Today is now

I’m a sucker for a plan.

I consider myself a goal driven guy. The type of person that’ll find the motivation they need by setting a goal, then doubling down by adding a healthy dose of guilt when I publicly state my intentions.

I’ve always got half a mind on finding new challenges which inevitably means I end up signing up to do a ‘thing’ and that’s when the real fun can start!! The planning to do the thing!!

I won’t lie, it’s perhaps my favourite time with any new project as that means I can research different techniques, maybe look for some new kit or a gadget or two and, most importantly, crack out a new spreadsheet to track it all! Ohh yes my inner geek revels in such things.

The upside is, when it all works and everything goes to plan, I end up doing things I didn’t think I could and the sense of achievement is wonderful.

When it doesn’t then, obviously, I’m a failure (but that’s a whole other post).

Yes dear reader I am, once again, talking about my lifelong quest to become fit(ter) and healthy(er) (and more productive?).

Let’s wind the clock back a couple of years; I’d rediscovered my love of cycling and was training for Etape Caledonia – 40 miles and a fair few hills – and as part of my training managed to tackle a fairly epic ride on the way, including part of the (locally) notorious Crow Road climb; they used part of the route I did in the recent World Championship race so it’s definitely a ‘thing’ and it remains my longest cycle to date.

I had a plan for all of this, what exercise I’d do and when, and on the whole I managed to stick with it week by week. That helped me to find the motivation to get up at 5am to get out on the bike on a Sunday morning, helped me push myself to get up that first big hill and, the more I followed the plan and could start to feel the effects, so the long term goal of not just completing the Etape but doing myself proud was in sight. And on the day itself, if I do say so, I smashed it! My estimated finish time for the 40 miles, based on all the data that Strava had for all the cycling I’d done before, was 2hrs and 47mins. Actual time on the day was 2hrs 16 mins!

As you’ve probably guessed, I’ve gone and signed up to Etape Caledonia again and, on May 12th next year, I’ll tackle the 55 mile route (even more hills!) and why yes, I do already have a plan in place.

Sort of, but not really.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a rough idea of what exercise I’m hoping to do in the weeks and months ahead to get my fitness levels back to where they’ll need to be but instead of planning out each week in detail, I’m only really going to look at specific training in the weeks before the ride itself, until then I’ll be mixing it up a bit and fitting in what I can, when I can.

I’d love to say that I’d done a lot of research about this, that my decision was based on scientific principles, instead I’ll happily admit that this approach is entirely circumstantial and, looking back, it’s taken a while for me to get to a place that such a plan is acceptable (to my planning focused, perfectionist brain).

A few years ago, going out on my bike during the COVID lockdown with the car-free, empty roads was glorious and, as I was working at home and Jack hadn’t arrived yet, I had more freedom and control over my own time so my days were largely mine to plan as I pleased. I made copious plans and by the time I was able to tackle Etape Caledonia for the first time I hit virtually all of my training goals. Hey, it’s easy to stick to a schedule with few other obligations to work around.

Since then the last couple of years have, obviously and rightly, revolved around Jack to make sure he had all the support he (and Becca) needed to be healthy in mind, body, and soul, as he grows. With that as my focus I deliberately chose not to head out on my bike as often, or for as long, as I had been.

However, the goal driven guy that I mentioned early had signed up for a few cycling sportives this year, and of course I had a plan on how I was going to tackle them as, with each event, the mileage was building and building, with the ultimate aim to complete my first 100km before I turned 50.

I didn’t take part in any of the sportives and in hindsight I have no idea how I was going to follow the plans I had laid out. How I thought I’d be able to carve out 4-5 hours for one cycle (and the hours of training it would’ve taken to get to that) when I’d much rather invest my energy spending time with my son and those previously laid plans now seem a bit laughable!

Or maybe I was using life as an excuse to be lazy? Maybe, but I have gotten to spend a lot of time with my amazing, fast growing, cheeky boy and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. He’s doing so well these days and as a family we settled into a pretty steady routine ~ including reliable sleeping patterns for him ~ and I do not regret a single time I decided NOT to go out on my bike, or NOT to go for a run.

In a sense I guess the past couple of years have been an investment in my son, and we are definitely seeing the payoff. If for no other reason than he’s regularly sleeping through the night these days (I know, I know, I’ve just jinxed it), which means I feel considerably more rested which, in turn, means I have more motivation to commit to things that I’ve made plans to do. Tired Gordon does NOT want to go for a cycle or a run, Tired Gordon wants to sit on the sofa all day long, thanks.

Sidebar: In my head there are two versions of me. The one who achieves and plans and does things and commits 100% (often to the cost of other things) and the one who is the laziest lazy person of all time.

This has given me a sense that I can start to set some goals again, that I’ll be able to manage the training required. So, as soon as I saw the early bird signups for Etape Caledonia were open, I jumped at the chance. It’s something I’ve done before so isn’t a leap into the unknown and it was an event I enjoyed the last time. However, this time around, as soon as I was finished completing the signup form, I didn’t find myself immediately reaching for Excel, my brain wasn’t rushing to break down the coming months into training schedules and rest days.

It appears that my mindset has changed.

I am planning to exercise when I can but, rather than structuring each week carefully, I’m going with the notion of “every little helps” and I know I’ll find times to get some exercise done when I can. Since we moved we now have a garage with an area cleared for workouts and soon I’ll get my turbo set up so, rain or shine, I can crack out 30 mins or so on the bike. That should do for the winter months, especially if you add in a goal for 2023 to complete the local ParkRun course and that’s plenty! (I don’t mind running in rain, or even snow, but cycling? No thanks).

Some of this new mindset is based on circumstance, but I have to acknowledge that there is also an element of personal growth at play, some things I’ve learned the hard way but which have, over the past couple of years, brought me a new sense of self. It’s nothing radical, but something I’d been trying to embrace for a few years and which has, almost by stealth, become a much more prevalent part of my outlook.

Living in the now.

This is not entirely down to having the aforementioned wonderfully bright and engaging boy to spend time with, nor is it entirely due to having to deal with both the upheaval of moving house twice within the last year and suddenly losing my job, but rather it seems that the accumulation of all of these life events have actually helped me learn the simplest of lessons, the ability to be present in the moment, the mindset to live in the now and not worry (too much) about the future or the past.

It’s most evident when I have dedicated time with my son. Viewing the world through his eyes, watching him grow, and develop, becoming this cheeky, inquisitive, gentle soul makes most other things diminish into the background completely. What is more important at those moments in time than just being present for my son? It’s perhaps telling that he is now able to say ‘Daddy, pone dow’, suggesting (rightly) that I spend too much time on my phone, and that I should put it down and focus on spending time with him.

For me I think the most notable, recent, example of this shift was when my last work contract was cancelled out of the blue, on the very evening we were about to set off on holiday. In the past that would’ve consumed me for weeks, my mind churning over what I could’ve done differently to change it (nothing), and what the impact was going to be in the immediate future (a new job) but after chatting it through with Becca it quickly became just something to deal with. Sure it took me a couple of days but in the past it would’ve consumed me for weeks.

And it is increasingly becoming the way of things. I may still get annoyed by things, but they don’t consume as they used to. What’s the point in letting all that negative energy build up?

I can’t take all the credit of course, Becca is calmness personified, measured in her thoughts and with a wonderfully balanced view of the now and the future, and a pretty good take on leaving her past in the past. I’ve learned so much from her and without doubt her consistency and support have been a large part of helping me get to where I am now. What a lucky guy I am.

I know that I will always set myself goals and I’ll always be a sucker for a plan, those aspects of me I don’t want to change as they can be useful at times. It’s just that the these days the plans are a little more vague and a little more open to adapting to whatever life throws at me next and the goals, if achieved, will be accepted a bit more graciously with the knowledge that they were achieved without throwing the rest of my life out of balance.

I recently decided to get back on track with my Couch-to-5K efforts, something I completed a couple of years ago but which I didn’t sustain, and lo and behold I broke my little toe and haven’t been able to run now for the past 3 weeks, with another 2 or 3 weeks recovery ahead of me. It was annoying (hell, it was bloody agony at the time) but all it is is a minor setback. I know I’ll get back to it, my toe will heal and all that’s happened is my plans, my goals, moved out a little.

Tomorrow I will assess how I feel and make a decision. Because by then, it will be now.

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