Motivation. That’s probably the number one theme for anyone who struggles with working out. Yes, we deal with injury, weather, and interrupted routines. But how to get and stay motivated? That can be our undoing. Today I want to zero in on one really specific thing that people say they are not motivated to do: get up for an early morning workout.
Since shortly into the pandemic, I have been doing Superhero Workouts with fieldpoppy Cate’s amazing trainer, Alex of ABH Movement (I guess Alex now counts as my trainer too, since I’ve been working with her since May). These are one-hour live Zoom workouts, where Alex leads and a fluctuating number of us (usually somewhere between 8-15 these days) follow. Because we’re live, Alex can give us pointers on our form and we can ask questions or request alternatives. And I definitely work harder than I would if I had to make up my own workout and do it alone. My time of choice: 6 a.m. (MWF) or 6:30 a.m. (Tuesdays). On Saturdays it’s at 9:30 a.m., so that’s not a motivational challenge as far as the time is concerned. Thursdays it’s from 7:30-8:30 a.m., which is too late for me most days because of work. On MWF there is also a 9 a.m. class, and that draws its own regular crowd but I have never been. I like the early workout.
A few people told me flat-out that I would never see them at a 6 a.m. workout because that’s just way too early. I confess that as much as I love the early workouts, sometimes I need to give myself a pep talk to make it out of bed. The absolute best part of working out this early in the day is that by 7 a.m. (or 7:30 on Tuesdays) my workout is done! So how do I get out of bed for an early workout several times a week? Here are some of my strategies:
I get to bed early enough the night before…This sort of goes without saying but it’s key. If I don’t get at least (or close to) seven hours of sleep, I’m not likely to make it out of bed for the early workout. I set my alarm for 5:20 on the 6 a.m. workout days. That means I need to do my best to be sleeping by 10:30 at the latest.
I don’t get up right before the workout; give myself some time…Lots of people who have a 6 a.m. workout would probably get up at 5:50, especially if they don’t need to go anywhere. Even when I used to do swim training at 6 a.m. at the Y, I used to get up at 5:40 and just pull on my suit and my sweats and go. But now I have a different routine that involves hanging out with the kittens, feeding them, and perhaps meditating before the workout if there is 20 minutes of time. That means that by the time the workout starts I’m awake, not groggy. My usual wake-up time for the 6 a.m. workout: 5:20 a.m.
Have a pep talk ready for those days I don’t want to get out of bed…I have those mornings when I don’t want to get out of bed. But I also know myself. I’m the type of person who, once I am out of bed I’m ready to go. But if it’s raining, or snowing, or cold, or dark, or some combination of those things, then bed feels so cozy. The number one thing I tell myself is: “think of how good I’ll feel by 7 a.m. when I’m done my workout!” But I also tell myself: “I’m going to feel glad I got up within a few minutes of getting out of bed–really I will.” My pep talks aren’t of the style in Welcome to the Grind (have you seen that? -It’s a bit too earnest for me but I include a link here since some people find it really motivating and inspiring).
I work out with a group…That’s another thing that gets me going: “It’ll be fun to connect with the team.” Alex has great energy and really gets us going in the early morning, and I am starting to know some of the others (albeit in a very limited way because we’re Zooming) as well. Since I first tried group training I have come to appreciate its motivational magic. I feel the loss when I miss out on a group workout. I miss them. They notice I’m gone. Working out alone is rarely a replacement for a group workout, even though solo workouts always have their place in my training. It’s not just about accountability. It’s also about the energy of others. I love what Alex has created with the Virtual Superhero team and I always feel better not just for having done it, but while I am doing it.
I work out with friends... This is similar to working out with a group, but it’s more direct. On Tuesdays, a friend of mine whom I introduced to Alex’s workouts has started coming to the 6:30 class as well. When we touch base the night before to say we’re both doing the 6:30 class the next day, that’s basically enough to guarantee I’ll get out of bed for that workout. It’s not that much different from planning to meet a friend at the gym at 6:30 — you would not want to stand someone up that early in the morning (if ever!).
I take afternoon naps…I know naps are killers for some people, making it difficult for them to sleep at bedtime. But I learned the virtues of a power nap from my Dad, who used to come home from the office at lunch, eat, and then have a 10-minute nap before heading back to work. I usually go for a bit longer, but rarely longer than 30 minutes (I set a timer). It’s a great refresher that I can fit in now that I’m working at home. The kittens love it too (they always come and nap with me). And if I’m feeling tired from having been awake since 5:20, it’s gives me enough of a boost to feel good until bedtime without interfering with my ability to sleep at night.
I am flexible; sometimes I bail…I don’t always follow through with the early workouts. About once or twice a month, on those mornings when I got to bed too late or if I feel ache-y or if my body or mind needs more rest, I turn off my alarm, cancel my workout, and go back to sleep.
I should add that I’ve always been a morning person. I appreciate the quiet of an early morning. If we had to rate times of day from 1-10, where 10 is the time of day we love the most, I would rate 6-9 a.m. as a 10.
Those are my gentle strategies for getting out of bed for early morning workouts. How do you feel about early workouts? If you’re into them, how do you motivate yourself to get out of bed for them?
I got out of the house most days during daylight hours.
I did a lot of riding my bike in Zwift and Yoga with Adriene. I even graduated from Zwift Academy.
It helped that my bad knee has been behaving mostly and that riding helps keep my knee in line. Cheddar and I have been on some pretty long walks. Sometimes I’m not sure if it is feeling better or if I’m getting used to the pain. Either way, I’ll take it.
It’s a good thing that my knee is doing well. Given that hospitals are being kept busy with covid-19 patients, my knee replacement surgery is likely to be put off for awhile. University Hospital in London, Ontario which is where my surgery is to take place is currently battling covid-19 outbreaks on almost all of its floors including orthopedic surgery.
My best guess for when the surgery was to take place was December but that doesn’t seem likely now. I’m checking in with doctors next week to find out.
Side note: It was even hard to find November like photos. There are lots of fall colour photos of brilliant red and yellow leaves. There are lots of winter photos of woods in the snow and sunshine. Grey November with bare branches against the grey? Not so much. But in the right mood it’s got its own stark beauty. Doing okay in the rest of my life meant I had the emotional space, even with the pandemic, to see that.
I’m ending November less nervous about the next one, especially since things are looking good for the worst effects of the pandemic to be over.
Here’s my happy dance in anticipation of sun and snow and the gradual end of the pandemic!
In a move that will shock absolutely no one, we are all doing it again for 2021. There are actually two Facebook groups now, the original group and a somewhat smaller feminist spin off. That said, there are feminist bloggers in both groups and some of us like staying in touch with people in both groups and have stayed a member of both groups.
I asked Jason, the founder of the original group about new members for 2021 and he wrote back right away, “I’m indeed planning on 221 in 2021 and I’m always happy to have more like minded folks join our merry band.”
Cheryl, frequent guest here, said the same, “I’d be happy to have more folks join my group. Or folks can search 220 workouts in 2020! (Fit Feminist edition)”
How do you join?
Jason writes, “Here are the generic instructions on how to join a Facebook group. Per usual I will keep the group name 220 workouts in 2020 until January 1st when I’ll switch it to fit the new year. How do I join a Facebook group as myself or my Page? From your News Feed click Groups in the left menu. In the search bar at the top, enter some keywords for the group you’re looking for. Select the group then click + Join Group below the cover photo. Select whether you’d like to join as your profile or your Page and click Join Group.”
WHAT: The idea is simple. In 2020 there are 365 days. We are going to challenge ourselves to workout 220 times in those 365 days.
WHY: (1) Consistently doing deliberate exercise is one of the most important factors in developing good health and fitness. (2) Choosing to complete a workout or not is something we can control.
HOW: (1)Workouts are defined as any form of deliberate exercise/movement. Some examples are, lifting weights, doing gymnastics, a CrossFit WOD, a hike in the great outdoors, practising a martial art or yoga. Taking a dance class or playing rec softball with the folks from work also counts. Do what inspires you to move your body. (2) Use a spreadsheet, a habit tracking app, or a notebook and give yourself a checkmark for every workout you complete. (3) Share your progress with the group.
A little over a week ago, Samantha wrote about giving herself permission to quit, and it was just the push I needed. You see, I had been struggling with Zwift Academy for a few weeks and I had just about come to the decision that I should quit the program. I was hating it and avoiding it, but still in denial. I kept setting up my bike on the trainer, then doing other things. Or, just not setting up the bike at all. I would look at the schedule of Zwift Academy rides for the next day, and then find conflicts with all of them. I was going days in a row without doing any Zwift rides, let alone Zwift Academy rides. I finally motivated myself to do a group ride by choosing one of the easiest rides I could find. I was running out of time to complete the rides before the two month long “Zwift Academy” program closed.
I had finally reached the point of naming my problem: Zwift Academy workouts are hard. Really, really hard. I would find myself either yelling or on the verge of tears trying to complete the workouts. On the plus side, I was really doing what the rides are aiming for: leaving it all on the field. On the downside, I was hating it to the point of avoiding it. I was making excuses to myself. And to make matters worse, the rides are so popular that they seem to also be prone to bugs. I had at least one ride where ERG mode disengaged, and it took a ton of effort (and was virtually impossible) to hit the required cadence/wattage combos on the workout. And I had another ride where I lost internet just minutes from the end of the cool down, so the ride didn’t upload, and I had to do it again to get it to ‘count’. So, I was finding Zwift Academy frustrating, too. Finally, the parameters of the rides are genuinely designed to push a rider to their limit. That means that the rides were genuinely designed to be difficult. Naming the problem was the first step towards recognizing an obvious solution: I could quit.
After all, I was completing the program for fun, and not competing for a contract. Why continue to torture myself? Why continue with Zwift Academy once I realized that it was demotivating me to Zwift at all? This is supposed to be my fun. It’s a game, and it’s exercise. It’s endorphins, and serotonin. It felt like I wasn’t getting any of that, so why was I doing this again?
I have always been motivated by the game of Zwift. The game aspect usually helps me to complete hard tasks that I wouldn’t otherwise attempt. It helps me break them down into manageable chunks, provides additional external motivations, and quantifies them. Since joining Zwift just over a year ago, I have completed a series of challenges: the Off the MAAP Tour; the Tour for All; Tour of Watopia. Each of these gave me specific ride-tasks to complete in a specific timeline, and I felt motivated to work for the completion-reward (usually, completion would unlock a virtual kit to wear in the game, or a virtual bike to ride in the game. Occasionally, completion would unlock a code to purchase a real-word jersey). The game aspects of Zwift generally help me stay motivated and goal-oriented. I like the game of Zwift.
But Zwift academy felt different somehow. I would look at the hard task, and think, “That’s too hard.” I was giving up without even attempting certain rides. Samantha blogged about it here, and discussed how the rides feel a lot more contrived than other ‘group’ events on Zwift. All of the comments and discussion are pre-programmed, and there is nobody monitoring them in real time. So, when the ride flashes a message on the screen saying: ‘Great job!’, it feels much more disingenuous than usual. And Zwift workouts are also designed to adapt to your FTP. They are designed to be hard for everyone, in approximately the same way. Zwift Academy does this extremely well.
Along came Samantha’s post. When she pointed out that she had tricked herself into completing a race, by reminding herself that she could always quit, I saw a way forward. After all, I had already decided that quitting was on the table for me. I could walk away without finishing ZA, and that would be fine. The next day, I started a Zwift Academy Segment –Three Sisters ride which was an incredibly long ride with a lot of climbing, but no timer, and I gave myself explicit permission to quit. I didn’t just give myself permission: I told two people that I was giving myself permission to quit. I vocalized it, and gave myself accountability. I wanted my ‘permission to quit’ to be meaningful. And, it worked. I finished the ride: 13th out of 13 riders and completely exhausted, but I finished it.
Completing that one thing helped me feel better about Zwift Academy. It helped me tick off another ‘accomplishment’ within the game. And it also served as a reminder that completing something feels good. I didn’t have to hit a particular performance marker. After all, I came in last in the segment ride. But even so, the feeling of completing something difficult helped me get back on the bike. The feeling of accomplishment was real, even if the challenge was slightly easier than it could have been.
I realized that the only way that I was going to finish Zwift Academy was if I gave myself permission to quit each time. But the workouts were still incredibly hard. So I gave myself permission to lower the bar, just a bit. I didn’t have to excel. I didn’t have to perfect the workouts. I could *just* finish, if that was all I could manage. And I did.
I ended up completing my last 4 Zwift Academy rides (3 workouts and 1 group ride) in the last 5 days of the program. I used the group ride as a ‘rest’ between two workout days. I completed some of them well, and some of them just barely. But I completed the entire Zwift Academy training program with a day to spare.
The phrase ‘moving the goal posts’ is ambiguous between two possible scenarios: making some goal harder to achieve or making a goal easier to achieve, but doing each while the game is already in progress. Make the goal bigger, or make it smaller. By giving myself permission to quit, I made completing Zwift Academy a bit less likely. But by giving myself permission to *just* finish, I made finishing a bit easier. I don’t feel like I’ve cheated myself out of anything. After all, I was ready to walk away with nothing. At the end of the day, I’ve walked away having left it all on the field, having accomplished something hard, and feeling good about my accomplishment. Permission to quit felt like I was walking away from the game, but in the end, it helped me stay in the game. So, I moved my own goalposts, and it felt great. Sometimes, admitting the possibility of defeat, coming to terms with failure, and letting go of a goal, can help you succeed. And sometimes, coming to terms with walking away is its own success. Sometimes, I just have to move my own goalposts.
Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto.
This is my third year in a Facebook workout challenge group. The group, 220 Workouts in 2020 (whose members include Sam and Cate, among others) started up with 216 workouts in 2016. I joined the party on Jan 1, 2018, for 218 workouts. I hung in there for 219 workouts in 2019. And now, on November 29, 2020, I’m 30 workouts away from my goal. With persistence, I’ll hit 220 by Dec 31.
So I got to wondering, what have I learned from being in this group for 3 years now?
Luckily, I’ve posted about the group a bunch, so looking over them has jarred my memory.
In 2018, I finished just in time, on Dec. 31. I credited my completion (in this post) to the following:
I just committed to documenting what I did, not looking too far down the road, but just doing what I was doing.
I successfully incorporated at-home yoga into my life.
I internalized the view that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Just doing some purposeful movement that I scheduled and carried out that day was the plan.
I decided to let what I counted as a workout be relativized to my physical/mental state, my schedule, and what was within my grasp for that day.
Finishing things is generally hard– at least it’s hard for me. I tend to run out of steam/time/interest before the end, so it feels like a giant slog to complete big projects. However, this case is different for a couple of reasons: 1) I’ve made it so that any physical activity I decide to do counts, so I have oodles of options; 2) I’m not alone in this challenge– I’m in a FB group where others are doing their thing and supporting each other.
Now here we are, at the end of November, in the weird, strange year which is 2020. What have I learned that’s new?
First: Regular exercise has been hard for me these past few years. There have been different reasons: illness; injury; and this year, COVID-induced paralysis and despondence. This is my real challenge, moving forward– developing increased capacities for maintaining schedules and the clarity to own what my priorities are, which includes movement.
Second: If I want to move more, I have to do less in other parts of my life. Maybe less work, maybe less social planning– that’s not clear yet. But the fact is, I’ve been squeezing in workouts rather than letting myself block off the time to do them. Just making a schedule isn’t the answer for me. I think the answer has to do with letting myself NOT do some things so that I can do others.
Third: Yoga is my best friend among all of my movement acquaintances. It is there, in my living room, and its possibilities are endless. And even when it doesn’t feel good, it feels good to do it. I’m always happier having done it.
Fourth: I want to renew my close friendship with cycling in 2021. The relationship will be different: I’ll likely be riding shorter distances, on the lookout for scenic and kinder, gentler routes. And an e-bike is probably in my future too. But I miss it– I miss riding in every season, riding and feeling good on the bike, riding and feeling bad on the bike (but riding anyway), riding with friends and by myself. Again, if I want to make this a priority, it will demand some of my time. And that will have to come from somewhere.
Fifth: I continue to love sharing my activities with a group, and reading about their daily activities. It’s impressive, humbling, sometimes amusing, and inspiring (in the best way).
Sixth, and finally: I want to continue posting workouts and reading about workouts as long as I’ve got the oomph in me. So, sign me up for 221 workouts in 2021, folks!
Readers, how do you feel about workout groups you’re a part of? Have you enjoyed them? Dreaded them? Left them? Started your own group? I’d love to hear from you.
I wrote, “Through my social media networks–mostly academics, but also fitness types–around the world– I know more than 20 people who’ve had COVID-19. The group has had the full gamut of experiences, from spending time on a ventilator in hospital intensive care units to weird, mild flu like symptoms.
What’s been most striking, to me, is the way it’s hit my very fit friends. Some of the people were sick at the start of the pandemic and they’re still not well enough to return to the sports they love at least at their former intensity. Others bounced back quickly and are full steam ahead in their fitness pursuits.
At the same time I keep hearing other friends, most notably ones who haven’t had COVID-19, say they’ll take their chances with the virus since they are fit and active and likely won’t get a bad case of it. I try not to scream “it’s not about you.” It really isn’t. It’s about spreading the disease and hurting someone who is more vulnerable. But it’s also not clear that even a mild case of COVID-19 should be taken lightly.
Personally, for me, I worry about the long term health effects of this particular virus. I mean, don’t get me wrong I find death terrifying too and I find dying alone especially terrifying, but assuming COVID doesn’t kill me it’s the long term effects that scare me. In particular, given that it’s a huge source of pleasure and purpose in my life, I’d hate to not be able to be active as I age.
Of course lots of people have mild versions of the illness and the range of experiences is itself striking. Here’s the blog we’ll be sharing some stories of active people who’ve had COVID-19.”
Here’s the three more voices. I know Michael through the Ontario cycling community. I met Barrett and Brandon on the Friends for Life Bike Rally. Speaking of which, you can sponsor me here!
Sport: Masters track cyclist
I held the Canadian Hour Record for Masters Men 65-69. That record was eclipsed by my friend, Peter Leiss, in 2019. I also hold the record for the most kilometers/laps on the Milton track. When the Milton Velodrome closed Mar 14, because of the pandemic, I had cycled 208000 laps or 52000 kms on the track since it opened in 2015.
I contracted the Coronavirus in March. We found out by email, after the fact, that I most likely came in contact with an employee of Fortino’s Grocery Store in Oakville on or around Mar 20. The employee had tested positive and was in the store at the same time as I was. Although my wife and I were being careful, going out as little as possible, except for shopping, observing the standard protocols at the time, masks had not been standard, and I was not wearing one.
On April 3, a Friday, I woke feeling out of sorts. By this I mean very angry. Everything was irritating. I remember going out to do a bit of shopping in the morning. Friday evening, I had a burning sensation, at the back of my throat. This is usually a sign that I’m coming down with a cold. Mind you, I rarely get sick, rarely get colds. This back of throat irritation rapidly escalated. I was tired and still very irritated. I went to bed. Next morning, I awoke to the feeling that I had been hit by a runaway train. My entire upper body was in pain – back, chest, shoulders, everything, It was painful to breath. I was short of breath because of this. I was coughing. This caused extreme pain. I could barely move. Going to the bathroom, a few steps was very difficult. Lying down was difficult. In fact for most of 12-14 days that I was really ill, I slept sitting up in an easy chair, with a heating pad on my back, and an humidifier going in the room.
This continued through Saturday and Sunday. My breathing became more laboured as time wore on. Sunday, we decided I should take Tylenol for the pain. This seemed to help, as least to make it bearable. Please note that I neve ran a fever the whole time I was sick. My temperature average about 36 degrees. We tried calling Public Health to see about getting tested. In April, they asked you if you were running a fever, and if you had traveled out of the country. Since the answer to both questions was no, I did not qualify to be tested. Please isolate, get lots of rest, and fluids. If we had known about the email from Fortino’s, (we did not see it until mid April. For some reason we were distracted), the contact would have meant I could get tested.
The pain and shortness of breath, etc, continued through Sunday. Monday morning, I woke up and the pain was all but gone! However, I couldn’t breathe. I was gasping for air. Any kind of activity, for example, going up stairs to take a shower, would leave me gasping for air. It would take at least 20 minutes for this to calm down enough for me to breathe at a normal pace. I was still coughing. Any effort, change positions on the couch, could trigger a coughing fit. That would be excruciating because it felt like a knife in the diaphragm. And contracting ribs was very painful. I took Manuka Honey to calm these fits. We tried contacting the authorities again Monday with the same result. Monday afternoon, I was so short of breath I was getting very frightened. We actually contemplated calling an ambulance and going to the ER. But the thought of being isolated at the hospital, away from my wife was even more terrifying. So we decided to see if I could calm down enough, sitting still, to get by until the next day. This worked. I got through the night. And each subsequent day. As the days progressed, I felt less pain, except for coughing. The shortness of breath continued. I couldn’t speak. I did not have enough air to form words. This would get worse the more I tried and then start a coughing fit.
I gradually improved over the course of 12 days. By the 14th day of quarantine, I felt like I was over it. We even went for a little walk in the neighbourhood. I could not speak for long. And I was still sort of breath, but I felt much better. We started going for walks each day. I think I even went to a store. About the fifth day, I relapsed. Coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and back pains. This lasted almost a week. When I ‘recovered’, we went for a walk to test the waters etc. Back pains and pain though my shoulders persisted. This continued off and on for a month. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about the coronavirus and I was getting very concerned about the constant shortness of breath. I was concerned that Covid19 was doing damage that I was unaware of to my organs. So at six weeks I spoke with my doctor. He said go to emergency and get a chest x-ray.
I presented at the ER. The triage nurse, took down the particulars, checked my pulse and blood pressure and then sent me for an EKG. It spiked! 20 minutes later, I was in a bed, connected to monitors, with an IV line in. They took blood. Then came back later and took more. Next thing I knew I was getting a CT instead of an x-ray. I had suffered from pulmonary embolisms, and my lungs were chocked full of little blood clots. They put me on blood thinners. It’s now almost 7 months since the CT. I have permanent lung damage. I just had another CT to see if there was improvement. The ‘vampire’ my hematologist, took a lot of blood for specialized testing and I will have the results of blood analysis and the CT next week.
I have not been able to return to the level of exercise I was used to before Covid-19. I have suffered from a rotating cycle of back pains, chest pains, shortness of breath, and fatigue since April. My balance was off. My ability to grasp things, to gauge distance was off, meaning I dropped or knocked things over. I had proximity issues. That imaginary space that you observe round yourself that allows you to walk through spaces or around obstacles, was way off. I had to double it. I would wait until my wife moved out of the way before I did anything. I was forever banging into things. Any extended effort, I tried cycling after the vampire felt that I had improved in July, (an echocardiogram had shown no damage to my heart). I took it very easy, riding around the block (an oval similar to riding the track). I built up slowly. But any kind of extended cardiovascular effort resulted in a flare-up of symptoms. After two weeks, I suffered from sore back and shoulders, and major chills. I was cold all the time. Three sweaters cold, even outside on a warm day. This lasted about three weeks. I have not tried cycling again. But assuming a good result from the CT, I plan to put the bike on the trainer, and start perhaps just 15 minutes twice a day to see if I can begin to get back to my former fitness level. I have spent the last five months doing daily walks. That seems to be fine. I can walk several kilometers but I’m not physically taxing my body in the same way that I would cycling. I’m not sustaining a 130 heartrate for any length of time. But before Covid19, I could do that for 5 hours or more. I could ride the track for 3 ½ hours non stop at that rate.
Another problem – I have memory problems. I forget things right after I do them. And I have a very quick trigger on my state of mind. I can go from calm, cool and collected to rage in the blink of an eye, for the slightest of reasons. This is not normal for me. For the longest time, after the initial illness, I was an emotional mess, depressed, and extremely angry that Covid-19 had robbed me of my fitness and good health.
So, the long and the short of it is Covid-19 really messed me up. I am slowly recovering. The issues today are a fraction of what they were in the first three months. But I’m not the person I was. I do intend to get back to that level. But it will take time and patience.
A final note, my wife, who is 75, remained symptom free the whole time. We remain vigilant and we isolated in a very tight circle. I do not consider myself immune. I have tested negative, but that was after the fact. I never tested positive! I am very certain I suffered from Covid19 and the doctors agree. But without that test, or an antibody test, there is no way to be certain. So we remain cautious.
When: Got Covid mid-October, had very mild symptoms, lost smell, some lethargy and felt run down. Otherwise, fine.
How long it took you to get well and whether you’re back to your former activity levels and athletic performance: Took about ten days to feel myself again, but smell has not returned fully. The pandemic situation has definitely impacted my athletic performance in general, I spent most of my days moving and walking, now mostly sitting. In terms of recovery from the virus, I feel that it took another ten days after I’d recovered from my symptoms that I felt I could do the same amount of work during exercise routines that I had before. And sometimes still feel that my energy levels are not quite the same. I did two exercise classes two days in a row and was exhausted by 8pm on the second day.
I contracted it on October 5th, symptoms arose mildly on October 9th, more seriously on the 10th and I got tested on the 12th. Positive results came back on the 14th I think. It was awful, I’ve never been that sick in my life. It started with muscle aches which at first I attributed to DOMS (post workout muscle pain) but then it got so bad that I couldn’t be touched. Then I started coughing, getting a tight chest, and headaches. Then I started getting fevers that progressed so badly that I was constantly sweating, I was dehydrated and became delusional. Barrett afterwards told me about things that happened during the worst 4 days and I didn’t remember a few things. If my fever didn’t get better by the 5th day of bad fevers I was going to go to the hospital but luckily I started to recover. I couldn’t eat much during this time because of nausea and I found things tasted very bad, any kind of spice, lemon, ginger, sweetness etc. tasted like metal to me. I lived off of just bread for a few days. Recovery was slow. I’d say I’m not fully recovered yet, my right bronchial tube feels hardened and I still have very mild congestion/post nasal drip. I’m able to exercise and do cardio again but it comes with mild discomfort. I can tell I am improving but it’s very slow. My doctor is sending me for an ECG test.
Scrolling through Facebook, I just saw this graphic, designed to help us figure out how we’re doing at any point during the pandemic.
A FB friend who both teaches and has been a healthcare worker posted it; it’s from this useful website for healthcare workers, to help them identify signs of stress, burnout and need. Man oh man, do they deserve all the help, support, sympathy, admiration and eternal gratitude we can muster.
I think we can all relate to the areas and symptoms listed above. And of course, as the symptoms pile up, so do our feelings of stress, burnout, exhaustion and loss of control.
But as I looked over the columns, I found I didn’t fit neatly into one. That’s okay– mental health is tricky and complicated!
This graph showed me a way to do a kind of self-inventory of important and different stress markers. I gave some thought to how they are doing now, and how they have changed over the past 6–8 months. Here’s what I noticed.
Sleeping: in the past month, my sleeping has really improved. For 6+ months of the pandemic, I was awake until 3am, but have rolled it back to 12:30–1:30am. For me, this is a big win, as I now have more alert, happy and productive morning time. I attribute this partly to increased mediTation (morning and evening) and also to increased mediCation: I’m taking 100mg/evening of Gabapentin, often prescribed off-label for menopausal temperature fluctuations and insomnia. So sleep has moved into the sort-of-thriving category.
Work: it’s a logistical and emotional rollercoaster. I love rollercoasters, but end up screaming a lot. The same is true for teaching right now. My students are having so much trouble focusing, remembering, following through, maintaining, responding– you name it. And completing? Ha. Not happening.
But they are good at emailing me: apologizing for not managing or coping or being stoic or soldiering on or gutting it out. I appreciate their courage and am touched by their trust in reaching out. Responding, reassuring them that it’s okay to turn in whatever whenever, however they can manage it, is what I spend a bunch of time on. And it’s exhausting. So which column should I put that in? How about Orange– struggling? Ok, done.
Social connections: I live alone, but see friends safely outside, and will see a couple of folks (one at a time) inside occasionally this winter, which I blogged about here. I’ve made a plan on risk reduction as it works for me, and will adjust as local conditions/rules do. So that feels Green: Thriving!
Physical health, aches and pains: well, I’m 58, teaching from home and not nearly as active as before the pandemic. But: I’m also doing daily yoga, stretching, and am getting outside more than I was. Hmm… Greenish-yellow, with the occasional orange day?
And then there’s General Anxiety Level. Honestly, is anyone not in the Fire EngineRed category some of each week/day/hour? Enough said.
Oh, I forgot Food: do I self-medicate with food? Yeah, sometimes. Delivery pizza or Chinese dim sum–Mmmmm… I’m cooking more now– I love fall/winter cooking, and those dishes feel very self-care-ish, soothing and comfy, with yummy vegetables that feel good to my system. So I’d say that fluctuates between Green and Orange.
In sum, I think my life looks more like this graph:
Looking at these columns, I was also grateful that I’m not having feelings of hopelessness, total loss of control, inability to focus, inability to sleep, the need to numb out or self-medicate in the ways we do. Just seeing what’s in the Red column increased my gratitude for my life as it is.
What about you, dear readers? Do these columns help you pinpoint where you’re fine and where you’re not fine? Do you fit comfortably in one column, or does your state of being spread out over the whole color spectrum? Does knowing this help you, make you more worried? I’d really like to hear from you.
We always say “we’d really like to hear from you”, but in this case, it’s extra-true (if that’s a thing). We’re blogging about issues that come up in our own real and internet lives, but we would love to know what you’d like to read about. Let us know how we can help.
Raven and I met for coffee for our first date. She was brilliant, funny, and cute, and I wish we could have sat and talked longer, but she was late for a skills practice with some new recruits in this odd little team sport she’d joined the year earlier. So, we made plans to meet up again later that week. Things went well from there, and eventually I’d learn that this odd little team sport is a 400 year old game from Ireland called hurling (or camogie for the women’s only variation).
To keep some skills up over the winter, we had been visiting a nearby park with a racquetball enclosure that was perfect for practicing hitting and catching the ball, called a sliotar. My sports background is mainly slow-pitch softball and sandlot baseball, so I have some skill with hitting and catching, but that translated only but so much to hurling.
The first hurdle to learning the skills to play hurling is picking up the sliotar. You have to pick it up with the hurl before you can transfer it to your hand. There are several methods for doing this, but the basic idea is to angle the hurl so that the thinner edge catches the underside of the sliotar and scoops it off the ground. Here’s a brief demonstration video of one method (the easier one, IMHO):
Now that you have the sliotar in hand, there are a couple of ways to transfer it to a teammate or try to score. One is to pass it by hand, or hand pass. However, unlike with softball or baseball, you can’t just throw it. You have to toss it up slightly and then bat it with your hand to your target.
Another way is to strike the sliotar with the hurl, which can be done for passing any distance from short to long, depending on the situation. To do that, from a soft/baseball perspective, you have to pitch to yourself. Getting the timing and placement of my pitches and swings right took me most of the winter and spring months. And, I was really only working on my dominant side. Recently I’ve started practicing more on my non-dominant side, because there are many in-game situations where you need that flexibility.
You can also kick the sliotar or hit it on the ground, which happens more often in our scrimmages than I would have expected.
Receiving a hand pass or strike takes some practice as well, but also a lot of mental fortitude for those of us not used to bare-handed catches. I’m frequently amazed by how seemingly effortlessly and painlessly more experienced players will catch a strike. A sliotar hit off a hurl can travel at speeds ranging from 50-90 mph (80-150 kph).
Lastly, you can hold the sliotar in hand and take up to four steps, but after that point, you can only bounce or balance it on your hurl. So, another skill I have been working on is balancing the sliotar on the hurl while moving. I’ve managed to keep it on while weaving around cones at a brisk walk so far. I consider that a success, given how long I’ve been practicing.
As the summer progressed, I started going to the field where the camogie team practiced (socially distanced) one night a week. I wasn’t yet ready to try my new skills with actual players (besides Raven) yet, so I took that time to walk/jog the track around the field. After a while, I would help out during practice by shagging the balls they hit at the goal and tossing them back to the coach to save them time and give me some softball fielding practice. Then one day, the coach asked me if I was going to do the whole practice with them, and that was that.
What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the running. So much running. Our camogie practice warm ups begin with a lap around the football field (we use those for practice/games because the dimensions and goals are close enough, and there aren’t hurling fields in my city), followed by side steps across the width and back. Then it’s drills that focus on specific in-game skills, but still so much more sustained movement than my softball body is used to.
The competitive season for the mid-Atlantic teams was canceled this year due to COVID-19, as you might expect, but we’ve had a few informal scrimmages against a nearby team. I didn’t feel like I was ready for an actual game with rules and performance under pressure, so I focused more on attending practices. I would be at the scrimmages to cheer on my girlfriend and teammates, though.
Then in late summer, we were at a scrimmage, and they were trying to have a camogie (women’s only) match without pulling in substitutes from the men’s teams, but we were short one player. Our team captain turned to me and indicated I could fill in as goalie. I was not dressed to play nor prepared to play, but she continued to insist that I would play. Finally, she said in her lovely Irish lilt, “If you didn’t want to play, you should have stayed in the car.” Shortly thereafter I found myself nervously guarding a goal that was much, much too large for me to keep a very small ball from repeatedly going in.
I’ve now made it my aim to learn how to keep goal. It gives me more focus in my practice sessions. Plus, the goalkeeper doesn’t have to run all that much.
If you’re interested in learning more about hurling, there are lots of videos on YouTube, from tutorials to matches. If you’d like to find a club near you, check out USGAA or Gaelic Games Canada.
Anna Creech is the Head of Resource Acquisition and Delivery at the University of Richmond, which is a fancy way of saying she’s in charge of the department that buys all the (library) things. In her spare time (mainly pre-COVID), she plays recreational softball and sandlot baseball, lifts weights, manages the inflow of new music at a community radio station, and sings in two women’s choruses.
These were the words of the mysterious and infamous Coach Alex today as we chatted about our session. I had asked for a private session because I was struggling with some aspects of the training classes. Anything that involved overhead lifting was generating issues in the front of my shoulder and my neck, something that I knew wasn’t supposed to have issues, given what I was doing and the light weights I was using. I have always struggled with “upper body strength”. Year after year, trainer after trainer I had attempted to do something about this. Small weights, the lowest reps, the lightest springs on a reformer and time after time, something would go horribly wrong. I would have an injury, an ache, a stitch or a downright inflammation and I’d have to stop. I’d go back to focussing on what I was okay at, mostly core (which I am spectacular at) and lower body stuff. This isn’t really terrible for function, power from the core can do a lot of hauling around. I did wonder, however, what it was about lifting heavy things with my upper body, or doing pushups that was so infuriatingly difficult.
Apparently, it’s the simple things. When doing a squat or a deadlift or a lunge, one must activate the glutei. When doing anything at all with a shoulder, ya gotta activate the Lats.
It’s not that I didn’t know this. I’ve heard it many times, “Set your shoulder blades”, “Pull down your arm pits” and any number of variations on “Activate your Lats”, but I guess I wasn’t doing it enough because, oh boy, do I know where they are now! Out of the hour I had booked with Alex, about 30 minutes of it was spent with my lats engaged somehow. Overhead press? Lats first, no weights at all. I tried to lift my arm until the engagement faltered. I didn’t lift it very high and I realized, finally and emphatically, why my neck was unhappy with this movement. It would get totally involved as soon as the lat engagement failed and that was most of the time. Oops. Back to basics for me.
Single arm row? Lats! Elbows back, not up, squeeze the shoulder blade at the end. I had 3lbs in my hand and I thought I was gonna die with the burn. Okay okay, I get it now.
Flys? No lat, no take off. I finally found my deltoid again too. What are these little muscles that fatigue in 20 seconds or less, what has been doing the work instead? My neck knows that answer and it’s happy I’m finally paying attention.
Finally, the push up! Think a pushup isn’t all lat all the time? WRONG! I was flabbergasted to find that when I engaged everything I was supposed to engage in the down, the up was easy! Well, easier maybe. The point is, I am a lot stronger than I thought I was when it comes to push ups, I just had to figure out how to DO them. It’s okay, it took what? 40 years or so? Better late than never I guess.
When I think back to time at the gym with the lat pulldown, weights probably too heavy for me and using my arms instead, I feel a little sad at all that wasted energy. All of this does reinforce my belief that GOOD GYM TEACHERS MATTER. I guess if I have to wait until my 50’s for a decent gym teacher to come my way, I’ll just count myself lucky that one came at all.
I promised an Ode which, according to Oxford Languages on the internet is “a lyric poem in the form of an address to a particular subject, often elevated in style or manner and written in varied or irregular meter” so here it goes.
In the early morning when I wake from slumber, were I to defy push myself from bed to coffee mug
It is you, Latissimus Dorsi, that I electrify with the promise of warm elixir
And when I brace to lift my tiny globe above my ears, like Atlas, I engage your subtle sinews and am heartened
I pull my struggling cat to my breast for unwanted snuggles and you are complicit in his indignity
I push my dog’s foul breathed face from mine as she disturbs my nap and you are there
In all things, stable yet just out of awareness, an unsung underarm wonder, Latissimus Dorsi, my friend and companion of both sides of my self.