It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Lady Sings! (Or Should That Be ‘Slings’-?)

It is 7am on the morning of Peebles Highland Games, my final Games of the 2012 season. I am padding around the bedroom in leggings and a Care Bears t-shirt with the words ‘Who Cares?’ blazoned across the front, assembling my Games gear.

The air coming in through the open window is cool, with a snappy autumnal edge to it that wasn’t there a week ago. In the garden, yellow is creeping into the leaves of trees and shrubs, and beyond the hedge arch, the town is a blank of pale morning mist, only vague shapes of trees and roof-lines showing here and there. I think it’s going to be a good day: we live in the bottom of a river valley here, and in the autumn and winter it often fills with creamy mist, looking like a vast bowl of milk from the hills above. The mist usually burns off as the sun gets higher, and sure enough, today the mist is turning pale gold towards the east: sunshine, or the promise of sunshine later. Good enough for me!

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Pretty, isn’t it?

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And at this time in the morning, with sound muffled by the fog, it’s easy to believe that the fog on the Tyne is all mine, all mine. ;p

Getting back to my purpose in posting today, though – partly due to circumstances beyond my control, and partly due to my own congenital lack of focus and terrible, terrible time management, I haven’t been to the gym in months – I think I last darkened their doorway sometime in June. Since then, my state of fitness has been coasting along, and my weight has gone up a couple of pounds, which is irritating but inevitable. Confession: yes, I do know that ‘coasting along’ isn’t really something fitness does. If you don’t use your muscles, they dwindle away. And in addition to not making it to the gym, I’ve done barely any proper throwing practice over the summer either. So I’m guessing that when all the scores are in, I will have managed the dubious achievement of ending the 2012 throwing season less fit than when I started!

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Yeah, really not there yet.

OK, confessional over. One of the many things I really love about Highland Games is that you don’t have to look like a trim, toned, tanned gym rat to take part.

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Ack. No thanks!

Actually, I believe the official national skin colour in Scotland is greenish off-white, so I don’t feel too bad about my lack of perma-tan. And I have been greatly heartened throughout the summer by the basic shape of many of the Highland athletes I met, which is to say… chunky. Muscular, but definitely not skinny minnies. And that was just the ladies!

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The guys are even more impressive. You can’t call most of these boys weedy.

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The mighty Jason Young and Sebastian Wenta: hardly weedy at all.

So when walking on to a Highland Games field, I don’t feel inadequate any more because of my body shape. This is a major departure for me, because organised sport has always, since childhood, tended to create a panicky dread in my stomach – remember the tiny gym skirts we were all forced to wear at school, no matter what size or shape we were?

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Not a problem any more, funnily enough.

Remember the sniggers of the skinny, tanned kids during PE?

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Yeah, that’s not a problem any more either.

My own body image has actually changed this summer. Yes, I’m fat. Not morbidly obese, but I am overweight. I carry  a bit of a bouncy buddha belly that I wish wasn’t there. If I’d kept up the gym work and training, it probably wouldn’t be there, or at least it’d be a lot smaller, but you know what? I refuse to beat myself up about it. I screwed up, and yes, I wasted time that could have been better spent. But that time has gone and the future will not be ornamented or otherwise enhanced by me moaning and groaning about what a bad person I must be to fail. The only way the future will be enhanced is if I make some attempt to learn from this failure and move on. I am actually feeling serenely confident this morning that I will lose that Michelin-woman spare tyre and improve my fitness overall as I settle in to autumn and then winter training. I have the good fortune to be loved by a man who, while occasionally teasing me about them, doesn’t revile or belittle my extra curves but simply states calmly that they’re already smaller than they were at the beginning of the summer. Which is true. The fact that he usually follows this up with an impersonation of Rik Mayall as Captain Flashheart from ‘Blackadder’…

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“Gives me something to hang on to! WOOF!

…well, er… that’s neither here nor there. (Draws veil of modesty over the proceedings… too late.)

Ahem.

The point is that the wonderful world of Highland Athletics isn’t sizeist. Or fattist. Or any other -ist, generally. So long as you’re willing to get out there in a kilt and throw stuff, they’re happy.

And that makes me very, very happy. See you at Peebles!

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I Am Not The Walrus.

I’m not sure a category exists in which to place this post.

I have a question. A delicate, ticklish question which nevertheless, sweet readers, I place before you this afternoon:

WHY OH WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT’S HOLY DO MEN HAVE TO MAKE SEX NOISES AT THE GYM?

I’m sure not all men do it (the sex noises at the gym thing, that is). Some are exemplars of stoical quietude. Others, like me, opt for the martial-arts-movie noises when they feel the need to make a noise at all – you know, the ones that go “Hahhh!” or “Hunkh” or “Eeeeyaarrgh!” – just some intentional-sounding vaguely word-like utterance of effort.

Not the guy who was in there yesterday. Ohhh, no. I could hear him clean down the stairs at the reception desk, and the urgency with which he was expressing himself made me linger a few minutes longer warming up on the cross-trainer in hopes that whatever was going on in the free weights room would be finished by the time I got there. It sounded as if it might involve a bull walrus.

Alas for my hopes. When I sauntered in, carrying my water bottle and nonchalantly pulling on my gloves, the Walrussing was still going strong. I selected a modest 8kg dumbbell and started doing one of my exercises, called (unfortunately for my state of mind) a one-arm snatch. Walrus Boy was doing bench presses with a very heavy-looking barful of weights, and every time he pressed the bar, he vocalised. Not just “Uugggh” or “Aaaagh” but a drawn-out, throaty moan of agonised effort that made you fear for his blood vessels.

I kept a straight face by concentrating sternly first on the floor between my feet when I squatted to pick up the dumbbell, then switching my attention to a pigeon trying to land on the windowsill outside as I lifted the weight above my head like a bad-ass Statue of Liberty. Floor. Pigeon. Floor. Pigeon. Floor. Pigeon. “Ooouuuuuunnnnggghuurrrh!” Dear God. Floorpigeonfloorpigeonfloorpigeon.

Thankfully Walrus Boy went off to do something a modicum less strenuous, and I moved over to the big bench-pressy machine. I’m sure it has a name, but I just think of it as the big bench-pressy machine thing. I removed all the weights but one (yeah, yeah, I know), and set the bench flat, and lay down underneath the bar to do my bench presses. So far so fine and dandy, though I have to tell you that as the sole female in the room, lying flat on your back on a bench with your legs apart staring at the ceiling does rather bring on delivery-room flashbacks. I did my reps, then looked at the sheet of paper I was toting around. Next item: incline bench presses. Now, I knew this one. Same thing, but with the bench raised so you’re sitting laid back as if in a Laz-e-Boy recliner to lift the weights. I adjusted the bench back (oddly like adjusting the height of an old-style ironing-board, by the way), and looked at the machine. If I slid under the weight bar where it was now, I’d strangle myself; it obviously needed to slide back a bit. But how far? Where was the optimum placement for incline bench presses?

Now, see, this was the point at which it would have been smart of me to go and find Jez or Eddy or Kay or anybody else who was on the staff. Instead I turned to the two young guys next to me, who were deep in a serious conversation about the best way to yank a doodle or crush a grape or something, and said, “‘Scuse me guys, could you tell me how far back this needs to be for an incline bench press?”

They were helpful. They pushed the bench back a touch, then suggested I get under the bar so they could see if it was in the right place. I obliged, and they stared hard at my upper body for several long, long seconds before saying, “Yeah, that looks… about right.”

Ack! I just practically invited two young blokes I don’t know from Adam to gaze at my boobs! Oh, the shame! At least I was wearing the Bra Of Steel (TM).

More exercises, this time in front of the mirror with a free weight bar. Hang cleans, which just sound hardcore (to me, anyway), and overhead presses. I was just coming to the end of my cycle of exercises when Walrus Boy started again, only this time, he was really going for it. Even my grape-crushing pals looked over. He was doing something painful and repetitive with a dumbbell, and in what seemed to my fevered ears at least to be an accelerating rhythm.

I downed the last of my water and fled. Next time I’m bringing my MP3.

Holy Crap, I’m a Wuss!

I’m starting to love my gym. It’s not an intimidatingly sleek, potted-ficus, air-conditioned mind body and spirit type of place filled with intimidating, sleek, potted-ficus, air-conditioned mind body and spirit type of people. On the other hand, it’s not like the (her words) crap box haunted by my pal Ethelthedean where the pipes drip on you while you work out.

My gym has the Goldilocks factor: it’s just right. Cheap-ish, quiet-ish, unpretentious, friendly, informal. I can breeze in any time of the day, say hi to whoever’s on the desk, drop my bag behind the filing cabinet and just get the heck on with whatever it is I want to do. Sure, there are TVs everywhere blasting out some godforsaken rap crap about bros and hos and mofos and all that …shizzle, but it provides a good strong bass beat for when you’re goofing around on the cross-trainer, and other than that I can pretty much ignore it. I’m strong in the Force in these matters, having raised three daughters to teenage and therefore being acclimated to a hideously wide range of musical styles. Let’s just say it would take a strong stomach to open the playlists on my MP3 player.

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Sweet Baby Jesus! What the mofo shizzle is on that thing?!

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I know. I know. James Blunt, Nickelback, Rihanna, Erik Satie AND Hannah Montana. *sobs*

The sheer volume makes conversation a non-starter, so that’s another plus. 🙂

I have recently passed over an invisible barrier, gym-wise. I have ventured where, I’m finding, ladies don’t tend to tread very often – into the free weights room. This is testosterone territory. It even smells different to the rest of the gym: sweatier, oogier, male-er. I have been strolling in and out for a few weeks, doing some upright rows and dumbell curls with as much nonchalance as I can muster, and every time, whatever men are in there always stop and look.

I mean, it’s not that I’m drop-dead gorgeous, ripped, toned and semi-naked; really not. Trust me on this. It’s simply that I’m female and middle-aged. They’re probably wondering if I’ve lost my way en route to the Zumba class.

So I feel as if there’s a spotlight trained on me as I shove the press-bench out of the way so I can do my pully-uppy things on the big bar machine. This morning, I went in early (7.30am, people!) to settle on an accelerated weights program to fit my last 4 weeks of training before the Highland Games start.

And yeah, I know I’m 47 and starting pretty much from scratch, but how lame does it feel to have to take away every weight plate but one? I’m bench-pressing 15kg, sweating like a sweaty thing doing landmines with a 20kg bar! I just feel like such a colossal wuss. I even had to ask the guy to take the weight down on the bar I’m using for back squats because I was seriously worried that I wouldn’t be physically able to do 5 reps.

I’m aiming at this:

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But I fear at the moment I’m more resembling this:

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Just so long as I don’t go too far and end up like this… human balloon animal, I think I’ll make it.

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Mike the Emergency Inflatable Life-Raft

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Holy facepalm. Shoot me first!

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger…

Did you ever wish you hadn’t started something?

That’s me every time I head for the gym. As I shed jeans, wellies, and fleece in favour of trackies, teeshirt and trainers, I get PE flashbacks. This is unfair of my brain. I mean, who wants to relive school? Wasn’t one go round enough?

So I ignore the feelings of doom that invade my psyche, and lace up the trainers anyway. If my brain is in top form, it finds tiny, stupid things with which to sidetrack me from my purpose. My one and only pair of trackies have Plumber’s Mate smeared on the right knee after helping (read: hindering) my friend Rob when he was fixing my sink the other day. I meant to stick ’em in the wash and forgot. Now what am I going to wear? Cargo pants? Too small, and they don’t stretch either. I can do without splitting the bum of my trousers while I’m trying to resemble an athlete. I haver round the bedroom for several minutes in my polka-dot underpants before grabbing the trackies out of the laundry basket and putting them on anyway. My brain is smug: ten minutes not spent in the gym. Gah.

My subconscious mind whines like a reluctant toddler as I get changed, slowing me up, distracting me – anything to put off the moment when I step out of the front door. Today’s sneak tactic, just as I finally grab my keys, sling my snazzy yellow plastic gym bag over my shoulder and reach for the front door latch, is to suddenly hit me with the realisation that I haven’t eaten all morning. I got up at six and crawled straight from bed to computer chair. Doom. Dooom. I’ve tried being tough and working out on an empty stomach, and let me tell you, it’s not tough, it’s stupid and ends up with you dry-heaving beside the rowing machine. Ladylike and elegant? Meh, not so much.

This time, I was wise to my brain. Yes, I am aware of how loony that sounds. Hurtled down the kitchen stairs and flung open the fridge, muttering, “Right! Protein!” Five slices of roast chicken and three heaped spoons of hummus later, I lurched to the cupboard, stuck a big teaspoon of Nutella on my tongue to kill the taste and smell of the hummus, and fled.

And what do you know? It worked out just fine. I got on my cross-trainer (the one where the number buttons don’t work) and spent ten minutes having fun rocketing my heart-rate and getting everything in working order. Hit the weight machines and worked my way right through the personal torture programme Sadistic Eddie worked out for me (hey, I even moved the peg several notches down from the ‘WIMP’ end of the stack today), spent a few happy minutes in the free weights room doing some thing I’ve forgotten the name of but which feels really great and athlete-y.

I even did extras on some of the machines – got to the end of my reps, then did (grunt) ONE more just to show I could, and (extra grunt) ONE last one just to show my brain who’s boss round here. So maybe Kelly Clarkson is right (or was it the depressed dude with the giant moustache? Hmm…), and if this doesn’t finish me off, it’ll make me stronger.

Perhaps, to quote my buddy Ethel The Dean, sweating like a glassblower’s arse several times a week isn’t so bad.

“ATHLETE”. YOU HEAR THAT? I’M AN ATHLETE!

Looky here, people! It’s official: I am an Athlete.

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So, that’s the difficult part over with, right? Guys?

Guys?

Oh, nuts. 

On the positive side, I’m hitting the gym pretty consistently. Abandoned the warm-up on the yebany rower (non-aquatic version of swimming laps, I nearly die of boredom in the first 3 minutes) for a cross-trainer and feel, inexplicably, much happier. Maybe moving my arms and legs at the same time keeps my brain guessing, who knows?

I’m also getting used to moving the peg on the weight-stack on most of the machines to the end of the scale marked “WIMP” without feeling as if the eyes of the entire place are fixed on me in dubious pity. Well, most of the time.