I’m an explorer. Ideas. Places. Meanings. Details… I’m a searcher looking for stimulation, creative fulfilment, release from the prison of my mind. I want a physical rush, where my mind just dissolves and ‘is’, where it can’t think any more; it’s just a muscle that I can notice in the same the way I notice my heart beat or the cold sweat on my back. Sex. Running. They give me that rush. But I’m on a restricted diet! (Offers to improve the diet of the former will be enthusiastically considered, depending on the condition of biceps offered 😉 ) For now though, I’m turning to mountain biking to fill the void. It’s probably a wiser option than cocaine or heroine. (If you’ve not read this blog before, I should just say that I’m currently a runner that can’t run, suffer from chronic depression and I’m also single!) But at the moment I know I’m not fit enough to get the rush that I crave through mountain biking.
Start small, that’s what they say isn’t it? But when your body’s been hibernating for months and any minuscule effort requires a two hour sleep to overcome the exhaustion, small probably equates to no more than getting your bike out of the shed and admiring it. But that’s not really going to cut it for an adrenaline rush is it? No! First off you need to improve your base fitness level so that you can confidently take on more challenging rides. And that means you’re actually going to have to get your leg over that bloody bar, somehow, and move.
Like you and everybody else at this time of year I’ve decided the way to do this is to write a few goals. Trouble is (there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there?), I find it hard to plan much more than a few days ahead at the moment, just living day by day: can I get up?, can I stay awake?, make it through the day? I sit here on the sofa, bare feet up on the coffee table pondering the best way to go about it, because at the moment getting my fitness back up to speed seems necessary, not just desirable: if I’m going to claw my way out of this depressive black hole at all I’m going to need some physical strength to do it.
Maybe you’re in the same situation as me and setting goals isn’t easy, for whatever reason. So, let me show you how I’m going to work out a goal to improve my base level of fitness; maybe you’ll find it helpful and will have a go too.
You’ve heard of ‘smart‘ goals I’m sure – a really trite mnemonic businesses often use to help define goals, but you can use it for anything you want to achieve: personal, big or small. The idea is that your goal should be:
- S: specific
- m: measurable
- a: attainable
- r: relevant
- t: time-based
I usually hate these things with a vengeance, but I admit that sometimes I find this one really useful – generally because I have problems with setting a goal that is actually ‘attainable’! Or even ‘relevant’. When I start to have feelings that I might be able or want to achieve something I get a little over zealous and believe I can achieve anything and it’s just a matter of putting my mind to it. I ignore or underestimate the impact that things like illness or finances might have – and then get low again when I feel a complete failure because I’ve failed to take them into account and basically haven’t achieved what I thought I should.
Take a recent rash, unthought out goal to cycle 1200m in 13 weeks. I knew it was mad and random, but that’s why I liked it! But it was completely unattainable considering the heavy weight of lethargy and lack of motivation that comes with depression; I guess I hoped it would be motivation in and of itself, but essentially it was completely irrelevant. I mean why?! Simply, because I thought I could. And I failed, abysmally. So obviously I couldn’t, but probably not because I’m a failure (it isn’t unachievable – if I’m well), but because at the time I decided to do it, it wasn’t relevant and within the constraints and unpredictability of illness it really wasn’t attainable.
So, how do you go about setting yourself a fitness goal if, through no fault of your own, your motivation to do anything is low? I guess I’m finally realising that at the moment I have to look at what I know I can do, stretch myself a little beyond that and hope that with a bit of time, my motivation to do more will improve along with my physical fitness.
First off I look at what I can do regularly and what’s appealing or not:
||high – very high
||mountain bike only
|Other (classes, etc)
Ability makes no difference, the aim is to get better after all, but the desire to swim or take classes is lower than the desire to do yoga, so I guess I can cross those off the list! I don’t dislike the gym but the high cost is really limiting for me at the moment, so I guess I’ll cross that off too. And I can’t run regularly at the moment either, as it really exacerbates the tendonitis, so with a great big pouty bottom lip and a sinking heart I cross that off too. And I’m left with cycling, walking, hiking and yoga. But can I afford a regular yoga class? Just about, which is great! (I’m desperately trying to focus on what I can do here and not what I can’t, haha!). And how much does the tendonitis affect walking? Well, not as much as it does running and I’m sure I can do some regular walking; at the moment I know I can do about 8 miles before my ankle starts to really ache and if I stop there I don’t have much stiffness the morning after. Maybe I can try and push it a bit further, gradually, and see how it goes.
So far then I’ve narrowed down my goal to improving my base level of fitness with cycling, yoga and walking. But what the hell do I mean by ‘base level’. I guess for me it means that if an opportunity came up to train for something specific, like a race (assuming I was injury free), I know I could follow a training plan and be ready in 8 – 12 weeks, depending on what it might be. Perhaps your goal is to lose or gain a specific amount of weight, or distance you can run, or weight that you can lift.
It’s essential that you can measure how far along you are to achieving your goal. Maybe you’ve lost a few pounds so you know you’re on the right track, or maybe you can now run half a mile further than when you started. For my goal I want to see my resting pulse rate become lower because I think that’s a good measure of general fitness.
Oh dear this is a difficult one for me! This is going to be ‘make or break’. This is going to determine whether I feel like Superman or a failure! How realistic is it to think that I can drop 10 heart beats per minute within a week?! As much as I’d like to say “very realistic”, I’m pretty sure that something in the back of my mind is telling me “noooooo”!!!! Two weeks? No! Ummm, well what is realistic then? I’m not sure! I guess I can give myself a four week trial and see what I can do without killing myself with over exercise, and use that as a guide. Seem sensible? (That’s a serious question, if you have any opinions I’d love to hear them because I feel like I’m groping in the dark here!). I also have to take into account this illness/motivation thing. It is completely unrealistic to expect massive improvements over a short period of time (I’m saying this firmly so that it might actually sink in!): I might get so ill I can’t get out of bed for days again. But, if I keep my ambitions realistic over a longer period of time, then yes I think it’s attainable!
Without a doubt it is relevant to want to improve my physical fitness. I know with certainty that it helps maintain my mental well-being, which at this stage is why I want to do it. Later on, hopefully my ankle injury will improve and being fitter will help me train for whatever goal I give myself then.
This relates directly back to being ‘attainable’ for me, so I have to be realistic here. I’d like to say that in 3 months time I will see an improvement in my base fitness level, but I can’t be too specific about what that will be because I can’t factor in the ‘unknown effects of illness’. So in three months time, if I can see any improvement in my resting pulse rate (which is what I will use to measure it), I hereby promise to be happy and not whine that it’s not good enough! Within this three month time period I plan to work in blocks of a month, looking for any improvements and adjusting my way forward where necessary. I know I can’t think too far ahead at the moment, so it seems a realistic and sensible approach. I’ll also work out fitness ‘work outs’ on a weekly basis, taking into account what I managed to achieve the week before – i.e. not look too far ahead.
So, with that lot taken into account I declare my next fitness goal:
Over a three month period I will improve my base level of fitness by cycling, walking and yoga. I will measure this in terms of resting heart rate, which I anticipate will fall between my current level of 60 bpm and 52 bpm (which is what it was in May 2012 after training for a coastal marathon in late February that year).
One final note on setting goals: it’s said that the more public you make them the more likely you are to achieve them. With that in mind I plan to
bore you publish regular updates on my progress. Any feedback much appreciated.
What are your fitness goals for this year, and how did you go about setting them; have you ever used this method? I’d love to hear how you do it and how you get on. Maybe we can motivate and inspire each other? God knows I need it! Until next time.