Last year was the first year I set myself a few health-related goals. No, really. Ever. I've done fitness things before, but never with defined objectives. My goals were pretty basic stuff: just reminders to myself to keep on the straight and narrow with my asthma and pain management, an undertaking to try out intermittent fasting, and a vague ambition to learn to run. Nothing major, but I think having something on paper really helped me to focus and prioritise my health.
2013 was also the first year I've voluntarily gone running. Running is amazing: I really had no idea. It helps with my breathing, and it even helps reduce my overall pain levels. I've also been continuing with the exercises my physiotherapist gave me, lifting some weights, and using the rowing machine.
My goals for 2014 -- and onwards -- are similar to last year's, but if anything, even simpler and more general. I've given some thought to what I want to achieve through exercise, and I think it can be summed up in three basic points:
- Live without pain
- by doing my physio exercises; by strengthening my muscles; by running.
- Control my asthma
- with drugs if I must, but also with running and other cardio exercise that expands my lung capacity for the long term.
- Be able to eat cake
- because I love baking, and keeping fit enables me to indulge without guilt.
I think I've learnt quite a lot about myself, my abilities, and my preferences in the course of the past year. This may all be rather obvious stuff, but these are the lessons that have helped me the most, and that I'm going to keep in mind as we go into 2014:
Running outside is so much nicer than pounding away on the treadmill. I always assumed I hated running, a feeling that was based on a few rainy cross-country P.E. classes at school and, later, treadmills at the gym. It turns out that with comfortable (read: very lightweight) shoes and a backdrop of beautiful countryside, I actually really enjoy myself. I also have a significant preference for softer surfaces, like grass and woodland trails.
Running up hills gets you there faster. Even if you jog really slowly, you're still making significantly better ground than you would be by walking. Ever since Andy pointed this out to me, I've made it a personal goal to run up all the hills, even (and especially) the ones that are really too steep for running.
It's okay to be out of breath. As an asthmatic it's easy to become almost pathologically afraid of anything that isn't measured, normal breathing. If I started to breathe heavily, in the beginning, I was afraid that I needed to ease off and slow right down. Then I read an article (not even aimed at asthmatics) which pointed out that with running, it's normal to be at the limit of your breathing most of the time. This was a revelation for me and has helped me to relax into the experience.
Speaking of which, I need to be present, even when it hurts. As long as I'm not actually damaging myself, it's okay to be in pain. Improving hurts. I have to be aware of my body so that I can differentiate between improvement-in-progress and potential injury, and that means fully experiencing pain, not trying to push it away. Nothing has challenged me more in this respect than when we walked a marathon back in early summer... but if I hadn't been able to do it, there's no way I could have finished at all. So "I'll regret this tomorrow" is no longer part of my vocabulary. I might ache like crazy tomorrow, but even on the days when I can hardly stand, I don't regret it. I just hurt, and that's okay.
It helps to monitor everything. I've discovered a few great mobile apps for tracking my progress, and it keeps me accountable to myself... even if I almost never look back over all the data. It's just good to keep a record.
And finally, this is all about me. I'm never going to be fastest (or even fast). I'm never going to compete, or even to be able to keep up with my husband when he's running at his natural pace. And you know what? It doesn't matter at all. I'm not doing this to be best, I'm doing it to be healthier. I'd quite like to run a half marathon this year, and a full marathon the year after... but if I'm slow, who cares? I'm not competing with anyone except myself, and she's really not very competitive.