Goals change, that’s OK

At the start of the year I set some goals. I liked those goals. They were sensible, achievable and meant I could throw myself at 2017 with some enthusiasm. Sadly my body had other plans for the year ahead.

Shortly after setting these humble targets – run a half marathon, record some of my music, publish a poem, and lose some weight – I had an episode. I got home from work and felt short of breath and a bit dizzy. My heart was having palpitations and was beating ridiculously fast. It got worse and lasted a few hours. Typically though, it had stopped by the time I was worried enough to contact NHS 24 and arrange to speak to a doctor at the local community hospital.

I’d experienced my first episode of Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation. A heart rhythm disorder which manifests as attacks of up to a few hours in length (for some people it can be days), where the heart suddenly starts beating with a very fast, irregular rhythm. It’s not life threatening, but during an episode I could barely go for a walk without feeling extreme fatigue and afterwards I was left feeling very tired.

Eventually after months of experiencing up to four episodes a day, I was able to get everything under control with medication by the middle of the summer. Now I feel pretty much back to normal.

Sadly by that point I was now also dealing with a recurring back injury, which at the time of writing (early September) I’m still having issues with.

My two main forms of exercise are running and cycling. I’ve hardly been able to do either for most of the year. Now when I do get out I usually pay for it the next day with back pain and restricted movement. Lots of fun this injury business.

Having lost my ability to exercise that meant my half marathon goal was toast. Even more annoying, without regular exercise I started putting on weight. Instead of losing a stone I gained one. Whoops. Another goal down.

Over the course of summer I changed job, went on holiday, had some other personal stuff going on and then I looked back and I hadn’t played or recorded any music for months and it looks like the EP goal is going to be missed as well.

You know what though? It’s OK. I’m not too down about missing these goals. Stuff happens. I’ve been pretty lucky and avoided any serious health issues or injuries over the years so to lose one year to some problems isn’t a big deal. I’m disappointed I didn’t get to take part in the first Great Run to happen in Aberdeen and obviously I’m annoyed at putting on weight but the layoff has given me opportunities as well.

I’ve hunted for advice on how I can fix my back problems which are apparently muscular issues, so I’ve looked at how I can increase my range of movement and the strength in my core. Both are issues I’ve meant to address for a long time but while I’ve concentrated on running and cycling it never seemed too urgent.

For the last couple of months I’ve used a two prong approach of body weight strength exercises and yoga. Both give a flexible program of movements which can be done with very little equipment and can easily fit into a life at home with a two year old toddler. I’ve even tried to get her involved a couple of times but she’s not quite got the hang of handstands or pull-ups yet (who am I kidding, I haven’t got the hang of them either!).

The body weight exercises I’ve grabbed from the amazingly helpful and supportive community at r/bodyweightfitness who, as well as publishing a recommended routine complete with detailed progressions and prerequisites, also publish regular technique features, videos and maintain an app for the exercises all for the princely sum of nothing at all.

Another superb resource of inspiration and tips has been the excellent folk at Gold Medal Bodies who offer premium paid for content of training programs, but also publish some fantastic blogs and video content for free on their website and Facebook page.

Then there’s the yoga. There’s a lot of nonsense which surrounds yoga. To be honest a lot of it I can do without, especially after buying a reference book for the movements and flicking through a load of pseudo-scientific rubbish in the surrounding chapters. However, the physical and mental benefits of spending a bit of time going through a yoga flow and then the reward of the Savasana meditative pose at the end are immense.

I wanted yoga to be something I can do at home in a quiet corner of the living room to unwind. Not a communal class I had to drive to and commit to an hour or so of discomfort in the presence of others every time I wanted to do some movements. To that end I installed the Down Dog app. It’s available for free with a premium version which offers extra ways to customise your practice, but to be honest the cheaper one gives you plenty to get going with.

Neither the bodyweight routine or the yoga practice are easy, even for someone who is relatively fit and flexible. The variety of movements and the range of progression means I’m always being pushed but even after the few short weeks I’ve been doing them I can see a big improvement in strength and most importantly my back!

Just the act of maintaining some kind of exercise routine (even if it’s not the exercise I want to be doing) has improved my mood considerably. It’s also made it a lot easier to motivate myself to get my diet back in shape using some calorie tracking to pinpoint exactly where I’m doing the damage to my waistline and tweak it as necessary.

So while I may have failed some of my initial goals for the year, I’m not down about it. I’ve embraced the opportunity to be flexible and try some new challenges. If I can strengthen my back and get back to running then this years goals will still be there, waiting for me, in 2018. In the meantime just getting back to health is a big enough goal by itself.

Oh, I didn’t mention the goal I set about publishing some poetry. Issue #5 of The Poet’s Republic, released in September 2017, features one of my poems. As does The Federation of Writers (Scotland) New Writers Scotland anthology to be released in Autumn 2017. Hooray! One goal complete!

Goals for a new year

So 2016 was a year that happened. Frankly it’s developed a pretty bad rep, as well as quite a body count. It would be easy to wallow in all the bad shit that happened last year. Sod that, I want to waltz into 2017 on a cloud of positivity.

We had two fantastic family holidays in 2016, to Mallorca in June then Dornoch in October. I ran (slowly) the fantastic 15 mile Illuminator night race in Glen Tanar in September.  We had some great weekends away and I got to endure the hardship of being sent to Paris for a few days to work. I also celebrated some important birthdays with my extended family, went to some brilliant weddings and received news of some more to come.

Above all else, the year was full of the sound of my daughter and nephew laughing and playing.

Now it comes to the start of a new year and I naturally start thinking about what lies ahead. Hopefully a lot more of my daughter’s laughter, but what else? I toyed with the idea of setting vague resolutions like “Play more music” or “Run more”. However I work best when I have a set goal in mind, like a 15 mile night race to train for without my feet exploding halfway through.

With that in mind here’s a few (achievable) things I would like to accomplish this year:

  1.  Record an EP
  2.  Publish a poem or a short story
  3.  Run a sub-2 hour half marathon
  4.  Get my weight down to 11 stone

A couple of these are a little more difficult than the others but should still be achievable over the course of the year, or at least have significant progress towards them.

Record an EP

I’ve played guitar since I was fourteen and for most of my adult life I’ve written music and played in local bands. I left my last band a few years ago to concentrate on a solo music project I was working on, but once my daughter arrived I slowly played less and less until I pretty much put my instruments down one day last year and never really picked them up again.

Over the last month I’ve made a conscious effort to get back on the horse and pick up either a guitar or mandolin almost every day. The aim is basically to get involved again and start pushing the project I started 4 years ago back into being. Eventually I hope to play some gigs but I think my self-confidence is a long way from that milestone. For now I’d be happy getting my playing and my singing into a good enough condition to record the EP I wrote down a tracklisting for shortly after I left that band.

Publish a poem or short story

As a member of local writing group Mearns Writers, I’ve produced a number of poems and short stories over the last two years. While I’ve submitted a few of these occasionally to some local poetry magazines and the odd competition I’ve not made a serious effort to get anything published (aside from posting a few on this site and the groups own self-published anthology). I need to step up my submission game in 2017 and see if I can at least place in some competitions and get some good feedback.

Run a sub-2 hour half marathon

This is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest of my 2017 goals. I should have a sub-2 hour half in my legs. I’ve ran 2:01 at Skye, which is bloody hilly and there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to break that barrier. At the same time I’ve not been running nearly as much as I used to and I need to get my routine fixed and stick to it if I’m going to get anywhere close to this goal.

The Great Aberdeen Run is at the end of August and I entered on the day it was announced. That’s the target, though I might try a warm up race at the start of summer to see how I’m getting on.

Get my weight down to 11 stone

This goal will tie in with the previous one. If I train properly for a sub-2 hour half marathon I should lose weight. Since I started getting into fitness and sorted my weight issues over 10 years ago I’ve been stuck floating around the 12 stone mark. At the peak of my running routine, before my daughter arrived, I did manage to get down to under 11 and a half stone but that didn’t last long. I’m now back up to 12 and a half. That needs to be reversed.

Getting back below 12 stone should be easy. Exercise will fix that. Slimming down to 11 stone will need a bit more determination and willpower but hopefully I can get there by the end of the year.

There are of course plenty of other things I would like to do this year. I would like to worry less, focus at work more, cut out internet habits which reinforce negative thoughts, climb more hills and cycle many miles. Those are all good things to aim for but I think if I concentrate on these four achievable goals then I’ll be well on the way to a memorable year without putting too much pressure on myself.

Reflections on 2015

The Christmas tree is back in its box. The decorations have been gathered from their vantage points around the house and the first work shirts of 2016 have been ironed ready for the return to the office this week. As I wait out the last few days and hours of the Christmas holidays I’ve been reflecting on the year that’s just passed and what it means for the year to come.

One thing about the year to come… it can only improve from this point! My adorable daughter picked up an awful cold just before Christmas which of course she then passed on to my wife and I. Which means that the first time in about 8 years that I’ve not had to work or be on call for work over the festive period I’ve spent mostly in bed ill. Which was nice. Thanks Chloe. Oh and I’ve just lost a game of Trivial Pursuit to my wife for the first time. 2016 is terrible so far!

However that leads me nicely into the biggest event which happened to us in 2015 and it was back in the middle of January. My daughter Chloe was born in the very early hours of a Thursday morning in Aberdeen. We’d started the process the previous morning by driving to the hospital in Montrose, but we’ll just gloss over that (and the terrifying blue lights transfer in gale force winds). Despite her slightly dramatic entry into the world, she is amazing. Every day we see her beautiful soul shine a little brighter as her personality develops and she grows from baby to toddler.

Adjusting to life with a baby hasn’t been easy, although the rewards are immense. I can’t get enough of hearing her laugh or the feeling when she gives me a hug. Still, at times this year has pushed me to breaking point and beyond.

As well as the arrival of our daughter we were also settling into a new house at the start of 2015, having moved to Stonehaven at the end of 2014. The first half of the year also saw me stuck in a job I had tried to get out of for two years without success and the pressure of that started to take its toll. All this added up to a trip to the doctor’s to seek treatment for depression and chronic anxiety.

It’s never easy admitting to mental health issues. I’ve not made a big deal of it or gone public (until now) as it isn’t really anyone else’s business. However as it has been a massive part of the last year for me I felt I should include it in this post. Thankfully, the GP I saw was superb and very understanding which has meant I’ve been able to get most of my issues firmly under control through the second half of the year. I now feel pretty much back to normal 95% of the time, which is fantastic and makes dealing with the rest of life a lot easier. Perhaps in the future I’ll write-up my experience of mental illness in a bit more detail, but for now I’m just glad I can move on.

I mentioned my job earlier. In the summer I was eventually successful in escaping from my previous role and have finally left the front line of corporate IT support. Albeit I’ve just moved to the vendor side of the relationship. I’m now working as a consultant for a Norwegian software house, but it’s a massive change for me and a hugely positive one. I started in the role in August and the first few months have been very enjoyable so far including an eye-opening trip to our head office in Oslo set in idyllic surroundings on the banks of Oslo fjord.

August saw another big challenge – Ride The North. A two day bike ride from Inverness back to Stonehaven via the hilliest road route they could find (or so it seemed). Easily one of the hardest things I have ever done. Possibly the hardest. It was an amazing experience, great fun and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a serious challenge. I also managed to raise over £300 for Home Start UK in the process. I felt very proud of myself as I came down the hill into Stoney. I’ve cycled into the town countless times but it’s rarely been such a relief! That was pretty much it in terms of fitness and adventure for the year as exercise took a back seat to make time for nappy changes!

Although 2015 saw me step back from the blog for a variety of reasons, I carried on writing in other ways. I’ve long been interested in trying more creative forms of writing and had considered an open learning English degree or something similar to stretch myself in that direction. At least I was considering it until I found out how much it was going to cost! Instead I joined the local writers group and have been introduced to a very welcoming and creative bunch of local poets, fiction writers and essayists. Through the group I’ve rekindled an interest in poetry I hadn’t explored since school and have also written a few pieces of short fiction. Some of the work has been published on this blog and I hope to put up a lot more this year.

In terms of other creative work I have pretty much neglected my music. When a baby enters your life it’s inevitable that something has to give and playing, writing and performing music has been the biggest casualty of my hobbies. I might have cut back on running and exercise but I at least can try to make up for that by going to the gym at lunchtime. I’d get some funny looks practicing the mandolin or guitar in the office kitchen…

Music is something I definitely want to pick up again and I have a couple of minor goals for 2016 but I won’t be putting a lot of pressure on myself to get them ticked off. At the moment it’s all about relaxed aims and not forcing myself to do things.

Outside of what I’ve achieved over the last year I’ve had some great trips (Keswick in the summer, Oslo, Aberfeldy for my birthday to see Lau play in a small town hall). Listened to some wonderful music – albums by Lau, Chvrches, Treacherous Orchestra, Olafur Arnalds (collaborating with Nils Frahm and Sarah Ott), Anais Mitchell (just got into her stuff this year) and Rachel Sermanni all stood out for me this year. Star Wars finally got its mojo back with an awesome adventure in The Force Awakens, while on TV Fargo returned for a brilliant second season and I now have a thorough, detailed knowledge of the Cbeebies TV channel.

Other things had a big impact on my year, in particular the awful news in November of the attacks in Paris. While dreadful acts of violence and terror happen all over the world the events in Paris and in particular the assault on the Bataclan concert venue seemed to hit very close to home. I think it’s because Paris is a city I’ve visited in a country I’m incredibly fond of. Also the target of the attack was a rock gig by The Eagles Of Death Metal, a band whose work I have on my iPod, in a venue which one of my favourite bands (Deftones) was due to play the very next day. In fact members of that band were at the gig on the night it was attacked. The victims were my Parisian analogues just out to enjoy a band they liked on a Friday night.

If I have one big theme I want to take out of 2015 it’s that despite some problems I’ve come through it all relatively unscathed and with a fantastic, beautiful family to share it with and support each other. It’s far too easy to put unhealthy amounts of pressure on ourselves these days and while having goals and aims is admirable it should also not be at the detriment of your own health and personal relationships.

The first half of 2015 was a mad, high pressure rush of new baby, mad work situation, cycle training and deteriorating health. While after the summer things calmed down and I was able to step back and find the necessary space to get back on track and enjoy being with my daughter, my new job and being more relaxed about my spare time after Ride The North was over. Hopefully I take that relaxed enjoyment with me into 2016 and beyond.

Happy New Year!