From creature of comfort to recreational runner in 12 weeks? Former OHbaby! Editor Ellie Gwilliam sets out to improve her fitness.
The eve of day one
When it comes to exercise, I am lazy and a quitter. As a mum I can, of course, see the benefits of having more energy and modeling a healthy lifestyle. My own mother is very fit and a big inspiration. And while I’ve had moments of enthusiasm, gathering up good intentions and bounding out for a jog, after just 20 seconds the sensation of ribs tearing apart and lungs being punctured by said ribs is off-putting. To push past the 20-second barrier and actually have a hope of being fitter, I would need help.
A couple of OHbaby! staffers have been raving about Simone Rank and her team at Yummy Mummy Fitness after completing their own Big Shape Up challenges. “This would make a great story”, they reported. “You should totally do it, Ellie.” So before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, I signed up.
I’m vulnerable, nervous and a little panicky. I’m about to be photographed, measured, weighed, and pushed, publicly. Why on earth? Because deep down I know this is not only a good idea for a story, it’s an essential idea for my life. I am intrigued as to whether I can actually be one of those fit people I secretly admire. Not crazy fit, just comfortably fit. Not run-a-marathon-fit, but jog-through-the-park-fit. My goal? Running 5km.
A disclaimer: while Yummy Mummy Shape Ups work on improved fitness, toning, nutrition and healthy weight-loss, my focus is fitness. Less stress on the button of my jeans will be a bonus, but thanks entirely to my other genes, I’ve remained within the healthy weight range post-babies.
I have been assigned a beginners’ programme with strength exercises and cardio workouts (walking and running intervals) alternate days, six days a week. I’ve also been prescribed 1400 calories per day for sustenance.
Don’t laugh, but my first cardio session involved a warm up, then one minute of running, followed by five minutes of walking, repeated twice more. So all up, three minutes of running. Yep, just the three minutes. And I’ll be honest, each minute was hard work. But I’m a big to-do lister, so checking off the box on my training schedule was plenty motivating.
The next two sessions included two-minute intervals of running and then on to three minutes. They really hurt as well, but I have a new-found determination. My body grew three babies and then pushed them out through sheer will. I am a powerful machine. Surely?
Doing my strength workouts with the kids is pretty funny. We put on loud music and they get down on the floor with me to attempt press-ups, planks and crunchies. They do the counting for me, which is not always accurate but usually works in my favour.
The running, you ask? I’ve made it up to six minutes. Six whole minutes, times three, equals a miraculaous 18 minutes! The first interval always seems the hardest, the following blocks are a bit easier. Still, there are voices in my head telling me how uncomfortable I am and that I should just stop, but I silence them with the argument that running means a healthier life, perhaps even a longer life. I plod on.
I ran for ten minutes, without stopping. Twice. I haven’t actually run this far since primary school cross country, and even then I faked an injury and had to get help from a teacher to limp to the finish line.
And I have the Map My Run app on my phone. Just downloading it made me feel all sporty. It’s the new voice in my head sharing the encouraging news that I’ve just run a kilometre and inspiring updates on split pace.
As for any mum, getting out of the house on my own three times a week is a challenge in itself. I have to be strategic, scheduling the required workouts into the week ahead. You have to be well-supported, too. My husband is really cheering me on, which gives me warm fuzzies just typing the words.
The battle is often in just setting out. Morning workouts suit me best (especially in the weekend when I can be home before the kids are even out of their pyjamas) – you have less time to talk yourself out of it that way. My other tip is to make exercise your only option. For example, once or twice a week I get dropped off at work (5kms away) so my only way home is to run/walk. My kind colleagues offer to drive me, but I say, “No. I am an athlete!”
I get several motivating emails a week from Simone and also Kandace, my personal trainer. “Enjoy the burn,” they say. This I don’t yet understand.
Accountablity is great. I’ve told so many people what I am doing it would be really awkward to quit now. Also, following a programme is great motivation. I’ve now advanced to 17 minutes of running. This is huge, especially to think that only five weeks ago I struggled with one minute. By the end of next week I should be up to 25 minutes. This makes me feel a bit ill, but I’ll just take one day at a time.
I have celebrated the half-way mark with some shopping. New shoes, and some lovely new exercise wear from myescape.co.nz. We always knew shopping was good for us, but I highly recommend new fitness clothing as a motivator.
There was a fitness test this week – a 2.5km time trial that I completed in my fastest pace yet.
Alas, after several weeks of niggling knee pain I booked a physio appointment. I have achieved an athletic injury –“runners knee”. An official term for a common complaint in recreational runners. It is a right pain, in more ways than one, but I am a little bit excited about it. I have never in my life suffered a sports-related injury (well, a legitimate one). I rang my Mum just to tell her.
I was really surprised by how disappointed I felt about not being able to run. Putting on shoes and heading out the door seems the most accessible way to increase fitness. No need for equipment and progress is tangible. So I am faced with two options. I could quit and pretend I actually set out on a six-week challenge, or I could try cycling instead. I’m no quitter, I’m now a reluctant cyclist.
An exercycle in your lounge is awesome! Sure, completing the challenge as a cyclist could mean going outside and riding an actual bike, but it’s the middle of winter and raining all the time. An exercycle means I can tick my workout box while watching The X Factor. I’ve even set the alarm for 6am and got my ride in before the kids were up.
I’m having weekly appointments with local physiotherapist Mark Silvester. We’re working on improving my poor alignment issues, which means more exercises! He’s also never short on inspiring wisdom like: “when you get to a certain age, if you don’t put in some effort it all starts to head south”. This “certain age” is too close to my current age for comfort. Exercise is no longer only about making the most of my skinny jeans. It’s about life.
Watching my distance and speed on the exercycle monitor is addictive. This is actually almost fun! And the physio is impressed with my quad development. No one has ever found my muscles impressive before.
Completing all the strength workouts in this challenge is difficult. Evenings are often the only time available and by then, sitting on the couch with a cup of tea is my preferred option. However, planking in front of the telly has advantages. There’s the distraction value, plus it’s impossible to eat chocolate at the same time.
My physio says I have been a star student and has discharged me from re-alignment training. With his blessing I can try running again. Just one kilometre at a time for now, with very gradual increases.
I can run a kilometre with no knee pain. Success! (even if it’s not the 5km I had hoped for.) I’m motivated and I feel capable – heck, I might even do another challenge! This week the others on the Big Shape Up complete their final testing and 5km run together (where possible). The Facebook feed is full of their excitement. I’m disappointed I’m not there to give it a whirl, the camaraderie would be empowering I imagine.
At the end of three months I feel determined to teach my girls that fitness is achievable. I want them to inherently know that exercise is vital for health and wellbeing, not just for the thrill of an elite few. We will be careful to model active movement on a daily basis, keeping sedentary habits at bay.
Has my laziness default been reset? I think it has. I now look for ways to incorporate exercise into my routine instead of excuses to avoid it. I haven’t made it to my 5km goal, but my knees are feeling better so I’ll keep heading in that direction. Just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
• My running statistics looked promising (well, to me they did) but were put on hold after my “runner’s knee” diagnosis.
• My first 20km on the bike took me 47 minutes. Four weeks later I biked the same distance in 34 minutes.
• Over the 12 weeks I lost 3cm from my hips, 2cm from my waist and 10cm from around my tummy, confirming a love/hate relationship with planking.
Mums on a mission
The Big Shape Up by Yummy Mummy Fitness is the ultimate 12-week “get your body back” programme and can be done remotely (with online support), or alongside the group classes offered in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. They cater to all fitness levels, work-outs can be done from home and their group classes are kid-friendly. Learn more at yummymummyfitness.co.nz.
Simone’s top tips for busy mamas
1 Time poor mums really benefit from high intensity exercise where you maintain a high heart rate for a short amount of time (between 15-30mins) with little or no rest. Two to three of these workouts per week will make a big difference to your overall wellbeing and body shape by burning a high number of calories and increasing your cardiovascular fitness.
2 Use what you have handy. A bench, chair or step can be used for tricep dips or seated squats. Use two chairs to set up shuttle runs, run up and down the driveway or do laps around the house. It’s a great way to get the kids involved too!
3 Remember that the little things add up if you do them consistently. Walk the stairs rather than taking the lift, stand rather than sit, run around with the kids rather than watching from the sidelines, take the family for a bush walk instead of to the movies. Make being active a lifestyle choice, rather than a chore you have no time for.
PHOTOGRAPHY: SAM MOTHERSOLE, SAMMOTHERSOLE.CO.NZ
ELLIE WEARS POWER PACE TIGHTS, ESSENTIAL C-MAP VEST AND KRYPTON TANK FROM MYESCAPE.CO.NZ