I am fat.
Where I was once obese, I now stand comfortably in the fat range.
I have a belly. I have boobs. A jaw line that only intermittently casts a shadow.
I also have a wrecked knee. Which has been operated on, and manipulated, with no success. Four times now. Arthroscopies and a synovectomy have left it a no-man’s-land for movement or exercise.
Or at least I thought that was the case. Then I saw someone on Instagram – someone who I saw as a wine drinker, a person I had things in common with – wearing sports gear and a pained expression. It was then that I was introduced to Couch to 5k.
All of this coincided with starting to work in Newcastle. Where there was a summer of walking and weight-loss, came an autumn of travel and expenses. The weight I had lost in 2018 – which I think was close to a stone – was soon going back on. I had to do something.
So I carried on watching Sophie – or to give her, her full title of BBC Radio Oxford’s Sophie Law – both with admiration for how she was finding more space for the wine, but also a slight pang of jealousy. Why can’t I do that?
In March, I went to Vercelli in Italy to watch football, as I do once a year. Vercelli has a Decathlon sports store. I am obsessed with Decathlon. Cavernous spaces filled with hats with ducks on for hunting, or every variant of sports apparel you could wish for. All at affordable prices.
It was there that I saw I could kit myself out for less than the price of a bottle of natural wine. So I did.
A t-shirt, under layer, leggings, pants, socks and running shoes were bought. If the knee failed on the first outing, I could simply put it down to “giving it a go” and go back to being fat in the summer, and borderline obese in the winter months.
With the gear bought, I downloaded the Couch to 5K app and was on my way. Well, kind of.
The first couple of weeks involve far more walking than running. So with Laura as the guiding voice I chose on the app, I waddled along the quayside in Newcastle by the River Tyne, finding myself getting a bit frustrated at the lack of running I was actually doing. Sure it was a struggle at times judging pace and distance run, but the knee was holding up – and I knew how to walk. I WANTED TO RUN, GODDAMNIT!
I finished week one – three sessions in total – and gave myself a sneak peak at what was to come over the next eight weeks. This made me laugh. The idea of running for 25 minutes by the end of week six was so alien to me, that I assumed I would have quit and thrown my gear in to the Tyne during week five.
I also realised that it might be a good idea to buy some shorts to go over my leggings. And so the hashtag #badlypackedsausage was born.
When week six eventually came around, I even downloaded the running/cycling app – Strava – to see how far I could go. This was Couch to 5k after all. It would be good to know how close to 5k I was getting.
That first block of real running – 25 minutes – was a revelation. With lungs burning from the shorter time limits, and the thought of another banana to ward off the cramp, I set off with little expectation that I would get through to the end. But I did. I ran for 25 minutes non-stop and unaided for just over 4kms.
It was on the first run in week eight that I hit the 5k mark. During that week you have to run for 28 minutes. I noticed there was a fairly flat loop of Newcastle near my hotel, where you cross both the High Level and Tyne Bridges in the shape of an old Roman circus. So I set off with determination that I could, with six more runs and another two minutes to add in week nine, get very close to the mark. As I rounded the bend coming on to the High Level bridge for the final time, I knew by looking at my stopwatch that I had about five minutes of running time left.
As I crossed the Tyne Bridge, the app kicked in and Laura congratulated me on running for 28 minutes. At the same time I heard a fainter, but far more encouraging robotic voice of the Strava app, telling me I had run 5k in 27 minutes and 59 seconds. I slowed to a walking pace. Smiling wider than I ever had done before, whilst displaying erect nipples in public.
Yesterday I completed my 27th walk/run with the app. This was the last time I would hear Laura’s supportive and encouraging voice – urging me on. Telling me I could do it. Which I did. Which I can.
It feels a lifetime ago that I saw a selfie of Sophie on a towpath in Oxfordshire, which spurred me on to wearing revealing leggings. In that time I have lowered my resting heart rate, lost a bit of weight, run further than I think I ever did at school and learnt how to smile whilst wearing polyester. My natural inclination is to think “why didn’t I do this earlier?”, but the truth is – I wasn’t ready earlier. I needed a wake up call over a bottle of wine and a three course fixed price menu in The Patricia in Jesmond (or maybe it was a negroni in Cook House, Ouseburn?) to realise that I was ruining a summer of perspiration and weight loss.
But I did it. My knee did it. My specialist will be over the moon as it will mean he can justify not replacing my knee for another ten years or so. It took something to nudge me in the right direction, but it also took belief. Belief that I could hold the contents of my stomach down when the first of the long runs kicked in – belief that I could get to the end of the nine week programme – and now belief that I can go below 25 minutes for 5k soon.
I am indebted to Sophie for the inspiration. To Andy Moog, Rich Ramsden, Linz Smith and Duncan Alexander for their words of encouragement. To the fleas in my ear that are Simon Banoub and Ryan Keaney who think a Parkrun is the next step in my progression. But most of all to A. who lets me go out there an run around the area we live, as the kids are just getting up, in exchange for a cup of coffee and a happy husband.
Indebted, because I know it’s not just my body, but also my head that has benefited from this. A bad day and a worse night’s sleep in a hotel are instantly forgotten as I stuff parts of my body in to compressing materials. So whilst I wrote about coping mechanisms from anxiety and mental health in yesterday’s post, it took nine weeks to realise there was something else I could do to lift my mood.
I became a runner – and I will do everything I can to ensure that doesn’t change*
* This does not mean I have agreed to do a park run, lads
** Middle right is a photo of the scar on my knee, which I assumed meant that I would never write a post like this