Fit for purpose

My life has been (and continues to be) one of perpetual motion which isn’t a bad thing from a fitness point of view, although it has other drawbacks! Since my teen years, sport has featured strongly. Initially, the usual things like school hockey and tennis (I also had a pony from the age of 11) but when I was 16, I was introduced to rowing and got bitten by the bug! To reach international level, the training was …well, gruelling to say the least! Endless hours on the water, evenings in the gym sweating it out and pumping iron plus miles of running, 6 days a week resulted in bulging muscles and constant fatigue for the best part of 10 years (alongside A levels, an undergraduate and a masters degree). It culminated in rowing in the Commonwealth Games in 1986.

After that, I got back into horses and did a lot of running to change the shape of my body, basically, de-bulk it. I also totally changed the way I ate in order to manage my weight given I was no longer burning off thousands of calories each day. The upshot of 10 years of excessive training was that I built myself a strong body with large lung capacity, and health and fitness became a way of life. Fast forward 30 years and I am now competing in the sport of international endurance (120K distance), still training. It’s very different though. Having maintained the core strength and a reasonable level of fitness in the intervening period, I train ‘smart’ and do the absolute minimum now!

4No sophisticated apparatus is required, I don’t leave home for training and my equipment is basic which is just as well, as if I ever saw the inside of a gym again it would be too soon! My ethos is maximum effort in minimum time with as little impact (concussion) as possible as, obviously, I have some wear from a lifetime of physical exertion.

This means making each short session work to the max for mind, body, lungs and heart and it hurts but it’s over quickly! I have the same routine all year round (except for a week off after a competition) and with increasing fitness, I just push myself rather than changing anything much. My fitness is topped up by incidentals which include work on the farmstead (all on a hill), doing the horses and riding, of course.

So, here’s what I do. Three sessions a week – cycling on a static bike for 20 minutes (gears on the lowest settings), skipping (1600 – 1800) and running (intervals up the hill on my land, or 30 mins on the undulating ridge which is a short car drive away). With each type of exercise, I concentrate on quality work so I can squeeze every drop out of the training and I tell my body to derive double the benefit from each session (yes, I do)!

2With cycling, I fold my arms in front of (but away from) my chest ie. around boob height; sometimes I put my hands on my hips but either way, you have to use your core to balance and push down with each leg in order to maintain rhythm. From a riding perspective, it builds the muscles required for an ‘independent seat’. This is much more difficult than balancing on the handle bars! I have music on (full blast in the car port which, no doubt, entertains all my neighbours within a mile from me) and I home my sense of timing by guessing how long I have been going before I look at the stop watch. I don’t like the idea of wishing time away, after all, it’s a precious 20 minutes of my life, so I make a point of observing nature – the clouds, the changing weather, looking at the birds or trying to solve the current challenges in my life!

With running, I have adapted my technique over the years to keep my body as relaxed as possible in order to ensure my foot comes into contact with the ground smoothly and from the minimum height possible. I suffered chronic shin splints (a concussion based injury) from road running when I was young and this was the catalyst to re-think my technique. I also try to appreciate the awesome scenery when running on the ridge, or watch the horses in the field as I e endure the pain of running up the steep hill next to them!

1Skipping is an awesome exercise! It again requires technique (along with total concentration) to ensure you don’t make a mistake. I do a set of 200 to warm up, then 4 sets of 300 and another set of 200 to finish, with 10 seconds between sets. If I am feeling good, I change the numbers and do fewer sets but 400 or 500 in each. I fix my attention on something in the hedge in front of me and put stones on the ground to record how many sets I have done, otherwise, to avoid getting totally confused. It’s a bit prehistoric, I know! Perhaps I should get an abacus?!

Brygwyn (awesome feline and personal trainer) is present for all sessions, meowing encouragement or playing with his feral wife Elizabeth to provide in-flight entertainment. I warm up for each session in the house stretching, doing press ups, achilles extensions, one legged squats and 60 or so full squats with a weight (door-stopper rabbit – every girl should have one!)…I said my apparatus was basic!

Getting fit really does not need expensive gym membership or a personal trainer, unless you struggle with motivation and need people around you. And training gives me the added benefit of knowing what the horse feels like after hard work, consecutive sessions or time off! It requires discipline and commitment though especially in bad weather and, sometimes, lateral thinking, eg. when it’s muddy or there is snow on the ground, I run up my hill in hiking boots! I would definitely be training even if I wasn’t competing in endurance because I like the feeling of being fit, the extra mental acuity it offers and the look of a toned body which helps to defy age! It’s a life-style choice.


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