So the six month positively unstoppable challenge has come to an end. You can read more about what the challenge is and why I signed up to it in my first post on this topic.
I set myself two challenges. The first was to run a half marathon. Admittedly I was confident I could achieve this goal because I’ve run many a half marathon and although it had been a four year absence, I knew the exact steps to take to get race fit. I completed this goal in April by running the Star Wars Virtual half-marathon, which you can read about here.
The second challenge I set myself was to be able to do the side splits. There are benefits to flexibility and the side splits just looks cool. This challenge was the harder of the two. I’ve never been able to do a side split. I failed to hit this goal, but I saw small progress none the less. I used the length of my yoga mat to measure progress. My yoga mat is 216cm long and with my left foot at one end, my right foot was 40cm away from the other end in January. By February my foot was 31cm away from the edge of the mat, so a quick improvement initially. By June, I was 27cm away from the edge of the mat, my progress has slowed considerably. The lesson I learned is that my plan was relatively sound, but the timescale I set was wrong, 6 months was enough for me. I’m resetting my expectations to 12 months and carrying on independently of the Unstoppable Challenge. The goal itself has become more important to me than the Unstoppable Challenge. Maybe thats the point of challenge, set a goal, pursue it for 6 months, and its borderline impossible to not see progress. Once you’ve seen that slow and steady progress you’ll likely carry on and see what the next 6 months bring.
The plan now is to keep my running fitness at a high enough level that it won’t be such a challenge to get race fit again, and to carry on with my side splits training and measure progress again after another 6 months.
2016 was the last time I ran a half marathon, it was in Disneyland Paris and you can read about it here. I wanted to run one last year but the pandemic hit and nearly everything was cancelled so I decided to wait until the pandemic passed. Here we are in 2021 still in the pandemic and I couldn’t wait anymore. Many races have switched to a virtual model anyway so it was just a matter of picking one to lock in a date, and start training for that goal.
Completing another half-marathon after a 4 year absence is also part of my DDPY Positively Unstoppable Challenge which you can read more about here.
I picked the Star Wars Rival Run. I thought it sounded fun because its Star Wars and its non location specific. I’ve see virtual runs advertised for actual cities, for example, run the virtual London / Copenhagen / Paris marathon, and get a medal posted to you for said run with the cities landmarks on it. If I’m going to get a medal with city landmarks on it, I want to have run in that city. Star Wars seemed like a better alternative.
In 2012 I ran my first ever half-marathon and I did it in a time of 2 hours and 5 seconds. I’ve only once completed a half-marathon in under 2 hours. This time around, based on my training, I thought father time was catching up with me. A half marathon is 13.1 miles. While training I had run 12.5 miles in 2 hours and 23 minutes and I ran 14 miles in 2 hours and 35 minutes. I was sure that come race day I’d finish roughly around 2 hours and 30 minutes, my slowest ever time.
But no. The week of the race I made some changes to see if I could improve my time. And the changes worked. I ran the Star Wars Rival Run on April 18th, in a time of 2 hours, 5 mins and 33 seconds. I’m pretty pleased with that time. I trained for 15 weeks, following the same training pattern I have for all the half-marathons I’ve run. Two 30min runs during the week, and a gradually increasing distance run at the weekend. What changes did I make that could have me cross the finish line 25mins sooner than expected? Heres what I did:
I normally exercise 7 times a week across 6 days, with one rest day. On race week, I had two rest days in the two days before the race to allow myself to fully recover.
Change the time
I usually run late at night after the kids are in bed. On race day I set off earlier, at 1.30pm.
Change the location
I normally run in the areas surrounding my house. I ran the actual race in the much more scenic and enjoyable Phoenix Park in Dublin.
Virtual Water Breaks
It occurred to me that on my long training runs, I ran the entire time. In a normal race, I’d walk through the water stations, which gives you a short bit of recuperation time. So I decided to walk for 60 seconds every 3 miles, as if I were at a water station.
All of the above made a huge impact. Its crazy how a few variables, none of them running related as such, could so drastically change my finish time. In sum, it was a fun race to do and it was nice to have a specific date to aim for to help keep focus. I did miss the excitement of a “live” race and I look forward to the day we can do those again. Now all I have to do is wait for my Yoda medal to arrive in the post. “Do or do not, there is no try”
You know Mens Health Magazine, its the one with the shirtless man on the cover with rock hard abs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an issue without a shirtless man on the front and in some ways the content of the magazine has to struggle to overcome its own cover. A new issue is published every month. I don’t buy it every month but I probably do buy it 4 or 5 times a year.
Over the decade or so that I’ve been reading Mens Health it has changed in many ways. There was a time when no issue could be published without an article about women. How to pick up women, how to satisfy women, and the articles would come with an accompanying picture of a beautiful woman, usually in her underwear. It was always a cringe moment on public transport. There you were on the bus, reading recipes for a high protein diet, only to turn the page to what could be a picture from Playboy, and quickly try to turn the page again to the next article lest you look like the early commute pervert. These type of articles disappeared long ago.
Yes the man on the cover probably helps sell issues as a body type men aspire to, but the contents of the magazine are wide ranging. There are articles on travel, the latest tech gadgets, healthy diets, recipes, interviews, gym reviews, fashion, and lots more besides.
Three specific things worth mentioning.
Number one. Over the last number of years Mens Health magazine has taken a big step towards focusing on mens mental health. I would go as far to say that they are one of the leading advocates of mens mental health and do a lot to raise awareness of mens mental health issues. The last issue I read had a full feature on the effects of covid-19 on mental health and covered issues like the effects of social isolation, the effects of having had covid, and the effects of the shutting down of mental health resources as a non-essential service.
Number two. The workouts they give you in the magazine. My workout routine is fairly well established at this point and I’ll usually glance at the in-magazine workouts and if I don’t see how they can be incorporated into what I already do, I skip over them. But in the current times, with covid having shut down gyms and classes, the workouts offered in Mens Health are a welcome break from my usual routine. It prevents my routine from becoming stale and boring by throwing in a wildcard workout from Mens Health every once in a while.
Number three. The magazine has a newfound focus on building a body for life, not just one that is swole. So its less about looking the part, more about sustaining long-term health, but there is an overlap between both of these.
I don’t love the magazine enough to subscribe to it or buy every new issue, but its a good read and worth picking up once in a while to keep yourself aware of current trends in mens mental and physical health. Take care of yourself.
Short blog post this time. I’m doing a six month Positively Unstoppable Challenge with the goals to run a half marathon, and to do the side splits. Part of the challenge is not just to think it, but ink it. The founder of the challenge, DDP, attributes some of his own success to writing down his goals (ink it). Something about the process of writing it down holds you accountable, and makes you more likely to succeed. I’m using this blog to “ink it.”
The half marathon prep is coming along nicely. Two 30 minute runs during the week and a gradually increasing distance run at the weekend. I’m up to 8miles now.
My other goal, to do the side splits, is also progressing in the right direction. As a starting point I tried to do the splits and made a chalk outline of where the edge of my foot was, which you can see below. That serves as a base to measure against. I’ve had to adjust the way I measure because my feet seem to turn outwards the lower I get so for my update I just drew a chalk outline around my foot and measured from the middle of my foot instead of the outside. I was 40cm away from the edge of the mat, I’m now 31cm away from the edge of the mat.
What goals have you set for yourself. Have you inked it, are you measuring it, are you holding yourself accountable?
I’ve decided to enter the DDPY Positively Unstoppable Challenge. Its a six month challenge to achieve a self selected fitness and wellness goal. And a chance to win prizes, who doesn’t love a prize.
For me the Positively Unstoppable Challenge is helping to provide focus, and enthusiasm. Towards the second half of 2020 I lost a bit of my passion for exercising. I’m disciplined enough that I still exercised, but I hit a bit of a funk where I was going through the motions and wasn’t committing everything I could. I reduced my workouts from 6 days a week to 5 days a week, and used the excuse of age/time/covid/whatever to tell myself this was a good idea. I found myself looking for the shorter and/or easier workouts on days when I’d had a “long day”. Then Christmas hit and I stopped training altogether as I do like to take a break over Christmas. And my Christmas eating habits were not good, and the bad eating habits lasted longer than they should have. I entered a mode of, “I’ll just eat all the crap, and then it won’t be in the house anymore, problem solved!”
As stories go, its not really that sad, throughout all of the above (Christmas excluded) I still exercised 5 days a week and ate well so I was in good shape throughout. January 1st rolled around and Ireland went into Level 5 lockdown, gyms and fitness studios closed, travel restricted to within 5km of your house. A depressing start to 2021 to say the least, which made it hard to be enthused about returning to exercise after Christmas.
The Positively Unstoppable Challenge is something to get enthusiastic about. I’ve set myself 2 goals. The first goal is to run a half marathon. The last half marathon I ran was in 2016, after which my first child was born and running didn’t continue to the same extent. I did sign up for a half-marathon in 2018 but my training was a disaster so I pulled out. I’m determined to get race fit and run a half-marathon in 2021. I’ve signed up for a virtual race on April 18th and so far 5miles is the furthest I’ve gone in my training.
The second goal is to be able to do the side splits. For no other reason than I think they look cool. Flexibility, when pursued correctly, is good for you but I don’t know the in’s and out’s of the benefits of the side splits, thats one for Google. My yoga mat is 216cm long and with my left foot at one end, my right foot is 40cm away from the other, a long way to go to the splits.
At the end of the six months I’ll probably look the exact same because my goals are cardiovascular endurance and flexibility, both of which or internal changes. If the monotony of life under covid is sapping you of energy and enthusiasm, I’d suggest finding something like the Positively Unstoppable Challenge to help get you going again. I certainly feel I need something specific to train for, having spend all of 2020 training for its own sake. I’ll post regular updates to this blog to hold myself accountable. Whats your 2021 goal?
Its that time of year again when the Christmas tree has to be carried home.
I exercise to stay fit and healthy, which does sound a somewhat vague goal. What does fit and healthy actually look like, how will I know when I’ve gotten there? And for what purpose?
During covid times especially, when I rarely leave my house, it can feel like I’m exercising at home just so I’m capable of getting through the next exercise session, also at home. When you live, work, and exercise inside the same four walls the benefits of being fit and healthy don’t seem to have any broad application beyond exercise for its own sake.
Thats why the annual Christmas tree carry is something to look forward to. Finally, a years worth of exercise has a practical application!
Hugh Jackman has been known to get into character as Wolverine before starting what he knows will be a tough gym session. Beyonce embodies a fictional, more confident alter ego, Sasha Fierce, when performing on stage. Adopting an alter ego is a form of ‘self-distancing’ and involves taking a step back from your immediate feelings to allow you to view a situation as someone else. Its a technique most often used to help with stage performing, job interviews, public speaking, but really it can be used for any task. Its sometimes referred to as the Batman effect. Batman being Bruce Waynes alter ego.
Although the embodiment of a fictional persona may seem a bit crazy, research suggests there may be some real psychological benefits to the strategy. Self-distancing yourself from a situation by embodying someone else gives you a little bit of extra space to think rationally about a situation and increases your perseverance on challenging tasks. Forget that you’ve never bench pressed more than 100kgs, because this is not you, its Batman, and it can/will be done.
Self-distancing can also increase your intention to exercise or resist junk food. I want that chocolate, but what does the Wolverine want? I don’t want to work out this evening, but what does Arnold want? Okay, Arnold is not fictional but he’s a larger than life character.
Its Halloween weekend so I decided to try a drastic version of the Batman effect. I worked out as Spider-Man. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not tried but it made a positive difference (and its not easy to breath in that suit). I won’t be doing this again, its better that I take a step back from the theatrics before I’m committed or I try to swing from buildings, but a little imagination might help you run that bit faster, lift that bit heavier, push that bit further.
When I starting working out as a teenager I took protein supplements. Maximuscle was my brand of choice. Your standard protein shake. Back then you could purchase protein supplements in gyms, and dedicated supplements stores. Protein shakes, supplements, and fitness supplements in general have become far more mainstream and you can now get them at your local Tesco while doing the grocery shopping. Protein bars are displayed alongside chocolate bars in Centra, Spar, etc.
I don’t take any supplements today. If I was to guess, I’d say I gave up on them sometime in 2012. My thoughts on supplements:
they are important and necessary, if you’re a professional athlete. I exercise 6 days a week, and I get all the nutrients I need from food. Chances are you’re not a pro athlete either, and you’re not training at the level they do, not even close, so you can get everything you need from food alone.
If you believe they work, they often will. This raises the issue of the “nocebo” effect, in which your beliefs can have a negative impact. If you regularly take a supplement, then one day run out, it can create negative expectations and your workout will be poor as a result.
Positive self-talk, “i’m going to have a great workout” can have the same effect on your workout as a pre-workout shake.
If you want to take supplements thats fine. But it you don’t exercise at that elite level, chances are your body is not going to absorb any extra nutrients from them and they’ll just exit the body, you’re almost literally flushing money down the toilet.
I have previously written posts called Training with a baby and training with a new newborn. How long ago those days seem. Now its training with two kids under the age of four. If covid-19 had not happened, I think fitting exercise in would have been easier because my office has a studio and a gym nearby so lunchtime workouts were easy. In theory, they still should be but they’re not. Working from home during the pandemic I tend to eat quickly and get back to work, doubly so if its my turn to cook the lunch. I say lunch, I eat my dinner at 12 so its the main meal of the day.
Between work and kids my free time is squeezed into an evening time slot, between 7.30pm and 10pm. More often than not I’m up later than 10pm getting my life in order but 10pm is the goal so I can get my 8 hours in before the 6am wake up call. Eating up my 2 and half hours with an hour of exercise is a difficult choice to make. I find that when the work day is over, and the kids are in bed, I have an energy crash, “ah, the day is done”. So finding the motivation to exercise isn’t always easy. I’d prefer to relax and watch T.V
While I have some nice photos of me training during the day with my kids, which would look great in a fictitious insta life, the truth is 99% of my training is in the evening or late at night and its really hard. More often than not I’m dragging my tired body and unenthusiastic mind onto the exercise mate. I always feel great afterwards. Such is life, finding motivation is not easy, but you can do it and its always worth it. Stay positive. Here is my fake life where the kids love exercising with me:
When my second child was born in 2019 I took three months paternity leave. It was great to be able to lend a helping hand to my wife, spend time with the newborn, and to step away from the office. I went to various classes like baby massage and got to meet other Dads Moms. I’m not sure I met any other Dads who were on paternity leave, and most Moms were shocked by how much leave my employer offered, and the proportion of my salary they continued to pay. I’m lucky that I work for a large company that offers paternity leave far in excess of Government policy. Not all companies have the will and/or resources to do so. Paternity leave just doesn’t seem to be a thing in Ireland, and thats bad.
One reason I assume Dads don’t take leave or lobby the government for more generous leave is embarrassment. Dads work, they don’t coo over babies. And I admit, I felt a bit of this too. I only took three of the four months on offer, crumbling to the self-inflicted pressure of coming back to the office. I only know of one Dad in the company who has taken all four months. It’s one thing to offer paternity leave, quite another to change Dad culture.
Japan has one of the most generous paternity allowances in the world with 30.4 weeks of paid leave – yet only about 3% of new dads take it. According to a study by Kyushu University most Japanese Dads said they wanted to take their full paternity leave but didn’t feel that they could, because none of the other Dads did (I know how that feels). Those “other Dads” are also “most Dads” so they too actually want to take leave. Collectively, Dads are unwittingly propping up their work-comes-first culture.
In the UK, the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service discovered that embarrassment was one of the biggest obstacles to taking paternity leave. A third of new Dads were worried that their manager wouldn’t be understanding and a fifth were convinced that it would affect their chances of promotion. Did taking paternity leave impact my career, actually yes, a bit, but you come out of it believing that theres something more fundamental to chase than just a good career.
I’m not sure I’d have been that productive even if I had been in work. The chaos created by a newborn baby doesn’t exactly lend itself to a successful working life. Those first few months I wandered around in a sleep-deprived state.
I have zero regrets about taking paternity leave. Hanging out with baby, helping/watching baby experience the world, its really exciting and great fun. It’s great for kids too because time spent with their parents in the early stages of their lives benefits their emotional development and can have a positive impact on their mental health.
Dad taking leave is also a huge benefit to Mom. Having taken leave, it seems bizarre that Dads role could be, “right, well good luck with the baby, I’m off to work” – no wonder some women suffer post natal depression. They’re being asked to handle a life changing event largely by themselves. Also, because I was a stay at home Dad for three months, I know its much harder being at home than it is in the office (and I had help). It meant that when I was back at work, I didn’t come home expecting to relax after a hard days work, because I know which one of us actually had the harder day, hint, not me.
We need to take our lead from the Nordic countries, no surprise there. Sweden is a world leader when it comes to shared parental leave. Their allowance is 480 days with 90 days reserved for each partner, and for the majority of that time they receive 80% of their income, paid centrally through the government. In Finland, Moms maternity pay is linked to Dads leave, if he doesn’t take paternity leave, the maternity pay decreases.
If you’re lucky enough that you can take paternity leave, then do. I came out better for it, as did my family. As a society we’re not where we need to be, but it’s getting better all the time.