A little over 18 months ago, I was a stereotypical couch potato. I had an expensive gym membership that I rarely used; and even when I did darken their door, the sweat was more likely to originate from the sauna than a session of squats.
I was one of those girls that would lament the state of my waistline and my thighs whilst sitting on the couch, and who would then spend 15 minutes on the treadmill before rewarding myself with a takeaway and 3 cans of cider.
ANY excuse was a good enough one to get out of exercise. It’s too hot, it’s too cold, work was stressful today, work was great today, I’m hungry, I have my period, I’ll have it tomorrow, It’s Friday, It’s Monday, I’ve forgotten a hair band, I already worked out once this week, the gym car park is too busy, I’ve used every one of them. And more besides.
I’m not sure exactly where the change started, I think it was a combination of things.
Firstly I discovered Parkrun. For those who haven’t heard of it, Parkrun is a completely free, volunteer run and corporate sponsored community 5km run that takes place every Saturday morning in locations all over the country. I can’t remember what first inspired me to give it a go, but completing that course amongst 200+ friendly runners, and not being last, was a high that I’d not experienced during exercise before. I walked a lot of it that first time, but I got round and didn’t die. It was a revelation.
Secondly, I volunteered as a marshall for the 13km Durrell Challenge; a distance that I considered to be way beyond my capability. Let’s be honest, a lot of the motivation for volunteering was getting a glimpse of Henry Cavill (in addition to playing a small part in raising funds for Durrell) but by a stroke of luck I ended up handing out medals on the finish line, and found myself inspired by everyone that came over that line. From regular runners who were chuffed to have beaten their PB, to those who had only taken part to raise money and were just thrilled to have finished. These people were all shapes and sizes, all abilities, and it occurred to me that there was really no reason why I couldn’t be one of them. Almost a year to the day later, I crossed that line holding hands with one of my best friends, a few seconds over our target time of 90 minutes, and the euphoria and sense of achievement was something I’ll remember for a long time.
By the summer of 2016 I was becoming hooked. running regularly and attending several gym classes a week. I still find it better to run or work out in a crowd. I reached the stage that I was annoyed if a work commitment got in the way of a class, and finally began to see the results of my efforts in my body and general health – something I’d always been demotivated by when a half-arsed session on the cross-trainer once a week made no difference to my bingo wings. First my clothes got looser, then I started to fit into things I’d bought in haste, assuring myself it was only a fat day and they’d be ok tomorrow (they never were).
I started to eat better; when you’ve put the effort in physically, it becomes easier to want to avoid the rubbish that will undo it all. Don’t get me wrong I’m still very partial to a few beers, a cornish pasty and a very large bag of pick & mix, but generally not all in the same day anymore. Unless it’s the weekend.
This new lifestyle really came into it’s own at the end of last year, when my marriage unravelled and a black cloud settled over me. For the first time in my life I often felt that I didn’t just want to go for a run, I HAD to go. Turning up my playlist, pulling on my trainers and concentrating only on my breathing and heart rate as I ran along the sea front or through Jersey’s leafy country lanes was balm for my soul. I honestly believe that for a period of several months, I’d have struggled to keep my head above water without that kind of release. A bottle of red and a bar of dairy milk has it’s place in healing a broken heart (and don’t worry, I still resort to those at times) but it doesn’t raise your spirits and keep them raised in the same way as a decent work out. Of course the compliments received as others started to notice my new physique only served to help rebuild my shattered self-confidence.
Now I’m happier in life I’ve settled into a sensible gym & running routine. I’m far from the fittest person in the world but I can manage a steady 10km run without stopping and a HIIT class without throwing up and that’s just fine by me; I know now that if I decide to run that half marathon, or take part in the rowathon, I AM capable of achieving it through training and perseverance, and I’m ready and willing to take on my next challenge. That’s not something I ever really felt before.
I don’t feel the same desperate urge to work out as I did earlier in the year, but the habit hasn’t completely died. I know that when my mood starts to falter I have a guaranteed pick me up that will improve, rather than harm my health. Last week was a particular low point for a number of reasons, and come Friday night instead of reaching straight for the wine as the old me would have, I attended a boxing class, which left me invigorated, motivated and far less anxious than I was when I walked in. (Obviously there was wine afterwards; it was still Friday and I’m not a Nun).
The effect that exercise has had on my mental, as well as physical, well-being in the past 12 months has made me think a lot about how effective a treatment for some cases of depression it may be, as an alternative to popping pills. That’s something I’m now interested in learning more about, having witnessed friends be prescribed drugs that have had little discernible effect on their situation.
Looking back to the day I skipped the gym because I’d forgotten my socks (my flat, containing all my socks, is a 5 minute drive from the gym), I can barely believe I’m the same person. I know this is the cheesy tagline of many a ‘celebrity’ workout DVD, but honestly, if I can do it, anyone can.