When I first decided to get fit it wasn’t about losing weight surprisingly. It really was about getting fit. I really wanted to be able to run a mile. I had always struggled to run even at school. I can remember coming last at cross country, being the straggler at the back or being so ridiculously out of breath when I even tried. I was considerably overweight when I started to run but not the biggest I had been. I was a size 18. I have no idea how much I weighed as I had avoided weighing scales but at my biggest I was a size 22.
So one day I just decided I wanted to be able to run. I googled how to run and the information I got told to walk-run; so I did. I walked until I warmed up for 5 minutes and then ran for just a minute. That minute made me so out of breath I thought I might pass out. But the walk after wards cooled me down again before I ran again. The cycle continued with me increasing the running and decreasing the walking until eventually I ran my first mile. I am still incredibly proud of that moment today.
My first 5K
Once I was running a mile I knew I wanted to go further so I increased my distance and was soon putting in for my first 5K race. I wasn’t losing any weight at this point but I was getting much fitter. I was going out for 30 minutes 3 times a week. I hit my 5K race and was proud that I had finished but found it tough as I pushed myself to finish. My kids were watching and I really didn’t want to be last and I very nearly was even though my time was 33 minutes then. I now see I wasn’t really that slow at all for the size I was. But this made me determined to carry on and get fitter and faster. So I decided to up my mileage and wanted to do a 10K.
Within a couple of months I had my eye on a 10K and the weight was dropping off me. This gave me a great incentive to keep going. I was exercising more. I had given up drinking alcohol, I was eating healthily (to be fair I never really ate unhealthily, I just ate a lot). The 10K race came and I was addicted to running and racing and I wanted more. More 10Ks and then a half marathon. That was a really tough step up. But by then I had lost quite a bit of weight.
I never focussed on my body changing with running I just accepted that it was. I liked being able to get into smaller clothes and have friends be shocked when they saw me when they hadn’t seen me for months. It’s running I’d tell them. I lost about 5 stone in all. Many of my friends have since taken up running as a consequence. Some were quite protective at the time and thought I was anorexic. It didn’t take long when they saw how much I was actually eating though. Carb loading is one of the great bits about running. Then after half marathons came the focus on a marathon.
The thing I love most about running is the ability to get away from everything. You completely zone out. It’s my time. I don’t have any me-time anywhere else. I’m either at work or home, always thinking about what needs to be done or the kids are pestering me about something. Running gives me an outlet where I can let my mind wander. I can think about what needs to be done or on nothing. I can sing songs, I can look at nature or I can think about the day. It gives me that chance to recharge. It sounds ironic as you are burning so much energy but it’s a mental thing. It is also such a great sense of achievement when you’ve accomplished a goal. When you hit a PB you have been training for or finished a race or challenge. There’s so many things I love about running. I could just gush about it forever.
My friends and family just accept my crazy running. They just see my challenge as one of those things and accept that this year they won’t really see me that much as basically I will be running most of it. My kids don’t even remember the old me and they look back at pictures and laugh in disbelief. They much prefer this mum. In fact my eldest daughter (12) says that her friends now think I am in my 20’s. That I love!
The long distance journey
It took me 6 months to get to my first 5K race (apr 2013), then a couple more months to do my next 10K race. The following year I entered a few more 10Ks and my first half marathon was about 18 months after my first 5K (Sept 2014). I balloted again for London that year and didn’t get in. So I decided to enter my local marathon which was Manchester so started to have to train even harder. I entered quite a lot of races in the beginning of 2015 as training and upped my running substantially. I took on Manchester in April 2015. It didn’t go according to plan.
My training had gone brilliantly until a few weeks before when I had hurt my knee. I had run up to 22 miles. I had rested my knee as the physio had suggested and was going into the marathon very nervous. I ran really well (sub 4) up to 17 miles and then I fell to pieces. My knee just twinged and there was nothing I could do so I put in a walk run strategy to finish. I ended up finishing in 4:34. This seems to be a common theme because I also finished London and the Yorkshire marathon in 4:34. I have also done an overnight walking marathon which I finished under 7 hours. I have no idea how many 5K, 10K and half marathons I have done. I have pretty much lost count.
My knee turned out to be cartilage damage/missing. After Manchester I didn’t walk for a couple of months as I suffered with lots of problems. I am finding ways to manage it now.
The 12 marathon challenge
I wanted to do a big challenge this year. I had already decided on an ultra and wanted to do a couple of other big races. I wanted to do a big enough challenge for Evan. Evan is an amazing little boy, he has Angelman Syndrome. Visit facebook.com/12marathonshelen for details about the challenge.
The running community has been a massive inspiration to me and has kept me running. Especially in the early days. I would look to others on social media for advice on running problems or just run-crastination – where you just keep finding excuse to not go out and run. There would always be someone to give me a kick and say come on Helen you’ve got this. They’re incredibly supportive.
The benefit of support
I was initially too embarrassed to tell people I was running. I thought I would be laughed at. But actually there are so many forms of support out there if you don’t think that your friends or family will support you. There are run groups on social media, physical local running groups, parkrun. There are apps you can use on your phone now too. If you want to get fit, get some support because it will keep you positive and get you putting those trainers on even when you don’t really want to.
One of my favourite quotes is ‘If it was easy then everyone would do it’ you have to work to get your goals but the work you put in is rewarded with a feeling like no other. 'If you want to change your body, exercise. If you want to change your life, become a runner.'
To sponsor Helen's incredible 12 marathon challenge visit www.justgiving.com/12marathonshelen