it published I hid it away and forgot about it.  This week I have dusted it off and in the moments when I can sit still I have been working on it.  I have also struck a deal with an enormously talented writer who also happens to be a good friend, William Xavier Lavendar (amazing name right?) to design the art for the cover of my book, which I have decided to publish as an e book.  I would be extremely grateful if you would take a few minutes to answer the 10 questions on e books in this survey.
  • My interview with Michaela Breeze MBE was published on boxrox.com.  I did the interview a while ago but I am very excited and pleased to see it on their website.

michaela snatch

  • Finally, and most importantly, I have made a decision that life is too short not to be with the one you love and I have decided that at the end of the academic year I will be leaving Hove and heading off to Ecuador to be with my husband.  This has been a huge decision because I love the life we have made for ourselves here but a few things have happened lately that have really made me realise that this life that we have is precious and beautiful.  Did you see the article that was doing the rounds of social media a few months ago The top 5 regrets of the dying?  What would your biggest regret be if this was the last day of your life?  Mine would be that I was thousands of miles away from the man I love and, when I really stopped to question why, I didn’t have a good enough answer.  The only real answers were ones based in fear.  Fear of the future, of being poor, of losing potential maternity benefits, of not being at the right place in my life in direct correlation to my age.  I am nearly 36 and I don’t have any children, I don’t own a car, I don’t have a mortgage, I don’t have financial security, savings or investments.  All of those things scare me because I feel as though I’m being left behind.  What scares me more is living the rest of my life making sensible decisions that don’t make me happy.  So that is it, I’m off.  I am so nervous and excited and I really hope that one day, if and when we have children, we are able to give them something far more important than money; two parents that love and adore them and each other and who have lived a life of excitement and adventure.

At the end of all of that, my health challenge statistics are not keeping pace I’m afraid!

Weight: 65.7 kilograms/ 10 stone 3 and a half pounds

Body fat percentage: 34.2%

BMI: 27.2

Dress size: 12/14

Bust Size: 34 DD

Waist measurement: 82.55 centimeters/ 32.5 inches

Height: 154.94 centimeters/ 5 foot 1 inch

The results are less than spectacular but I’m not worrying about it for a few reasons:

1.  I know that I have exercised my little butt off this week.  My body has ached so much that at times I have barely been able to move and I know that I am making healthy choices.

2.  I have managed to get through one of the most tricky holidays and have not deviated from the paleo plan.  I may have over indulged in a few dates and prunes but I know that I have kept my eye on the prize and I am proud of myself.

3.  I feel really good.  I am less bloated, I have more energy and I don’t need the number on a scale to tell me how to feel about myself.

4.  Anyone who has ever watched (been addicted to) The Biggest Loser knows that week 2 is tough!

So there it is, what is Easter if not a time for new life and transformation!  Happy Easter to everyone.

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First World Pains

brighton beach

Does anyone else crave total independence whilst at the same time longing to be looked after?  Do you too want a highly successful, well paid career but also want to be a mum (or dad) and stay at home all day every day just staring at the tiny little creation you made out of love with another human being?  Do you want to feel the sun on your back and be warm, but not too warm and to live in the countryside but also by the sea?  Do you want a dog and a cat?  Do you want to be surrounded by friends and yet also to be alone to think, and create?  Do you want a tiny house but also loads of space and a big garden?  Do you want a car but not want the hassle and expense of owning one?

Do you want to have fun but also want to be healthy?   Do you want to do a WOD but also an oly lifting programme and gymnastics and Barbell Club?  To eat paleo but also have cups of tea with milk in and eat chocolate because it is frickin’ awesome?    Do you want to share your thoughts and feelings with everyone whilst at the same time being petrified of judgment and cruelty?  Do you want to care less about everything, but also care more?  Do you hope and dream and wish for more whilst at the same time feeling so totally lucky and blessed that these are the things that you have to worry about and not where the next meal is coming from or whether there is clean water to give your children?

Do you want it all, or is it just me?

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