When you’re in lockdown, you might as well try something new. I attempted the Bring Sally Up Challenge.
As a reminder, this is the Bring Sally Up Challenge:
At best, it’s a gruelling three minutes of push ups, accompanied by Moby’s Flower.
For me it was a small moment of torture that I willingly welcomed into daily life.
Why do it?
On the 24th March 2020, the UK entered lockdown in the hope of controlling the spread of Coronavirus.
Compared with some countries, our lockdown was lenient, particularly for exercise. We were free to run, walk or cycle once a day, so long as we kept our distance from other people.
Given the freedom to run, I chose not to. I don’t remember why I made that choice, and it doesn’t really matter. It was the right decision at the time.
That doesn’t mean I missed out on exercise altogether. Along with thousands of people all over the world, I joined Joe Wicks in his daily PE sessions. Even as someone who’d recently trained for a half marathon, those 30-minute workouts were tough.
My daughter and I stuck with it for a couple of weeks (excluding “rest days”). But her enthusiasm soon waned and mine quickly followed.
Of course, none of that explains why I decided the Bring Sally Up Challenge was for me.
In truth, it was a combination of all the above. Plus, I saw it on a Facebook group and thought “I wonder if I can do that?”
My first effort lasted 46 seconds. It was an inauspicious start.
I began full of expectation. Then came the feeling of crushing disappointment as reality dawned – this would be no walk in the park.
But I persisted. And I improved. By the end of week one, I’d added 22 seconds, taking my time beyond the minute mark.
Perhaps it would be possible, after all.
Having finished week one on a high, I assumed progress was inevitable throughout week two. Why wouldn’t I?
My confidence was misplaced. I wasn’t tearing through the tune as I’d hoped. Rather, I stopped at the same point each time.
There was no progress. There was a lot of frustration and a pair of very sore arms. That initial hope and expectation was quickly slipping away.
Something wasn’t right. Something needed to change.
Perhaps, I thought, it was my push ups. Maybe I was doing them wrong. If that’s even possible.
It seemed like a long shot. But, why not?
As, it happened, I was right. I was doing them wrong.
Now, before you get all judgemental, it’s not like I was back to front or anything. When I say ‘wrong’, I don’t mean “wrong” wrong.
What I mean is, my elbows stuck out and my hips were lazy. My form was poor and, I assumed, holding me back.
So, I studied this video and I sorted it out.
I was ready to go. As the kids say, I was going to smash it. I warmed up, took a few deep breaths, and hit play.
Then I did worse than the day before.
Thankfully I adjusted to the new technique and week two ended the same as it began, at 68 seconds.
By week three we’d given Joe Wicks the elbow. It was inevitable from the start.
He did a great thing in providing free classes to bored kids and stressed parents. Donating his earnings to the NHS was even more admirable.
He’s a good man. But his classes were too much for us.
Around the time my enthusiasm for superman squats was squashed, I bought a new pair of trainers.
I was already a big fan of the Reebok Floatride Energy. The combination of cushioning, response and comfort made them ideal for long, plodding runs.
So, when I saw the second iteration, I was immediately tempted. When Reebok offered them at a cut price £55, I couldn’t resist.
With Nike selling running shoes for £250+, it’s hard to believe you can find decent trainers at a fraction of the price.
But Reebok somehow manage it, with no obvious compromise on quality (to be clear, I’m not comparing the Reebok trainers with the Nikes. I get they’re a completely different beast and there are many reasons for the price difference.)
Thanks Reebok! Us Ordinary Runners don’t always have money for the Nikes of this world. It’s great that we’re accommodated for.
When my new shoes arrived, my decision not to run during lockdown vanished.
Not only did I “rediscover” my love of running, I also stumbled upon a new running experience.
For one, to avoid the crowds, I’ve been heading out at 6:30am. This means running on an empty stomach – there’s no way I’m getting up early enough to eat first.
This hungry running caper seemed great blog fodder, for the first week. But my body adjusted surprisingly quickly. Before long, I was able to up my distance. Now it seems normal – I expect I’ll struggle when I go back to running after breakfast.
Once my body became used to running on empty, I started really enjoying my early morning runs.
But there was more to it than an empty belly.
Suddenly, the freedom of stomping the streets was richer than I remembered. The air felt fresher, the birds chirped louder, and the sea seemed more mystical than ever.
For the first time in the ten years I’ve been running, I started to stop, take in my surroundings and snap the odd photo.
I switched from worrying about time and distance, to worrying about enjoying the experience.
It doesn’t sound like much. In fact, if anything, it sounds like a step backwards. I mean, why would I start stopping on runs that I can do without stopping?
But, I’m no elite. I’m an Ordinary Runner. I run for enjoyment, not for accolades. And I mostly run along a stretch of coastline that offers wonderful views out to sea. Why wouldn’t I stop to enjoy it?
So, that’s what I did. It’s what I still do. I stop. Look around. Breathe in the sea air. And make the most of living near the coast.
PBs are for races. Right now, there aren’t any races. So, there aren’t any PBs.
The Tired and the Hurt
New running experiences are great. But, all this time, I was still struggling through the Bring Sally Up Challenge.
For the first 29 days, I hadn’t gone beyond 89 seconds.
If you listen to the tune, you’ll hear a couple of sections where the lyrics change from “Green Sally Up…” to “Old Miss Lucy’s dead and gone…” At these points, you hold the press up in the down position.
These sections make it much more of a challenge. These are the sections you’ll come to despise. Your arms will quiver under the strain. Then, after these sections, your arms will refuse to push up again.
The second of these sections ends at 89 seconds. For 29 days, I couldn’t pass the second of these sections.
Once again, I wonder why I didn’t quit sooner.
But, for whatever reason, I kept going. I pushed through the quiver and the strain and, on Day Thirty I lasted a whopping 101 seconds. I was understandably pleased with myself.
As far as exercise goes, I’d describe my attitude as “comfortable”. Familiar routes are run at a comfortable pace. I don’t often test my maximum heart rate and I rarely trouble a PB.
I certainly don’t have much of what you’d call “grit”. Not where running is concerned, anyway. And the same was true of this challenge.
Yes, I pushed through some difficult bits. I even got to 101 seconds on several occasions. But giving up remained a very real possibility throughout. That grit, the sort that champions might call on in their darkest hour, is not something I posses.
Failure was always an option.
Spoiler alert – that’s precisely how it played out.
Hope is Gone
It’s time to talk about logarithmic growth.
No, don’t stop reading. I’m not about to go all “GCSE maths” on you. This is illustrative.
You see, when I started running (see also, the many times I re-started running after injuries), progress was quick and pronounced. Once the initial struggle passed, anyway.
Pace, distance, weight-loss. They all improved sharply. Logarithmically.
Then the progress slowed.
PBs were harder to come by. Longer distances seemed out of reach. Greater effort yielded less reward.
And that was okay. I didn’t mind because I was achieving things I’d never dreamt of.
The same was true of the Bring Sally Up Challenge. Swift progress, with diminishing gains that quickly plateaued.
The difference is that running, however hard it might be, is much more enjoyable than push ups.
Increasing your distance from one to two miles, to 5k, and beyond, is satisfying. Increasing your 46 seconds of torture to 68 seconds of torture, and beyond, really isn’t.
No matter how far I progressed, even after six weeks, it was still torture. Boring torture.
And that, coupled with my lack of grit, meant I didn’t care. Not even a little bit.
So, I quit.
I’m not disappointed that I failed to complete the Bring Sally Up Challenge. It’s not the sort of thing I’d typically do. It surprises me that I bothered to try it in the first place.
Rather than attempting any new challenges, I’ve gone back to yoga, which is a far preferable form of torture.
Besides, I still have running. Why should I trouble my body with push ups or squats or anything else? To me, running and yoga are easily enough.
What more does an Ordinary Runner need? Certainly not the Bring Sally Up Challenge.
Not this one, anyway.
Photo by Tobias Nii Kwatei Quartey