How I ditched an unhealthy lifestyle and got into running

Those that know me have noticed a change over the last year. Slowly but surely I have reclaimed the dormant runner within.

In June of 2012, I weighed 2.5 stone more than I do now. I was a fat skinny guy. It’s the worst of both worlds- you can’t fit into skinny jeans or win an arm-wrestle. I had a nasty beer belly and was out of shape. Luckily, I have a tall frame and was able to hide it to an extent. It wasn’t entirely my fault. I’d had a hernia operation in July 2011, and my recovery had been surprisingly slow. I was unable to do any exercise at all for six months. As someone who has run a marathon in the past and who has often used exercise to help manage stress, this was extremely challenging for me.

Frustrated, I went to see my doctor in January. I told him it was ridiculous I couldn’t run for more than 10 minutes before I felt discomfort. He advised me to ditch the running altogether and go back to basics. He suggested trying yoga for- get this- up to two minutes a day. I was downhearted and flabbergasted. I’d been on yoga holidays where the sessions lasted three hours. Two minutes?! To see my body reduced to this was utterly depressing.

Nevertheless, I took his advice and began doing very gentle sun salutations in the morning. I would feel discomfort on the upward dog part and had to take those bits very easily. After a week or two, I was making discernible progress. I could exercise for 3 or 4 minutes before the discomfort became too much to bear. I carried on in this way and eventually, after 2 months, I was comfortably able to do 20 minutes of yoga.

However, this kind of gentle exercise, while great for improving flexibility, was doing nothing for burning off the calories I was chomping through. Like many people, I was eating my way through a bad patch. Being naturally slim, I’d been able to eat whatever I wanted throughout my twenties, with apparent impunity. I now realise I was creating a whole lot of invisible damage. In my late thirties, a regular diet of McDonalds, doner kebabs, fry ups and beer was creating all too visible damage and was not conducive to feeling or looking good. I used to buy massive Galaxy chocolate bars because they were “better value” than the smaller ones and then munch through them single-handedly in about 10 minutes. Pringles 3 for 2? Yes, sir! I’d normally bang out one tube immediately after getting home from the supermarket, then knock out another one later the same day. I didn’t recognise the link between feeling bad and the urge to stuff my face. It’s easier to see in hindsight, I guess.

In May 2012 I was complaining about my weight to my friend Junior. I was feeling sorry for myself and believed I was only in this state because I couldn’t exercise. Junior recommended I download an app called MyFitnessPal to track the calories in the food I was eating. I did, and it’s no exaggeration to say it changed my life. I’d never paid attention to calories before. The numbers had meant nothing to me. This changed soon after getting the app. I began to understand how a cheese quarter-pounder, large fries, banana milkshake and apple pie was pretty much my entire calorie allowance for a day. I was eating those bad boys every few days, along with regular fry-ups, loads of crisps and tons of sweets every week.

Bit by bit, I began to change what I was eating and the weight came off. I saved McDonalds for special treats and started noticing the calories on items. 10 months later, I’ve managed to completely overhaul my eating habits. Now I hardly ever eat fast food. I just don’t want it. I eat seasonally when possible and have discovered a range of vegetables, fish and seafood which wasn’t on my radar before. It’s been fantastic. I feel better, have more energy and have shifted all the excess weight. However, the most important ingredient in my transformation has undoubtedly been running.

I began running again in June 2012. I had not run for five years, since the London Marathon in 2007. At the beginning, I really didn’t think I would ever be able to get back to the sort of running I used to do in the years before the operation. Despite setting a 10K personal best of 41:50 when I was 30, this was not going to be about putting down a fast time. I had suffered excruciating pain after my operation, so I just wanted to run for the joy of it, in celebration of the fact I could. I’m the sort of person who needs a goal to aim for, so I entered myself for a 10K race in Regents Park at the start of July.  In the first week, I went for a couple of slow 15-20 minute jogs, doing roughly 11 minute miles. Despite being very out of breath, there wasn’t too much discomfort and I was over the moon. I could run again.

I had noticed my friend Junior was doing a lot of running in the gym. He kept posting pictures on Facebook of his speed and distance on the running machine because he was training for the British 10K. Junior had been more of a gym-guy over the past few years, mainly concentrating on bulking up, which had given me an advantage over him when it came to running. However, in June 2012, looking at his numbers, I figured we were probably running at a similar speed and we arranged to go for a run together one Saturday morning.

We met outside Abney Park Cemetery and I was surprised to see Junior turn up in a one-piece. He’s not known for his shyness. Chugging up the hill, I was already gritting my teeth. We’d agreed to run through the cemetery, up Church Street, through Clissold Park, around Finsbury Park and then back all the way to the bottom.

Pretty soon, it became apparent Junior and I weren’t running at a similar speed. He was way faster than me. It was a hot day and the run nearly killed me. I had to stop regularly to catch my breath. The only time I’ve felt worse when running was during the London Marathon 2007 and after that race, I quit running for 5 years. My lungs were fit to burst. Junior was an amazing support and inspiration, constantly encouraging and cajoling me while I stumbled about. I was flabbergasted at how much fitness and speed I had lost. Nevertheless, we completed the distance we’d set out to cover. I’m really grateful to Junior for dragging me round, because if he hadn’t, I might not have stuck at it and I might not be running now.

When I got home I downloaded a beginner’s 10K plan from Runner’s World magazine. I was determined to get fitter and set about it seriously from that moment. I ran three times a week, and pretty soon I began to see progress. I ordered a Garmin GPS watch- a fantastic purchase, which I can’t recommend highly enough. When I trained for the London Marathon in 2007 I was guestimating the distances I was running. Trust me- this is not the way to do things in the 21st century. I also had no real idea of what pace I was running at. The GPS watch enabled me to see straight away how far I had run and what speed I was running at, which was a big motivating factor for a statistics junkie like me. I was constantly stressed and fearful I was going to injure myself and cause a recurrence of the hernia, yet each run I came back from unscathed, I grew a little in confidence. Finally, the big day came.

Junior offered to cheer me on in Regents Park. We’d attempted to check the route out a week before, and had managed to get it slightly wrong, but I felt confident of two things: I would be able to get round it and it was fairly flat. My race strategy was to run quite hard for four minutes, then run at recovery pace for the next three minutes. I couldn’t manage running flat out at that stage. I kept this up all the way round, and was amazed by my time of 48 minutes and 3 seconds. This was much better than I had hoped for. I was already looking and feeling trimmer and I was determined to keep my new lifestyle going.

The running bug was back and I was hooked. However, none of this could prepare me for how much things were going to transform a couple of months later when I stopped running on my own and joined Run Dem Crew…