Part 5 in my series about my health and fitness journey
Never in a million years would I dare call myself and athlete. But recently on my endurance training program, one of the instructors sat there and told me that I am an athlete! Wait! What? I am? How can I dare call myself an athlete – I am still obese, the belly still hits the thighs, I have wobbly bits. Let me take you through the last few weeks since my last blog (remember that one about celebrating milestones, and dealing with the plateaus?).
How can I be an athlete? Well it is not just physical appearance that makes an athlete. It is a mindset and a commitment, and of course action.
Making lifelong commitments are not easy. And for some of us, it takes time to build a mindset of “health come first”. I know – I have spent much of my adult life on a roller coaster with my health and overall well-being, and putting myself 2nd to many people and situations.
But that changed on 12th September 2021, halfway through my 55th year on this earth.
As a child, I was always active, gymnastics, swimming, riding horses, running around the fields building tree houses, playing all sorts of silly street games (Red Rover, Red Rover… British Bulldog etc), riding my bike, roller skating (and yes those amazing Roller Disco’s!).
As an adult, “life” took over. I did have some activity in my life, but it wasn’t my priority, and it was sporadic.
I used some of the situations in my life (subconsciously) as excuses. Excuses that made me feel “ok” with not allowing my health and well-being to be my priority. Things like work, studying / night school, taking care of the home and the family.
So what changed?
Well a few things. In 2019 my doctor was extremely worried about my health “numbers” – they were sky-rocketing out of control (if you have read my previous blogs, you will know that story!). Both my grandmothers and my mother had suffered strokes, and I was heading in the same direction.
I made a temporary commitment to try and get my health numbers back on track – I changed my diet to plant-based. And absolutely it worked! Within 4 months, my numbers were coming down. 4 months beyond that my numbers were within the “normal range”. I decided to make that commitment my lifestyle, and on 31st July this year I will celebrate being 3 years without meat/dairy products, and continued improvements in my health.
But that wasn’t enough. My weight was still too high. So while my numbers were coming down, I was still at risk of heart disease / stroke.
I was also lethargic, depressed and have unhealthy self esteem issues. I was disgusted with what I saw in the mirror.
2020 is a year to forget for me. I was unemployed, we were in the grips of a pandemic and my house burned down. But through catastrophe there is light. I was lucky enough to get a contract job with a Health and Wellness company. Not much changed at that point. I was struggling to come to terms with the after effects of the fire. Frequent nightmares, panic attacks when I left the cats, and generally just struggling to get out of bed and do my job.
Then in March of 2021, my boss asked me if I would be interested in a permanent position. WOW! Just WOW! Of course I said yes! I loved working with the people, the team I was on was (is) amazing, and on top of that it was with a company with a focus on making peoples lives better! So on 27th April 2021 I became a permanent employee of Peloton – “Together We Go Far”.
All of a sudden, I came to a realization that although my health was on the right track, I was still obese, and my physical appearance made me become an almost recluse. If I was going to work for a Health and Wellness company, I needed to look the part. I decided to take advantage of our employee purchase program and I bought myself a Peloton bike – and I was determined that this would not become the most expensive clothes horse ever!!!!
Things started great. The enthusiasm was there. I started with just the short rides on the bike – getting into a routine. By end of June I had dropped 14lbs (1 stone / 6.3kg). WOW – this thing really works!
Then heart break hit. My amazing 98 year old nan passed away. As I write this, the tears are flowing. I have so many emotions over this. The last time I saw my nan was June 2019.
With losing my job, pandemic and travel restrictions I never got to see my nan after June 2019. And with the continuing travel restrictions I wasn’t able to attend her funeral. I just felt so empty, broken and my life spiraled very fast! Attending a virtual funeral is not how I ever imagined saying goodbye to nan. I still feel I never got full closure. Grief overtook me. All I had were my 3 cats. I couldn’t find comfort in anything else. I was angry at the world, at myself! I hadn’t been on my Peloton bike since just before nan passed away – it was becoming that metaphorical clothes horse.
Then, 9 weeks later something inspirational happened. A friend who doesn’t post much on FaceBook, put up a post. It was a post about making changes for life, not just about weight loss, but a change in mindset and life in general. I really needed to see that post! I reached out to her and she told me about how she was on a new path / journey. I was intrigued.
On 12th September 2021 I joined Noom – my friend helped me begin a journey that would change my life. I also got back on the bike. Noom isn’t for everyone. And sometimes you just need to be in a certain place in your life for some things to work for you.
I started Yoga and meditation (using my Peloton App), as well as riding the bike. I read my Noom lessons every day. I slowly started to change my mindset.
I began to take back control of my life. I started to question my “why” – why did I want to make the changes? Of course, in one sense weight loss was way up near the top of the list. But in reality, I wanted so much more. Good health, happiness and the ability to deal with those tough moments in life. For me, Noom was helping me with that.
Many people don’t need help to prioritize their lives, and that is great. For me, life has been turbulent, and although I feel I am a strong person, and can navigate some really tough situations (survived childhood abuse, marital abuse, cancer, house burning down and so many more things in between!), I really needed a helping hand through this change in direction to continue the journey of my life in a positive manner.
So what do I want? I want to be healthy, I want to love what I see in the mirror – and no, I don’t want to “look good” for others, I want to look good for ME!
So September and October were pretty good, the weight was starting to come off, I was learning a lot about myself, and opening my eyes to beyond the scale. I was coming to terms with the loss of my nan, and I was focusing on ME. On my mental and physical health. I made a decision that my health would be my priority in life.
November arrived, and something incredible happened. I was enjoying riding my Peloton bike, but I still felt something was missing. Then I found “Discover Your Power Zones” (I have mentioned this in previous blogs). This is a program that enables you to take things to another level, but for me, the important part was about measuring progress. The scale is not the only way to measure progress, especially when you hit plateaus.
I got a fitbit, and started to measure my heart rate and my sleeping habits. Combining this with the Discover Your Power Zones added to how I could measure progress. I also found that I was loving these longer endurance rides – long distance biking was fast becoming my fave thing to do.
With Power Zones, there is something called “FTP” Functional Threshold Power, which is defined as the highest average power you can sustain for approximately an hour, measured in watts. After a good warm-up, including one or two hard efforts of four to five minutes, ride as hard as is sustainable for 20 minutes. So now I am able to test myself every few weeks. Now, FTP can go down as well as up – the instructors explain this and that is ok. As much as we want to continuously improve, there are times that our “fitness” may drop. My FTP results, shown below, are improving steadily (and yes, I need to take it again very soon!). This measurement does so many things for the soul – and motivation is top of that list! But where to next?
I would often share my Peloton progress with my boss. He was instrumental in helping me navigate through the power zone stuff. He then mentioned the NYC 5 Boro Bike Tour – a 40 mile bike ride through all 5 boroughs of New York City. Could I actually do this? There was only one way to find out! I signed up. Erm, I didn’t have a bike!!!
I took my training for this bike tour seriously. I wanted to be able to complete the 40 miles, and I also wanted to be in good shape for it. Many people told me it was “easy” and you don’t really need to train “that much”. Well I decided that I would do what any athlete would do – train, train, train!!!
I continued my power zone endurance rides, and on my birthday I hit an athlete milestone – 250th ride, a personal best on a live power zone ride that had me pushing myself further!
My 250th ride took place on my 56th birthday. It was a live power zone class – and boy was it a tough one – but I did it! And I achieved the instructor call outs for the zones.
I know I was about ready for the bike tour. The NYC 5 Boro Bike Tour is NOT a race, of course, you can compete against yourself, but for me, this was about endurance, power and ability to ride for 40 miles.
I trained smart, indoors and outdoors. I had a dear friend who knows bikes help me purchase my bike – a Trek FX1 (yeah I have no clue, but he said it was a great entry level bike for me), and I took it for a test ride – yup I loved it!
I couldn’t wait to get out and ride my bike, so I chose what I thought would be a good ride – along the Bay Ridge, Shore Road bike path. One of my fave places to walk, along the river by the Verrazano Bridge. I road 12 miles on that first outdoor ride! It felt amazing!
OK – 12 miles wasn’t bad, but I needed to do more. On the Peloton I had managed 75 miles over a weekend (PeloFondo), but now I need to test myself and my athleticism – how far could I ride outside? I needed to challenge myself, as the 5 Boro Bike Tour was just a few weeks away. I chose a ride that would take me along scenic bike paths, and so rode from Bay Ridge to Rockaway (28 miles). I then took the Ferry back to Red Hook and rode home, bringing my total to 30 miles. I was ecstatic with pride. And more importantly I was HAPPY. I had found something I loved doing – riding a bike. Simple, yet so much fun.
Back to training – I added another 15 mile ride on the Trek, and I started alternating my endurance rides on the Peloton with shorter climb / recovery / low impact rides to help build my strength. If you listen to the instructors, they explain the importance of low impact and recovery. I listened to the experts.
And then the day arrived – time to be the athlete I wanted to be (at this stage in my journey). 1st May 2022 will be a day that I will never forget. As I write this, my eyes are welling up – with pride. I am so proud of my accomplishment. Yes many people did it faster than me, others were in better shape than me. But I am where I am on this amazing journey, and it feels brilliant!
All that training, listening to the instructors, it all paid off! I felt so good at the end of the bike tour, that I felt I could go another 10 miles! I can attest to how endorphins affect your positively – the feeling of euphoria stayed with me for a few days. And that is what I want in life! To feel positive, challenged, accomplished and happy. And a mix of my Peloton bike and my outdoor bike is giving me exactly that.
So yes – I am an athlete. My journey continues. I am looking forward to sunny days and exploring NYC on my bike.
I have also decided to make a few minor changes with my workout routine. For the next few months, I am going to focus more on my strength and core. Inspired by a very dear friend who has been on a similar journey, I am going to refocus my priorities to other parts of my body. I will still ride my Peloton (I can’t not ride it!), and I will most definitely be doing lots of outdoor riding (even riding my bike to work!). I still have a long way to go in my weight loss and self esteem journey, and so this slight refocus is something that I think will help me.
To my dear friends that have inspired me, that have helped me through these past few months, I am forever grateful to you. I look forward to continuing my journey to better health, and being a better version of me.