Friday, 31 January 2014

Official End of Janathon

A good yoga practice this morning; some fascinating work with straps and bricks, moving towards dhanurasana or bow pose. This is a back bend and, hard as they are, I do love these sequences. I carry a lot of tightness and stress in my lower back, which eventually locks up enough to cause twisting in my hips and sometimes sciatica. Back bends go quite a long way towards releasing that - it seems counterintuitive but it seems to loosen everything up.

So, pretty much everyone who's made it this far is celebrating the end of Janathon today! Congrats to everyone who took part, especially those hardcore people who ran every day. Phew. Technically I still have a few days to go because I started late due to illness, but I won't be blogging every day. You can assume I'll go to karate, USWIM Masters and yoga over the next three days as usual! I'll probably try and do a weekly summary or something for my own records and if anyone stays around to read then...thank you :)

So what have I learned from Janathon?

This. Absolutely this. 

* We stepped up karate just before Christmas as we knew grading was impending, and that's been fantastic - Wednesday class has a different character (and characters!) from Saturday and although we see about half the same people at each class, there's always something new to learn. I feel like I've made big strides, particularly with kihon kata, but I know I still have a lot to do before grading. Blocks, footwork and kumite all need work. (7hrs)

* I couldn't stay away from twice-weekly yoga, either. The gains are coming a little slower now but mentally I'm more grounded and mindful than I've ever been. Again, still a very long path ahead of me, but I can feel I'm getting fractionally deeper into the poses each time; there's more control and more strength. Plus I understand a lot more about how anatomy works and specifically, how my anatomy works. (7hrs)

* Swimming should have taken up more hours but I've spent a lot of this month working on my form, with shorter sessions. And, well, I was not feeling great about sharing a busy public pool. I think I've improved a lot but the proof will be in the follow-up video analysis in March. Sadly all our Polar sessions have been cancelled, so unless I'm wildly lucky I won't clock any open water miles til April. This gives me a major sad. (7hrs 20mins)

* I dislike running. Or rather, I dislike running in the cold, the wet, and when I'm out of condition. I need to persist with it within reason, though, because it will build stamina. Something like that, anyway. I think I need to put my money down on an event or I won't be bothered to keep going out. (30mins or so)

* My overall fitness is on the up, without a doubt. My weight has started to go down - I have a feeling there won't be much change this week as I have been a little naughty, but I'm 4lbs down from Christmas and finding my calorie count fairly easy to stick to. 

Overall? I'm on the right track. I need to be a bit more organised and less lazy on the self-driven stuff like pull-ups and getting off my arse to swim and run by myself. So, a big thanks to the Janathon community and to Cathy for organising. I'm really pleased to have got through it and I may even do Juneathon - perhaps I'll be better at getting out for a run when it's not so cold!

Oh, and February? 

Bring it on. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014


Oh yeah. I ain't going out in that icy wind, sorry. Definitely a fair weather runner, I'm afraid. So, just a quick plank before bed to keep the spirit of Janathon alive.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014


When I put my gi on tonight I suddenly noticed that I could tie the side-tapes up with no gaps. When I first started wearing it at the end of September I thought I'd made a terrible, god-awful mistake in ordering the size I did, and it was honestly embarrassing (not that I told anyone that). The pants were too tight round the waistband (as ever; I am an exceptionally stubborn apple-shape), the jacket gaped open over what I mentally refer to as either "my thundering great sports bra" or "my great white breastplate of doom". The gi was so stiff and uncomfortable - and let's not think too hard about the fact that I couldn't loop the belt twice around my waist and fasten it properly. Eldest's gi had already become soft and pliable from six months of washing, though, so I sucked in the flab and hoped mine would relax too.

I never for one moment contemplated the idea that I might shrink to fit because I know taking that mental highway does me no good. I don't have an eating disorder but my thinking about eating can become disordered, if you see what I mean. Emotional (i.e. "had a bad day, stuff face") and defiant eating (as in "how dare you tell me I can't have cake - I'm having TWO slices!") are crutches I'm working hard to be rid of. So that's why a properly-fitting gi took me by surprise tonight - I've achieved it without falling down any mental rabbit holes. I know I've lost about 4lbs over my 26 days of Janathon so far, but I don't put a lot of stock in scales. I think I can be pretty pleased, though and hope to keep it up.

There was a lot to be proud of in class tonight too. Sensei had done a demo at one of the local schools last week  - not Eldest's, but a demo is how she got started. No less than fourteen new under-tens and one as young as four showed up tonight - mostly boys but a girl here and there too; the class expanded by a third! The new kids were really well-behaved - admittedly most of them had parents sitting around the edge of the dojo, but still, it's easy to get over-excited when you're having fun and it's all new. All of the regulars were properly on their mettle tonight too - good loud responses, no slacking on the warm-ups, and all of us performing our kata together in front of an audience of new kids and parents was absolutely brilliant. We were AWESOME, I tell you. My punches felt great and my kata felt like it flowed really nicely. Sensei even did a black belt kata for us, which was a rare thing to see.

Our final bow, otagai ni rei, to the whole class felt overwhelming to me: fierce and proud of all of us. It's no wonder our club logo is a tiger.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


I'm sorry, Janathon. It's all I could handle today. I'll make up for it at karate tomorrow.

If Janathon has taught me anything, though, it's that I'm not fit enough, mentally or physically, to train daily with no rest periods. I will get there - I haven't done too badly to survive this far - but I don't get enough sleep or calories to fuel it at the moment.

In the meantime please enjoy this lovely interview with one of my swimming heroes, Hazel Killingbeck. :D

Monday, 27 January 2014

Hanumanasana: The Leap of Faith

So this is what we were working towards today

Lovely photo from - great resource!


I can't even straighten my legs properly, the hamstrings and backs of my knees are too tight. Locking them out whilst standing is out of the question. Hanumanasana or "monkey pose" is so far out of my league right now that it's not funny. I mean, I know yoga is progressive but I'm not going to get anywhere near that for a long time yet. It puts my frustration with the box splits into perspective, though - at least I'm getting somewhere with that!

Hanumanasana is called "monkey pose" not because you look like a monkey, but because it mimics the Hindu god Hanuman, who once took a giant leap from the southern tip of India to the island of Sri Lanka to rescue Sita. So it's to do with taking a leap of faith. It is an advanced posture, so none of us were even remotely close to it, but all the postures working up to the full split are very useful for someone like me, since my major aim with yoga is to unlock these dratted hamstrings of mine. And I guess you gotta have faith that you'll get there one day. It was testing and actually kind of emotional.

In other news, Jane had very kindly sorted out some postures for me to strengthen and improve the flexibility in the sides of my hips, so I need to commit to daily practice of those so that I can do kicks at karate without worrying my entire leg is going to flick out of the joint. Yay?

Sunday, 26 January 2014

How Do I Sums?

Thank you to my dear husband for that post title tonight (who is well 'ard and ran 4 miles in hail this morning). The above is a good reason I avoid being lane leader - I really hate all the counting and mental maths! Happily the coach was on the ball tonight and keeping us in touch. He really does need to learn to write bigger.

A nice little 3.8km at USWIM Masters tonight - that's 2.4 miles or an Ironman distance,152 laps of a 25m pool. Lots of drills and some tough build sets - I really don't like those as my swimming speeds are basically "go" and "go a little bit faster". I don't have "easy", "moderate", "fast" and "very fast", which is what the coach was trying to get out of us. I had a moment through the first of those sets (after almost a mile of warm-up, drills, etc - THAT'S when we're expected to sprint?!) where I had a real "What the **** am I doing? I HATE swimming!" moment. Thankfully it passed very quickly and I settled back in. The upper lanes were quite busy so I stayed in the "not as fast" lane, as Dave diplomatically puts it, but I was in position 2 of 9 and eating the lane leader's bubbles the whole time. That was a good feeling; I know I couldn't keep up with the lady who was leading the last time I swam with her. I think my stroke is getting stronger...long way to go, though. I still feel terribly slow to myself, but perhaps I'm getting more efficient.

Looking forward to yoga for a good stretch tomorrow!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Eat. Sleep. Train. Repeat.

Pretty much. Getting to the last week or so of Janathon now...I can't quite believe it's already been a week since I was last in the pool at Aquatics. This week has flown by with lots of ups and downs, both work and kid-related, and actually I'm really glad to have training as a constant in my life. Keeps me on an even keel when everything else around me is getting a bit stressy.

Karate was fun, as ever, even though I felt pretty lacklustre today. I got some good advice from a helpful Purple belt (I really need to work on my stances, that dodgy hip is causing me to leave myself too open), and worked with a new starter on her kata (she's doing better than I did!). But it was busy and noisy, and I missed one of our sempais. And I'm irritated that my box splits are getting better so slowly - the backs of my knees are just dreadfully tight still. Work in progress, I guess.

On the other hand I felt much better in my contacts today - I have yet another new combination to try on Wednesday; I'm really hoping this is the last time now because I'm sick of going into town every week. It's getting that I'm losing weight (and my goodness, it's giving me a weird shape which I don't like at all - will just have to persist til it all goes!) it's much easier to find clothes I like. I'm being strictly one-in-one-out at the moment, but I gave my wardrobe a thorough sorting when I got in and there's no more leeway. No more cute dresses til Summer at least. I ditched four or five dresses which were two sizes too big for me, and put out a call for anyone who wants maternity clothes, too. That feels like a big step - I'm making myself a promise that I'm never going back to being as unfit as I was when I fitted into those clothes. There is no leeway here, no option to dress in something looser because I've had a few bad days and eaten myself silly. Down with this sort of thing.

Friday, 24 January 2014


A lovely flowing practice today; pity I was so unfocused. We're worrying about Youngest at the moment as she appears to have some joint problems which could be hypermobility. Usually I'm pretty good at doing the research, then switching off and just dealing with these things as they come up (she has a GP appt next week) because I simply don't believe in worrying at something you can't fix, but I couldn't. It's understandable, if frustrating; we haven't had any major (hell, even minor) health issues to worry about since Eldest gave us a huge scare in NICU eight years ago. If we catch it early enough it shouldn't be limiting for her, though, and exercise is positively encouraged.. It was difficult to come out of savasana this time. I think my brain was relieved to shut up for a while! I hate being unfocused, it feels disrespectful to my teacher and to my practice.

On the bright side Youngest has fallen in love with our Yogabugs DVD, and does what she can manage and feels like doing. It helps that it's the "Under The Sea" version; she's a huge Octonauts fan.

I asked Jane for some help with hip strengthening exercises and she thinks she can help. That's one less thing to fret about, anyway!

Thursday, 23 January 2014


Nah. Not that kind of grit. I got over my "it's so cooooooooold" whining eventually, goaded by a bunch of Janathoners on Twitter, and got my butt outside in extra layers and a Buff. I had to duck the gritting lorry twice in the space of the mile. The hail that came down at 6pm, when I was rushing two chilly little girls home from swimming, had frozen in clumps along the pavement. That's enough to scare me out of any plans I might have had for increasing the distance tonight. I hate ice - I was pregnant with Youngest last time we had a really bad winter and the walk to school was terrifying. I'd rather have skipped the run and failed Janathon if it'd been any worse; I won't risk injury. I've seen the torture injured friends have been through when they can't get in the water...the thought of not being able to get in the dojo, having to miss Polar or stay off the mat gives me the shudders.

On the bright side I ran the whole way and that was a route I couldn't complete last year - the humpback railway bridge would get me every time. So either I'm fitter or more stubborn now, who knows.

Had a practice of my side-kicks today; both hips make a really ugly clunking noise each time. It is a bit of a worry.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Yellow Tip

First step on a long road, hopefully!

So yes, that's an offiical "level up" - or something like half a level up, at any rate. I knew it would come eventually because I know when grading is scheduled, but letting go of the expectation and attachment to "doing well" has been a hard piece of work for me to get through. It genuinely took me by surprise tonight and so it's all the sweeter.

In terms of the lesson we focused a lot on blocks and punches, which I've definitely improved on from last time. I really enjoy these sessions because they tap directly into my preference for watch-and-learn work, rather than trying to pick it up on the fly as it's done. I have lots more to do on kicking, not least the need for an emergency conference with Jane at yoga on Friday! Sensei had us do the kicks very slowly tonight, holding the positions and maintaining balance for a minute at least. My balance is pretty good already and I was delighted that Jane had, yet again (I think she's psychic!), done work on the exact thing I needed to know earlier in the week. She too had had the class holding poses, focusing on breathing, the "soft gaze", and the ability to observe and let go of thoughts which undermine you. What I need from her now is to help me figure out how I can improve my hip rotation outwards - it looks like side kicks are going to be a problem, particularly on the right, because I could not hold my leg out in that rotation for more than a few seconds without pain. I know the interior muscles are slacker than average - which is why I can do butterfly splits with my knees on the floor without trying - so it would suggest the opposing muscles are too tight. The hamstrings are almost certainly playing in to that too so I need to get serious about stretching those every day.

If she doesn't have any bright ideas, I have a physio appointment coming up in a couple of weeks, and I could always go back to the sports physio in Bolton. I have to say, it's really nice to be understanding my own anatomy at last - I wish I'd known this stuff when I was much younger, rather than going through many, many years of pain and avoiding even the simplest of exercise.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014


Youngest is having one of those "I'M REALLY REALLY THREE!!!" patches at the moment. The yelling started because she doesn't like the taste of the toothpaste we had to change to recently (gee, thanks for screwing my domestic harmony every morning, Aquafresh), and continued pretty much all day with a brief respite for preschool and Octonauts. Eldest is the in fragile pre-teen zone and has my quick temper to boot, so parts of the day were rather difficult.

By the time the two of them were tucked up in bed I was way too frazzled to deal with the adult version in the pool. I am really, really off public swim sessions at the moment...I've rapidly got used to swimming with a respectful and aware Masters group who get the hell out of each others' way when necessary. My local pool has improved lately, it must be said, but training alone held absolutely no appeal. My shoulders felt weird anyway and I'm feeling pretty fatigued - bear in mind I'm doing all this at a calorie deficit (3lbs down so far and  you can see where it's gone from!). So I took a long bath and did some pull-ups, and that was me for Tuesday night. I figure if you can get away with a single plank, pull-ups definitely qualify for Janathon.

Karate tomorrow; hoping I'll feel a bit more energetic by then.

When You Get There

I've been really busy working on other projects tonight - it's got horribly late without my realising, so I will have to skip the whole pull-ups thing and save them for after tomorrow's swim. Lovely.

Yoga today was again challenging with some poses which were really a lot harder than they usually are. I'm not sure why, something feels off down my right side - still working on that hip recovery, I suspect. I enjoyed it, even so, and there was some great work on the meditative aspects of overruling the body and mind's chatter. Overruling is the wrong word, I think - just letting the chatter float on by, which chimed with something I was reading in Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children last night. So lots to think about, rather than a physically demanding practice today.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Train Like A Slayer

Anyone who knows me will probably know I am a fan of the mighty Joss Whedon and most of his works (the earlier stuff, anyway. Not even looked at Avengers and so forth yet). It occurred to me half-way through a 2hr, 4km+ set at USWIM Masters tonight that if the zombie apocalypse ever breaks out in Venice (or the less glamorous but still beautiful Lake District), then hey, I am totally your girl for the job. That made me laugh for a whole 400m!

It was a tough set, one of the toughest I've been through, and yet...I survived. And not only survived, but got boosted up a lane; probably due to the late arrival of a batch of newbies, rather than any superior speed on my behalf, though. I was in place five of seven, but when your lane-leader is a 15yo Channel aspirant (who is both awesome and gracious), that's a position worth being proud of. In fact, after these extra coaching sessions I was even - sometimes - able to keep up with Neil, which would have been totally out of reach last year. If there are any Janathon visitors who like running stats and graphs you should definitely check out his blog. I'm quite partial to his training minutes pie charts, myself. I may even make one at the end of Janathon! My thanks to Neil for keeping me in touch with the sets (new coach needs to write bigger on the boards) and for the odd sneaky draft ;-)

So yes, I think there has been an improvement. It's by no means solid yet - as usual, I could feel my form slipping badly when sprinting or getting tired. That's probably quite normal, but the gift I have from Dave's analysis is that when I feel something going wrong, I have a checklist of things to be mindful about. Are my elbows high? Is my hand entry correct? Is my left arm crossing inwards? Is my rotation equal on both sides? Now that I know what the right thing is, I can try to bring myself back to it far more than I could before. Re-analysis is scheduled for early March, which should be interesting!

Yoga tomorrow. Aaaaaah.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Levelling Up

(I think that's a TKD pic but eh, it works)

Big day for Eldest (and for me as a parent, I guess) in the dojo this morning. We'd been sparring and the rotation eventually placed her in front of me. Neither of us go easy just because we're related - as it should be - and I blocked her punch as I would for anyone else. I must have caught a nerve on her inner elbow, unfortunately, because she immediately filled up with tears and accused me of hitting too hard. I knew she was a bit flaky because she was coming down with a cold, but we carried on for a few more exchanges until the tears really started to flow. Sensei spotted it straight away (I swear she has eyes everywhere, I don't know how she does it) and agreed that we should sit out for a bit and catch our breath.

We had a bit of a chat and a drink, and she explained she wasn't sure why she was so upset - it did hurt but she seemed surprised it had taken her so badly. Somehow I pulled a pep talk out of nowhere. I've been right where she is, feeling rotten and on the cusp of teenage hormones, crying for no real reason; and it seems that what I wanted at eight was also what she needed - proof and encouragement that she was strong and brave. We've talked about the quote above a few times this week, and I also reminded her of how difficult she'd found her 8th kyu grading. She cried through a lot of that as it was extremely noisy and unfamiliar, and that's always been something hard for her to cope with. But she sucked it up and I nearly burst with pride. Her courage, actually, is what put my own two feet in the dojo - how could I let "feeling silly" rule me when she could be so strong?

I pointed out that every single person in that dojo has been where she was today - feeling sore and awful and like they're the most rubbish karateka in the world. But every single person still there has worked through it and got better. And so had she, and so would she. Pain and fear will happen in grading and competition bouts regardless. It can be mastered, and she could do it - had already shown she could do it. And just like at grading, I watched her pull all the threads of her shattered composure back together and rebuild herself.

We both levelled up today, I think, regardless of what belts we're wearing. Karate is as much about the heart as the mind and body.

Before I spoiled her day, however, she managed to give one of the adults a good laugh - she was sparring with Simon, who's very tall and has an enormous wingspan. I find him hard work to spar with so quite how an eight year old was managing I don't know. Apparently he struck out for her head and said "Duck!". To which she, quick as anything, replied "Quack!"...and he dissolved into a fit of the giggles. That's one way to disarm your opponent!

In other news I left the dojo doing this in my head:

James Brown, I Got You (I Feel Good), 1965
(and wow, didn't Danny John-Jules model Red Dwarf's Cat on this guy!)

because I finally got my kata right :D No failed turns, but I spotted couple of glitches on the blocks and have my swimmer's swivelling hips to overcome, but it feels really good. I know where I'm going at last. Onwards!

Still no luck with the contact lenses. Went back for a retest this afternoon and I have a fourth set - one eye seems ok at -5.50 but they've had to order in a different strength for the other. I'm really tired of being blurry. If this lot doesn't work I may give in and buy a spare pair of glasses instead.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Ten Tigers

Well, I don't know about ten. But it did take me a certain amount of courage to get out there last night, and to make it to yoga this morning. My hip was agonising when I got up, and we overslept into the bargain, so there was much hobbling and grumping about (sorry, kids) first thing. I think I need to put a big "BREATHE!" sign over the bed or something.

Challenging practice this morning - not only was I working through the DOMS in my thighs and the dodgy hip but my shoulders felt quite frozen up and the twists were difficult. My hip seems lots better now, though - for a while there I was quite worried because we were doing a lot of hip openers. The usual places I can get to just felt too painful and so I used the blocks a lot at first and concentrated on breathing into the posture rather than getting there without trying like I usually can. Probably better for me, in the end, particularly since I was too busy thinking about how to get there without hurting myself to have any performance issues! But my Tree Pose (Vrksasana) felt really good - stretching in all the right places, no balance issues, nice and stable. I've always loved that one.

It's a program night so pull-ups, press-ups and planks later on. I think I am starting to make a little progress with the pull-ups - half the battle is working out how to do it. Looking forward to karate tomorrow - Sensei promised special attention to kata and kicks, which I know is an area I need to work on. And yet another review of my contact lenses in the afternoon - I've now tried three different kinds and they're still not doing the job for me. They really shouldn't be blurring so much and they feel gritty all the time they're in.


Not really, I just love this pic. I'm actually not doing too badly on the whole "no cake and sweeties" thing - still having little bits here and there and today I couldn't resist some extra Greek yoghurt and berries after tea, but I don't feel too badly about that! Keeping my calories more or less where they should be, anyway.

Anyway, I dragged myself out for a run - my self-motivated exercise has been the hardest to get to this week; it's much easier in a class or club setting. I find that really odd as I'm normally a fairly solitary and driven person. Perhaps it's just the "do it every day" of Janathon that's undermining my motivation. Or the horrendous squat DOMS from last night's karate. Ye gods, I'd forgotten how much I loathe squats. My hip is back to playing up as well, but at least I know what to do to fix that now. All hail physiotherapists.

It was an ok run, as these things go. Walk a mile up the 10% gradient hill, and run back down it. Nearly a minute faster this time, which is probably improved confidence rather than improved fitness at this stage. It was desperately painful at first but I found a stride about halfway down, got my breathing sorted out (yes - of course I was using my yoga breathing and counting paces in Japanese, how else do you run?) and by the time I was home I thought I could probably have handled another five minutes or more. So I'm going to dig out my C25K podcasts and start somewhere in the middle - if I can run for 14mins now I should be able to do 2x10mins and work up from there. It's just a case of fitting it all in; I should really be out twice a week if I'm going to improve. 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014


And so it goes. It was a massively tough warm-up session at karate tonight - many, many crunches (I don't do sit-ups - physio's orders), push-ups and so on, at least fifty of each and running too. Lots of sparring, which is hard on the joints as the venue is a church hall with an unsprung floor. It's much easier in the sports hall on a Saturday. Breath control was a big issue after such a brutal warm-up and I was glad we're working on that a lot at yoga at the moment as I was able to bring Jane's voice to mind - "Can you find that calm breath?" she asks us, and usually I can whilst holding a pose. It's a little more difficult mid-bout but I managed it a few times.

My kata was a lot better tonight and I got a verbal pat on the head for it from Sensei, which really helps. I didn't feel as mentally prepared for it as I should have done and a couple of the blocks caught me on the hop, but overall much improved - a real sense of knowing which way I needed to turn. Eldest's taikiyoko nidan is coming along nicely and she had a good go at seifa, one of the orange belt (7th kyu) katas, too. We practice a mixture of shotokan and goju; seifa is a goju kata. I'm afraid it makes me giggle terribly, though - it's a beautiful kata but when they shout seifa I hear the German seife. Which means "soap". Oops.

Pull-ups and all the other programs tonight. The planks are really starting to hurt - and show - now. I am trying to lose weight, sticking to about 1500-ish calories without eating back exercise cals excessively. I don't know if I am losing - probably too early to tell - but bits of me look like lumpy porridge rather than the smooth even podge I had before, and I go in and out in weird ways. I think this is supposed to be a good thing. I can at least see the shapes of muscle under there, anyway...

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Terrible,Horrible, No-Good Bloody Awful Swim

Just to prove that everything isn't always sunshine and progress, that was a bloody awful swim. It really hurt. Although I suppose given that it's hurting in my traps and lats, where it's supposed to if your stroke is ok, that is sort of alright. I just felt really frustrated - the lanes were crowded and busy, I had to keep stopping for Mr Superfast to lap me (not his fault at all but it irked me about my own lack of progress), and there was just SO much to think about. Is my left arm bent properly, are my hands deep enough, are my elbows high enough, am I getting enough power, why the hell am I out of breath, why's my rotation gone shonky...just way too much going on. No relaxing into it at all.

I gave up after 1700m; irritated, bored, and knowing I had stuff to do at home. Still, a mile is a mile and practice is practice. One day the corrected stroke will get easier. It might just take a while to build those lazy back muscles, though. :(

Karate tomorrow. Yay!


I snuck an extra yoga class in this morning. It feels a little like cheating on Janathon - technically, since my usual Monday evening thing was cancelled, I should have gone for a run because the whole point of doing Janathon was supposed to get me back into running. But you know, given the choice of a) something that hurts and is cold or b) doing something I adore that actually helps me...I don't think many people would choose A!

I had a wonderful practice. It was a super-busy class - 14 altogether - but that didn't matter at all. It was great to get some hamstring work in and we all managed a really cool pose which I think is a bridge but I've forgotten what it was called. At any rate, it took me right back to my time training with the European Historical Combat Society at Leeds Armories all those years ago. We worked on a pose which requires you to be on your hands and knees with your fingers pointed back at your knees, and we used to do that to strengthen our wrists for sword work.

Anyway, it was lovely and I really want to go twice a week. There's a little cafe-van thing on the industrial estate that I walk through to get to class and the lady that runs it always says good morning, and then chuckles at me as I float back. This morning I was so loopy afterwards that I wished her "namaste" and bowed as I walked past. Seemed appropriate at the time!

Pull-ups, pushups and planks to do tonight. Yuck. Swim tomorrow.

Sunday, 12 January 2014


When I was a teenager, I had a note pinned to my mirror: "If perfection could be attained, it would not be worth having." I still think that's true because if you were to become perfect at something it would be no fun any more. Half the fun is in the learning, and that's especially true when you're at the beginning of something - witness my joy at finally being able to switch neatly from a C to D and back again whilst playing Twinkle Twinkle during flute practice this evening. I played that little song LIKE A BOSS, man.

Adjusting faults when you're further down the path is harder, though. The coaching sessions with Dave have been well worth it because it's given me a clear focus on what needs fixing in my stroke - I don't need to worry overmuch about general rotation or my kick, which is nice. I do need to work hard on my hand entry, which I think is coming along ok - that was my big take-home from the session tonight, I really need to reach deeper and more sharply into the water than I have been doing. I know what that looks and feels like now, though, so I just need to stay on top of it. It's going to be weird to see how that works in a wetsuit, too.

The more difficult thing to correct will be my left arm. It is significantly less flexible in the shoulder, it seems (which is damned annoying because it's the right that got injured a few years ago), and my stroke tends to be too low at the elbow, too close to the centreline and not strong in the catch, so I'm losing power dramatically there. My right side is apparently fine, I must look hilarious moving down the pool in fits and starts. In terms of fixing it I really need to move to bilateral breathing now - I've been avoiding it long enough - and lots of drills, in particular single arm, doggy paddle and FQS. Yuck. The fact that these are the drills I absolutely hate is revealing.

It's interesting (to me, I appreciate everyone else is bored stiff) that in karate that strong right side is taking over excessively - in kumite I lead with my right leg WAY too much to the point it's a) predictable for my opponent and b) it's actually hurting my hip. So I think I need to have a chat with all my teachers and figure out how to balance myself.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Near Success

I was very frustrated when I left karate on Wednesday night. I hurt everywhere and I was annoyed with myself for not realising what I should have been doing in my kata all along. But I watched that video over and over again, got Eldest to go slowly when we practiced, studied hard, and voila - a near-correct kata this morning. I screwed up the turn in the middle again, of course, but at least I know that's my big fault and I can put extra practice in on that. Putting the downward block in where it should be has actually made all the other turns so much easier. I'm really kicking myself for not spotting it sooner, but hey, onwards and upwards. I'll be moaning about screwing up taikyoku nidan (the next kata, which Eldest is working on now) soon enough!

I had fun sparring even though my contacts were slipping and blurring all over the place again. I picked up a third type this afternoon, though, so let's hope that does the job this time.

What I love about the club we joined is that everyone is happy to help each other.There's a real feeling that we're all moving along the path in the same direction - one of my favourite things is when the whole group works through katas together, there's such a sense of unity. Competition is so good-natured - whoever wins warm-up games gets a cheer, many people also clasp or shake hands and say thanks as well as a rei (bow) at the end of sparring, teasing is warm and familiar. There's a lot of respect built-in to karate anyway and heaven knows, Sensei Nicola deserves and demands it, not only for herself but for everyone in the room. But something I've picked up from my yoga teacher, Jane, is a sense of gratitude, which she often emphasises as part of our final meditation before we say namaste. We bow three times at the beginning and end of a session of karate; to the Chief Instructor, the Sensei, and otagai ni rei - the bow to the whole class. Each time we do that I work on bringing up that feeling of gratitude. Without my teachers I could not learn - and every member of that class is my teacher, from the newest kids in their street clothes to the terrifyingly graceful upper belts. I'm grateful for clean, bright halls to practice in (even though one is noisy and one hurts my feet!); I'm grateful for the money I have to pay for lessons; the ability to provide a fresh clean gi for both of us twice a week (though I hate the ironing!); the car that gets us there through the pouring rain.

Oh dear, I've gone all interconnectedness-of-all-things. Namaste, indeed!

Friday, 10 January 2014

Inner Peace

I started yoga back in September - I got lucky, a class opened ten minutes walk from home, at a time that fitted in nicely with preschool hours. I'd been seeing a women's physiotherapist to try and sort out some of my hip problems and various other post-birth issues, and it came up that my hamstrings are - and always have been - dreadfully tight. Running and karate encourage that tightness because they're high-impact, and swimming requires you to flex your ankle pointing downwards. And so bearing in mind that other muscles around my hip joints are too loose, I thought I'd give these Radiant Heart classes a whirl.

They do seem to be helping a great deal - my hamstrings are looser, I've learned how to stretch them before karate to prevent injury, and the class definitely helps me unwind from any abuse I put myself through midweek. It also gets me ready for weekend karate plus swimming. Jane is an absolutely lovely teacher and I've been grateful to find a class which is all about the inner peace and getting right with your body. It damps down my overly-competitive nature and I've been working hard on mindfulness and meditation in everyday life, too.

When I arrived this morning I was delighted to run into a friend, but it did bring out that inner competitor and performer for a little while. My brain filled up with "Oh, hell, am I doing this right? Can I make this pose? Will I fall? Is anyone looking?". Jane, thankfully, put a lot of emphasis on following your breath this morning and my daily meditation practice, recently boosted by reading some Thicht Nhat Hanh, saved me from going loopy. The need to perform, conform and excel fell away and I had a wonderful practice. It was shoulder-focused today, for which my post-run aching legs were very grateful. And I didn't fall asleep during savasana (corpse pose, the final relaxation), which is probably a first!

Pull-ups, push-ups and planks to do before bed; gis are ironed and ready for morning and my swimming kit is already packed for Sunday. I love weekends!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Exercise Lies

It's a lie. I'm going to regret every one of those fourteen and a half minutes and one mile (plus a mile's walk to try to grind out the soreness from earlier in the week) tomorrow morning. And the planks too. But hell. Janathon comes but once a year, right? And I've got yoga in the morning to sort me out before Sensei kicks my butt again on Saturday...

...and it is kinda nice to know I can still run a mile without immediate death, even if snails go faster.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Kihon Kata

Back to karate on Wednesday night, and it was really good to be back in my gi. I'm starting to get nervous now as grading is coming up...similar collywobbles to a swim event, really, and I'm working hard to get past that and just be mindful about what I'm doing. There are parallels...sparring (kumite) carries the same worries as sprinting; this is the hardest thing to focus on and my form goes all over the place. I'm so glad to be a distance swimmer as sprinting is not a requirement when you're only competing against the length of the lake!

I've taught myself to think of swimming drills as a kind of kata, which has helped no end in both sports. I even count in Japanese whilst in the pool, which I find particularly hilarious for fist drills. Well, when you're drilling over and over for kilometres at a time you've got to get your laughs somewhere. For those of you who don't know anything about martial arts, katas are the pre-set routines we learn, one or more for each belt, which help us practice techniques like blocking, kicking, punching and balance without the stress of an opponent, and they all build on this kihon or fundamental kata. The slow, stately movements of Tai Chi or Qi Gong are probably what most Westerners are familiar with; it's similar but usually performed faster, and as I understand it pretty much all martial arts do them.

I'm struggling, I must admit. Practicing with Eldest daily is good fun but when neither of you know what you're doing properly, it's easy to make mistakes that stick with you. Having very little space to practice makes it a lot harder, too, our living room is the size of a postage stamp. I know my turns are not right - I often get muddled in the middle as to whether it should be a 180 or 270 turn - and last night a sempai (assistant teacher) pointed out that I, as an adult, can't get away with a simple block like the kids can. It has to be a full downward sweep, and I really hadn't registered that before. I am quite a visual learner and I realised I'd never actually stepped back and watched kihon kata being performed, I was always too busy trying to do it and watch at the same time, and I'd never figured out what that beautiful movement was all about. I was too frustrated at myself for it to sink in during class, but I've been digging about for videos and the one above is just perfect - slow enough for me to take in what's happening, I think. Eldest protested all the way home that learning by doing is the best way - and to some extent she's right - but my brain is used to seeing and fitting components together, giving them names and numbers and writing stuff down. So with a bit of luck, diagrams like this should help me get it sorted out in time.

Much gratitude to Lewisham Shotokan Karate Centre for making this image available!

In other news the warm-up was extra-hard and I completed my pull-ups, press-ups and part of the plank Lift programs. My arms gave out for the side planks, unfortunately, so I'll do those on Thursday.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

My Socks? Consider Them Blown Off.

So yes, I received the video analysis from Dave on Sunday and it threw me into a bit of a mood because urrrrrrrrrrrrrgh, that left arm cross is nasty. Not to mention the whole "dear god, I look like a hippo" thing. Anyway, once I'd got over myself I had a good look and compared my stroke with some actual good swimmers - Jono von Hazel and Ian Thorpe, as well as the example Dave sent - and yes, as he says, I'm overreaching significantly. You can practically see the energy draining away and being wasted as my hand hits the water.

I wasn't expecting a lot at the pool tonight - it's often infested with numpties anyway and January is particularly bad for post-gym-bunnies lounging in the lanes. But I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to have a well-behaved lane; people giving way or nodding thanks for moving over, nattering only on set breaks, etc. It meant I was able to get a mile's worth of 200m sets in, eight in total, focusing tightly on a high elbow and pulling hard on the catch. It's not a distance I usually measure over because I find it's very prone to interruption, and those 10s pauses really add up, but it was worth doing today even though I don't really have anything to compare it to directly. I averaged 4mins 20, which is not amazing but a significant bump for me when you add that up and compare it with my best mile time from last year.

That would be 39m 15s then, vs 34m 45s tonight.

Five and a half minutes better than last season. 

Even when you consider that last year's PB was open water, in a wetsuit, at an event; and tonight's time was in a pool with minute breaks between sets...I never bettered that PB in the pool at any point last season. In fact I got slower.

I need to replicate it. I need to go back and do a straight mile, no breaks, to see if it was a fluke, whether it was the resting, find out what the hell is going on. And whether I can sustain that over a mile without a rest, because it did feel like I was working a lot harder in the deep muscles of my back, chest and core. My BPM was higher for sure. I don't know if I'll get chance now before Sunday's second coaching session, but whatever happens, I'm excited to find out what happens after the in-depth session!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Back To Basics

I've mentioned a few times recently - it's a habit-tracking site I've been using for a few months and I think it's really made a difference in terms of sticking to things I need to do or practice regularly. My list is a bit crazy at the moment because I've just added a bunch of new programs, but I'd really recommend it if you want to learn something new or make sure you do something repeatedly. I use it all day long and my day looks like this:

 - it's kind of neat to be able to achieve things without even getting out of bed, so I tick off "inbox zero", "100 vocab words in 100 days", "mental maths" and "take allergy meds am" first thing.

- once I've taken the kids to school I can tick off "eat breakfast", "eat fruit", "writing prompt" and "1min office yoga".

- After lunch I do languages on Duolingo with Youngest (she likes pressing the buttons and laughing at my accent), so that's "learn French", "learn German" and "learn Spanish" ticked off, and I try for "Unclutter" as well.

- At tea I "take vitamins" (mostly because I'm post-bug right now) and afterwards "flute practice" on some nights and "kata" every night with Eldest.

- Evenings are "watch at least one Coursera video", although I'm actually doing the Forensic Science course on FutureLearn right now, then "30 day Planks for beginners", "Push ups for beginners", "Master the Pull-up level 1" and "exercise", which can be either just active nights for those three or one of my swim/karate/yoga classes. I also need to make sure I've done my "physio exercises" and "tracked food on My Fitness Pal".

- And after all that, I've now got to "take allergy meds pm", "meditate" and "go to bed by midnight".

Busy days, and no doubt that's ridiculously regimented to some people, but I am thriving - I've never done so many things so consistently for so long. The strength building programs are particularly helpful and stop me being aimless.

So my exercise log for tonight, starting all three back at the beginning, is:

  • Push-Up
    • 3 reps5
  • Plank
    • 00:00:209
  • Side Plank
    • 00:00:1513
  • Pull-Up
    • 3 reps48
    • 4 reps60
    • 3 reps48
    • All assisted
  • Negative Pull-Up
    • 2 reps17
    • 1 neg, 1 hold
For which I got 200 points on Fitocracy, and that's good enough for me tonight.

Sunday, 5 January 2014


Shoshin is the concept of "beginner's mind" in Zen Buddhism - staying open to new ideas. It's an important one for me at the moment, particularly since I'm at the beginning of many new skills right now.

I've swum all my life - I don't remember a time I wasn't happy in the water - but it's one of those skills you can always, always improve on. And I'm more than aware I have plenty to improve on; my times alone will tell you that. Over the last few years I've trained a lot with USWIM, had a session with SwimSmooth, put in many hours alone and read a few books as well. I'm getting towards the point where I can feel where my imbalances are - I think I under-rotate my hip-shoulder axis (which makes me laugh because I'm told I over-rotate in karate); I have a tendency to look over my shoulder rather than keep my head straight when I breathe; that sort of thing. But it's very hard to tell what you're doing in the water and to that end I booked a couple of sessions with Dave Quatermain to have video analysis and some personalised critique.

First session was tonight - and lo, the videos have just dropped into my inbox, how's that for efficient! It was a very gentle hour, just what I needed after the collywobbles over Christmas. So no great distance or heart-pounding, terrifying sprint drills, but just enough to enjoy the water and regain my confidence. Being weak and shaky for days on end was no fun at all.

Deeply unflattering views of myself, there, so no way am I posting them! but ouch, that left arm cross is dreadful. Thought I'd fixed that :( That's the big obvious one, anyway. I await the criticism with trepidation. And an open mind...

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Universe Laughs In My Face

So yes, I should have exercised and blogged four times for Janathon by now, shouldn't I? Uh-huh. Great plans, and all that. We've now all had the vomiting bug - kids, husband, and it hit me on New Year's Day after a full ten days of cleaning up and looking after everyone else. I left our friends' home about lunchtime feeling ok, mildly hungover, nothing unusual, even talking about going out for a run that evening...and three hours later I was in bed, sick to my stomach, pain in every joint. Bloody wonderful.

2nd Jan I spent huddled in an armchair shivering, trying to deal with the bored and squabbly kids and went to bed again the minute I could. After 48hrs with no food I was pretty wobbly - on the mend again but quite weak. I knew the kids were bored out of their minds, though, so I said I would take them to see Frozen the following day...and then proceeded not to sleep at all that night due to an exceedingly painful shoulder. It finally succumbed to paracetamol at 7am and the kids woke me up at eight. *facepalm*

3rd Jan we made it to the pictures, though getting up the stairs to the cinema was dizzying and draining. On the other hand I ate! Lots. Felt a lot better, no more sick, just wobbly as hell. I planned for this to be the last rest day...but at 11.30pm Eldest Daughter threw up all over the bed and necessitated several hours' worth of clean-up and cuddling between us. And then I couldn't sleep again.

Today the cat joined in and threw up on the sofa. The devil vomits on my eiderdown again, to quote Blackadder. So you know what, screw it. I'm tired, I have work to do and we've done more laundry in the last fortnight than anyone should ever do over Christmas. Eldest and I have managed to physically do our kata for the last couple of days, though - I have practiced every day for 118 days in a row, even at my sickest, because I can still visualise it even if I can't get up and do it. But it feels good to be on my feet again and I can't wait to get to karate on Wednesday to see if I'm finally getting it right.

Tomorrow - all being well and no more sickness - I'm back at Aquatics for training, in a small group with the coach. At the moment I'm only planning to stay for the first hour; I had originally intended to join the main session afterwards but I think that would be stupid at the moment. No sense in getting knocked out for the whole month. On Monday I'm going to reset all my programmes on Lift - pull-ups, push-ups and planks - back to the beginning because I feel like I've lost a lot of strength. Fingers crossed for just a late start to Janathon, rather than completely abandoned.

Of course, the snow's bound to blow in now, isn't it...