Towards a Better Me: Part 9


The Fear. 

Firstly, my apologies for the lack updates. I had been put on a training ban by my doctor while an investigation into what happened with my face during the 5k took place (my face dropped on one side half way through the race). This meant I had no training and nothing really to blog about for two weeks. And then once back training, I spent a good couple of hours writing my next blog post only for it to go missing. Like I can see it in the recent items but when I click on it, it says it’s not there but there is no sign of it in the trash or any other folders. You are just gonna have to take my word for it that it was an awesome read! Hopefully, this re-write will be at least half as good.


I was rather upset with having to lay off the training for two reasons. Firstly, I didn’t want to break my stride. As a really lazy person, I was quite nervous about being idle for any period of time. Afraid my bad habits would rear their ugly heads. My doctor had really stressed the need to take it really easy until I got the all clear. Secondly, I was half way through my six week intense kickstarter at the Womens Fitness Gym and I really didn’t like the idea of losing out on any of the weeks. I mean money is a bit tight at the moment and I knew I wouldn’t be in a position at the moment to do another round for the moment. I was going to have to save up for it and I have few other demands at the moment. But worry I should not have. I got on to the gym to explain what happened and they allowed me to suspend the program until I got the all clear. So I only had to worry about reverting to my lazy ways. Eeek!


Eleven hours, three trips to have an MRI, half a meeting with the doctor before I was taken out for the second failed MRI, a lot of miscommunication between the medical staff, one negative pregnancy test, one rushed final consultation and a rather vague explanation was my experience in CUH. At the end of the day, I left really rather frustrated about our health system but with a letter in hand saying I was fit to resume training. The explanation was it is unlikely to have been a Transient Ischemic Attack (or a mini stroke) but it possibly could be the training.


I was prescribed some blood thinners and cholesterol medications to avoid any reoccurrence. I don’t like taking meds and I try to avoid them when I can. The best thing about trying for kids was no more pill. But then there was the PCOS and underactive thyroid and I have proven to be not the best a taking them. My bloods in the previous month had shown good levels for cholesterol, and with all my training surely they could have only have gotten better. So at the behest of my mother, I’m not taking the cholesterol until I speak to my own doctor.


Before the tests, I wasn’t worried about what had happened. But now, I was. The vague explanation had scared me some what. Would happen again? Would it be worse? Why is my neck feeling sore? Did it always twinge like that? I felt like I was overanalysing everything. Could not tell was there actually pain or was I imagining it. My session back with Denise was on a Sunday and the closer I got to it the more “the fear” grew. While on the bike warming –up, I didn’t even notice that I was crushing it at a level I used struggle before. I was so focused internally, am I feeling dizzy? Was this room always spinning? I should leave, just go home. And then there was Denise, “Where the heck have you been?” I sheepishly explained and she responded with, “we’ll take it easy so.” Though I did proudly tell her I did the run in 34 minutes and that earned me a high five.


Even though we scaled it back and took it very easy by comparison of what she normally puts me through. She is doesn’t go easy on you normally but doesn’t kill you either. She’s great for the banter and the giggles, which makes the session seem to fly by. It’s why I keep going back to her. But today, even with her pulling me right back from my previous level of intensity, everything was a struggle. Things I was smashing a couple weeks ago, were a struggle with the light weight. I mean it was easier than my very first but it was one of my worst sessions. I didn’t even make it the whole way through. I had to skip the kettlebell swings, the strain on my back from not doing them correctly was quite severe. (I don’t know what it is I just can’t get the technique right with those.) And the last set, well, that had to be abandoned even though I tried to solider on. Denise was telling me to stop as I had gone all grey. I put down that 5kg plate so fast and ran to the nearest bathroom to say hello to my breakfast. That session couldn’t have gone worse. But I was back in the swing and for me that was the main thing.


My fitness level had clearly taken a big hit, but the fear remained. I didn’t do a single class in the week to come for fear of overdoing it. I had a PT session with Michelle on Wednesday as Denise was off. And that went well-ish though my legs were trembling something terrible and she made me do a plank. I geared up to do my own session on Saturday before my weigh-in, but I missed judged the time and wouldn’t have had enough time and then chickened out to do it after. I was down a pound in the weigh-in but that more muscle wastage rather than actual weight loss. Though Lorraine advised with everything that I had gone through I should consider that a win. She advised me to take it easy and only do a session or class if I really feel up to it.


I did come to the conclusion that running the 5k at the pace I did with the little running training I had done might have been the main factors in what happened. I decided that once my current cycle was up that would try to focus more on the running training and supplement it one or two classes at the gym to shake it up a bit. While finances did play a role in not being in a position to actually do another session, should I have been able to afford it I would still opt for this plan.


While I do need to take care of myself and not push myself way out of my comfort zone, I can’t let “the fear” imped my process. I mustn’t use it to excuse myself from pushing myself and allowing my laziness to slink back in.



Towards a Better Me: Part Five

A Little Stumble


Pain and me are not great friends, we aren’t even close acquaintances. I was just never any good coping with any small niggle. So much so it’s become a bit of a running joke among my family and friends. My Ma has stated numerous times that she wants to be nowhere near me if I ever go into labour. One of my colleague’s still skits me over having to get a plaster (or gauze as she claims) for a papercut. In my defence, it was quite a deep cut, wouldn’t stop bleeding and really really sore! So I was quite relived to be starting this week out pain free. My mood was definitely up heading into the Women’s Fitness Gym. I had arranged to have my personal training session on Monday after work, and I was looking forward to getting in and having Denise push me beyond my own expectations.


Off we went to the personal training centre in the second building and got stuck in. We did a number of the different exercises using a barbell with 7.5 kg on each side and one with 5kg on each side. As well as two 6kg dumbbells. And a 12kg kettlebell. I did some bench presses, overhead presses, deadlifts, lunges, and the others that I just can’t remember. It is like as soon as I come out I completely forget what I have done. It was tough but I pushed through and did all of my reps. Though I did struggle near the end of the sets. The last one was with the kettlebell I thought was the toughest. But I did it. I was on bit of a high afterwards. My God, the sweat coming out me was unreal. Drenched was definitely an understatement.


The following day I was only slightly sore in my shoulders and arms. I was feeling on top of the world. I felt like I could take on anything. It was also the first back at Yoga tonight and I was looking forward to going with one of my besties, D. The class was packed and as there was a lot of new people in the class, so it was mostly back to basics. But with the stiffness, I was glad of the slower pace. Though there were a few moments of strain and pain, on the whole, I really enjoyed it. Plus the banter in the car with D is always good.


I woke about 5am on Wednesday in absolute agony. My entire upper body was on fire. I couldn’t straighten my arms or even move them too much. Washing and dressing myself was pure torture. I was very glad that my commute is shared with Pierre, if I wasn’t I probably wouldn’t have made it out of the driveway. I would just be there sitting, in the car, crying my eyes out. And it didn’t get any easier when I got into work. I had to re-arrange my whole desk. Judi thought my constant complaints and noises were very funny. The further the day went on the more I dreaded having to go to boot camp that evening. If simply moving the mouse was painful, what the hell were burpies gonna be like! My mood was a stark contrast to the day before. I was so happy and bubbly yesterday. Raving at D about how good I felt. Now, I was trying my best not burst out crying from simply lifting my mug to drink my green tea (which to be honest I don’t really like, but have to have two a day!). I was not enjoying this. I had a nice chat with Bitchmitten’s Emily and that pepped me up a bit. But it wasn’t to last with the constant pain. Simply standing with my hand hanging was unbelievable sore. Pockets were my friend when I was walking. I decided that boot camp was not going to be feasible with me in this condition. Instead, I took a hot bath with an ass load of my homemade lavender epsom salts. Lying in the bath was the first time I was pain free, it was lovely. I’m not really a bath person. I much prefer showers. Normally I need to be do a crossword in a bath otherwise I’m just bored and am in and out in a couple minutes. My brain always seems to need some sort of stimulation. It’s a frikin’ pain. But I stayed for about 45 minutes. I sat down after I got out and let out a sigh of relief at being pain free. It was short lived. After ten minutes out of the bath I could feel my whole upper body stiffen up, and the pain came back just as much as before.


The following day again brought no relief. My mood was very poor. I felt like someone had turned the lights out on me. I was a poor reflection of the woman that was here two days previous. I was very upset. In the morning, trying to get out to work, I never even thought to bring my lunch or my snacks. By the time lunch had arrived, I was so down. I turned to my old habits of comfort eating. Now in saying that, I did not eat an entire mountain of chocolate. I didn’t even eat any chocolate. I ate nothing sweet (which actually amazed me.) I decided that I was gonna have a little cheat treat and go order my favourite lunch, Sizzling prawns. So yummy, but so not what the food plan says. They are the most amazing prawns ever. And they do actually come out sizzling in hot chilli oil with a nice fresh side salad and lovely crispy chips. While it didn’t take away the pain, it did do something to lift my mood.


Work went on with me moaning and groaning, poor Judi having to listen to me. When I got home, I was just so exhausted, so drained of energy. I could not face having to get in the car again in an hour and drive to the gym for a Pilates class. I couldn’t think of the pain I would be in. I was still so very sore. I was scared of the pain but I was also scared to go to the class and not be able to do it. Afraid to show myself up. I knew the Pilates would probably beneficial for my current state but the fear was tightening its hold upon me.


I could tell you that I overcame the fear and went and did it anyway and felt so good to do it. But I’d be lying. And there be no benefit for me in doing this blog, if wasn’t going to be honest with you. I let fear win that day. I tried to justify to myself, oh the pain, I wouldn’t be able for it. It would be better if I just had another soak. That on Saturday I would get back on track with my training and push through. Instead of going, I busied myself with my food prepping for the week to come. Before having another soak, this doubling the amount of salts (probably more tripled, I just tipped about a third of litre in.) I don’t regret not going. I know there will be a lot more pain and hopefully with each week my body will get better at recovering from this. But pain and me are never going to be friends. I can’t guarantee that fear won’t freeze me again. But I am still determined to continue. I am not quitting. I am going to keep powering through.

Weight: 12st 11.2 lbs

Run: 0km (I know I am just so bad. I really need to get out running, that 5k is coming up soon!)

Feelings: The sheer agony of it all. Really wanted to spend the week curled up in a ball crying.


Towards A Better Me: Part Three

The Gym!


So Christmas, is over now and it is back to reality this week, back in Ireland, back to work and back on track. This week, I made a big scary step in going to a gym and getting a personal trainer. It is something I have been saying for the past 6 months that I would do but never garnered the courage to actually do it. The friendly receptionist gave me a little tour of the place, showing the different areas in the main building of the gym. I was actually quite excited about it that I even arranged for the first session to be the following day. I was super eager, that was until I got home. Then the excitement ended and the fear began. Oh such fear! Had I bitten off more than I could chew? I mean my fitness level is zero. 1 personal training session, 2 fitness classes a week. As well as going for runs. I’m not gonna be able to do that. Surely! I didn’t get much sleep worrying about what tomorrow would bring. I couldn’t even eat my breakfast I was that nervous. I forced a banana into me and then I donned my gear, left to go for gym. I then left two more times as I forgot my gym bag and then my keys. I forgot my water bottle too, but I was half way to Cork city at that stage. So I was going to have to do without.


I went in and I was met by the same girl who had gone through the registration with me the evening previous. She brought into the changing rooms and showed me the exercise bike and told me to do a small warm while I waited for my trainer. I put my stuff in the locker went to the bathroom for the sixth time in an hour. Then I went out and got on the bike and started. It was seated bike rather than a standard bike and I was not a fan of it. It felt very awkward and unusual. But I didn’t want to look silly moving from one bike to another. I felt very self-conscious of myself. All the women in the gym (it’s a women only gym btw) were all very fit looking, not like me at all. I was suddenly very aware of how awkward and chubby I was. Then I heard one of the male trainers talking to some that I could not see “come girls, let’s get started”. From the tone and conversation, this obviously wasn’t their first time here. And then they came into sight. These girls were like me. And with that I didn’t feel out of place anymore. Once my trainer, Denise came over and we starting working through the workout, I so focused on what I was doing and the chats with her. I was barely aware of anyone else.


In the after haze, I cannot quite remember exactly what we did. There was at least 8 different routine each done in pairs repeated twice in reps of 10 to 15. My trainer was very good. She was very good at pushing me past my comfort zone but also knowing when to give me a rest, to switch it up to a different part of my body. The last two exercises were very tough and I know damn well that if I didn’t have her coaching me, I wouldn’t have done them. I wanted to give up. My shoulders were burning. Each rep I did took slower and slower and the rest between each grew longer. But I did them, all of them. It was a huge achievement and I was so so proud of myself.


I then had a brief program instruction for when I am in the gym but not with my trainer. He went through all the equipment, got me to try out each one and drew up a exercise plan for me. Then it was on to the nutritionist and my first weigh in. The scales weighed me a lot less than those at home (Whoop! Good start!) The nutritionist then gave me a diet plan suited for my PCOS and under active thyroid. When I eat food, my blood sugars spike unnecessarily and that what causes all the trouble (or so I understand, I could be completely messing it up). So the diet plan is aimed at trying to maintain a steady level by eating certain food at certain times of the day. That means nothing sugary! Which if you know me or any of the Nolan family, you would be well aware of our infamous sweet tooth.


That evening and the following day I was so sore and stiff. I went to meet up with my friend for a walk as my trainer had advised me to keep active and go do something little to stop the muscles seizing up. She did warn me the first 10 mins would be torture but to push through and it would be fine. We went for a 4 km walk, which was more like a crawl. It felt like the longest 4km of my life! Everything hurt, my knees most of all. I managed to try a do a bit of a jog but I barely did 200 metres. My friend Monika was hurting too from doing a hike the day before. So we were sisters in pain. And the chats made it worthwhile.


It will get easier, won’t it?



Weight: 13 St 0.7 lbs

Max Distance ran: 0.20km

Overall feeling: Sore, oh so sore. But feeling focus and determined. Hardly got in any running but did take a big leap with the going to gym.





I was 13 years old when Terminator 2 came out. At the time, I was in second year in school. I was the shape of a sausage roll, and spent my days being uniformly unhappy. Miserable in my rolls of puppy fat, loathing my buck teeth, braces and the unfortunate teen bra my mother had, under duress, purchased on my behalf. (It was brown, with a picture of an orange tiger on the front, and I had nothing to put in it but my own crushing dissappointment)

A group of us went to the cinema to see the movie. Guns n Roses “you could be mine” was in the charts. Leather jackets and check shirts were in. I can remember trying not to let my thighs spread out on the seat, on the off chance that I wouldn’t look quite so fat. I can remember sitting in the sweaty darkness – wondering if the boy next to me was aware that my legs were twice the width of his.

The moment Linda Hamilton came on screen is etched in my memory.


It’s just one of those moments that’s burned into my young brain. She’s doing chin ups, and we realise pretty soon in that she’s in a psych ward. The camera shoots so tight that we can’t really see her eyes at first, just the determination of her mouth, the hand grip and the sinews of her arms as she repeatedly lifts herself over the bar. Full chin ups to boot – not half assed pansy chin ups. All the way down, all the way back. The camera covers the move from every angle – and then pans out to show the length of her body, held perfectly above the floor –  just to prove to the sceptical viewer she’s not faking. The soft, frightened Sarah Conor of Terminator 1 is GONE.

This Sarah is lean, mean and about to kick machine-butt.

Linda Chins

I just remember thinking with all my pasty, sweaty, tiger-clad thirteen year old heart that I wanted to be able to do that.  I really wanted to be able to do chin ups, reload a pump action shot-gun with one hand, and smoke a fag at the same time. If Sarah Conor could go from being a softie into a gun-toting fit-bod, then maybe I could too.

Apart from developing a penchant for black vests and biker boots, (and a silk-cut blue habit that did absolutely nothing to make me look cool) the similarities between me and Sarah failed to materialise that year, or any other.


Apparently, Hamilton had trained hard for the role for an entire year; she trained three hours a day, six days a week – under the guidance of an Israeli ex-commando named Uzi Gal. Verdict, chin ups are HARD, almost as hard as the chicks that master them. Though Linda never quit smoking Camels apparently.

Lots of things have changed since 1991. The puppy fat is gone. The braces are gone. The self-hatred is gone. And working out is not the ritual of public humiliation it once was – instead it’s a triumphant roar of being-alive-ness that will hopefully allow me to be active, healthy and physically useful for as many years as possible.

All of this has made me realise that nothing is impossible. So a while back, I set myself the Sarah Conor Chin-up Challenge. And after about four weeks, now I can do three chin ups. Now, your viewing and training pleasure; here’s how I broke it down.



Note: This post is for people who have absolutely zero ability to do this exercise. Just so yez know. If you’re already sort of doing it, or super fit, or a meatball*, stop reading. 

Disclaimer: You have to warm up, especially if you’re a beginner. Do you really want to injure your back or shoulder? Try 40 seconds of jumping jacks, with 20 seconds off, x 5 before you try this. Or do it after training. 


Step 1:  Buy a Chin Up Bar

 The only way you’re going to get this move down is by practicing. If, like me, you’re a total beginner you’ll probably need to do a little bit and often. You’re going to have to buy a chin up bar. Most sports stores carry them. Or try Argos. I got this one for about 30 euro, and hung it from the door frame of the spare bathroom.  (Word to the wise, don’t do this will a full bladder, mom-folks) There are extendible bars you can buy that I simply don’t trust – I like this hooky one, and it has various hand holds for progression. Not that I’ve progressed, but you know. I might! 

Step 2: Reverse Chins (AKA Negative Reps)

 So this is my ‘trick’ to mastering chin ups. I used a step at first, and started from the chin over the bar position. Your palms are facing your face btw. (palms the other way is a pull up, not a chin up, fucked if I can do those, mate).

Once you’re up, let your arms take your body weight and lower yourself slowly down to the position I call ‘full orangutan’, which is when your arms are pretty much straight.



Do these negative reps five times, twice a day. You’ll probably notice that you ache all over – between your ribs, lats, and biceps, even after a couple – simply because you may not be used to using these muscles. Work on practicing negative reps for a week or two, start with two or three at a time and work up to ten.

Step 3: Assisted Chin up

Negative reps work and strengthen the muscles needed for chin ups. So now it’s time to try and do a real one. But don’t freak out if you can’t do it yet. The ‘trick’ on this step is to sort of cheat, just until you get the hang of it. There are tons of ways to do this. A little jump at the start takes most of the work out of the ‘up’ part of the exercise. Also starting from higher up, like on a chair, with your arms already somewhat bent is also a moderation that makes it easier. Lift yourself up, then lower yourself down, keeping your feet off the floor until your arms are almost straight. They’re not real chin ups yet, but you’re on your way. Gyms give you special machines that take some (but not all) of your body weight out of the equation.

Top tip – Cross your legs in front of you, activate your glutes, and remember the real pulling work is actually coming from the lats and upper back, not (just) the arms. 

Keep practicing assisted chin up until you can do 5 of these. You’re probably not straightening your arms as much as Sarah, but you’ll still impress.  Cheaters and meatballs* at the gym will often go to the halfway point, and then finish the move too early because that’s easier. This skips the hardest part of the exercise, which is the lift from an almost straight arm.


Step 4: Full Chin Up

 Stand below the bar, go ‘full orangutan’. Lift your feet off the ground if you have to do this. Then with a controlled amount of effort, lift your chin up over the bar. Work from the lats. If you can’t do this, go back to your assisted pull ups for a week or so –  but with a little less cheating this time.

Don’t forget to breathe! You are awesome, and you can do this, TRUST ME.

Try to keep your lower jaw and your breathing somewhat relaxed, it’s easy to grimace, and even strain the quite delicate neck muscles.  Once you’re up, it’s not so bad, am I right? You made it this far. Well done! Then lower yourself down. You’ve totally nailed the negative reps, remember. Now, you’re in monkey mode. Time to channel Sarah.


Step 5: Practice!


Now that you’ve broken it down – build it up! Unlike a lot of weight lifting exercises, chin ups shouldn’t really be done to the limit of endurance – you’re much more likely to injure yourself. If the absolute max you can do is 5, then do four, take a decent break and do some more. Concentrate on technique, and slowly building up your reps over time. And before you think I have a clue what I’m doing, the most I can manage after weeks and weeks and weeks, is THREE.

 BUT THEY ARE BADASS, and when I do them, I almost wish for a post-apocalyptic future that necessitates car chases and aviators and gratuitous violence.


Now all I need to do is figure out how to reload a shot-gun with one hand!



Bitchmittens Emily


*A meatball is usually male, spends a lot of time pumping iron, thinks bigger is always better, does protein-shake farts, can’t touch his toes, and has a terribly overworked upper body. Meatball.

“Get out of the way John”


Pump action

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