The last time I was “thin” I was six years old. Most of my life I didn’t care in the world what I ate or when. Throughout school, I was the fat kid, the one who got called names, picked last for sports teams, or had notes from a parent excusing me from physical exercise. I didn’t care though, it’s who I was and I accepted it.
I’d always been keen on playing soccer, but I was never the most gifted player at it so I was never too serious. I did some karting and car races when I was in my early twenties too but my weight got in the way. A couple of times I joined a gym, but always gave up. I didn’t really care, I was happy with who I was. It was quite ironic, as here I was a very big man but working for a bagged salad company—visiting suppliers and having to take my own safety coat as I didn’t fit inside theirs.
The Wake-Up Call
Christmas 2009 was my big turning point. For a few months, I’d felt constantly tired and thirsty and was losing a little weight for no reason. Every night I’d come home and go to bed—with a bottle of pop, Lucozade and chocolate for company. On December 22nd immediately sent me to the emergency room, where they told me I had suspected Type 2 Diabetes. After a few hours kept in hospital, I was released—into what was to become a totally new world.
Christmas came and passed. I didn’t know what I could or couldn’t eat and most of it was spent in a haze. As soon as I could, I went back to see my doctor who filled me in on what having Type 2 diabetes meant—and told me that I’d be dead by the time I’d be 35 if I did nothing about it. I was 31. He told me I had to lose weight: I was now tipping the scales at 27 stone/378lbs/171kg.
I publicly stated that I was going to sort my life out, lose weight, and run a marathon by the end of the decade that was about to start.
Getting into Exercise
I started using Wii Fit. At the size I was, exercise was very difficult. I couldn’t walk very far. But every day I’d do half an hour on it, and pretty soon it wasn’t killing me every time and I joined a gym in March. Over the coming months, I’d start doing a little bit more every so often, and by May 2010 I’d used Runkeeper for the first time—I’d actually paid for it, something I rarely do with apps. That first log was a 3-mile cycle ride in the gym. I averaged just 12 miles per hour as it took me 15 minutes to do it. From my own logs, on that day I weighed 21stone/294lbs/133kg—I’d been losing a stone (14lbs) per month roughly and starting to feel much fitter. I also did a mile’s walk.
By this point, I was much more in control of my life and my body. Looking at my Runkeeper logs I was well into a fitness regime, doing something most days even if only a short walk. Distances started to increase, and I bought myself a cheap bike—the use of Runkeeper was a very big part of it. I was logging every walk I did (this was a long way from the “Pocket Track” of today) whilst also keeping track of what I was eating using MyFitnessPal and was really starting to get into it. I’ve always been a stats geek, so loved being able to see what I was doing whilst I was doing it. I still rarely ran – the amount of weight I had meant that was basically impossible for me.
By November I’d lost 10 stone/140lbs/63kg. The more I lost, the harder it became to lose the weight but I was happy with what I was doing—that was the month I got married, something that being slimmer made far easier! People who hadn’t seen me for years were amazed by how I looked and I got so many compliments—a far cry from the names I used to be called.
Getting Off Track
Over the next couple of years, the weight loss slowed down. It became harder and harder, and then in October 2012, I was diagnosed with having developed gallstones. I was told this was linked with being a by-product of rapid weight loss and it once again saw me in hospital. I’m not afraid to admit that it almost destroyed my journey at that point. Instead of facing it head-on like I did the diabetes, I fell into a bad pattern of over-eating and under-exercising.
I’d put a little weight on in the previous year anyway—a trip to the West Coast of the USA had seen me drop the exercise and eating well for a few weeks (becoming a massive fan of Denny’s Grand Slams!) and I’d put on 2 stone/28lbs/13kg or so and I never really went back on it properly when I returned. This made me go completely off the plan though, and by April 2013 I’d put back on 5 stone/70lbs/32kg in total. This resulted in a massive gallstone attack and I ended up back in hospital again. The doctor I saw told me that I was now too fat again though to safely have the operation, and ordered me to lose weight in order to have it.
Back At It
It was the spur I needed, and I quickly started to lose weight again. I soon bought myself a new hybrid bike and started riding 20-30 mile distances regularly. In August I took part in my first charity event, a 28-mile cycle ride in aid of a cancer charity in support of my friend who lost his 21-year-old daughter to the disease.
I then did another charity cycle ride in October for Diabetes UK, but not before I’d bought a proper road bike and increased my mileage! All of these were of course tracked with Runkeeper, which hadn’t left me throughout the years since I’d first bought it.
In late October I suffered some personal issues when the stress of everything related to what had gone on with my body, home stuff, and work-life became too much and I started suffering panic attacks, showing signs of anxiety and at my lowest point contemplating taking my own life. At this point, I was the 35 the doctor had told me I could die at and it was just too much. When I then found a mole that had grown on the inside of my toe I became incapable of doing anything.
I decided that my best way of dealing with it all was to exercise. I went back to the gym—I’d left it when I’d started putting the weight back on—and went most days since I wasn’t working, walking and cycling and logging it all. I finally lost the rest of the weight I’d put on and soon lost 2 stone/28lbs/13kg more than I ever had – tipping the scales at 14 stone/196lb/89kg, a massive 13 stone/182lbs/82kg in total. I had to have the mole removed in early December, and was off exercise for a few weeks.
I was really disappointed not to be able to do anything. I’d come so far again and my head was starting to feel a little better, so I decided to move my exercise to the next level.
Just before New Year’s Eve I was back exercising again, but this time with a difference—I had decided to become a runner.
Looking at my Runkeeper logs, my first steps were rather inauspicious: 2 miles the first time, 3 miles a couple of days later. I’d tried going back to work just before Christmas, but only lasted until just after New Year’s Day. Again I tried to help my head by plowing myself into my exercise, and I was determined to become a runner. The mileage slowly went up, and I started to target going back to work. The lure of the company I work for sponsoring a local 10k in March and putting a team in gave me focus and I was soon back in work and signed up. I looked through the Runkeeper coaching plans and found a Beginner’s 5k and followed it.
Training for Races
In February I kept training.
My weight wasn’t changing but I could feel myself getting fitter. I could go further and further each time and it was on the 4th February I first did a 10k—on the treadmill at the gym.
This gave me a massive push with my running—over a month before I needed to do it on the road and I knew at last that I was capable of completing it. Although, back then I didn’t realize that I’m the sort of runner that finds a treadmill easier.
On March 2nd than I’d managed on the treadmill. But I’d done it on almost exactly the course I was to do the actual 10k on just a week later. I was ready. I finally completed it on the road, in 1hr19minutes, a full 7 minutes longer.
The day came. Everyone seemed so much fitter than me—despite all the weight I’ve lost I’m still overweight, and still bordering on what’s medically termed as “obese” statistically. But I set myself the target of not coming last (my previous personal target, finishing, seemed a bit moot when I did the distance the week before) and in the end I finished it in 1hr12minutes, a full 50 people from the end! The running bug had bit. I was due to do another 10k two weeks later, but a family emergency meant I had to put it off and do a longer training run instead.
My second event was the one I found the most enjoyable so far—the second round of the “Shropshire Mud Run Series.” It was another 10k, but this one was off-road and included 2 miles of swampland to trawl through! It took me two and a half hours this time, but again I wasn’t last! I felt completely lost, though. Not wanting to destroy my phone, this was the first event I’d not used Runkeeper for! It was a necessary evil though, and I manually entered it afterward.
It was at this point that I decided I wanted to get serious about running. I’d loved being a cyclist, but running was more of a challenge. It was on a 100km cycle that a plan hatched in my mind: I’d been considering entering a half marathon in the town I was born in (Shrewsbury) in June, and I bit the bullet and entered it as soon as I’d got home. I didn’t think I was up to it, but I wanted to try. I then took the plunge and entered another race, but more on that in a minute.
I learned a lot from the training. I didn’t follow a plan this time, and to be perfectly honest I messed it up. I’m someone who needs structure, and I’m not an experienced enough runner to be able to work it out for myself. That was a massive wake-up call. On the day of the race, I didn’t feel prepared at all. Thanks to an injury two weeks prior to it (which I then aggravated attempting to run on a week later), I’d not really run in all that time and I realized how important mental preparation was. But I threw myself into it and lined up for the start it what can only be described as “ridiculous heat.” Now, I’m not sure exactly how hot it was, but as someone who’d started running in the winter, it was a bit of a shock to the system. When the start was delayed by half an hour, it made it worse for everybody, especially with no water station for 6 miles!
Despite my lack of preparation, the race actually went pretty well. A month earlier, I’d taken part in the weekly “Park Run” in Shrewsbury (they take place all over the world – check them out if you can) and as part of my insecurity as a runner I always pick someone to “beat.” I’m not fast, but I don’t ever want to come last. I picked a guy who was bigger than me—both in height and weight. It was meant to be “beating what I used to be” and it wasn’t personal on him. Problem was, I never managed to catch him! He earned my respect that day, and when I saw him at the start of the half marathon this time I didn’t choose him! So imagine my surprise when I passed him about 6.5 miles in and never saw him again! As I’ve said before, I’m not fast, but I’m not too bad when it comes to stamina, especially if I use intervals.
I was incredibly proud to finish that day.
I’d seen some people who had collapsed along the way – obviously the heat WAS an issue, and everyone I saw at the side of the road (getting attention, I must add, and I did also offer to stop) was younger and fitter than me. I guess I know my limits and run to them. I finished in 2hr52minutes, which was nicely under the 3-hour limit I’d set myself.
So my attention now turns to that “other” race I mentioned. This October, I will take part in the Leicester Marathon.
When I made that vow when presented with my mortality, I wouldn’t for the life of me have imagined I could even attempt it in half the time. It was basically a pipe-dream, but I never forgot it.
The thought of one day doing something that is—frankly—so ridiculous when you consider who I used to be was a spur I needed, but I don’t think in my heart I ever thought I’d do it. But the training started in July, this time again using a beginner Marathon plan from Runkeeper that I actually programmed into my phone way back in May! I’d like to finish it in under 6 hours, but as with each one of my targets, in reality, the first thing I have to do is finish. I’m running the race in support of Diabetes UK, and I have a sponsorship page where I’d welcome donations of any value—every little helps, and anything I can do to fight this disease will be amazing. Even if diabetes was, if you look at it brutally, the best thing that ever happened to me.