Stretching the point

Twelve weeks or so ago, last half term, we were here in France and, as is my habit, I went for a walk around the village almost daily.

My wife’s house is halfway up a small mountain, and as I’ve said before, whichever way you turn (on foot or on a bike) you end up climbing fairly steep hills either immediately or soon thereafter.

The right turn out of our house takes you onto the steepest bit of the road up to the top village. It’s about a kilometre, all uphill, and most people would find themselves out of breath in fairly short order. The kind of out of breath where you cannot carry on a conversation.

Last half term, walking up that hill was hard. I would have to stop to breathe every couple of minutes, and you do find yourself breathing hard. Sometimes I run the first few tens of meters, because the cat will try to follow if you don’t sneak away from him, and then you really feel it.

My fitness has plummeted over the past year, largely because there was something up with my hip, a pain that wouldn’t go away. It took months, because of course it did, to get a doctor’s appointment and an x-ray and then a follow-up appointment. I was convinced that my bone spur, which I’ve had most of my life, had finally worn out my hip joint and that – at 59 – I was going to need a new hip.

Turns out, according to the doctor and then the physio I saw afterwards, there was nothing wrong with my joint. And, anyway, the bone spur is in the other hip. Oh. No arthritis in evidence. Oh. No, the problem was muscular. Ohhhh.

So now the problem was that during the months of feeling almost continual hip pain, I had not been moving enough and I was really unfit. Being unfit and in pain, I had also barely used my bike. I’ve properly fallen out of love with cycling over the past couple of years.

The solution, as with so many things in life, is stretching.

But I am really bad at stretching. I forget, or I can’t be bothered. No matter that I know it’s good for me, I very often – like right now – think about it and still don’t do it because I hate it. You’ll be shaking your head, wondering why someone can’t take five, ten minutes, to do a few stretches. I’ve got this really stupid mentality: if the results aren’t instantly beneficial, I don’t want to do it. There was one physio visit a couple of years ago that ended up being a good ol’ massage of what the therapist said were extraordinarily tight muscles. The effect was immediate: I felt like I was floating on air when I walked home. But have I tried to see a massage therapist since then? I have not. I am my father’s son.

It’s really pathological, and I won’t embarrass myself by listing all the reasons I can come up with why I won’t at least do stretches at any given moment.

While my relationship with stretching is problematic, one thing I have tried to do throughout this summer is move. Apple Watch users will be aware of the rings. One is for standing up at least 12 times a day; another is to notch up at least xx number of minutes of exercise per day (my setting was for 30, and now 35 minutes); and the third is to burn a certain number of calories through activity.

It’s during holidays that I sometimes struggle to close these rings, because I’ll often sit down to read in the shade on a stupidly hot day and I won’t move much. 

I’ll confess that I haven’t used my bike much this summer – a handful of rides, none enjoyed. But I have tried to walk every day: either around the village, or on a loop through the woods, or around the lakes at Malsaucy. I did do one big hike over the mountain, too, but I really hated that, especially the coming back down. The issue there was that recent flash flooding has absolutely destroyed the traditional mountain paths, to the point where they’ve become steep and hazardous.

But as you can see from the screenshot above, I’ve done pretty well closing my rings over the past couple of months. I know there are a few days without the green dot, but they are few, and were usually on days where something prevented me following my normal routine. Airport runs, pizza nights, violent thunderstorms. My hip still hurts a bit, but a lot less than before, and now I know it’s just tight muscles, I’m not that concerned.

At the beginning of the summer, I would have to stop to breathe half a dozen times on that long kilometre up to the top village. For the past week or so, I’ve been able to walk up at a steady pace without stopping even once. Which is good, right?

I’ve just got to keep this up for the next 30 years.


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