So, once again it’s been a while since I last posted and in the meantime the world has gone lockdown crazy. Honestly, given the current state of the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if the governments of the world one day soon announced an alien invasion, or if Covid 19 mutated into a virus that finally brings on the inevitable zombie apocalypse – in which case, it would be ideal to be fit enough to run or swim away from impending doom – see what I did there?
Like most people in the UK I first watched the pandemic emerge with the vaguely disinterested gaze of someone living far from the city of Wuhan. The first time it came somewhat close to me was when a member of the pool diving class I was attending was held en-route while on her way to a business posting in Singapore, because of the virus!
It wasn’t long after that that the diving class and my swimming class were both shut down by government edict, followed by my gym and the local swimming pools – that featured image at the top of this blog post is from one of the last times I was able to run in my gym. Oh my MG! I was bereft. All avenues for maintaining my svelte new form were being closed off. Fortunately, I was by then on a very low calorie diet, supervised by my doctor – until I was advised by the doc to stop the diet because, being over 60, diabetic and asthmatic, I had to build up my energy reserves should I fall ill.
Well I’m a glass half full kinda guy so I decided to view constraints of lockdown not as a tragedy but as an opportunity and a challenge. The challenge was could I remain fit (or get fitter?) during lockdown, and the opportunity offered was a LOT of time in which to meet the challenge!
One by one all my usual means of maintaining fitness and weight loss were lost to me. What was I to do? Well, planning was what I was to do, and I came up with a threefold strategy that has helped me to (just about) hang onto much of the fitness and weight loss gains I had made. As always, the plan had to be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based.
I had to replace both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. I was also keen to find some way of simulating swimming without actually swimming or getting into water. What I came up were the following exercises.
- Walking. During lockdown, my wife and I have made sure of walking at least three miles every day, at a medium pace and in a variety of forest/parkland and pavement environments in order to bring variety and differing elements of resistance (such as hills and rutted tracks).
- I made sure that I could run. This was always going to be the toughest challenge – as I hated running on hard ground but now had to face street & park running as the sole option, and with no appropriate running shoes to hand.
I was so close to buying appropriate shoes (Brooks Ghost 12, Grey/Gecko, neutral, standard size 9, should you have a pair hanging about for a Rana who loves to run) but figured I’d have plenty of time – then the lockdown struck! So I had to run in the only decent pair of running shoes I had, my old Adidas Supernova, which are great for the treadmill at my gym but through which I felt every step of running on pavement and concrete paths in the park.
I decided to be sensible and start (almost) at the beginning of my running life and turned to the NHS Couch to 5K plan, with the lever-reliable Laura to guide me through proper outdoor running. I figured I could probably start in Week 3 and build up from there – which is what I did. This way, I could get my feet and knees used to dealing with the impact of running on hard ground, and hoped that I could eventually get around to getting hold of a pair of the Ghost 12s.
So that was my aerobic exercise sorted. Very specifically, walking and running. Walking every day and running three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday – early morning; I like to run between 6 and 7am wherever possible.
- The third exercise I chose was specific in offering anaerobic exercise as well as simulating (as near as dammit) the whole-body engagement that is offered by swimming. Yep, I started rowing – indoor rowing of course!
One of my brothers had asked about rowing and I’d offered him some suggestions as to a suitable indoor rowing machine. The one that I found was a budget level machine that offered air resistance but sufficiently good build quality and reputation to be worth getting. And, it proved to be an ideal machine for me too! What was it? Why, the fabulous V-Fit Tornado Air Rower. This machine was affordable, seemed perfect for a beginner and could be neatly stored in a corner of the lounge between rows.
I missed out on the machine early during lockdown but by the start of April I saw one on Amazon at a fair price and jumped at it. Assembling the machine was simple and I managed to find a great YouTube channel called Dark Horse Rowing to help get started. From the start I rowed three times a week (intervening days between the running – with Sundays off both rowing and running) and I’m now a moderately experienced rower!
Rowing was a great choice because it offers a whole-body workout and is easily useable for the HIIT (High Impact Interval Training) workouts that provide great anaerobic exercise. Rowing also works the shoulders, arms, back, lats, triceps and core – all essential for swimming. I confess that I have come to really enjoy the rowing and hope one day to get the dream machine for home and gym alike – the Concept 2. (One of these would be welcome too, should you have one hanging about doing nothing.)
This was easier with the running than the walking or rowing, because I knew from the start that I was aiming to get to running 30 minutes/5K in the park – which I have now achieved – and love! Walking and rowing would be a little more difficult.
Walking was the easier of the two to measure, because I have a lovely Apple Watch on which to measure time and distance (as well as calories expended, heart rate and lots of other nifty data) and, having had an idea of the distance from home of various parks in the area and some notion of how long the walks would be, I’ve managed to build a core of five nice long walks which range between 3- 6 miles in length, or about 1-2 hours in time.
Then, Ian my life coach suggested I keep a record of the walks and runs, as a visible means of encouragement, and I discovered an app called Run Gap, which grabs all the data gathered by my watch and stores it on my iPhone (sorry, I think it’s only for iOS, but I’m sure there must be similar apps for other operating systems). I also found that way down the list of activities that my watch could record was indoor rowing! So now I could record all three of my exercise activities – running, walking and rowing – and examine my performance record over time, to see in numbers how I was getting fitter; which I have, and I am!
By the way, I quickly discovered that my Apple Watch had been keeping a record of all activity I’d engaged in since buying it and Run Gap grabbed all that data too – so I now have a wonderful record in numbers of the National Three Peaks Challenge trek that I took part in last year!
Achievable and Realistic
Clearly, I had some notion that the goals I’d set myself would be achievable, even the running. After all I had run before and knew I could run well, I just had to be realistic about how to go about getting used to running outdoors and relied on my experience to get me there. The worst thing I could do was to act macho and try to run long distances on hard ground without building up some strength.
I also had to be realistic about what Ruth would be able to manage in terms of walking so we had to try various routes before we could decide which ones worked best for both she and I.
As for the rowing, I had no idea what I was doing, other than everything I read suggested it would be a great alternative to swimming. So I used the wonderful World Wide Web to research indoor rowing programmes and workouts and settled on the lovely Shane and Dark Horse Rowing for it’s mix of advice, information and great mix of aerobic and anaerobic rowing workouts. Thanks too to my son in-law Matt, who is a seasoned rower and offered lots of telephone advice about how to maintain good form while rowing – which both Matt and Shane assure me is essential!
This has been the most difficult aspect of my fitness goals to get clarity on. The lockdown has now eased and we can get out and about more – so those lovely forest routes are great – but there seems no end in sight to the ‘new normal’ and I hope in vain for swimming pools and gyms to reopen so I can actually swim and work with weights to develop upper body strength – though I suspect that climbing and climbing fitness class at the Mile End Climbing Wall will really offer the best mix of fun and exercise for my upper body ambitions!
So, with no end seemingly in sight to this restricted way of life we’re all dealing with and no specific end date to aim for in my threefold fitness programme, the new challenge is to find more short term goals to push myself and maintain my fitness. Without goals I tend to let slip my fitness and I must therefore have goals.
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
- Push on with the running. Earn the money for the Brooks Ghost 12s (if I can ever work again!) and start really pushing myself, from non-stop 30 mins/5K runs to 35 mins, then 40 mins and upwards, with a new goal of getting to run comfortably for 60 mins or 10K three times a week (those shoes will be essential, I think).
- Build up the rowing, push beyond intermediate HIIT type workouts towards advanced workouts or ones that are longer than 30 mins – again heading for a full 60 minutes.
- Try to make sure that at least one long walk out of three is always the 6 mile one or longer – I got a great book for Father’s Day this year, filled with lots of long walk ideas!
- Many open water swimming venues are open again, subject to pre-booking for limited numbers/social distancing reasons, and I could book at least two sessions a month at either the London Royal Docks or the West Reservoir in Hackney for open water practice. Something that will help make returning to the pool and long 40 laps plus sessions fun and easy to do.
What I have discovered during lockdown is that maintaining and improving fitness has been possible. What it took was planning, patience and persistence. If what I’ve written helps motivate or support you in keeping fit or losing weight or both the many hours or running, walking and rowing during lockdown will have been worth it for more reasons than just my own personal fitness benefit.
That’s all for now. I hope you’ll use the links in the post to find out for yourself about the NHS Couch to 5K, the V-Fit Tornado Air Rower, the Run Gap app and Dark Horse Rowing, as well as the ‘wonderful to run in’ Brooks running shoes (my current worn to shreds walking shoes are Brooks).
FYI, I am in no way affiliated, at present, to any of the products, manufacturers or services that I have linked and/or recommended above.
One thing I am affiliated with is my own life coaching company, Life Crafting Limited (http://www.lifecraftinglimited.com), where you can learn more about life coaching and how it can help you craft the life you always longed for. Pop over and have a look – there; some fun stuff there!
Also, please remember to push yourself to get fit, stay fit and encourage others to discover the joy of fitness for themselves. After all, should the zombies really rise or the aliens invade you may be very happy that you’re fit enough to run swim or row yourself to safety from impending doom!