I met my friend Charlotte through my husband’s work colleague, almost a year ago. Despite only knowing her for a relatively short time, she has grown into a symbol of determination and courage for me. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to witness her complete transformation as she had embarked on a journey of becoming a runner, conquering new challenges, and getting into the greatest shape of her life as a result.
Charlotte has kindly agreed to share her story on my blog to help inspire others to make better choices, and to spread the message that there is true power of having faith in yourself. Just because something is difficult for you, it does not mean that it is impossible to accomplish. Having listened to Charlotte’s story, I have come to believe that without faith nothing is possible, but with it, nothing is impossible!
Charlotte is a 42 year old Facilities Co-Ordinator. She lives in Bracknell with her Husband Matt, and they share their home with three tomcats: Jonesy, Vince and Tommy.
Charlotte, how did your running and fitness journey start in the first place?
It all started when just before turning 40, I had a health MOT done. Looking at my blood test results, my doctor warned me that I was really close to becoming diabetic if I carried on living my life the way I did. I felt quite alarmed by this news, so it was a real wake-up call to start making some positive changes in my life.
I started my fitness and healthy eating journey at the start of 2015. Firstly, I joined my local health club and started to swim and do workouts in the gym. The good thing is that I almost immediately started seeing the benefits of exercising and making heathier food choices.
Then one day I saw a flyer in the gym advertising a 4.5km fun run in Dinton Pastures. I started to wonder whether I could do that challenge. So I spoke to my gym instructor about this and he helped put a training plan together to get me ready for the fun run.
When the day of the run came, I felt initially daunted and unprepared, despite the training I had put in. However, I just went for it anyways and completed the run! This was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life at that point, but I managed to exceed my own expectations about what I was capable of doing.
Following that, my trainer in the gym mentioned about the local parkrun* event which happened to be only walking distance from my home.
(*In case my readers are not familiar with parkrun – it is a free, weekly timed 5km run held on Saturdays all across the UK and in some other countries as well, in local parks. The event depends on volunteers to run.)
So I decided to give parkrun a go. Again, I found it really hard, and people around me seemed to be so fit and everyone seemed to already know each other.
As I was really struggling on the final lap did it dawn on me that I was the last one still running. However, at that point, a bunch of ladies who had already finished their run, decided to come and run alongside me to help me through the finish line. I was very touched that they came back for me! It was one of the best moments of my life and completely contrary to what I had expected. That was when I discovered my love for running. This has opened up a whole new world to me, and I also made so many friends through running.
Running has helped me lose about 4 stones already, but I also credit this to eating healthier – for me, the two go hand in hand. I realised how important it is to fuel right to be able to run well.
It sounds like made a really great start – but what keeps you motivated to stay on track?
I now do regular runs each week. Nobody is making me do these runs, what really keeps me at it is my faith in myself, knowing that I CAN do this, I can get through that finish line through sheer grit, regardless of how hard running feels. I have come so far already and I just simply don’t want to stop now and go back to how I was before.
Seeing my progress on the weight scales, in the mirror and in my running pace stats are also very motivating. For example, my parkrun time has come down by about 10 minutes since my first attempt nearly 8 months ago. Having been able to complete my first 10km race in February this year in 1 hour 24 minutes was a really big achievement for me. So the benefits I am getting from running are very tangible and the facts speak for themselves.
What has running given you so far?
It has definitely given me resilience and grit. I have also benefitted from it from a mental health perspective: I used to struggle with depression and anxiety in the past and running has helped me so much I wish I had discovered running earlier in my life! I find that when I am feeling down, just going out for a run helps release those feel-good endorphins and give me a wonderful sense of achievement which fills me with pride. So running has definitely helped me feel much better not only in the physical sense, but mentally as well.
Running has had a big impact on my daily habits, too – I am now making better choices. For example, instead of driving to work, I now walk to work whenever I can, the office is 2 miles away from my home.
In short, I feel so alive and great in my skin!
What do you think are the most common barriers that may be holding people back who are looking to start their own fitness journey?
If you are big and overweight, people may be judgemental and think you cannot or should not run at all. On the streets obviously there is nowhere to hide so you have to accept that people will see you and may make unhelpful comments.
Fortunately, I have only had positive reactions so far. I now view myself as a runner, which has nothing to do with my shape and looks. What I would say to you if you are worried about other people’s reactions is to just get over it, and do it regardless. At the end of the day, you are doing this for yourself and not for others!
So what makes someone a runner?
For me it is quite simple – if you lace up and go out for a run, then you are a runner. All you need are your legs, your trainers on your feet, and the desire and will to get yourself out there, even if it is just around the block.
People tend to be stereotypical and automatically assume that all runners need to be like Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah – I am obviously not like them at all but I am able to complete the same 5km or 10km distance as they do so, so by definition I am just as a real runner as they are.
As a relatively new runner, what aspects of running do you tend to still struggle with and how are you trying to overcome these?
I’m still learning a lot about pacing myself correctly – there is always the temptation to start out very fast with everyone else, so when it happens, I just remind myself that the only person I am racing against is myself.
I would like to get faster – I had to accept that this takes patience and a lot of training. I know it will happen eventually, but certainly not overnight, so I need to be realistic.
Breathing right is also a challenge – so I started attending weekly training sessions through RunFit UK to master running techniques such as breathing. We also do a lot of intervals, circuits, hill and track sessions. These sessions have taught me how to run better, which shows you can learn a lot from others!
What role has parkrun played in your fitness journey so far?
Above all, I love the social aspect of parkruns. These events have been an amazing source of support for me. Parkruns make me feel like I am part of a wider community. Even those speedy guys who run at the front look out for me, and sometimes even joke about their times relative to them lapping me. Only after a few sessions I already felt I belonged to this bunch.
If you have not done parkrun before, just bring yourself, as you are. If you need to, take a friend with you. Don’t be scared – as I said, parkruns have given me amazing support so far.
What other sources of support have you been able to tap into to help you on your fitness journey apart from parkruns and RunFit UK?
Run Mummy Run is a community for mums who regularly get together for runs and socials (which usually involve cake as well!). You do not have to be a mum to be accepted into this group, though. They are an extremely supportive bunch and I have learnt a lot from them. Online communities can be great to find support and encouragement.
How has your 180 degree turn and your new passion for running impacted your relationships with those closest to you?
I have found my friends and family to be very supportive. They can also see the benefits I am getting out of running. In the past few years my family saw me go through some tougher times and they find it very rewarding seeing me find so much happiness in running. My in-laws and husband even came to support me at the Eton Dorney 10km race earlier this year, despite the pouring rain! Some of my friends are also getting into running now.
What has been the biggest highlight in running for you so far?
On Christmas Day in 2015 I was able to complete my local parkrun without stopping to walk for the first time (previously I used the jog/walk method) – with my Santa hat on, of course! That was my first big breakthrough in running and it was the best Christmas gift I had ever given to myself. From then onwards, the only way was up – now I can run 10km without stopping.
What are you hoping to achieve in the future, have you set any new goals for the rest of 2016?
I have signed up to do the Great South Run in Southsea, Portsmouth in October, which is 10 miles. I have also signed up for the Brighton Half Marathon which is next February.
My weight loss goal is to lose 2 more stones by June and potentially go down another dress size. To achieve this, I am also trying to eat healthily, for example using Slimming World recipes. I have realised a long time ago that eating well will also help with my running, not just with my dress size.
Making changes to your diet can be really hard. What are your top tips for someone who wants to overhaul their eating habits?
Try to apply a careful and gradual approach, instead of going mad about it. The key thing is to eat sensibly and find a good balance. Identify the food you really like but is not so healthy – do not deny it from yourself completely, but eat that kind of food in moderation. The occasional treat is absolutely fine – this way you can really look forward to your favourite treat.
Do try to cut out or reduce junk food, processed food, and avoid adding too much salt and sugar to your meals.
Plan your meals in advance.
Eat lots of fruit and veg, they are full of goodness. For example, as a runner, I now regularly eat bananas, they are full of potassium and are a great pre or post run snack.
If you are a runner or hoping to get into running, it is important that you find the fuel that works for you. For example, I often eat porridge for breakfast.
What advice would you give someone who wants to get into running but are not sure where to start?
I would say ‘just go’! Join a club and find like-minded people if you need motivation.
Most importantly, have faith in yourself! Having faith in myself has really changed my life – a year ago I would have laughed at the thought of doing a half marathon – and here we go, I have just signed up for one! If I can do it, then you can do it, too.
Accept that change won’t happen overnight. It is a journey that never stops, and it requires patience. I still learn something new every day!
What advice would you give to someone who has just started running but is finding it very hard to keep up with it?
Try not to go off too fast at the beginning. Control your breathing and relax.
Running is all in the head – you need a positive frame of mind, because running can be hard and vigorous – if you keep telling yourself that you can’t, then you can’t. Positive self-talk and being kind to yourself are very important. The golden rule is do not say things to yourself that you would not say to your friends!
I would also say to that the occasional tears during running are OK. Running can bring emotions to the surface sometimes. When you are running, it makes you feel completely naked in a way – you can wear the latest high-tech gear and gadgets, but when you run, it is just you, your body and your thoughts moving together. I find that running makes you very honest with yourself.
When you run, you will learn to appreciate the beauty of different seasons as you spend more time outdoors, you take a new interest in your surroundings and even get a new perspective on things. So try to focus on your surroundings instead of the discomfort when you feel you are getting tired and this will help you get through the run.
If you have been inspired by Charlotte’s story, and would like to give running a go or press that ‘reset button’ on your life by getting into healthier habits, remember that it all starts with believing in yourself first, being kind to yourself, and realising that the barriers often only exist in your head. Sometimes all it takes is saying to yourself ‘just do it’. The good news is that you are not alone as there are plenty of communities and resources available for you to get started and to keep you on the ‘straight and narrow’.
The recent cancellation of Little Stoke parkrun has shocked and saddened the running community, including myself. Stoke Gifford Parish Council announced that they wanted to charge parkrun for their local event, which completely undermines the core principles and philosophy of parkrun, namely that there should be no barrier to participation in physical activity, however small.
Since parkrun started over 10 years ago in 2004 in Bushy Park, it has helped countless people get healthier, happier and fitter, so it is clear that parkrun is much more than just a run. Charlotte’s story is just one out of the many – please visit www.loveparkrun.com to see the incredible impact parkrun has had so far. To show your solidarity towards keeping these events freely available to everyone, please join the Twitter campaign using #loveparkrun and #parkrun to share your story. To join parkrun and to create a free barcode for the timing chip, please go to www.parkrun.org.uk.