Harder than Heroic Effort

I’m not good at what I can only call a “tedious slog.” Short-term heroic effort? Hell yeah. Got that down and buddy it can be impressive.

There’s a downside to that. You’re either going all out, or you’re… Well, not. Going, that is.

What I am generally not good at, though I am trying very hard to learn, and getting better at, is patient dailyness. I can do the Big Huge Thing towards goals, but doing a little bit every day is much, much harder.

The problem is that over time, that little bit accomplishes much more than the periodic heroic efforts. The person who goes from no exercise at all to a marathon isn’t actually in better shape, long-term than the person who takes a walk every day. The person whose house goes from complete chaos to sparkling clean and staged for a real estate agent to show isn’t going to have a neater home, overall, than someone who does a little bit every day. The student who pulls the all-nighter doesn’t write a better paper than the student that breaks that up into increments, does a bit of writing every day and then goes on to do a bit of editing every day until the job is done.

I was in my late thirties before I really got started with the continual small effort thing v. Heroic Effort. It started with housework, which is really a fantastic place to start. I wanted a neat house, but nothing outrageous was really riding on it. Totally low-risk, which was perfect for this. I did a little bit every day, and forbade myself to put heroic effort into it. Over time, yes, my house is rarely more than fifteen minutes to a half an hour away from being okay with guests, and I wouldn’t die of embarrassment at any drop ins. When spaces get cluttered (a home is a dynamic process, not a showpiece, after all) I really do dedicate small amounts of time over a period of days to take care of them.

Where I am trying to apply this now is exercise. That’s a whole lot harder. For all that I am hardly slender, I do get interested gaining physical skills. You only have to look at a list of the physical things I’ve been into to realize that I’m all about the technical and easy to obsess about — dance, martial arts, swimming… They’re all activities that have a high level of technique, and experts at these activities really do dedicate hours a day to it.

But while the technical aspects are enough to keep me interested, my real goal isn’t mastering X skill. My real goal, as it pertains to exercise, is just to DO it for a half an hour to an hour a day five days a week. That’s IT.

I was thinking about it this morning when I was trying to decide if I wanted to swim today. I already did my M-F swims, but I was wondering what a mile would feel like and thinking, “Yeah, I have time today, I oughta try that!”

In reality? No, I shouldn’t. Not because it would be bad for me to swim a mile today. It totally wouldn’t. But it would be bad for me to give in to the obsession only to become tired of it next year. I need to be in the pool next year, too. This isn’t something like getting obsessed with Tudor history or lace knitting where I can put it down any time another shiny obsession takes my fancy. Working out can’t really be a hobby for me. For physical maintenance, I need to damn well be active for half an hour a day five days a week. I don’t even have to put Heroic Effort into it. I just have to show up and move.

Which circles back around to the consistent, daily effort. There is another thing that’s helping me learn that. You notice that I’m posting a lot more to my blog than I used to. I don’t post every day, but I do many days a week.

The reason I do is another small, daily practice. I write seven hundred fifty words a day as an exercise to keep my writing skills up. Some of those writing sessions are really more stream of consciousness pieces to write SOMETHING to get in my word count. But notice that as I do it consistently, the more valuable essays and stories actually happen.

It is the small, consistent, daily practice that builds up better into a lifetime of worthwhile work if you can make yourself do it.

Whoda thunk that it’d be harder than Heroic Effort?

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

I was checking out my swim times today. I had sworn I wasn’t going to be doing this, and that just getting in the half hour a day would be dandy.

And then I thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to swim from Alcatraz Island to shore? It’s only a mile and a half, why not?”

It isn’t that insane of a swim. People do it all the time. There’s even a triathlon based around it.

But for me, it might be a bit of a challenge. The recommendation is that you should be able to swim a mile in 40 minutes comfortably in the pool before you attempt the swim. This makes sense. Tides are very strong, and you need to be a very strong swimmer to cope.

This morning I swam .68 of a mile in 37:36. That puts me at about a mile in 55:18.

Friends, I have to shave over fifteen minutes off my time before that Alcatraz swim is anything but a really dangerous pipe dream.

Thing is, getting to be able to swim faster isn’t all of it. I need to get a wetsuit, and then train for distance in 55-60F water. Yes, people do the swim without wetsuits sometimes. I’m not all that interested in becoming the next Lynne Cox and am wimping out on the fun of conditioning myself to cold water swimming without one.

Thing is, that does add to the training. First I need to get strong enough in my comfortable 78F pool, then I need to train for the actual conditions of the swim.

I am not an open water swimmer by any means. Not because of any real limitation, but simply from lack of training. So, I am going to be spending the next winter getting my speed up on my workouts, then will be spending the year after that training for cold water, and open water.

Seems kinda goofy to spend two years training for a mile and a half swim, but I’ve spent my entire life in and about the water. I knew before I was potty trained that the beautiful, wonderful pool out there past the sand was a LOT stronger than I am, and that you had to respect it. Not hyperbole. I was sitting in my grandmother’s lap as a toddler on the shore when an unexpected wave knocked us rolling. Fortunately my grandmother was comfortable in the water and made it an adventure rather than something scary. A lifetime of incidents large and small have given me a deep respect for water.

While I’m spending this year getting my swimming up to scratch, I am also going to be studying open water swimming in general, what people do to prepare and trying to find a team of people to work with — probably a local swim coach, if I can find someone with some open water experience. I’ve already Lynne Cox’s book on open water swimming and it has some good stuff in it. I’m glad I have read it so early into my toying with the idea of an Alcatraz swim. I figured that all it would take would be to get into shape and some conversations with some locals. While it’s not going to take the preparation an English Channel swim would take, I’m still going to need to do more research than I thought.

Could I dive in and swim a mile and a half in open water to save my life? Probably. Do I want to create an unnecessary emergency situation? God no!

And it’s entirely possible that when it comes down to it, I lose interest in swimming in the SF Bay. It could happen. I could chicken out, or decide I want to spend money on something else (this isn’t going to be cheap, even though my husband is thrilled at the idea of going out to San Francisco in the next couple of years), or any of a number of things.

But at this stage? I can see no down side at all to training for this. So I spend a lot of time trying to swim faster. This isn’t going to hurt me, or have any real negative price. So even if it turns out to be a pipe dream, I do benefit from chasing it at least a little.

I think in general, that’s what this kind of crazy stuff is for. It gets you up and moving even if it doesn’t work out.

Inspiration and Looking Good on a Cereal Box

If you’re into an activity, you probably have people you look up to. You know, role models. And, of course for swimming, I do.


One of them, I do have a hard time really calling a role model. No, not because of anything bad. I grew up around the corner from him, and he’s a little younger than me, so I mentally tagged him as a kid until well into high school when he got a LOT taller than I am! Jeff Rouse went to the Olympics a few times in the 1990s and won several medals.

I remember him as a skinny little kid regularly winning at backstroke in the Ferry Farm pool. We were on the same swim team, but I was never a particularly fast swimmer (I got a second place ribbon in back stroke once) and gave up the sport after a couple of years. Jeff went on to be a highly successful competitive swimmer. And that’s not the impression that I was left with, either.

Jeff taught me that you didn’t have to be a jerk to be a successful competitive athlete. Even when other people were being horrible to me, Jeff was always gentle and kind.

And he’s the sort of athletic role model you see often in the magazines.

The next swimmer who really caught my attention was not an Olympic athlete, and wasn’t someone young and hot that they’d use to sell cereal and razor blades. He caught my attention in the spring of 2007 because of the swim he was going to attempt.

He was going to swim the length of the Amazon River.

Friends, Martin Strel is insane.

He’s a distance swimmer. He didn’t exactly start with the Amazon, but he did a lot of crazy, long-distance swims before he did this one. He survived, but just barely. There were many days when he was doing his Amazon swim that when I was faced with a workout I didn’t want to do, I’d be telling myself, “Woah, Strel is swimming with piranha and goodness knows what else in the hot sun from dawn to dusk. I can take twenty minutes on my lunch break and knock out 800 yards, for pity’s sake!”

He also made me realize that being physical wasn’t just the province of people who wanted to look like models, nor is being active going to automagically make you look like one. There are other reasons than wanting a specific appearance to be physical, and they’re just as valid as the ones you see in magazines trying to make you feel insecure enough to buy their crap.
The person I look to most these days as a swimming role model swam the English Channel several times, swam the Bering Strait during the Cold War, swam a mile in Antarctica, and survived swimming in below-freezing waters in Greenland. Lynne Cox a freak of nature in terms of cold water survival, and I have no real intentions of trying to reproduce any of her accomplishments. (Well, *maybe* the Channel swim, if I do the Alcatraz swim and don’t chicken out due to fear of the marine wildlife. I have a great imagination and visualizing sharks and seals bumping into me in the damn pool is bad enough!)

Again, she’s another athlete no-one’s putting on cereal boxes even though what she does is so hard-core and scary that few people can even SURVIVE what she’s done. She’s taken swims in waters so dangerous that fishermen in the area don’t even carry life preservers because once you’re in the water, you’ll die of hypothermia before you can be fished out.

I’ll certainly never win an Olympic gold, swim the Amazon or swim in Antarctica. Honestly, I don’t even want to. But in the case of each of the people I’ve mentioned, they got to where they did and accomplished what they did from steady perseverance. Jeff had some serious disappointments before he got that backstroke gold. Strel trained for three years to do the Amazon swim and nearly had a heart attack towards the end. Cox kept going in Cook Strait even though storms slowed her down enough that she was swimming in shark territory in twilight* to get it done.

Honestly? I don’t have that level of sticktoitiveness. For my own modest goals, I don’t even need it. But do I ever say to myself, “Lynne Cox kept swimming during shark feeding time. You can get up and get in the safe, warm pool for half an hour today, can’t you?”

You bet I do.



* Sharks tend to feed at dawn and dusk

Seven Hundred Fifty Words

Today’s practice isn’t going to be fiction. That’s mostly because I don’t think I’m at the point where I’m up for writing a short story a day. I think one a week is really about the extent of what I’m up for. So, I need to come up with some ideas for one for next Saturday. I choose Saturday because I feel like I can take more time over it.

I bought one of those Timex Ironman watches — not because I am even vaguely interested in doing a triathlon (well, MAYBE one of those sprint distance one… Maybe. but probably not) but because I wanted a waterproof watch that could keep track of laps. I’m always concerned my time is inaccurate and that I’m fooling myself because I’m losing count of laps and stuff.

Nope. Even looking at the clock when I start and stop a swim has been pretty accurate. Even so, the watch is nice, as I can time my intervals and get a better idea of how I’m doing in my workout as I am going along without stopping to squint at a clock.

I’m going to be cutting out a corset today. Believe it or not, they’re not too hard to make once you get the measurements down. The Elizabethan Custom Corset Pattern Generator  works amazingly well to create a pretty serviceable, simple corset, as long as your measurements are accurate.The real issue is deciding where to put the boning and getting the edging neat. All you really do is make a canvas shell with channels in which to put the boning, sew the fashion fabric to the shell, use some sort of edge binding (I use quilting binding) around the edges, hammer in the grommets if you don’t care about period (I don’t), or make buttonholes for the lacing if you do care, and go. It really is something I’d use to teach someone who was interested in costuming to sew on. Yes, I really would.

I am hoping to finish the corset this week, and then get started on some steampunk garb for my husband. Though, because I am a big ole meanie, he’s going to be cutting out the fabric and lining himself. (Hates cutting out patterns we does. We hates it).

We’re going to be actors in a live-action Steampunk RPG at Carnage Con. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve actually never done anything like this before, so I hope it’ll work out well. I’m thinking mostly Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson for my Steampunk ideas, though until I see the script, I can’t be sure.

Yes, I’m making an Elizabethan corset as part of a Steampunk (which is usually late Victorian) costume. My argument is mostly that if Agatha Heterodyne, who is the quintessence of a female steampunk archetype, can wear what is essentially a renfair bodice during labwork, I should be good with a corset of slightly the wrong shape as long as I pair it with a skirt with the right shape bustle and a more Victorian look to a jacket and hat.

The thing with costuming of this sort is that I actually DO know something about period costuming, and I need to turn that off for this. Steampunk might take its inspiration from the late Victorian era, but from what I’ve found on the web, inspiration is really all it is.

Which is also fine. You really don’t see all that much period clothing at renfaires, or many historical reenactments, either. It’s like historical fiction. At a certain point you do have to pick and choose to decide how you want to present something.

For that matter, I wouldn’t want to wear an actual Victorian outfit with all the proper underpinnings anyway. That would be deucedly uncomfortable unless we were looking at some sort of Pre-Raphaelite reform dress, anyway. Which would totally not work in for a Steampunk costume, or I’d be doing it.

Still need to think about an idea for another story. I’d do a slice of life, but I can’t…

Never mind. Oh yes, I can.

You know, for someone who doesn’t read much horror at all, I really do come up with some creepy-ass ideas for stories. I wonder how many authors don’t read much of the genre they actually write. I’ve gotten advice that said to write what you like to read, but it seems I just don’t do that.

I can see it now, I’m going to be releasing this book of feminist horror stories. *facepalm* It would totally work.

What is the purpose of your practice?

I’ve been posting more on this blog lately. It’s not really because I like to talk about working out, though yeah, I do like to do that some. What’s really happening is that I am using 750Words.com to get in a certain amount of free-writing a day, and they’re starting to evolve into halfway reasonable blog posts rather than just personal rants.

While I will use the format for personal rants from time to time, I don’t think my writing practice is being improved by the stream of consciousness so much any more and I’m trying to write about specific subjects to write actual essays.

It’s actually a lot harder than you might think to write to a specific word count on a specific subject. Sure, sure, you can pound out a target word count of ranting in fifteen minutes or so if you’re a fast typist. But if you’re actually trying to write a coherent piece? That takes more time.

In my case, that’s okay. I’m a writer. Spending time writing is kind of like a pianist doing scales or an athlete doing drills on the basics of her sport. You do that to keep your skills up.

In fact, I’d recommend to anyone who wants to improve their writing to start just by committing to a certain word count of writing every day and then just plain doing the free-write. You really do get better at writing by writing, and you will get better just by that alone.

So, when do you jump from free-write to trying to write to a specific topic or drilling on technique? You do it when the free-write gets too easy. If you’re hitting your word count in fewer than twenty minutes on a regular basis chances are good you need something else to motivate you and keep you challenged.

There are lots of writing drills you can use to hone your skills. Blogging and essay writing is kind of my thing because I enjoy a good topic-specific piece, but it’s hardly the only thing available to you.

Do you like fiction? Challenging yourself to write fanfiction really is an amazing way to hone your skills. When my son was starting to think about his SATs and was worried about the writing portion of them, I told him that since one of his major forms of entertainment was to come up with cross-fiction stories about characters he liked and act them out in his room, what he could do is write them down. He has a running series now that he works on, though I think it’s jumped from fanfic to original fiction. His English grades definitely improved — not only the composition portion, but the literary analysis areas. So yeah, I’m in favor of fanfic as a writing exercise, even if I don’t read it.

I have a friend who challenged himself to write a short story a week for a year. He’s since turned it into a book, and it’s quite good. This is also a great exercise to hone your writing if you like to write fiction.

I think a lot of it does depend on what you want to do with your writing. I mean, professionally, I’m a tech writer. Over my lifetime of writing fiction I’ve made enough money to buy a couple of pizzas, and that’s it, so clearly I really need to work on my fiction skills over my tech writing skills. I love writing fiction. I just… well, I don’t think I’m all that good at it. Doesn’t stop me from writing it, mind. Sometimes, it’s a good and valid thing to write just for the fun of it after all.

But as I am writing this, something occurs to me. I don’t practice writing fiction nearly as much as I practice writing essays. I put out all these blog entries, and I write manuals and I write instructional pieces. That fills my writing time. Certainly anyone who knows my writing is more likely to follow blogs I write rather than any fiction I do.

Since I do have a personal Life Dream in terms of fiction, me sitting here and writing this essay as my daily writing practice is kind of silly when you think about it, isn’t it? I’m practicing essays, not fiction.

You get good at what you drill on a regular basis, after all, so the intelligent thing for me to do would be to start some sort of regular practice drilling on specific fictional techniques.

Fitness, Exercise and Intersection

I didn’t actually ponder a great deal in the pool today. At least, nothing that is worth writing down. I thought about work and the way I’d like to teach some classes, and how happy I am that there seems to be a serious excitement about them. That was cool.

I even tried to come up with some subject to chew on so that I could write about it this morning, and totally didn’t. I’m okay with that. My goal isn’t to come up with neat ideas in the pool, common as it is and nifty as it is when it happens. My goal is to swim for 30-40 minutes and then get on with my day.

Swam a 1200 today, just because it seemed to be going well and I figured if I went over on time, I didn’t have to spend all that much time in the locker room. I am off today, so I can go home with a wet head.

It took 35 minutes, so that was all good. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to swim a mile in a half an hour or not, but it doesn’t really matter. The 35 minutes mattered.

I’m trying to decide on what to do for strength training. Sure, sure, I’m getting some upper body strength back in the pool — no doubt!     It’s awesome and it makes me happy. But in terms of preventing osteoporosis, swimming ain’t it. The things that make it wonderful for me in terms of getting in a workout without hurting joints in my legs are the very things I need to keep up bone density.

Well, sort of.

Studies are showing that it’s not only the impact that helps build and keep bone density. Weight training provides about the same benefit. Surprise, surprise, chickadees! Weight training is actually low impact. I’m sure that’s a lot of why I like it so much.

And that’s also a reason I’m trying to decide how to get back into it. I plain like it. Running can be good for you, too, and notice I’ve no plans in the world to start that up!

I wish that people that promoted exercise more did place more emphasis on finding something you like. And “like” can be really intersectional. I mean, I can think of someone who really likes to run, has plantar fasciitis, and just ain’t gonna be running because that’s a big nope now. Like does need to include “can” as well.

That’s where it gets hard. Just to run around saying, “Get your heart rate up for 30 minutes a day!” is fine for a lot of the population. I’m in that category now, myself, and believe you me, I’m glad I can.

But sometimes, it’s, “Sure, I can work out. But I’m going to have to get an extra three hours of sleep a night to do it. Gonna take over my job for me while I do that?” I went through a period of that about 18 months ago. It was terrifying. No doctor had anything for me on that. For a while, all I did was work and sleep. Then I started to get better, and I didn’t know why or how. I spent a fortune on tests that told me nothing. That’s some scary crap, let me tell you what. You want willpower? I was getting by on willpower.

I didn’t start feeling better because I started working out. I started working out when I started feeling better enough to do it, and it sure as hell wasn’t about losing weight, because I started to feel better after I’d gained some, and I’m not exactly slender. (No, I don’t think that’s what caused it. Correlation ain’t causation!)

So while I really do, no kidding, believe in being active and all that smack, I don’t think there’s any such thing as a universal prescription. Yeah, I’ll push swimming for people with mobility issues, because I know how beautifully it works for me, but nope, it wouldn’t work for everyone.

I wish health professionals would think about this instead of assuming people with baffling conditions are lazy liars. I find it incredibly frustrating to deal with, and I think it’s causing some serious issues with health care in general. Then again, the state of health care is another rant that’s going to take more than a blog post, so it would probably be better to leave that off for another day.

So, I leave with this question: What place does exercise have in your life, and why?

Pondering in the Pool

Swimming is where I do a lot of thinking. Now, at first, when you start to swim, what you’re going to be thinking about is swimming. It’s very technique based and focusing on stroke, the feel of the water, your body position in the water, the relationship of kick to stroke and your breathing rhythm are all so overwhelming that when you’re in the pool, this is what you’re thinking about.

This is exactly as it should be. You do need to take time to work on these things, because swimming is very skill-based.

But after a period of time, all of this will become ingrained in muscle memory and you’ll be able to put your body more or less on automatic — except for maybe keeping count of laps and the stroke you’re doing, if that’s your thing.

Then you’re just in the water. It’s not silent, for all that we portray underwater as silent in films. No, there’s bubbles, splashing, and noise. Maybe there will be whistles if you’re in on a swim team practice. I generally am not, so it’s the bubbles and the splashing. But that’s a background noise that tends to fade away.

Then it’s really just you and the water. Unless you’ve invested in some expensive electronics, you’re probably not listening to music or audiobooks. There’s no television like the elliptical users often have in gyms. There’s just you and your thoughts.

It’s a great time to write. No, seriously. This is where I get a lot of my writing done. I can fantasize about characters, or I can think about turns of phrase or subjects I want to discuss. It’s not like meditation, because the point of meditation is to clear the mind. I make no attempt to do that, but find things that are interesting and ponder them.

Recently, I took a survey on how to make gyms welcoming to people who are overweight. You’d think a gym would be a welcoming place for someone who wanted to improve physical fitness, but there is a kind of weird aura around it. If you’re visibly trying to lose weight, yeah, you can get a kind of patronizing cheering section. I say patronizing, because there is this presumption that only if you knew HOW to lose weight, you poor ignorant thing, you’d do it.*

But what if that isn’t a major goal?

That can be stickier.

Me? I don’t need a gym to be welcoming. It’s five thirty in the damn morning. I need a lane to swim in, or a place at the squat rack, and a place to shower and dry my hair afterwards to get to work. Leave me alone to work out and I’m dandy.

Oh yeah, the locker room.

It is a sort of unspoken thing that you have to earn your place to speak up and participate in casual conversation there if you’re not visibly an athlete. For those who don’t care about that kind of thing, it’s awesome, ’cause you get left the devil alone.

For more social creatures, and for people who really do like to belong, that can really hurt.

Thing is, there are times when one DOESN’T belong to the specific group. A lot of the people I see in the locker room in the morning? They’re often triathletes. You know, endurance athletes who log hundreds of miles a years running, biking and swimming? Friends, I ain’t. I’m in there to keep from developing a blood pressure problem, and that’s about the extent of it. You’ll never see me in a spinning class, and I hate running to the depths of my being.

Now, that isn’t to say I don’t belong in the gym. I do. I paid to be there, and if someone had a problem with me working out during “athlete time” they can make a fool of themselves by making a stink if they want to. I genuinely don’t think anyone does have a problem with me being there, and even if they did, I doubt anyone really wants to risk me getting acerbic, anyway.

But let me let you in on something. If you spend all your time telling someone they’re unworthy because they’re fat, that they don’t deserve nice things because they’re fat, and then make them feel like they don’t belong in a workout space because they’re fat, they’re probably NOT going to respond with my sigma-6 level of scrappiness.

So, if you see the fat person in the gym, try something really outrageous.

Treat ’em like a regular person. Works wonders.



* It’s a subject I’ve studied in some depth, and it’s unlikely as hell that the patronizing person has done anything but read a few badly-reported studies in fitness mags whose main goal is to sell protein powder, for pity’s sake!

Fitness Benchmarks

Do you have fitness benchmarks?  You know, things you want to be able to do physically (that are achievable.  Disabilities exist and are real) that do require a bit of work to maintain.

I thought about this today as I was getting some hot water for my coffee.  The water cooler/heater’s bottle was pretty much empty and needed to be switched out for a full one.

We get our water bottles in five gallon containers, so you’re looking at about forty pounds that needs to be picked up off the floor and manipulated with some reasonable level of delicacy to get the opening on the nozzle correctly and not spill or break anything.

Heavy?  Not particularly.  I can recall when I weighed about that, and my mother and father picked me up at that age with some regularity.

But over the past year, I haven’t been doing much physical, so while I could do it, and did (I think walking by an empty cooler if you are physically capable of switching it out without injuring yourself is kind of inconsiderate) it was definitely getting harder.

You wanna know if swimming puts on muscle? One month into getting back into swimming and it was enough easier to startle me.

Which brings me to the point.

What are your fitness benchmarks?  What are your indications that you might need to be a bit more focused on getting enough exercise?  I’m not talking about the scale here, or how your pants fit.  Those are fine goals if that’s what you’re into, but they’re a bit on the cosmetic side.  I’m talking the functional and physical benchmarks.   These are pretty individual.

For me, being able to manipulate forty pounds up through four feet of space with ease is definitely one.  Another is perceived exertion going up the hill to my house.  Can I lift a full suitcase easily from the floor of a train to the luggage rack without Red Cap assistance?  Is two miles a pleasant walk or something that makes me want a nap?  If I fall below any of those pretty modest abilities, I feel like I need to do something about it.

What are yours?

Training, Athletes and Working Out

Because we all know that the body needs to move some period of time to be healthy (30 minutes a day seems to be the sweet spot for a range of health issues), many of us will find some physical thing to do.

Some of us walk, others choose running, or getting into a sport, or dance or many other things. When we haven’t been active enough, we go to the gym.

It’s the gyms I want to focus on.

This was brought to mind one morning last week. As we were checking in to the gym to do our thing, the person behind the check in desk commented to me, “I know you’re a swimmer. I wanted to give you a heads up that the hot tub is only 70 degrees this morning.”

The phrasing hit me. Not, “I know you swim” but “you are a swimmer.”

There’s a difference, though it might be subtle. I got to thinking about it, and questioning whether or not I could consider myself an athlete. Do I follow a training model when I work out? Yes, when I swim laps, I really use swim workouts mixing up strokes, drilling on technique and all of that. I’m not on a Master’s team or anything, so I don’t have a coach, which means my progress is probably laughable. But since my goal is to be active for 30-40 minutes on weekday mornings rather than competing in anything, I really don’t care but so much. I eventually decided that since I don’t compete or anything I’m not really what you could call an athlete.

Since I don’t care but so much about the competition side of things, why would I bother with the training model? My body doesn’t care. All my body needs is 30 minutes of movement that gets my heart rate up and doesn’t injure me. I’m not unusual in this. Plenty of people who aren’t athletes use a training model in their workouts. So why?

Mostly, I think, it is because in terms of getting in enough movement, it’s all we know. Our gym classes are taught by athletes. Athletes follow training programs. Many of us were involved in sports as children. When we try to get motivation to become active, we might read articles online or hire someone to help guide us. The people that write these articles and are by profession personal trainers? They’re usually athletes.

The problem inherent in this is a cross-purpose of goals. There is an enormous difference in what is required to move half an hour a day to get the heart rate up a bit for a while and what is required or athletic progress

It’s fine to use the athletic model if it keeps you motivated and interested. It’s fine to use it if it works.

But what if that model is discouraging? What if you’re not making enough progress to keep yourself interested? At a certain point, you do hit a physical limit, or a limit to how hard you want to work out and how much time you want to put into this. Elite competitive athletes spend enormous amounts of time and energy, making some lifestyle decisions that have a high emotional cost to go along with it. If that’s what you want to do with your life, it’s a fine choice. But to say it is the better or more moral choice is absurd. You can make a project out of your body, but it’s not the only project you can choose in this life, and it is up to you what you choose.

So, if your choice is just everyday maintenance to keep the body as healthy as you can manage (and isn’t THAT a range in itself!), the athlete model might actually interfere. Why? Unless you’re an athlete, there’s a good chance training like one isn’t going to be worth it to you on any real level.

But, in spite of the message we get from fitness writers, this is not a binary choice between being an athlete and never moving your body. It isn’t necessarily even a choice between using the training model or not when working out.

The choice is making sure your real goal is firmly in mind? Is your real goal to be able to run a 5K under a certain time, or is it to be consistent in getting up every day and moving? Is your real goal being able to lift a certain amount of weight, or is it to make sure you lift heavy things regularly to get or stay strong?

Sure, sure, have goals to motivate you, but don’t let those goals get so out of hand they prevent you from showing up out of discouragement.

Turquoise Horse

“Miss one day of practice, I notice; miss two, the critics notice; miss three, the audience notices”

This has been credited to a lot of different musicians over the years –Liszt among them. I first heard of the expression from my husband, who trained for many years as a classical pianist. While I studied piano for about four years, I never really did practice well, or with sufficient dedication to make more than minimal progress.

Thing is, it doesn’t just apply to musicians. Consistent practice is important to almost any skill or endeavor – be it an athletic skill or an art. One of the arts that really does require pretty consistent practice or it becomes swiftly noticeable you’re not doing it is writing.

I spent about a year from the summer of 2013 to the summer of 2014 not writing much. This was so unusual for me as to be out of character. I write all the time. I was a regular Harriet the Spy as a youngster, I learned a lot of the computer skills I now have as a way to get essays out there before CMS tools and blogging software became a thing, and I’ve always processed my thoughts and feelings in text in some format.

That year I’ve spent not writing on a consistent basis has dulled my skills beyond belief. While I’m physically weak from not exercising my body, my writing is weak from not doing regular workouts in that field as well.

Because the only way to get better is to practice, I turned back to 750Words. The premise behind 750 Words is very much like the whole idea of Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The way to make writing flow easily is simply to write. You must have quota and do it consistently every day. For me, typing 750 words every morning is better than doing it longhand. I don’t like to write longhand and since so much of my work requires typing anyway, I prefer to use that medium to do my morning pages.

Why the Turquoise Horse? The 750Words has several sorts of incentives and badges one can earn to encourage one not only to write, but to write consistently. If you sign up for a challenge and write every day for a calendar month, you earn your Turquoise Horse. I did it for August and was just notified this morning that I got mine

The badges are all whimsical and add a bit of fun to encouraging people to practice their writing. Just do it. Just write it. Don’t care about quality or form. Don’t worry about eloquence or humor. Rant where you must, talk about how tedious it is if you have to, but get those750 words out.

That’s an important step. Never underestimate flow when practicing one’s art.

What about improving? That’s also an important step. Any author will tell you that until you have that first draft, you have no business in the world thinking about editing. Editing comes next. Yes, you should edit. Yes, getting critiques is incredibly important.

But until you have that first draft, you’ve got nothing to work on.

If you’re a writer or want to improve your writing, I do recommend a practice like 750 words. It helps