How I started running (part 2)
In my last post, I talked about where I’ve come from – unhealthy and unhappy, where I am now – healthier and happier and where I want to go – running a Boston Marathon Qualifying time of 3 hours and 5 minutes.
In part 2, I talk about my old lifestyle, why I chose running to make a positive change and how I started to run.
When change gets noticed
Last spring, I was at a family wedding in Ireland. It had been the first time since I had lost a lot of weight. These weddings are always a great opportunity to catch up with far-flung relatives. Meeting one of my uncles, he exclaimed:
‘Kogsy, great to see you! But where’s the rest of you?’
Then, last summer, an old friend invited to a social event in north London. The tides and times of each of our lives meant we hadn’t seen each other in 2 years. She couldn’t believe the change in me.
‘You look years younger!’’
‘You’ve stopped smoking!’
‘You’ve lost so much weight!’
And the one that really struck home – mentally:
‘You seem so much happier in yourself! You’d been stuck in your rut for so long, like a car spinning it’s wheels. How did you do it? What made you change?’
“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
My life before
What did I change and why did I want to change?
It’s a long story and a short biography is needed. Long story short, as a child I was overly sensitive and a victim of bullying. I developed a comfort eating problem. This continued during my teenage years – I was seriously obese and I cringe when I see my old school photos.
At university, my diet worsened and my weight ballooned. I also started drinking and smoking. I put on so much weight I still have the stretch marks on my stomach.
At around 22 years old, I went for a medical as part of my summer job (in 2001/2002). The nurse told me I weighed 120kg (19 stone/264 lbs). My Body Mass Index (BMI) was 33. Obese.
That scared me. I started to make changes. I can remember cutting back on food portions. Also because I was working now I had less time for beer and was more active. All of this helped. I shed some weight.
But now, instead of comfort eating, I was smoking. I had swopped one form of addiction for another.
Things moseyed along. My diet, while a bit better, was still not great. Cornflakes or white bread for breakfast, a cheap baguette sandwich in mid morning, sandwiches at lunch, lots of coffee and cigarettes.
I’d often use my early starts and late finishes as an excuse to skip breakfast and hit a takeaway going home. To this day, I still think of Wednesdays as Chicken Cottage night.
By now, I was living in London. And drinking. A lot. In 2008, I changed projects and had to go for another medical. I found the medical certificate last year and it made scary reading.
In 2008, I weighed 147kg. That’s a BMI of 39.
I kept going like this. Part of me knew I was sending myself to an early grave. Over eating and under exercising. Low self-esteem, anger issues, problems with people (and the people weren’t the problem).I was miserable but still not ready for change.
What made me ready for change
I toyed with the idea of running for years. I even remember trying it once or twice when I was in university and then giving up because it was too hard. I tried a few more times years later when I was working in London. And gave up again after a few tries as it was too hard.
Then, around 2011, I was on holiday in York, England. It was a warm summer’s day. I was walking around the town, smoking and drinking. I started to feel really ill. A strange feeling came over my chest. I had to sit down, gasping like a fish. For a split second, I thought I was having a heart attack.
I realised it was more of an asthma attack – something I hadn’t had in years. I calmed down and let the feeling subside. As I sat on this bench, crushing the cigarette butt with my shoe, I knew I had to change.
Planning the change
I had made half-hearted attempts at lifestyle change before. I decided to steal the SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound) goals idea from my working life. Here’s what I did:
- I set a stop-smoking date of August 1st – a few weeks away to give me time to work up to the idea.
- I decided to increase my walking before doing any running. I did this for a month.
- Research, research, research on best starting plans and diet.
- I moved away from white breads etc into whole foods
- I found the Couch 2 5k programme – this was the key to my getting running
Working the plan
So, I started walking every night. I loaded an ipod with music and set off in a random direction. I ran a timer – 15 minutes out and 15 minutes back at a brisk pace. I bought some jogging pants and used an existing pair of trainers. In otherwords, I dressed for exercise so as to not have any excuse.
I still smoked at this stage. I would take the cigarettes out with me and have some while I was on my walk. Then, when I hit my quit date, I stopped. I used patches to stop this time. However, this is a topic I will return to. This is because a year later, life circumstances made me feel I had no choice but to start smoking again.
Run, fat boy, run
Why running? Well, partly it was because it seemed like an efficient form of exercise and partly because I decided i wanted to run a marathon. Mostly, it was because I felt I had let myself go so much that I needed a lot of exercise to get into some shape.
The C25K (Couch to Five K) plan was so easy to follow. It was incremental and that allowed me to build up my strength and ability. All I had to do was Keep on Going.
It wasn’t a straight line from C25K to running marathons. I had to do a lot of work – sorting my flipping feet, knobbly knees, lack of motivation, time pressures and a hectic life. All of these could have made me give up.
I didn’t – because I was in the fight for my life against my worst enemy.
Where am I now?
Three years later, I the difference between my old and new life amazes me. As I said, it hasn’t been a smooth path. It hasn’t been an overnight success.
But that’s good. All I did was Keep on Going – little by little, step by step, mile by mile I carved a new path for myself. And I think that’s a hopeful message for everyone.Because it doesn’t require a HUGE change straight away. Huge life changing events can be made up of little ones glued together.
Which makes them accessible to everyone.
I guess my philosophy is we all owe it to ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves we can be. And that this isn’t an instant thing. It takes work and dedication. It is like climbing a stair case – if you try to take them in a single bound, you’ll likely fail and hurt yourself. Slower, surer way – step by step – is better in the long run.
This is because today’s tiny step forward builds on yesterday’s step forward. And before you know it, you have travelled farther then you ever thought possible.
Keep on Going