Today I’ve hit 100km running for the month of May on only the 8th day. For me, that’s an achievement worth celebrating.
My personal fitness journey has had a lot of ups and downs. At primary school I was the fat kid, bullied and outcast. Sometime, around the age of ten or eleven I took up mountain biking as a hobby. I can’t pretend that I’ve ever been particularly good at it but I enjoy it. At that time I lost a lot of weight, but the stigma of being the fat kid has always stuck with me. Whether that was only in my mind or not, it’s certainly influenced my outlook on things as I’ve grown up and grown older.
Fast forward a few (lot) of years to when I was 31. Earlier this year my father had died. Whilst I wasn’t close to him, I did feel some regret for not trying to be closer. I retreated into myself and became quite quiet. I stopped doing exercise and my weight ballooned about as fast as my fitness decreased. This unfortunately lead to the breakdown of my relationship and I ended up on my own for the first time in my life.
Around this time I was feeling lethargic and really struggling to concentrate. I had a pretty big health scare as well, where I was rushed to hospital with a suspected stroke. I might write more about this at a different time. The end result of this was that, after nearly a week of tests in hospital, no-one could work out what was wrong with me. The diagnosis was migraines, which the GPs then decided to try and treat me for with a bewildering array of pharmaceuticals. Needless to say none of these did the trick, and most actually made me feel worse.
About this time I really threw myself fully back into exercise. I took up rock climbing and, for the first time since school, I started running.
As with anything new, I sucked at both of these to begin with. I was overweight and had almost no upper body strength, not a great combination for climbing. Over time though, I lost weight and got stronger and fitter. My running performance got better, from struggling to run two km I suddenly found myself turning up at park run every Saturday. After a while I actually started to get fairly respectable times, around 21 minutes. It didn’t come easily but I stuck at it, even after a very painful muscle strain put me out of it for a few weeks.
With the support of my friends, I was getting better, both physically and emotionally. And as the body’s condition improved, so did the mind.
Several months later, I was fortunate to meet Nicki, to whom I am now married. We instantly hit it off and she was certainly up for the challenge of keeping up with my new found enthusiasm for adventure.
Around this time, I was finally diagnosed with pernicious anaemia, which is actually a good thing (the diagnosis, not the condition). Finally I had a reason for why I felt so tired all the time and couldn’t balance or concentrate fully. Getting diagnosed is the first step to getting treated and the treatment was a revelation to me. I couldn’t believe how bad I had been until I wasn’t feeling ill anymore, I felt superhuman. If anyone is interested in this condition, please do follow the link above. Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. The problem is compounded by a real lack of understanding of the problem and its symptoms in the medical profession. There are stories from all over the world about people living with the symptoms for years before getting diagnosed, often after irreversible nerve damage has already been caused.
With my new found energy and enthusiasm, and someone to share it with, over the past five years together Nicki and I have walked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, walked the length of the West Highlands Way (in about two days less than is recommended) and done an eight day trek around the Torres Del Paine in Chile. She has supported me in competing in my first half marathon and also, more recently, a sprint distance duathlon (where I came 16th overall out of over 250 starters).
However, during our time together my fitness hasn’t always been a straight trajectory upwards. The pressures of work and the comfort of marriage have led to me making excuses and not training as hard as I should, or could. Around twelve months ago I reached my heaviest weight for quite some time, 87kg. I was working 12-14 hour days regularly and not making time to do any exercise, or to spend time with Nicki. To her credit, Nicki took all this in her stride and supported me regardless. When I realised I needed to make a correction she was the first to support me, never nagging or putting pressure on me but allowing me the time and space I needed to make the correction. I started running again and we started to get more walks in at the weekend. I joined the same gym that Nicki was going to, after a glowing review.
All the gang at Fit3sixty in Worcester welcomed me with open arms and made me work harder to be a better version of myself. For the first time in my training history there was accountability. I had signed up to a class, therefore I was going to be there, no matter how rubbish I felt. The coaches often joke about my effort levels while on the classes, but for me this all comes back to accountability. If you’re there and not working at maximum effort, why are you taking a spot that someone else could be using? As well as accountability though is the fact that training at Fit3Sixty is just fun, something I’ve never called a gym before.
As, I imagine, most people would relate to, my image of a gym, prior to Fit3Sixty, is a place where you go to sit on some exercise machine for an hour getting sweaty and bored. Attempting to start a conversation with someone is usually met with puzzled glances and confusion. If your experience is like this, I can tell you, there is a better way! Give your local independent gym or CrossFit box a try. I guarantee you’ll get far more enjoyment out of it and ultimately get fitter! I have found myself looking forward to spending time in the gym, and in turn I work even harder, which leads to improved results. When you see the results it motivates you to push yourself that little bit harder.
All of the above has been critical to me during the recent Coronavirus lockdown. Fit3Sixty has been fantastic in the level of support that they have continued to provide, both formally in the form of instructor lead video classes, using web conferencing software, and also in just the community that has built up around the gym. This has recently been really driven home with the five k per day in May challenge that one of the members has proposed and has been fully supported by the instructors. Some of them have even been getting involved! Nicki and I have been getting involved as well, but we wanted to up the challenge for ourselves a bit, so we made it ten km per day, and then have gone out and exceeded that by some way.
So, this is how we get to the 100km on day eight celebration. If you had said to me six years ago that I would have run 100km in eight days, while also working full time, I would have said you were crazy, but determination and accountability have made it happen. I’m eight days in to a 31 day challenge and everything hurts now when I run, the level of fatigue is high. Less determined people would just stop now but I’ve made a promise to my new friends at Fit3Sixty and, more importantly, to myself. Grit, it’s what you’ve got when you’ve got nothing left. When you need it, it’s amazing how much further your body can be pushed, you just need to believe it can happen.
The take away from all of this is that if I can do it, anyone can. You just need to take those first steps, don’t look at what I can do, or anyone else, and think that you’ll never get there. Success is very rarely a straight line. Celebrate every step that takes you towards your goals. If you’re struggling to complete a five km run, that’s ok. Celebrate the fact you tried, then get up tomorrow and try again.