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Mud, sweat and tears: how I got fit
April 8th 2015 / 4 comments
GTG’s editor was an exercise phobic, January-only-gym-joiner until about three years ago. This is the story of her tough, muddy, sometimes bloody journey to fitness
Three years ago I was Just. Plain. Knackered. I had a full-on job (at the time I was in the process of building what is now Get the Gloss), I commuted into London three days a week from Oxfordshire, and I had two kids under 5. Each day was a juggle of (in no particular order) school bags, copywriting, washing, deadlines, tantrum management, homework, editing, beauty shoots and sweaty, crammed train journeys. Every day I would wake up more tired than the night before, my head and body feeling as if they were filled with thick cement. I decided if I was going to juggle all this (and just for the record, I want to do it all - I love being a mum but I also love my job) I would need to do something drastic in order to cope.
Speaking to my most sporty friend Ruth over my third glass of wine one night was a revelation. She told me how horrendous she feels if she doesn’t exercise - she promised I’d have more energy and would be better able to cope with stress if I got fit - something I hadn’t really done since school (save a yearly failed gym membership and a few downward dogs while pregnant). It would be nice, also, to say hello to my stomach muscles again before I died.
With barely time to wash my hair every week let alone exercise, I decided the easiest thing for me to do was to run – no equipment, no car journey to get there, just me, my trainers and some running gear (more of that later). There’s a lane outside my house and I decided that I had no excuse not to go down it. My first outing (I call it an outing because it really wasn’t a run) was HIDEOUS. The lane is about half a mile long and I stopped, gasping for breath half way down it, my legs buckling, my heart pounding out of my chest, my throat in such pain I told my husband I thought I had tonsillitis. I couldn’t believe how unfit I was – how the hell did anyone run a mile, let alone a 26-mile marathon?
Then, a book landed on my desk at work – Run Fat Bitch Run by Ruth Field. The premise of the book is that running is really frigging hard, but the benefits totally outweigh the pain (weight loss, toning, feelgood factor, de-stressing, cellulite reduction etc.) so you just have to bloody well get on with it. Whatever the excuse - “I can’t run”, “I’m not a natural runner”, “I’m too big boned”, “I’m too weak/thin”, ”I don’t like running” “I have knocked knees”, “I don’t have the time”, “My boobs are too big” - you just have to grit your teeth and get out there and do it. So that’s what I did. On Field’s advice I started jogging at a slower, more manageable pace (vital for the seriously unfit unless you want to die), and within two weeks I was jogging down that lane and back again.
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This all coincided with a chance meeting with Freedom2train, a personal training and nutrition company run by Steve Mellor, who moved into our office building at the time. Friendly and unintimidating, Steve trains all sorts from athletes to the seriously unfit, and rather than working in a dingy, harshly lit gym, he trains a lot outside in parks.
The first time Steve dragged me out was not a pretty sight – he had me running, sprinting, planking, running with a tortuous harness on and lunging with a strange contraption called a TRX from a goal post (sounds a bit 50 Shades but believe me it’s nowhere near as fun). I remember panicking that I might throw up all over Steve’s trainers. I seriously would have hailed a taxi back from the park to the office (a ten minute walk) if only I’d had some cash on me. What’s more, I felt horrendous afterwards. Where was the high? The next day, however, while I could barely walk for muscle pain, I felt clear-headed and more energised than I had for months (more blood round the body, more oxygen to the brain, Steve explained). This feeling alone was worth it.
And so, despite not really being able to afford it, and having previously thought personal trainers were just for the excessively rich, I signed up for some more Freedom2train sessions. Plus I started going running more – fitting it in in lunchbreaks, after work or weekends. That was three years ago. One mile slowly (and often agonisingly) became two, then three, then four. At the beginning I often felt I could barely put one foot in front of the other (still do sometimes), other days I felt like I was going backwards, but increasingly I was starting to get breakthrough moments of just being able to run, on really good days I even forgot I was exercising. There were even times I was so overcome with the idea that I was actually getting fit (running up to eight miles) that I would well up with tears of self-pride.
Then, two years ago I snapped a ligament in my right knee and it took me a year of intense rehab to really get over it, for my knee to start to feel fine again. During this time, however I was absolutely determined not to lose my fitness levels so I started learning new skills that didn't involve my legs so much. I learnt to swim properly and I also learnt to box. Boxing has since become one of my favourite ways to exercise, so much so that I have even learnt to box with a pro boxing coach who has a spit 'n' sawdust style gym in Oxfordshire near where I live. One of the key things that keeps me motivated, is mixing it up - last year I trained for and competed in two triathlons and I loved the training as it wasn't hours and hours of just pounding pavements. I have also taken up spinning because of my knee injury too – I’ve learnt to love hardcore exercise.
The best part? Apart from being more energised and less stressed about small things, I actually now have definition in my stomach, as well as never-been-seen-before tone in my arms and legs, (I’m not talking a Madonna here – Freedom2train are about creating long, lean bodies, not Jodie Marsh mega muscles). So now I exercise three to four days a week, two with Steve and once or twice exercising on my own.
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As for fitting it in? Run Fat Bitch Run will tell you that getting out and exercising makes you more productive than if you’d sat on your backside for an hour. It’s true – for some reason, post run I can blitz my to-do list in half the time it would normally take.
If you think all this sounds easy, you’ll be disappointed. Getting fit is really really tough. Some days when I’m out, and I feel like I can’t run another step, or I’m pleading with Steve to stop, or my calves are burning, my legs are getting whipped by stinging nettles or my feet are soaked by puddles and wet grass, I could cry. But as Will Smith says in this clip, there are some very important life lessons in running and exercise. Not to mention countless other benefits I’ve noticed – glowing skin, nails growing so fast I can’t keep them short and the amazing “runner’s high”, a feeling of calmness and clarity post exercise that is truly addictive.
I’ve always been someone who believes in hard work, and when it comes to getting fit, you seriously get back what you put in. The harder you exercise, the bigger the high and the greater the result (plus the more carbs you can pack away). I have also learnt that you should never look at someone fit or exercising and dismiss them as 'smug' - as the Olympics showed this summer, that person would have worked seriously seriously hard to get there, so they have every right to feel pleased with themselves. From a non-exerciser, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
My exercise essentials
1. A Bobble, £9.99, (shown in the above image). Hydration is essential for exercise and this is a genius invention of a refillable water bottle with built in filter that lasts up to 300 refills.
2. Run Fat Bitch Run, £5.99. This got me off my backside and taught me that exercise isn’t meant to be easy.
3. Proper running shorts/leggings. I wore some non-sporty shorts on one long run, and suffered some serious chafing on my inner thighs so bad they bled. Remember - sports brands know how to make sportswear without protruding seams or scratchy bits.
4. Invest in a quality pair of trainers. Above anything, it’s not worth scrimping on trainers since they support your entire body. The wrong shoe can cause many problems from the feet right through the body. I was advised to go to runnersneed.com and have my running assessed. I bought Asics trainers which are very much a runner’s shoe and I love them.
5. A quality sports bra. Many friends have confided in me that they won’t exercise because of the bounce factor. In my experience, the best make for sizes A-D are Nike who have 3 different types of support – Light, Medium and High. They also come in racer backs and U (bra) backs. If you are an E or above, try Shock Absorber.
6. The right T-shirts and vests. Unless you are Gisele, I find the most important factor is to find T-shirts and vests that are long enough to cover your stomach when you stretch. Nike vest/T-shirts have this covered as do H&M's fabulous sports range.