One Year On – A Comparison

Although there is no specific anniversary at the moment – it’s not one year from any particular landmark achievement or victory – last weekend did mark approximately one year since the last Big Sky Ride in Southampton, an event I participated in for the first time last year, and which I participated in again this year, but in a different capacity. This difference caused me to reflect back on how all the small changes I have made in the last year have brought me to this place.

July last year – I had been on my ‘fitness journey’ for six months at this stage, and had lost two of the three stone I wanted to shift. I had been cycling for pleasure for only three months, mostly with Breeze Rides on short distances of up to 14 miles, and I was still slowly figuring things out with my diet.  I had re-discovered the joy cycling but wasn’t fit enough or confident enough to cycle further and I am pretty sure my nutrition at this time would not have supported more intense training.  I did the Race for Life 5 KM for Cancer Research UK but I walked it and would not have considered jogging that distance; it seemed insurmountable.

Race for Life 2014
Race for Life 2014

A typical weekend last July would have involved me doing the weekly food shop and some housework, binge-watching Netflix, then an hour of tennis on Sunday afternoon. On the Big Sky Ride weekend I cycled the six miles to Southampton with my husband, we did one loop (five miles) of the route, posed for an official photo, then had lunch before cycling home.  That made a total of approximately 17 miles cycled that day, and we were both pretty tired afterwards.

Sky Ride 2014
Sky Ride 2014 – Image Credit Sky Ride via Facebook

July this year – It is six months since I reached my target ‘healthy’ weight and decided I was happy with that weight. I have been on further Breeze Rides but I have also joined the Southampton CTC and most of my rides are now with them. A typical ride is 20-50 miles now, and I know I can go further if I want to.  I have become a qualified nutritionist and revel in my new-found knowledge as I make wiser food choices based on understanding what my body needs, whilst still enjoying every bite.  Although I did not enter the Race for Life this year, I can now run a sub-30 minute 5 KM if I want to. I also walked a marathon (26.2 miles) this year, and tomorrow I am cycling 62.3 miles (100 KM), for the Rapha Women’s 100. All for fun.

CTC Ride to East Tytherley
CTC Ride to East Tytherley – Image credit Ian McKay, Southampton CTC

I don’t have typical weekends any more.  Last weekend I woke up early on Saturday to attend a special event at my local gym in Romsey – I cycled the six miles there, participated in a 90 minute high-intensity studio class (followed by birthday cake), cycled home, ate lunch, cycled back to Romsey to join a 20 mile CTC ride then cycled home again from Romsey. On Sunday I cycled six miles to Southampton to help man the CTC stand at the Big Sky Ride which involved enthusing about cycling and handing out fliers, then cycled to Romsey from Southampton (nine miles) to play tennis for an hour, before cycling home (six miles).  I cycled a total of 44 miles on Saturday and 19 on Sunday.

Sky Ride 2015
Sky Ride 2015 – Image credit Ali Baker, Southampton CTC

So, I would say I am more than a little thinner, fitter and active this year compared to last year.  Not only that but my priorities have changed and my idea of fun has changed.  A year ago the weekends were for resting, (after all I’d worked hard all week and deserved a rest).  These days weekends are for being active, for getting outside wherever possible, for seeing new places and meeting new people (after all, I’m sat at work in an office all day, I need to take every opportunity to get moving outdoors at the weekend as I certainly don’t move enough at work).  It’s not my job that has changed, just my perception of how active I am during the week.

And now I understand what my body needs I am supporting it with the correct nutrition – knowing when it needs carbs for energy, when it needs protein for muscle repair and when it needs water for hydration have pushed my fitness into the next level.  As long as I eat right and train sensibly, I can get faster, fitter, stronger.

I wonder what I will write in next year’s comparison….

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Like Chocolate, with Negative Calories

Mmm....chocolately goodness

Everyone loves chocolate, right?  The delicious creamy taste, melting texture and feel-good factor…..

Yes, I totally tipped out my chocolate stash to take a picture, then ate some!
Mmm….chocolately goodness

Science tells us that eating chocolate triggers the release of neurotransmitters known as endorphins, such as serotonin. These are the body’s natural pain moderators, and act on the same receptors as opiates like morphine – no wonder we feel good after a bar of chocolate, eh!

Such a shame that aside from making you feel good chocolate has no nutritional benefit and is a short-cut to weight gain if not consumed in moderation…

The thing is that for me cycling has the same effect; it’s like eating chocolate, but with negative calories! I used to cycle daily as a teenager for college and work, and I started cycling daily again two years ago for my commute to my current job, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that those two periods correspond with me being happiest overall in life.

Consider it a natural high – a pain-fighting, mood-boosting, concentration-enhancing wake up call every morning, and a stress-busting, motivating pick-me-up after work, plus a work out and an uncomplicated way to get to work each day.

I’m not just making it up though, and I refer to science again (you’ll find I do that a fair bit) but studies have proven that exercise releases endorphins too (more so than chocolate even!) and it is becoming more common now for doctors to prescribe exercise to treat a range of conditions, including depression, because of the measurable effects of exercise on mood, among other things.

So, when people ask me now why I choose to cycle instead of drive, one of the reasons I should give is that it is like chocolate, with negative calories – what’s not to like!

If you’re interested you can find out more about exercise and depression from The Harvard Medical School.