One week ago I ran the Gold Coast Half Marathon.
It was nerve wracking and hard. The last 7kms were torturous, I felt like I was going to vomit and keel over the whole time. It was a super fun day out if you’re a masochist who’s into a little self-flagellation on the side. But I did the damn thing. And I am super proud of myself for digging deep and getting over the line.
I’m not writing this because I want to toot my own horn about how rad I am (although I am feeling quite rad). I am writing this for all of you out there who hate exercise and who feel like fitness is a battle. I want to give you some context and share why this achievement is so momentous for me and give you hope if you’ve struggled to enjoy exercise.
In terms of context, basically I was the poster child for self-loathing… here’s the lowdown on my crazy and why I’m proud that I ran 21.1km:
- I was traumatised by running as a child. It might sound overly dramatic but coming last by a loooooong way in every running race that I ever participated in through school made me feel really distressed about school sports and very shit about myself. I was the smartest kid in the class but a massive over-thinker, so the idea of being such an unco failure gave me severe anxiety and before sports day I would often end up vomiting or being physically sick from fear (not that anyone knew it was from fear) and then not be able to participate because I had a “tummy bug” (which was awesome).
- Like many of us, I had disastrous body image in my 20s, despite not being overweight at all. For years I refused to be seen wearing a singlet or doing anything that might result in jiggling of any kind. I was eventually diagnosed with disordered eating which took many years to get over. In the meantime I was obsessed with dieting and always looking for ways to lose weight fast, which meant that exercise was always about punishment, never about enjoyment.
- I have always hated cardio. I was terrified of looking like an idiot and couldn’t handle being totally crap at something. I was basically too embarrassed to exercise. I would do it only because I was desperate to lose weight or to balance out the champagne drinking. I’ve gone through probably hundreds of personal trainers, gym memberships and group fitness sessions and found all of it incredibly confronting. I would find any excuse to not go and then would stop turning up and then feel like even more of a failure. And so the cycle would continue!
- I put on 30kg with my first child and never really lost all the weight so for the last 7 years have not been at my ideal healthy weight. Because I am coeliac I eat super clean, but because of my history I don’t diet, so I wasn’t able to shift this weight. I would see all these slim women running and would think, “yeah its easy for her she’s the size of a toothpick”. That was unfair, it’s hard for everyone, but taking up running when you are carrying extra kilograms and size 16E boobs is a challenging prospect. I used to picture my self lumbering along like an elephant and be really humiliated for myself.
So as you can see, me learning to run and then keeping it up to train for a half marathon required a massive mindset change.
Here’s how I did it and became a runner (even saying that makes me feel like a liar, but it’s true. I think I probably deserve the right to call myself a runner now):
- I had support. My BFF and work-wife Carolyn has been instrumental in me becoming a runner. She is the most dedicated person I have ever met once she has a goal and she been my inspiration. How could you not be inspired by her, she ran a bloody marathon for crissakes! Here’s the wrap up of her marathon and how she went from mental to marathon. Her friendship and encouragement got me to this place. Plus I didn’t want to let her down (you know what, sometimes you need accountability!). My husband and sister have also been AMAZING throughout the whole journey, continually supporting me. I wanted to do this for them too.
- I started slowly with the right expert help. I signed up for Learn to Run with Operation Move two years ago.The great thing about the program is that it is gentle and incremental, I stuck to the plan and running never felt horrible and I never hated it (unlike those punishing PT sessions where the idea of going back made me want to bawl). I am not saying it wasn’t challenging, but it was a gentle challenge and one that I could handle. And as I started running longer distances, my mind and body became stronger. The other thing the program gives you is an amazing community of women. The Operation Move sisterhood is a beautiful online community of runners who support and uplift each other. And I got to meet some of these fabulous broads in real life at the half marathon!
- I changed my mind. Running was not something I wanted to do, I thought it was stupid and genuinely couldn’t understand why any bastard would want to do it. I remember scoffing at the idea of ‘fun’ runs and thinking there could be nothing in the world less fun than running a race. But slowly as I started to see the results and benefits, my mindset changed and running became something I wanted to do. It’s very rare now that I really don’t want to get up and go running.
- The rewards became worth the effort. Running gives me mental space in my incredibly full life. It’s something for me that makes me a better person. It’s something I can do alone that has brought me a lot of calm and has quietened the monkeys that knife-fight in my brain. I have lost weight and gained physical strength and fitness. I battled through lots of injury and pain which has made me more resilient. I have achieved things I never EVER thought I could which has made me feel really good about myself. Plus, it’s really great to know that when the zombie apocalypse comes I will be able to outrun them.
- I found the thing that works for me. Running worked as exercise for me because it was convenient, I didn’t have to be anywhere at a set time. It’s flexible so works around my constantly changing days. The other thing is that I am not very competitive so the fact that I don’t have to battle it out against someone, like on a tennis court, is very appealing.
- I’m setting a great example for my kids. My husband is the most wonderful man on the earth. He has supported me tirelessly through my running journey and has been encouraging and helpful through thick and thin. He was a schoolboy champion tennis player, but burnt out and he has just been getting back into his sport for the last 2 or 3 years. Our sport is now something we share and talk about and are proud of each other for our achievements (we still laugh about this and can’t believe how much we’ve changed). And we are so pleased for ourselves and each other that we are leading by example to our kids about being fit and healthy.
The biggest lesson I learnt though is that the whole “you can achieve anything you want” is way too simplistic. Sure you can, but you have to be prepared to suffer for it and you have to really want it. When I first started running I didn’t really want it, but that desire gradually grew over time. It was like a seed in my mind that flourished into a sapling and then a tree. It was at that point that I was prepared to suffer for this thing.
What I want to leave you with is this: just because you have always felt a certain way doesn’t mean you always will.
I used to genuinely hate running and now I genuinely love it. I have mental strength, physical endurance and a sense of self-respect that I have never had before. I admire myself SO MUCH for getting my big body out there and running when I was heavy and tired. I feel brave and strong and fit, things I always wanted but never knew how to get. Running has made me way more awesome. Give it a go, it might make you more awesome too!
How awesome Gillian! You give me hope that maybe one day I will give running a go xoxo
Thank you Gillian for reminding me how fantastic running can be for your soul. I began running seriously in 2011, ran three half marathons in 2012-13 (first being the GC half – what a magnificent course!) then quit because of a variety of circumstances (primary reason being we were living abroad in a heavily polluted environment and hated running on a treadmill) and have regretted it ever since. I miss the thrill of a runner’s high!
wow the first half of that story is my life – I guess I had better check out this running thing!!! So inspiring!
I’m just putting it out there that you were always awesome! That said, I’m incredibly pleased for you that you have achieved a personal goal that makes you feel so awesome about yourself. You’re a cracking broad Gillian, with a big heart and you’ve always been beautiful. Now you’re just a beautiful nutcase who likes running 😀
I love this article! I have been a runner for the last 2 years and Parkrun every Saturday morning. I have decided that half of the battle is in my head as I can come up with every reason NOT to run, though once I’ve tamed my mind, I get out there and run and feel great- I sleep better, manage my anxiety, look better and am happier for it. Thanks for sharing your story- well done on the half! I did the GC10km this year.