It’s really easy to make excuses as to why we can’t exercise. We’re busy. We travel too much and our schedule is all over the place, we’ve got injuries, and we always hated sport at school. We’re going to get fit next year, once this busy bit is done. There is always a good excuse.
How many of us feel like this?
I have an odd backstory. I originally trained to do dance and so my childhood was very active but in the weird sort of way it is when you do dance. Ballet doesn’t really combine well with other sports, so I avoided sport at school didn’t learn to swim, and was under the impression that I completely couldn’t run as the few times I had tried I found myself out of breath and unable to continue very quickly
despite knowing I was fit. I obviously wasn’t capable of running, not something I was designed for.
I also knew that I built muscle easily, despite my best efforts I looked bigger than I wanted to, and when I started doing contemporary dance discovered I was pretty good at lifting other dancers. However I saw my strength as a downside most of the time in the race to be skinny.
However, it did come in handy when I quit dance to go work backstage. When your job is to shift heavy things around, in the dark, while other things try to land on your head being strong and fit is useful.
When I worked backstage I never thought to do anything to keep fit, on Jolson I was literally running around for the 3 hour show and lifting heavy stuff. It was a busy show, there were few chances to stop and the backstage area at the Victoria Palace is tiny, half of our set was flown out on chain hoists and moving this stuff around was timed for when there was loud music happening on stage.
One of my cues was to literally act as the human brake lying underneath a jeep that Brian Conley in his role as Al Jolson was standing on. It came round the revolve, I braced top stop the thing ending up in the front row of seats, ducked underneath as one tonne of brick wall whistled past my ear and rolled out quick as the lights went down and the rest of the crew ran on to drag it off stage right and fly it back out again on a chain hoist so it didn’t block the next enormous bit of set coming in. 8 shows a week. I was fitter than I was as a dancer, despite the ridiculous amount of beer we all drank.
I loved working backstage and was good at it, good enough to be accepted in what was very much a job for the boys, and then I fell pregnant with my daughter. This is my daughter aged about 4. She is now almost 21.
And really between age 22 and 30 I was just coping with being a mother, learning to code, working and then setting up my own business and dealing with So it wasn’t until I was in my mid 30s that I started to really think about fitness as a thing, as I realised I couldn’t just rely on being generally active and walking everywhere to keep a decent level of fitness.
I was so busy, often too busy to get to gym classes and I really fancied the idea of running but as far as I believed, I couldn’t run.
However I started the Couch to 5k, on a treadmill and slowly built up to being able to run 5k on a treadmill. I then contacted a local running group. The Running Sisters and said I was able to run 5k on a treadmill, did they think I would be good enough to join. They said if I could cope with 5k on a treadmill, I’d love it outside with company and so I went along, and that group took me from someone who though she couldn’t run to someone who ran half marathons.
And I tell you this because it’s important to know I’m no natural sporty person, I’m not a fast runner or an especially good one. I just started and continued to put in the miles and improved. It’s easy to think of people who do this stuff as people who have always done it, it isn’t and it is also never too late to start.
So another thing I hear a lot, and sometimes with wistful longing is people who tell me they would love to do what I do but have bad knees, its often knees or some other problem. Obviously there are people with such serious health issues that doing any physical activityis almost impossible, and I’m completely unqualified to speak to that. However I think most of us don’t get into late 30s without some bit of us playing up.
Please please, if you have been told by a GP that you shouldn’t do a certain form of exercise, get another opinion. My advice there is to go to a sports physiotherapist and get some proper advice. I know so many people myself included who have been told not to do something because of their knees, hips whatever which turns out to be totally spurious or may just need some strength work to rectify. I have pretty much no cartilage under my right kneecap. I work on the strength of my legs to hold that knee together, but it is fine, it’s the least of my problems. However I didn’t cycle for years because a dance physio told me it was a bad idea. Things have also changed in terms of advice given, so reasonable advice given 10 or 20 years ago might actually not be what they advise today.
A decent sports physio can help you put together a plan to improve from where you are now, one that will help to strengthen any weak points.
But what happens when you get seriously injured. I have s story for this too, one of the advantages of getting old is the fact that you amass a lifetime of stupid shit that has happened to you to talk about.
I was training for my first marathon The London in 2013. It had snowed and I had a long run planned. I debated going out but other people from my running club said they were going out, so I figured I would see what conditions were really like on the way to the club and we could make a call there.
This is my tweet from that morning. God love Twitter, maintaining a database of stupid decisions past Rachel has made. Running down on the soft snow was fine, so a few of us decided to go for it. I made it 100 metres out of the clubhouse then slipped on a patch where ice had formed and snow went over it. I went backwards, all I can remember thinking was “don’t hit your head”, ingrained from falls training as a performer, then the feeling like glass breaking as my elbow joint shattered and I threw myself onto my side to avoid hitting my head. I knew my arm was broken. I pretty much expected there to be bones through the skin and after initially yelling and a lot of curse words, I managed to get myself up off the ice and back into the clubhouse where people tried to give me tea, which I didn’t drink as I was pretty sure I’d be in surgery later that day.
And I was. Six hours to put back together what the surgeon described as a complex 3d jigsaw puzzle.
I wasn’t going to be running London, or running at all for some time, but I was not letting this destroy the work I’d done to get fit, not at all. Turns out you can cycle on a spin bike with one arm in a sling, which is what I did, for the three months before I was allowed to run again. I had a lovely trainer who went round the gym and figured out how to do things one armed.
And I did get to run London, one year later after 2 further surgeries. However this isn’t such a neat story of Rachel broke her arm now it’s all fixed and everything is lovely. This is how much I can bend and how much I can straighten this arm. It’s not going to get better than this. In the months and years after breaking it I had to deal with not only constant pain, but also and probably worse the fact that it changed the way I saw myself. I was strong, I always bounced. Now I had evidence I was breakable in a fairly dramatic way.
Over the years since that accident having one only arm has literally pulled my spine out of alignment. One of my collarbones is so displaced that the physio thought I had had some trauma there, no I’ve dragged it out of place by my own strength trying to cope with this arm. I wouldn’t expect a wonky arm to affect my running, however it has, due to pulling everything out of alignment. I’ve spent the last two years bouncing from hip to ankle injuries and back again, caused by imbalance. In December 2016 I had another surgery to scrape out scar tissue, which has relieved a lot of the nerve pain, I was of course at park run 3 days later! Walking with an arm in a sling, but I did it
The op at the end of 2016 gave me use of my right hand back and I’ve started doing Crossfit, something I thought I’d never be able to do. However with a good gym, somewhere where they are able to work with me and help me to figure things out, I can do more than I thought and it is helping me to fix the imbalance and become more confident again about doing things other than running. I’ve also learned to swim properly since breaking my arm, and am now a decent swimmer. I’m registered for my first open water triathlon later this year. It’s never going to be perfect.
There is always something you can do.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, or even to yourself especially after a new injury or illness. Start now, and see what you can do to improve from this starting point.
So I’m not going to let you have an excuse to not get fit due to injury, but what about time? Surely you are too busy to keep fit? I’m busy.
This is my 2017 travel
These are my current commitments
And the thing with fitness is it has a weird way of giving you back that time. If you are currently finding that by 6pm all you want to do is slump in front of the TV, as your fitness improves you may well find that you get that time back whether you use it for work, a hobby or just to be active to spend time with your family doesn’t matter. I’m pretty sure that for most people the time spent on fitness kind of pays itself back to give you more productive hours in the day, and by productive I don’t mean “work hours” just hours you can do something other than flop on the sofa.
And with kids find things you can do together. You all get fit, you sped time together on shared goals, and they have a positive experience of fitness which hopefully will set them up for life. My daughter was a little older when I got into exercise but I so wish park run had been a thing when she was little. I ran the other day behind a dad and his daughter, she can’t have been more than 6 running 5k holding his hand. I listened to him telling her how well she was doing, how strong she was. A father and daughter enjoying fitness together. Parkrun is awesome, and you can run or walk or a bit of both.
It turns out that instead of travel being the reason I can’t exercise, my running not only has become a fundamental part of why I enjoy travel so much but I really believe is what enables me to keep the ridiculous schedule I have and not burn out because I have so much fun. Here I am in Nashville before An Event Apart doing a 10k race at the Grand Old Opry, with Drew in Canada, San Francisco and Sydney doing Parkruns.
When I look at my list of recent event, I think of all the events, the things I learned, the talk I gave and the people I spoke to. I also think about the runs I did and the stuff I saw that I would never have seen with three days in that location.
Getting outside and active is also the best way to beat jetlag that I know.
And you can also have the fun of discovering what this particular hotel was a good idea to put I the gym. I am under the impression that most hotel gyms were designed by someone whose uncle described to them a picture of a gym. This one was in Tokyo and had a dinky indoor running track.
Sometimes I get to share my love of getting outside at 7am with other people. I just got back from Smashing Conf in San Francisco where I helped to led the grandly named Smashing Conf Run Club, which was in reality 5 of us going for a run before the conference. I was running it with Josh,he’sa friend of mine and fellow speaker, but you know what else he is - inventor of Couch to 5K - the thing that got me running when I thought I couldn’t.
If you wait until it is the perfect time, it will never be the time. Do it anyway, imperfectly, in the time that you have from where you are right now. Find something you enjoy doing and enjoy the improvements you see as you consistently work at it. It’s an ongoing thing, we get older, our bodies change, we get injured, our lives become hectic and our circumstances change. However if you keep focus on what you can do, right here right now and not on what you can’t, I think you will discover just how amazing you really are.