Finding a fitness routine that works for me has been a constant battle. Running has been there from the start (the start of me as someone I want to be and not someone I wish I wasn't, at least), and there's been some dabbling in swimming, aerobics, fitness DVDs and kickboxing. Then there's been yoga, on and off and on and on and off again; five times a week, once a week, classes, no classes; vinyasa, hatha, fusions with pilates. And the cycling; the six months of 60-70-80-100 miles a week, a strict regime of two short cycles and one long cycling day, come wind, come rain, come shine.
The MA where I had no time to do anything but read and write. The new job where I gave up all forms of movement and collapsed into a sorry heap at the end of every day for weeks. The long days as a commuter, where I spent four hours sitting on trains, running for trains, rushing from place to place. Lunchtime runs. Warrior-style weekends which left me more exhausted on Monday than I was on Friday. Lots and lots of very strict weekly routines, just so I'd actually get out there and do it.
And I have done it. Since my MA started and freedom as I knew it stopped, I've done eight running races and two bike races. I've got faster and stronger, hills have become easier, my appetite has got bigger. Somehow I've made it work, by creating training schedules that fit who I am and what I'm doing at any particular time.
Since we moved away from York I've had more time on my hands than I've had in years. I joined a yoga class and I started running every morning - just getting up and heading out for a short pre-breakfast run to start the working day with positivity, and then hitting the long roads at the weekend. That's all well and good when it's already light at 6am, but since the clocks have gone back we've been struggling for light even at 7am, and sadly I just don't feel good about running around here in the dark.
I replaced morning runs with evening runs, heading back out straight after work three times a week, regardless of weather or mood (above all I think that running has taught me how committed I am to a cause!). Then, of course, it got too dark in the evenings too, and bar sticking by the main road I had no option but to give up on that idea, too.
And I have to say that I now have probably the most well-balanced and enjoyable weekly fitness routine that I have ever had, moreso even than my student days, when I used to take Friday mornings off for a long run and do yoga at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon.
My problem stemmed from the fact that I exercise outside and alone. So I found people to exercise with, and I found a way to do it indoors: I've joined my local running club, and I've started attending a local spinning class.
On Monday nights I head out with a bunch of wonderfully enthusiastic runners for a short sprint around the area. There are always a couple of trainers on hand to advise us and make sure that everything's burning sufficiently. Safety in numbers and bright jackets.
On Wednesday mornings I start work a little later, and run there via the nearby fells. I can fit a good 7 miles in and a fantastic adventure before the working day has even begun, and this ensures a bright mood and enthusiastic appetite all day (I find that working at a desk really hinders my appetite, which is always troubling!). Luckily we have decent showering and breakfasting facilities, as I often turn up covered in mud and ravenous!
On Thursdays I walk to a gym a couple of miles down the road, attend an intense spinning session (vital if I want to keep up all the hard work I put into cycling over the summer!), wipe my sweaty brow and run back home for tea. Spinning is torturous but I do love it!
Then the weekends are free for cycling, walking, long runs, and whatever else I choose! We try and get out in our walking boots every weekend as there is too much wonderful countryside to be explored around here to leave it be. Then there's the countless local fell races and the wonderfully cyclable (but hilly!) roads. Still, we can afford to take it in our stride; we don't have to rush to fit everything in at the weekend.
I've been taking Fridays off for a proper rest, and Tuesday is my yoga day. Though I only do yoga once a week now, I find it more satisfying and important than I ever have. I come to my mat in that cold, grand room, twisted up into a stubborn ball. Every week my body stops working at 7:30pm on a Tuesday evening, and as I coax it into stretches and slow, flowing movements, I feel my muscles and joints almost singing after an hour, when we come into balances. I can hold them; I can focus on not focusing. And then I lie down in Savasana, and for the first time since I started practising yoga, I stay there. Sometimes I fall asleep, sometimes I just zone out and focus on my fingernails and ankles, really feeling their presence.
For the first time I feel balanced and strong. I feel as if I'm investing in my body, and not just pushing it as far as it will go. Thanks to the dark nights and mornings, I've met new people and taken part in new things. I've faced some real social anxieties (what if I'm the slowest/fattest at the running club? What if it's all middle-aged men/super-fit thirty-somethings?), and I've learned the importance of variety. I've also found out the hard way how important it is to rest, and am learning the easy way how fantastic resting can be, when it's done correctly. Every day is an adventure at the moment, and every week I meet someone new who shares some of my greatest passions in life.