Week 46 – The Finish Line

I finished. I set a goal in December 2018, started my personal challenge in January 2019 and completed it in mid December. Did it achieve what I thought it would? No. Was it worth it? Totally.

So what happened, Christmas and New Year is a great time to reflect after all. Originally I was inspired by Ross Edgley after he finished his swim around Britain. I was seeking something that would stretch me but that I could fit around a full time job. No round-the-world adventures for me, maybe I’ll save that until I retire. I had a couple of kettlebells in the apartment so I wondered how long it would take to do a million swings. Sounds like a great number. I ran the maths and I would need to do just under 2,750 swings a day. At my initial rate of swinging that would have taken me around 5 hours a day so that was out. I settled on 100,000. I had read, multiple times, that kettlebell swings were a great full body exercise. One of those – if you only do one exercise do this – type of things. It seemed like a great idea. Following Ross’ example I was naive enough to start and stubborn enough to finish.

The challenge was simple but not easy. I developed repetitive strain in my shoulders and wrists plus many many blisters on my hands. On the flip side I did build shoulder strength and definition but lost it elsewhere particularly legs, chest and upper arms. My forearms look like steel cable however! The swings make you sweat and get you out of breath but didn’t seem to help cardiovascular fitness in any way. I was running and playing rugby during the year, inconsistently, and subject to injury (achilles issues) and they had a greater, and more noticeable effect on the cardio fitness.

Economically it was a dream. I already owned a 12 and 16kg kettlebell and the only financial outlay was $100 for a 20kg kettlebell at the end of the challenge. I didn’t need a gym membership or any PT sessions. I had one lesson with a local gym for free through the power of social networks and people being nice.

If I didn’t achieve the body I was looking for what did I get out of the challenge? What I really found was a new stronger part of my mind. I’ve been pretty flakey in the past skipping from one challenge to another, short term goal to short term goal, sport to sport. This task was always going to take a year. I thought about ditching the challenge many times but I had anticipated that and by creating this blog, a separate instagram and facebook page just for the challenge, by doing that I made the prospect of backing out too shameful and embarrassing. I made a big enough fuss of it that dropping out would have been more painful than staying in. I created public accountability. It worked!

Habits are difficult to start and harder to break so by the power of habit I got my brain in the right frame and direction. Daily discipline was the key to the success and the biggest benefit of the challenge. Due to personal circumstances I suffered from some mental health issues during the year. The habit and routine were anchors I could latch on to when I thought everything else was out of my control. Daily practice, like meditation, got me through that. 

Planning and organising, flexibility and adaptability, these were the other gifts I received from the swings. I travel for my job. You can’t take a 16kg kettlebell on a plane. I had to plan ahead, doing swings on scheduled rest days, playing catch up, finding local gyms with kettlebells. I signed up to more than one free gym trial while interstate. One time I had to do my swings with a dumbell, gripping one end with my fingers and praying that I didn’t launch it across the hotel and through a window, I don’t recommend it, the arc isn’t smooth and it put some strain on my back.

I had the injuries to contend with. Shoulder strains and pulls mostly. And through that I learned patience. I had always considered myself a patient person but as it turns out I’m not. What I thought was patience was really a very narrow band of things I “have” to have or “have” to win. It wasn’t patience I had, I just didn’t really care that much. Getting injured revealed that when I wanted something badly enough I tended to push things too hard and make poor decisions. Poor decisions like ignoring pain. Which made things worth. Obviously. I had to develop patience or I would have completely failed the challenge. I learned to slow down and occasionally take a step backwards but ultimately keep going.

My faith in the kindness of strangers was reinforced. I had the support of friends and family, people who had always tolerated my self indulgence with a smile. However I also attracted support from all over the world. It was humbling and energising at the same time. I regularly received encouragement, advice and reassurance from people I have never and probably will never meet. It always made me smile.

And that’s it. I started, I finished, I learned things about myself and others. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did and If I inspired just one person to push themselves and step outside their comfort zone then I couldn’t be happier. Thanks for being there.

Week 45

The finish line is just around the corner, so now is the time to start looking forward. It can be easy at the end of a challenge like this to feel smug, put my feet up and lose all the momentum. So what’s next? If I’m honest I don’t really know. I want to run more. I love obstacle racing. I desperately want to keep and improve on my fitness.

Despite losing, regaining and maintaining weight I feel like I can be more consistent and drop a big chunk of weight. Weight loss will help the running and running will help the weight loss. A true virtuous circle. I have a local Parkrun so I can definitely target that. There is a half marathon here (Brisbane) in June so I will be targeting that too. 

The main goal will be to not lose the drive, not be complacent, not take my foot off the gas. I jokingly set myself the goal of living to 110. I’m not even halfway there yet and having that mindset will push me to not be “old” in my head despite hitting 50 next year. Look at the Hollywood actors in their 50s, Clooney, Pitt, Butler. With a bit of work I can match anyone of  them. Watch me!

Week 44 – Month 11

Back in the swing of it (see what I did there) after a two week break. Travelling has felt like an irritant in the past, especially while I was trying to build a routine, to develop a habit. Now that I am nearly at the finish line and my routine is bedded in it feels refreshing to have that break. I know I can drop back into it easily. It is no longer something I have to think about it. The power of habits is well known, there are plenty of books about it and all of the talk is usually about bad habits like drinking, smoking, drugs, but habits create a good life, especially when we do things automatically. Think about brushing your teeth, putting on a seatbelt, or looking both ways when you cross the street. I recognise that building habits is a true life skill.

The benefits of having a break are underestimated too. We have all heard the stories of people being found dead at their desk or burning out in a work environment or the sports hero that peaked at the wrong time and faltered before the final. My break lifted some aches and strains on my back and shoulders. It provided me the chance to get out in the fresh air (I went to Japan for a week and escaped the Aussie bushfires that were raging here). I put in over 20,000 steps a days as we explored temples, shrines, parks, lanes and cities. While my upper body and joints recovered the tendons in the lower half tightened up and I realised that while this challenge has been good I have neglected balance. 

Japan is a great place to think about balance. Old and new. City and countryside. Simple and fantastically complicated. The whole country has a zen feel and we felt welcomed everywhere. Simple customs like not eating while you walk, taking your litter home with you, being polite, all of these things have made me look at my habits. I’ve stopped eating at my desk as a simple start, just heading out of the office to find somewhere to sit and eat. Not only does it feel more mindful, I also add a little extra daylight and exercise to my day. This challenge is coming to a close but 2020 will build on this in a more balanced way.

Week 43

Closing in on the finish line and finishing strong I hope. This week I’ve slowly reintroduced Big Blue, the 20kg kettlebell, to the routine. Strangely the biggest strain it seems to put on my body is my forearms and fingers. I guess a chain really is as strong as its weakest link.

I’m about to take another week off for travelling, one for work and one for pleasure. I am looking forward to crossing the finish line. It has been an interesting journey so far. I’ve learned a few things about myself and about my body. 

I’ve learned that diet is a bigger contributor to weight loss (and gain). I think I knew that but my fluctuating belly was living proof. I’ve discovered a rich seam of routine and determination I didn’t know I had. Actually I found that routine is a solid foundation for behaviour change. A lot of research has gone into the power of habit and routine. What routines can I put in place to build on the success of this challenge? Any suggestions will be welcomed.

Week 42 – Month 10

The back spasm has resolved itself and I’m back at it. Sometimes we need to take one step backwards to course correct and set us on the path again. Not wanting to re-injure my back or shoulders and slowly rebuild I have dropped back to 10 sets with the 16kg kettlebell this week and I will build back up gradually as we go along. Being this close to the finish line, it would be heartbreaking not to finish strong.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, as I hit the end of month 10 my weight was almost back to where it was at the beginning of the challenge. Weight loss was never a primary goal but it would have been nice to wrap this up with a Brad Pitt-esque six pack. Those six packs truly are made in the kitchen and not in the gym and certainly not in the pub watching the Rugby World Cup. Oh well, there have been plenty of highs throughout the year so far.

While there have been many highs and lows with the challenge there have also been quite a few in life generally over that time. It’s not an easy thing to admit but earlier in the year I hit a very low point. Very low. On reflection I’m glad I had this challenge to fall back on. It was there for me to focus on. Something simple and tangible. Something that I could point to daily as each day provided progress, counting swing after swing towards my goal. Something that made me feel like I wasn’t a complete failure. You’ll be glad to know that that black cloud lifted, hopefully for good.

Week 41

Ah injury again. This time a back spasm. I have no idea how this happened. Maybe it was from the swings, maybe it was from my terrible posture when I’m slumped at my desk, or maybe it was because I managed to break my bed and slept funny. Probably a pinch of each. So this week I’ve only managed 3 days of swings. 

I’ve spent a few days with my arch enemy, stretching. And I think I’ll be ok. I’m sure you are relieved for me.

Strangely though the days have now lined up. I have 25 days of swings left to complete the challenge and now I should finish on a Friday, instead of a Wednesday, which is kinda neat.

Week 40

And so I hit the 200 day mark this week. 86,000 swings completed which mean that, at 500 swings a day, I have 28 days of swinging left. Less than 6 weeks. With a week off for a short break in Japan I will finish this challenge in early December. Naturally I’m now thinking about what to do next year.

In the past I have enjoyed running. Ok, maybe not enjoyed, but tolerated, endured, persevered. I am not built for running long distances. I’m short and broad. I don’t move with a spring in my step (I prowl apparently). I also have a “gimpy” leg, my right foot and knee are misaligned so I have a very distinctive running style which sees my right leg come around in an arc instead of forward in a straight line. Friends have spotted me running from hundreds of meters away due to the leg flick. So running causes me issues.

Alongside the 100k swings I have run occasionally, short jogs of around 5km, plus playing rugby occasionally. About 6 weeks ago I felt my Achilles tendon pull, a sharp stabbing pain, not the dull you-should-have-stretched ache I’ve learned to live with. The damage was enough that I had to stop walking to work, stop playing rugby and definitely stop running.

Seeking professional help has been the only option. A nice local podiatrist has put me on a stretching (I hate stretching) and strengthening routine. I’ll probably need new corrective insoles. And hopefully I’ll be back on track sooner rather than later.

And so to my next challenge. I’m still not sure what it will be but I’d like to complete at least one half-marathon. Gipmy leg permitting.

Week 39

“I told you so’” was the cry. This week I received my new shiny 20kg kettlebell. I’d been considering, pondering, prevaricating on the decision for so long. Moaning and groaning that my challenge had lost its spark and its momentum. I had wrestled with the financial cost, a hundred bucks, but so close to the end of the challenge was it worth it? I’d basically wrestled with making a change. Change is necessary and inevitable as we all know.

Wednesday was the first day I broke out Big Blue. I thought that the extra 4kg shouldn’t cause too much of an issue but my body had become used to a steady, constant weight and the extra mass put a strain on my forearms and grip that I hadn’t expected. They were burning.

Coincidentally, this week I have been reading Legacy by James Kerr, a book about the All Black rugby team and how they continue to be the most successful sports team in the history of sport. One chapter talked about The Sigmoid Curve, click on the link for a full explanation but essentially it is the theory that performance dips over time and changing direction, weight, strategy, focus at the right time is essential to progress and high performance.

I’ve probably left the change a little late for it to have a significant effect on my strength and weight loss over the remaining seven weeks of my challenge. However, I have learned a simple way of looking at every aspect of my life that will be useful forever. Thank you Charles Handy!

Week 38 – Month 9

I love rugby. Rugby Union to be specific. I wasn’t, and still aren’t particularly good at it. I played from my mid teens to my mid twenties and then started playing again this year at the tender age of 49. In between I coached kids, both my boys. Again I wasn’t a good coach but I was enthusiastic. I seemed to be capable of coaching the secret art of scrummaging to people despite not being a prop nor having boys who played in the front rows. I am endlessly fascinated by the combination of speed and power. How subtle changes in angles of running or body positions can have dramatic effects on a collision, or avoid collisions altogether. 

I can watch rugby for hours. Even poor games. I have frequently wandered down to watch local teams play. Just sitting on a grassy bank, with a couple of cans, enjoying the show. Unfortunately my subconscious holds beer and rugby in the same bracket. One of the biggest things I miss about living in the UK, in Wales, is the afternoon out with close friends watching international rugby games in a pub. The rain lashing outside. The beer flowing inside. Bonding over two teams smashing lumps out of each other.

And now the Rugby World Cup is in full swing in Japan. Virtually the same time zone. All games are on TV outside of my “work hours”. And I love it. I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that I’ve been drinking a lot of beer, too much. And I’ve put all the weight back on. And I’m a little ashamed of it.

If we ignore the weight gain for a moment the challenge is going from strength to strength, literally and metaphorically. I have ordered the heavier kettlebell. I’m just hoping that AusPost manage not to lose it (or drop it on their foot). I look forward to swinging this fresh beer belly off soon. But first we need to cheer Wales on to the final 😉

Week 37

I’m in a bit of a dilemma at the moment. Should I move up a weight? I’ve been using a 16kg kettlebell since day 1 of the challenge. Back when I was taking nearly an hour to do 400 swings over the course of nearly an hour. Now I’m smashing out 10 sets of 50 in less than 25 minutes. Some days the challenge isn’t challenging as I’ve mentioned before. Other days it is a grind, my shoulders crunch, my fingers ache, my forearms burn. 

Is now the right time to add weight? There is barely 9 weeks left before I hit 100,000 swings. I would like to finish with power but also I don’t want to tip my shoulder over the edge. Will I use a 20kg kettlebell after the challenge? What will my next challenge be? Will I just join a gym and do some classes? Can I spend my money better elsewhere?

Deep down I think I will. But I’m not convinced I should. Watch this space!