Last September I decided to change something. I decided I’d had enough of feeling slightly uncomfortable in my own skin. Enough of looking down at the roll of fat round my belly and struggling to button up my favourite jeans. Enough of getting frustrated asking why, given that I don’t drink alcohol, almost never eat takeaways, and had abandoned the ready meal years ago, had I lost my waistline?
I’d thought about Weightwatchers. Really seriously toyed with the idea, visited websites, asked a couple of people. But it didn’t feel right. It felt negative. Counting points. Denying myself things I enjoyed.
But on the other hand I did need to do something different. So I decided to do something positive. Do some more exercise and get some advice. So I invested in a personal trainer.
I already knew Ian from the pilates classes he taught at work. So there was immediately a level of trust there. We sat down for ages and talked about what I wanted to achieve, the kind of things he’d help me with, setting goals, looking at the kind of things I was eating etc.
It’s been brilliant. I love it. My regular Thursday morning workouts down the beach were a high spot of the week. Always tough. Always demanding. But somehow, I always managed to get through it. Sometimes I couldn’t do everything. Sometimes my arms just didn’t have any more in them. Sometimes my legs felt like deadweights.
But each week I did something more. Ran a bit further, faster, longer. Completed more repetitions. Learned a new exercise. Held the plank for longer. And every week I wanted to be better than the week before.
Ian got me to keep a food diary and gave me great advice on making good choices about what I should eat. I didn’t change much. I still have sausages and puddings, but they’re treats. He put together an activity plan, building on other exercise habits I had through the week to keep the effect going, encouraging me to run.
I really never thought I could run. At school I was a sprinter – 100, 200m, 110m hurdles and the relay (great on the third leg running the curve).
And at first it was horrible. Run for a minute. Walk for a minute. Ragged breaths catching my throat, my chest. Thigh muscles screaming.
But somehow the minute became five. And I could find a rhythym. Count the breaths, in and out. Feel muscles stretching, keep on going. Ignore the desire to look at the stop watch. Just keep going. Don’t stop.
And one day five minutes became 15. I got down to the main road, and then a little bit further. And then one day I got all the way there and back without stopping (not even for the hill). And I looked up the route and it seemed like a good couple of miles. And suddenly I knew I had it in me. And it felt easy. Zen like. Like I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. Magic!
Of course the next run was a nightmare. Scratchy breath and tight knees and a sudden sharp pain between my neck and my shoulder.
But all the training was working. I was seeing results. A couple of pounds off the scales each week. A centimetre or two off my waist, and suddenly those jeans started to feel a bit comfier. I could tighten my belt to the last notch.
After 20 minutes your body starts burning fat, Ian had told me. It was a great incentive to keep going. I’d hold it in my head every run.
And other people noticed. At the work Christmas party I got compliments. Talk about an ego boost! I’d already had to change my dress for a smaller size. I looked good because I felt good. Happy and confident.
I really knew I’d got the bug when I hit the beach for a run on Boxing Day. I’d had a couple of easy weeks, been on holiday, allowed myself a break from the exercise routine, indulged in some delicious food. And I was going stir crazy. A run along the waves woke me up. Made me feel alive. Shook off the cobwebs.
And a week later, as we were driving along the Central Motorway, I thought the thought. Is this the year to do it? Is this the year to stand on a motorway in the middle of a city, with a crowd of people wearing trainers and bin bags, fairy wings and foam suits? Is this the year to do the Great North Run?
And as soon as I thought it, I knew the answer was yes. A new goal. A new challenge.
So that’s where I find myself. I entered the ballot and got a place. And now I’m training, working towards that goal. When I first started a mile was a challenge. Then 2 miles, then 3. Then I did 3, nearly 4. Then 4 and a bit more. And yesterday 4.5 miles on the treadmill.
And it’s still hard. And I still doubt. And I still have a little voice that tries to do deals with me about stopping, or slowing down. And I’m thinking about pushing on with my back foot, relaxing my shoulders, moving my arms efficiently, getting into the rhythym.
But at the end, it’s glorious. I get my breath back and I don’t collapse in a heap. I stretch out and wonder why was I having moments of doubt. I did it. I can do more.
And so it begins. Goal set. Finish line distant. The training begins.