It has been about 7 months since the birth of my daughter and I think that’s about long enough to let myself sit idle due to child rearing. Certainly as the father, I don’t have that many excuses as to why I can’t become physically active again, and I actually miss running and taking part in the various crazy obstacle races. So, I’ve resolved to get myself back into shape (without being too obsessive about it at least).
In previous years I certainly at times pushed myself too hard and ended up with some minor injuries – I guess that’s what you get in your mid-thirties. I pushed myself to get my running distances up too quickly, and ended up straining some leg muscles and needed physiotherapy for a couple of months. So far, I’ve only run about 5-6km once a week for the last few weeks and that is about all I can manage. I can feel the fitness level slowly returning (although it is also hard to tell due to the heat I’ve been running in) but am resisting running for any longer distances yet.
Since my biggest focus is getting into a state of fitness where I can again tackle an obstacle race that is not “insanely difficult” (to be defined further down), I know that one of my biggest weaknesses (literally) is upper body and core strength. To that end, and to assist with my running recovery, I’ve started a regime of stretches and small upper/core exercises which I repeat twice daily – once in the morning after the kids have woken me up, and again at night before bed. Here’s the general routine:
- Lie on my back and stretch the entire body out
- Pull each knee up to my chest individually and stretch the leg
- Stretch the “glutes”
- Hamstring stretches
- Abductor / groin stretch while sitting
- Front plank for as long as I can hold it
- Side plank for as long as I can hold it, on each side
- Push ups while kneeling (so I can do more repetitions with smaller load)
- Prisoner squats until my legs start burning.
- Lie on my front and stretch the front thigh area of each leg.
Sorry for the lack of accurate terminology! Some of these stretches I learned while I had a personal trainer leading up to my Tough Mudder race in 2014, some I got from my yoga teacher wife and some I just make up myself. Generally each stretch I hold for 30 seconds. I can say that my legs feel better after stretching them twice a day, and the other light exercises are having a very small but noticeable effect. It’s enough to keep those muscles a little bit active but not so much that I dread it and skip exercising them at all.
The intention now is to keep this up, continue raising the limits slowly until I feel like I can take on some of the smaller and less difficult obstacle races (and perhaps shorter regular running races). I figured out last year that a marathon is just not my cup of tea, after attempting to run 30km in one training session and finding it incredibly boring. I can manage a half marathon but I think that’s about the limit.
What do I define as “insanely difficult”? Tough Mudder definitely had at least two aspects which for me are pretty undesirable. I don’t particularly like being electrocuted, and the 12ft walls were almost impossible for me without a lot of assistance – this again comes back to the lack of upper and core strength which I hope to work on. Getting Tough – The Race was probably the hardest event I’ve undertaken so far due to the distance (24km) and extreme cold (being completely submerged for a long period of time in icy water) and sheer number of obstacles. I don’t relish the thought of that icy water again any time soon. No Guts No Glory, despite also being in very icy conditions (well, actual snow for most of it) was very enjoyable although I unfortunately did some injury to my finger which still hasn’t recovered. Bremen Lake Run would again have been more fun if it weren’t for the big walls, and it also had some cold water thrown in for fun.
So I guess my main complaint would be with the walls, which I know I need to work on a lot. I don’t know if the electric shock therapy obstacles will always be in Tough Mudder but if the walls were less of a challenge for me I guess I can work on my psychological toughening to get through being electrocuted. Meanwhile, there are actually a lot of very enjoyable (like, actually enjoyable for normal people) obstacle races coming up in Germany over the next few months which don’t have this level of insane difficulty that I’d like to attempt. Perhaps this year or next I’ll even try one or two in the UK as they tend to have more variety.
Today I actually have the energy for a blog post. Probably because I went for a bike ride when it was -1 outside, and am WIDE awake as a result!
That aside- I realised that the last time I went bike riding- Kai was barely walking – meaning it has been a long time since I have ridden. However I distinctively recall having significantly lower energy then, than this time around.
As I was riding along, aware of how good I felt, I began to realise that this is a small landmark event for me. For those of you who know me well or are close to me you will recall that the past two years have seen me not at my optimum health.
My internal fire was extinguished. 2012 in particular was a dark time, endless days feeling lost and alone. I will not mention the specifics, however I will be the first to admit that due to external stress levels going on in my life that were beyond my control- I stopped functioning. My eating became disordered. I had no appetite for my life and the knot in the pit of my stomach prevented me from thinking clearly, making decisions that were rational. It prevented me from sleeping, dreaming, from seizing opportunities that were presented to me. The Isolation was crippling. My mind was fractured.
Some people whispered on corners, some turned away, and some screamed at the top of their voices.
Since returning to a healthier state of being I have thought about sharing a part or the whole of this journey. I thought initially that I did not want to write a blog post about that time. However, I think there is merit in sharing. I usually have no time for blogging, I am not an avid blogger who likes to spread my opinion via the web however- if I can reach out to others, then it seems to make sense to write about something i know will effect others.
I know for a fact that Mental illness is a huge part of human society, especially in the westernised world.If there was less fear and judgement then people would be open to sharing more. This will not be an attempt to rid the world of stigmatisation, however I can share a part of a story that may.
While it was in large a personal journey, a re-building of a self – I did not do this on my own, I did this with support from certain people- and those people know who they are, and they should be acknowleged. For those who lost faith in me during this time; I can understand it would have been painful to be a powerless witness. While I have a firm idea, I may not fully know the extent of their pain or what was going through their minds as they struggled with watching me struggle.
Call it ironic but in actual fact- having people give up on me, only strengthened my resolve to push forward and prove to myself they were wrong, so to them I say an additional thank you.
I wonder, about a hypothetical alternative. If I had been in a traumatic road accident which resulted in a broken leg which left me just as incapacitated, just as damaged, whether the treatment of me would have been more understanding. I think it would. People could “see the cast” on my leg and understand what was “wrong with me”- when it comes to matters of mental health – a lot of people are just not educated about the facts, and naturally we shy away from what we do not understand, “it is dangerous” – however therin lies the problem with social determinates of health. Stigma.
Essentially what propelled me to get through this dark time was my son Kai. I could not leave my child motherless. I had to get up and face myself. I have realised I can not seperate myself from being a mother now. This death of my previous identity was something I had to grieve. Something I had to challenge, to deny, to surrender to, to play with, to taste and re taste, to explore, realise and accept.
While having my first baby, at age 23 – away from family in a foreign country was totally my choice, I realise now that was a choice marked as one of the hardest things I have ever done.
– But when you answer to someone who is 100 % dependant on you for their survival- the pressure is over-whelming. Your thoughts about yourself must change.
What kind of example did I want to set for my son?
That personal fears can rule your daily existence?
Or rather that your opinions of yourself are flexible, can mutate and evolve, and that we have a right to demand our own physical, mental and psychological health is a priority?
That being afraid of life is a balanced approach? or rather; that it is healthy to have fears, but not to let them dominate you?
That sometimes you can try your hardest at something, but it will not always come to fruition, and that is acceptable too.
That we need to love ourselves enough to forgive ourselves for the things beyond our control. Nothing is so big that we are not deserving to share a part of our-self with the world, furthermore – that self betterment is always desired. Accepting a second rate shadow of ourselves, is not acceptable.
Each second of every day we make choices with consequences-and each day we can choose to alter what is causing us lose respect for ourselves, or what is blocking inner contentment.
I wanted Kai to learn hat happiness should not be a the ultimate goal, as it is fleeting emotion – which will pass, and it is exhausting to chase an unrealistic ideal; however to reach for a place of self contentment no matter what you are doing or where you are.
I wanted Kai to see mistakes are a natural progression in evolution, that adults and children alike make mistakes and can adapt. That adults do not always have all the answers, all the time, we are human after all.
That there are myriads of ways to deal with the situations presented to us, and we can choose.
The final lesson I hope I can impart is how art can heal.
An art project I began whilst in an hour of darkness helped me to process my fears during this time, to channel it into something that can now potentially serve other people who are struggling and need something to cling to at their hour of darkness. A tiny seed of hope was implanted in me the day I decided to do this art project, a little flickering spark on the horizon that makes you think- what is up ahead?
When I told a therapist I was doing this- she was taken aback, and then disapproving. Her judgement was intriguing as she scoffed at me and rolled her eyes- I just smiled at her in response. I CAN not wait to prove her wrong.
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