1. Weight Management
I started running, age 31 or thereabouts, to help with weight loss. I’d gained a couple of stone during three pregnancies, breastfeeding and several years of being a stay at home Mum. I ate for comfort, to relieve boredom and to reward myself for the hours of cleaning, cooking, wiping up, tidying, entertaining, comforting, teaching and training. When Billy was 3 I went to university to do an English degree and after that, to become a teacher. It was then that I lost weight, through healthy eating and exercise, and began a regular jogging practice. My love of the peace and quiet of a solitary run through fields and lanes developed during this time. The calming sound of my footsteps, the steady breathing pattern, the gentle sounds of wildlife and the rustling of grass became necessary me-time. This really helped me to tone up and maintain the weight loss, and I built up to half marathon distance and ran my first Leicester half in 2 hours and 4 minutes (I think). But my speed didn’t really pick up until we moved to Stoneygate and I decided that some running buddies would be nice and joined the Leicester Roadhoggs (with Jackie and Clare below).
2. Friendly Competition
My first training run, on a Wednesday night, was with the now legendary Jackie Brown, who is a regular winner or in the top 5 in her age category in league races and other events across the country. She is a brilliant runner now, but then, on our first Roadhoggs run, we were well matched. She pushed me on, being slightly quicker and much more determined, and I came away feeling exhausted but happy. Regular training runs with other people made me quicker.
I began running league races and my first Glooston 10k I did in around 48 minutes. I was very competitive with others of similar ability, and really enjoyed xc. My fastest time was on the Boxing Day handicap at Barrow-upon-Soar, where I achieved a 46 minute 10k with a slight hangover. I began to experience a runner’s high, which I only got when I pushed myself to the max. Like a drug, it made me feel exhilarated and, when it happened, I felt as though I was floating around the course, all pain gone, no effort, totally in this wonderful, bubble-like zone. I’d be aware that I was overtaking other runners and was smiling as I glided along. It was incredible. I began to chase the high and relish it when it came.
I started doing some speed work with Roadhoggs at Saffron Lane and built up to my first London marathon, which I ran for YMCA. I trained up to 39 miles a week and achieved a sub 4 (just). But a chest infection kicked in about a month before the marathon and my asthma flared up badly. I had to take a couple of weeks off and began to consider that doing that mileage as well as being a full time teacher was a bit much. I know people who run 100 miles a week and can only admire their incredible stamina and commitment. My problem might have stemmed from the sudden increase, due to following a training plan, and a more consistent pattern would have been better. I also became obsessive about maintaining a low body fat percentage, counted calories religiously and worked out every day, always worried about loss of performance or weight gain.
Shortly after this, my daughter became ill and many troubles began at home. She developed an eating disorder and ran to shed excess calories. There were two awful years and I undertook the steepest learning curve of my life. Supporting her through the ED was the most difficult thing for a parent to do, and I tried to do it well. There were many failures and difficulties on my part but she persevered in her recovery and she taught me how to help her. She got good help eventually and, in turn, I began to recognise my own problems with food and exercise. During this time, albeit for negative reasons, she got very good at running and, as she recovered, she used this ability to set herself the goal of completing a half marathon. Running over the finishing line with her was one of the proudest moments of my life. She’d experienced rock bottom at such a young age, had achieved so much recovery, ran her half in just under 2 hours and, most importantly, raised several hundred pounds for BEAT, an eating disorders charity.
During these difficult years, several good friends forced me to go out running, and it served as a kind of therapy. But three years after the marathon, my marriage was over and I was a single parent on anti-depressants. I completely lost the urge to run beyond a jog. The pills made me calm, relaxed and clear-headed. They were definitely worth it for the benefit to my mental health, and helped me to benefit from counselling, but I gained over a stone in weight as I addressed my obsession with dieting and found ways to manage my now very different life. My metabolism seemed to have slowed and I felt bloated every time I ate. On the plus side, I went from crying for hours on the sofa every night to feeling normal.
Part of a Balanced Lifestyle
My full recovery to pill-free mental health took a year, and during that time I ran my second London marathon. But it was a different animal this time. My training consisted of one long run every Sunday, up to 20 miles, as I ambled along from Stoneygate to Billesden and back again, thoroughly enjoying the view and the experience. My weeks were too busy to run. I struggled to find time between working full time, running around as chauffeur to my youngest, and conducting a long distance relationship. I ran the marathon in 4 hours and 16 minutes, with my partner cheering me on in his rugby coach voice that boomed out across the crowds and made me feel like a champion.
Since then, I’ve maintained a commitment to running but it’s very different. The competitive streak has disappeared and I’m genuinely happy for other people to overtake me and improve beyond what I’m prepared to commit to. I always aim to run for 2.5 hours a week and often manage 2. My last half marathon took 2 hours and 4 minutes (back to the early days) and the only way I’d get quicker again would be to lose the stone and train more. The thought of doing that fills me with gloom. My latest health check revealed that I’m in excellent shape. My diet is good and I’m happy and healthy. I no longer count calories and I eat to nourish my body and mind. Nowadays, it seems unnecessary to get all worked up about improving my speed.
So I run a few times a week, because it’s enjoyable to explore the lanes and fields, to hear my breathing, to feel the mind-body connection and to enjoy my physicality. My long runs are slow ambles for 6-7 miles, more if there’s a half or a big event coming up. I enjoy doing 5k fundraisers, like the Louth Run for Life, with Tim. I do yoga most days, which would have bored me to tears previously. Meditation has become part of my overall self-care, and I’m much better at acknowledging how I feel, what I need and where to find support as well as when to give it. And when I occasionally feel energised enough to push myself, like I did at the Hungarton 7 2017, I still get the runner’s high. It’s great when it happens, but I don’t chase it, because life is sweet enough to go without.