Tag Archives: COVID-19 times

My COVID Isolation challenge, with credit to “75 hard”

Apparently, I’m may be the last person on the planet to hear about the 75 hard challenge. I’m now reading several bloggers who are doing this challenge and writing about the benefits they see. It sounded intriguing, particularly during the COVID -19 pandemic, when everything has been so upended. So, after further research and consideration, I’ve climbed onto this bandwagon. I think it will help me address some of the habits I’ve developed to cope with stress and calm feelings of vulnerability.  

I am, however, on a modified version of the challenge. Yes, purists will tell me that you cannot change the challenge and still be doing the challenge. Phooey. My modifications make the parameters more relevant for me under the current constraints of working, working out, and maintaining a household in times of COVID (without a gym!).

What is the 75 Hard challenge?

A Google search will tell you about all you need to know about the challenge. I don’t want to link it here because, frankly, the initial presentation is hard to listen to. I’m no prude to f-bombs, but it is extremely distracting to repeat any word that often. And it makes the speaker sound unprofessional. Listen at your own risk. I’d recommend reading about it instead.

But briefly, 75 hard is touted as a mental and physical challenge that involves 5 parts. They suggest that the point of this challenge is to develop all kinds of positive outcomes, such as improved confidence, self-esteem, perseverance, and resilience. Sounds miraculous, doesn’t it!?! I get it — pushing yourself to stay committed to high goals, even when it gets hard or uncomfortable, changes you, arguably for the better. This is the ultimate goal of the challenge. But there are lots of ways to get to the same end.

So the 5 parts.

1 — Drink a gallon of water a day. Only count plain, clear water.

2 — Do a diet of choice. No alcohol or cheat meals.

3 — Exercise two times a day for 45 minutes each time. One session must be outside.

4 — Read 10 pages of a book on non-fiction.

5 — Take a progress photo every day.

All parts, every day, for 75 days in a row. If you skip any one element on a given day, the challenge is restarted on day 1. Seems harsh, but this consequence is intended to keep one on track.


My version of the challenge

So here are the parameters for my challenge, based on 75 hard. Sorry, purists. This is my deal, and I have good reasons for changing things up. I’d like to do some type of challenge that will test me, make me fitter, and help improve some habits, without throwing me into a tailspin trying to complete some seemingly arbitrary rules. Perhaps I cannot call it the 75 hard challenge though. Maybe COVID Isolation challenge is more appropriate?


I already drink a lot of water. It’s summer. I get thirsty and drink, but I don’t monitor it. Some days I need more, some days less. Plus, there is nothing magical about drinking a gallon of water/day. However, I put a gallon of water in the refrigerator and use that throughout the day for this challenge. My aim is to empty the container.

A bigger challenge for me is to eliminate diet soda. My consumption has gone up during the pandemic—a lot. I’ve wanted to cut back, but haven’t been able to do so. This challenge leads me to cut it out completely.


I don’t do traditional diets anymore because that ultimately leads to disordered eating for me. But I did want to make some changes to my eating habits. Clean things up a bit, if you will. First, I am cutting out noshing between meals. I found that I was mindlessly reaching for between-meal snacks every time I passed the pantry, typically out of boredom or frustration with my work. I’m eating for reasons other than hunger, and I’d like to curb that habit.

Secondly, I’m eliminating sugary or overly processed food for 75 days. My spouse is on a Hostess cupcake kick — mainly because he’s running 6-10 miles a day. I really shouldn’t be joining him on this kick. I’m hoping that between this and cutting out noshing, I will develop some better, sustainable habits, long term.

I already don’t drink alcohol very often. So check that one off the list.


My modification is to work out once daily for 75 days without a day off. This is where I depart from the original challenge most significantly. I simply cannot work out twice daily every day. My main exercises during this pandemic are cycling and swimming. Cycling takes at least 2 hours for me to prep and ride — and that’s a light ride. Tack on even more time if I have to drive someplace. Swimming takes nearly as long since I have to drive to and from the pool and shower afterward. I get the lane for an hour under the current COVID restrictions, and I have to maximize that time. Adding another 45-minute workout on top of either of those and I’m looking at a bare minimum of 3 hours between all of the logistics. So, doing this twice a day? I’d be setting myself up for failure from the start. Also, I’m older and (active) recovery days are critical to helping prevent injury. The dogs won’t mind an extra walk on those days. 

Reading 10 pages of non-fiction

I already read primarily non-fiction material, but I skip around between books. So I will only read 1 book at a time to improve my focus and retention.

Picture — one photo daily

This one is harder than it sounds. I never get in pictures. Fat people rarely do. While you really can’t see progress daily, this part of the challenge might make me less sensitive to seeing myself in pictures. It’s forcing me to look at myself every day and learn to appreciate what I have.


My plan is to report back periodically and describe any significant observations. I’m thinking of posting pictures at the halfway point in early September.


I see this challenge as a kind of a game that may help me undo habits that have emerged recently (noshing on sweets, drinking diet soda, skipping workouts). These are unhealthy crutches I’ve used, mainly to deal with working at home during the pandemic. But they slow my fitness progress and keep me stuck in place. While the challenge may be hard, it really is a way for me to re-focus my efforts to get fitter and develop a better mindset. In more a typical year, I’d be training for specific events. This year, I’m training for life.  

So no, it’s not 75 hard in the “pure” form, but rather it’s a meaningful challenge that won’t overly stress me. There’s enough to deal with at this point, and I can’t afford to fall back into dysfunctional behaviors.

Photo by Rollalyn Ruis on Unsplash

Watching a pandemic crush my goals under its foot

I opened my planner the other day and found a note on a sticky tab that I had written in January. It was a list of goal times that I was aiming for by August to qualify for the National Senior Games. Sad to say, our state qualifying games were canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Even sadder to say that I’m nowhere near those ideal times. Perhaps I set my sights a bit high in January, particularly with the virus on the horizon.

While I’ve been knocked off track for achieving my swimming glory this year, I need to recognize that I made progress, even in these weird times. Our pool was closed for nearly two months and, short of building something in my backyard in the dead of winter, there was nowhere to swim. Since the pool re-opened, I swim 3-4 times a week for an hour each time (assigned lanes and times, of course*). Depending on my plan for the day, I can do between 2000 and 2500 yards. I’ve not done this much swimming in years and plan to push further if the pool continues to stay open.

I worry a bit about what will happen in the next few months with coronavirus, especially as it gets colder and people head back indoors. Epidemiologists predict a second major wave at that point. It would pain me to stop swimming come fall, just as I’m starting to make progress. But I also need to be realistic about the changing virus situation and plan ahead for the next corona-wave. Will I ever hit those times on the sticky note though?

My cycling distances have been less than what I planned, primarily because we’ve had some pretty crappy wind lately. If I have the choice between swimming or cycling in a 20 mph headwind, swimming will win every time. This next week should be better, weather -wise, and I can up the miles then (hopefully).

I’m also considering trying to run again. Other than dog walks, I haven’t been rambling on two feet for any appreciable distance in some time. Running is more convenient than either swimming or cycling, which can chew up 2-4 hours a day. It also meets social distancing requirements, for when the pool shuts down. It may be painful to start, but it seems a necessary next step.


I have to say that I’m starting to feel a second wind in my work with the renewed exercise intensity. I’m feeling more successful physically, and that seems to translate into feeling less burned out. This is a good thing. I’ve been struggling with writing lately, but the writer’s block is loosening. And I’m less likely to spill my guts about frustrations with my job. The disappointments, microaggressions, and push-backs are still there, but I can now shut-out those aspects of the work because I’m having success elsewhere in life. I have a singular work goal at this point: finish these project analyses and reports. Nothing else really matters for this short-timer.

I also continue to see slow, but continued weight loss — a total of 15 lbs since March and 35 lbs since I was training for a bike tour last summer. Not rapid, but steady. While I’d love to see the needle move faster, what I’m doing now is sustainable over the long term. Plus, I’m happier and feel fitter. I might not be able to turn back time and undo the damages, but I’m putting things in place for a productive future after finishing this phase of my career.

At this point, my clothing is looser and I’m starting to fit into smaller sizes. I have a whole wardrobe of fitness clothes that I’ve bought over the years but couldn’t wear them. Cycling shorts and jerseys that didn’t fit last year are perfect this year. I actually look like I might know what I’m doing on a road bike with the proper outfitting.

So while the coronavirus has crushed many of our plans for this summer, it has also created new opportunities to improve my fitness and endurance. I have to believe that this pandemic will end someday and I plan to be ready for when it does end. The best I can do is to continue to put things in place for when that happens.

*Side question: why do old guys disregard assigned lanes and times in the pool? More than once, I’ve had to ask one to leave the lane when it was my assigned time. And they act like I’m putting them out when they are cutting into my swim time. How do they come to expect this level of entitlement? I can only imagine them shitting a brick on the deck should some one cut into their pool time. Rant finished.

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

I quit the gym today

My gym re-opened about a month ago. The owners had listed online all of their guidelines about wearing masks, cleaning equipment, and maintaining adequate distances between users. I was suspect about how well people would stick to these guidelines. It’s a pretty low-end gym and I’ve always been a bit concerned about the cleanliness of the place. I clean the equipment both before and after using it because I’m pretty certain that the previous user wasn’t all that conscientious.

But it was cheap. As am I. We were a match.

Now with the coronavirus amongst us, I hadn’t gone back to the gym until today because I’m still a bit leery about interacting with others in closed spaces for extended periods. Especially when those places involve heavy breathing and sweat. We live in a part of the country with low (but increasing!) numbers of COVID-19 cases, and the risks of contracting the disease are relatively small. Nonetheless, I’m still not willing to face the masses bare-faced. We know the short-term effects of COVID-19 can be horrid, but there are also severe long-term impairments that we are only beginning to understand. I do not want to live my retirement days with scarred lungs, heart damage, and neurologic complications. There are just some things I’m not willing to risk.

I’m not a total recluse though. I swim at our recreaction center because I figure a chlorinated pool is pretty safe from the virus — but I won’t use the shower and locker room. And I bike ride with a friend for a few hours at least once a week. So I’m not exactly pure in my self-isolation.

I was missing my gym. It was time to give the place a go and see if it felt okay.

It did not.

The gym doors were propped open as I first walked in, likely to reduce user contact with the surfaces and increase ventilation. There was an unmasked young woman using dumbbells near the entrance. This was a less than welcoming sight, but probably okay. The place felt hot and sticky as I walked in further. I then saw that there were at least 20 people on various cardio machines, none with masks.

I get it. Masks are a pain in the ass when you are trying to work out. That’s why I’m in the pool or outside for my exercise. Inside is a different story because the risk of transmission of anything is so much greater. The lack of masks just did not feel right to me.

I walked toward the check-in desk. There were 4 people behind the counter, which seemed crowded. I noticed that there were no plexiglass partitions that might have helped protect the workers from the public. Everything was open. Only one person wore a mask, and that one was draped from her ear, not around her nose and mouth. They were all busy with piles of envelopes, which were likely membership cancellations. I spoke to the young man nearest the check-in. I asked about mask use and he said that it was voluntary. I was welcome to use a mask during my workout. 

Gosh, thanks.

I check-in and turned to look across the room. The sight of everything and everyone made me ill. I felt like I had walked onto a petri dish ready for some gross experiment. I turned back to the guy behind the counter and said, “I can’t. I just can’t do this. I have to cancel my membership.” As he started the cancellation process, he asked why I wanted to cancel. I said, “It’s the whole COVID-19 thing. I just don’t feel safe working out here.” One of the other guys behind the counter made a face and a snicker. Screw him.

We finished the cancellation paperwork and I signed with the common-use pen on the pad. There were no “dirty” and “clean” pen jars — just one pen for everyone. I thanked him and took a palm-full of hand sanitizer on the way out.

So now I’m back on my own as far as lifting type workouts. I’m simply going to have to get more creative and make better use of the limited equipment that I have on hand. I think I will go back to some gym in the future, but probably not until at least this fall. And it certainly won’t be at my cheap gym.

Photo by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash

A self-isolating vacation

I finally took a little time off from work last week. This essentially meant that I didn’t walk into my home office to write on my work computer. Other than that, little changed in my day-to-day activities. Such is the mark of self-isolation.

I was a bit reluctant to take vacation time, seeing that I wasn’t planning to travel during this phase of the pandemic. However, my brain has been screaming for a break as I plow through my report writing — it’s so dry and such a slog. I hope that taking a break might help speed up my thought processes once I return. We will see how that goes tomorrow when I sit down at the computer again.

My plan was to get some work done on our growing list of backlogged home maintenance tasks. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as productive as I would have liked because I spent more time relaxing than tackling projects. Fingers-crossed that taking a more restful break will produce more productive writing.

I started my staycation with a 30-mile bike ride with a friend last Monday. I got pretty dehydrated with the heat and wind, even in the early part of the day. Under more normal times, we would plan our route around a coffee shop for refreshments. But not this time because coffee shops are much less inviting with a potential virus lurking. Nope, this ride was work the entire time. I didn’t have enough water, and the last 8 miles were pretty sluggish. I had no problem maintaining the requisite 6′ social distancing.

And then, the weather changed abruptly and we ended up with 6″ of wet, heavy snow by Tuesday (June 9th!) morning. The power went out several times during the night and the alarm on my computer battery backup woke us at about 1:30 am. I spent 20 minutes crawling around on the floor in pitch darkness, trying to get things shut down and the alarm silenced. Our big white dog was so distraught, and I had to negotiate with her for space under my desk.

The first day of vacation wasn’t going as planned. 

I had wanted to finish painting the trim on the house this past week, but the cold, wet, and wind following the snowstorm made that problematic. We instead decided to tackle the piles of accumulated stuff in the basement. Kids’ toys, old clothes, books, sports equipment, and tons of tools/boxes/clutter from our parents vacated homes. We didn’t know what to do with all of the stuff from the houses we inherited at the time, so we ended up moving most of it into our unfinished basement. My spouse has the packrat gene and wanted to go through it all — slowly — to get a better idea of what was there. Mind you, this was about 10 years, so the mountain of accumulated junk wasn’t about to move out of the house in a week.

None of it sparks joy for me. At this point, I’d prefer to get a dumpster and be done with it. If we haven’t needed it in 10 years, can’t we just get rid of it? 


On the plus side, I did manage to get in some decent workouts during my staycation. A couple of bike rides, plus 3 swimming sessions. Not that I’m training for anything in particular — at least not for this year. We already have re-signed-up for several postponed events, and I’m hoping that the baseline workouts that I’m doing now will pay off in the future. I’m putting more effort into swimming these days because it’s one place that is likely safe from the coronavirus with all the disinfectants that they use. Unfortunately, the push to open businesses continues, and the facility is seeing increased use. That means more potential exposure to the virus.

Even though I continue to use the community rec center, I still think that some of the re-openings are premature and that there will be continued waves of COVID-19 as a result. I recently read about a survey of epidemiologists where over 80% would not use a fitness facility for at least 3 more months — and half of those responding wouldn’t use a facility for a year or more. That certainly gives me pause. These are people who study the spread of infectious disease, and they wouldn’t risk exposure over the short term.

I still question if it is really safe to go back to the pools.


And now it’s Sunday and my precious break is nearly over. I don’t think it was long enough, but I should probably get back to finishing off the tasks at hand. I’ve written in previous posts that my planned fieldwork for this summer has been canceled with the travel restrictions. I’m in total wrap up mode from now until the final day before retirement.

I don’t know if I want it to go really fast or really slow.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Re-defining open

Our community recreation center recently re-opened on a limited basis. Classrooms are off-limits, as are the showers and dressing areas. But the cardio areas and lap pool are available, by reservation. Meaning that you need to call ahead and reserve a lane or piece of equipment. You get temperature checked as you walk-in and need to wear a mask at all times, except when you are in the water. Four swimmers are allowed in the pool at a time, in every other lane. You come dressed to swim and leave in a wet bathing suit. I now understand what wearing a diaper feels like.

There are more lifeguards on deck than there are swimmers at this point. Lots of repeated disinfecting of things that no one really touches, like ladders and bleachers. Given the level of attention given to these tasks, I’m pretty certain that coronavirus is not in the building. But one can’t be too cautious with this novel virus. There’s so much that we don’t know about it, and it’s best to side on the more disinfected end of the spectrum.

I swam twice last week, on Thursday and Friday. This was the first time since mid-February. I definitely could feel that I hadn’t been in the pool for a while. I did 2000 yds on Thursday and 1900 yds on Friday, which isn’t too awful given the long break from the pool. The events that I’m planning to swim are a long way off (now 2021), but I have a long way to go to be more competitive. Being permitted to swim now will help in the long run. But the extra training time won’t be worth it if I end up sick.

I’m now wondering if anyone should be using the pool at this point in time. Yes, the state has allowed recreation centers and gyms to open, with stringent restrictions on capacity. But, really, does anyone fully understand the implications of doing this? We live in an area that has seen fewer cases relative to the number of people living here. That is changing as the virus continues to spread in more rural areas. Our state is one of the few with an uptick in cases recently. It would be good to know if this is due to the recent re-opening of a variety of businesses and facilities.

For now, I will likely continue to swim. This really is an ideal time for a lap swimmer, with reserved lanes and times. There is no crush of swimmers in shared lanes. There aren’t any kids yelling and jumping off the diving boards. But such restricted use of a community facility seems such a waste. There are only a few other recreators in the whole place — is it worth the expense to be open for such limited use?

Photo by Benjamin Basch on Unsplash