Keep on running

Or, in fact, get running in the first place.

This April will mark a decade since I took up running. I had decided to get fit and my next door neighbour decided we would sign up for a Race for Life 5k and she’d train us (i.e. me and my sister – I had significantly more training to do than she did). I had long believed that Clutterbucks did not run, but over the year and a bit that followed, I discovered this wasn’t true. In fact, learning to run became an instrumental factor in my subsequent loss of 5 stone (there’s a story there, but for another time). We began alternating running and walking between the lampposts of Gloucester park, adding in longer runs as the weeks went on. When the 5k came round that July, I ran/walked it. A year later, I ran the whole thing in around 25 minutes. Two months later, I developed severe tendonitis in my ankles and running was a no-go.

Yesterday, I went for my first outdoor run in over two years. (I vividly remember the last one as there was an unfortunate underwear related tweeting incident as a result…) Over time, I’ve discovered that I’m someone who needs to exercise very regularly in order to stay in some kind of shape and to keep myself generally cheerful. When I had a decently paid job, I had an indecently priced gym membership and went regularly. I became a pilates devotee. I swam. I cross-trained. Since starting vicar school, that’s had to stop. Instead I’ve walked insane distances across London (Monday afternoon’s post college stroll from Gloucester Road to Bloomsbury is a favourite), but it’s not enough.

So, I did what any logical 21st Century person would do – I bought an iPhone app. There are myriad options, but I went for the Get Running couch to 5k one (it had the best reviews). It works on the lamppost principle of old – mixing walking with running and gradually increasing the latter while reducing the former. You can play your own music and your instructions simply fade in and out, which is an awful lot easier than having to keep checking your phone (or digital watch, as was the case back in the day).

However, it took another two days and some motivation from Twitter for me to actually get my trainers on. Twitter really is wonderful in such situations. Yes, I’d already had my friends Shannon and Abi urging me to get going, but Twitter pushed me into it on Wednesday afternoon and subsequently cheered me on from the sidelines:

Twitter Cheering

It was fine. There was a rough patch in the middle, but ultimately it was ok. I didn’t bump into anyone I know (flipping miracle these days), although I did nearly get locked in the square – how was I supposed to know that the ringing of a bell in full daylight (at 5pm – hoorah!) meant the gates were being locked?

I’m going to have to hold myself accountable to Twitter. Tomorrow morning should see run 2 of week 1 – I’ll then obviously have to have a bit of a break while in Uganda, as there’s no way I’m going running in 30+C heat. If you don’t hear me mention my running exploits again, feel free to take me to task. I’ll appreciate it. Honest.

Potentially foolish intentions

Those that follow me on Twitter may have noticed a slightly odd routine creeping into my tweets, where once a week I ask fellow tweeters to help motivate me to get up and walk to work. For many, this will seem strange as walking to work shouldn’t really require much more motivation than going to work generally requires. However, those that know where I live and where I work have expressed some surprise at my new habit. There is, of course, method in my madness…

Several months ago I enthusiastically signed up to walk along the Thames Path in order to help raise money for a musical outreach programme some friends have set up on an estate in Battersea – the Ignito Project. I’m all in favour of such initiatives and, being as I’m not quite talented enough to run a music class, I figured taking part in the walk would be my contribution. Plus, I do enjoy walking, I love the Thames, oh, and I get to spend two days with some lovely people- so really, what’s not to like about the concept?

However, this was potentially a foolish decision, as the original proposal was a 67 mile walk in 24 hours – even my normally supportive parents thought this was a ridiculous challenge to take on! It then became 40 miles over two days, which is much more manageable, yet still something of a daunting prospect – for a whole host of reasons:

  • I’m not sure that I’ve ever walked 20 miles in one day before, let alone repeated that feat the following day.
  • What if it rains all the time? 
  • What if we get a sudden heatwave? 
  • I’m going to a wedding the day before, so will have to be super self-restrained in my partying. 
  • What if my (rather old but very comfortable) trainers expire en route?
  • What if the walking aggravates my long-term sporting injury. [Taking up running made me develop tendonnitis in my ankles 7 years ago & the wrong kind of physical activity (or shoes) triggers it again.] 
  • What if I can’t move a single muscle on Monday? 
If add to all that the fact that in all probability all I’ll want on Saturday and Sunday night is a long hot bath and my flat only contains a shower, you’ll understand why I’m somewhat wary of what 8am on Saturday morning  will bring! 
But the training has been fun. Walking from the wilds of Bermondsey to Baker Street isn’t an impossible task by any means and takes 2 hours door to door. Plus, it’s a route that has an almost infinite number of possibilities – so it’s difficult to get bored. On Friday morning, as I crossed Millennium Bridge and watched the sun twinkle on the river’s waves while celebrating McFly day, life felt pretty bloody good. Whether it will be enough preparation for the weekend’s events remains to be seen, but I think it might become a regular thing – the Twitter motivation will have to continue though as my ability to get up at 6.30 when I could stay in bed till 7.30 is severely lacking. 
Oh, and if you fancy giving me a little extra motivation, you can sponsor me here.

A weighty issue

I realise that the original point of blogs was to express an individual’s opinion & prompt discussion, but I’ve always shied away from that aspect – preferring to dwell amongst the random and inane. I’ve also avoided deeply personal things, as I have a closed blog for airing my dirty laundry to a readership of one (moi). I also try to keep things brief(ish) – this post is not.

Tuesday night, there was a glut of weight-related programmes on TV. The Hospital on Channel 4 [excellent 3-part series on the NHS, catch it on 4OD] focused upon 3 women under 25 who were morbidly obese & exploring surgery. A short time later, BBC1 aired ‘Georgia: 33 stone at 15’, a documentary about a teenager who left Wales to spend a year at an American weight-loss boarding school.

The Guardian’s response to these shows was: “…I’m still not convinced by weight loss as TV. I know I’m the only person in the world who isn’t: you just need to glance at the schedules. We’re a nation obsessed with food and eating and weight and, most of all, with fat people.”

Yes, we’re a nation obsessed with food, eating, weight, weight-loss, fat people. There’s been ‘Celebrity Fit Club’; ‘You are what you eat’; ‘Inch-loss island’; ‘Freaky Eaters’…I could go on.

But, do you know what? As I watched these two shows on Tuesday, I realised that actually, they were amongst the most sensible programmes on the subject, because within both of them they showed the only method of weight-loss that works:
– Diet, monitoring energy intake (i.e. calories) & fat content.
– Exercise
– An understanding of the psychological reasons behind an individual’s eating pattern.

Those in The Hospital were followed as they met with a nutritionist and attempted to lose weight via conventional means before resorting to surgery. Only one went under the knife, the others (though one took longer to get into it than the other) used a combination of diet and exercise and radically changed their lifestyles. This was also the approach followed by the school Georgia was sent to, where, by the end of 6 months she had lost a staggering 12 stone.

We all know crash diets are rubbish (cabbage soup anyone?), and understand the theory that calories in need to be balanced by calories expended, but who’s there to guide people through it? Why did it have to wait until these women were morbidly obese before real time and money was spent on trying to change things?

Membership of a well-known fat-club (as my friend affectionately calls hers) can cost upwards of £6 a week, before factoring in the cost of good quality, low-fat foods and exercise – whether that’s gym membership, leisure centre costs , home equipment or a simple DVD. Not everyone can afford that – yet again, the poorest within our society are trapped in a cycle of poor food, poor understanding of nutrition & little access to exercise facilities.

Of the three women considering surgery, I’ve assumed that two could be termed ‘working class’ whilst another was ‘middle class’. There are sociological assumptions, but the most successful patient also happened to have the money to hire a personal trainer.

The biggest barrier to weight loss is mind-set. One patient was meant to follow a 750cal diet for the few weeks prior to her op, yet was filmed munching on her 2nd hobnob, having been unaware (until prompted by the film crew to check) that each biscuit contained 67cals. Unsurprisingly, her liver was fatty (unhelpful for surgery) when operated on, which the surgeon said did not bode well for her future lifestyle, even with the gastric band. She hadn’t changed her mind-set to one that was focused on making radical changes.

In contrast, the girl with the personal trainer lost stones (& didn’t need an op) thanks to exercising, dieting, creating space for herself and having a supportive family. How were the others meant to cope if their family (who were equally obese) were eating junk food whilst they were on a restricted diet? Hardly supportive, and why wasn’t the NHS targeting them too?

As a country, we seem to be waiting until it’s too late to do something. What about PE in schools? I know for a fact that if it had been less humiliating doing cross-country, maybe I’d have enjoyed it more. As it is, I had to wait until my 20s to discover sports that I enjoy. What about introducing counselling as soon as a GP recognises a weight problem? Education regarding food can only go so far – one patient was filmed munching a KFC bucket claiming “everything in moderation”…

And why do I care? I’ve been there, I am there.

Six years ago I changed my lifestyle, eating a calorie controlled diet and taking up regular exercise for the first time in my life. I lost 5 stone in a year, thanks partly to Rosemary Conley and the fact that her clubs offered an exercise class with the weigh-in (still the biggest gripe I have with the Weight Watchers empire is that they don’t). I looked completely different and almost didn’t know who I was anymore. The psychological basis for why I’d got into that position hadn’t been dealt with. I knew the maths, I had willpower and it worked.

It didn’t last, for various reasons. For the last couple of years I’ve been on an emotional & spiritual journey exploring who I am and what that means. Only in the last couple of months have I felt in the place to start again. I’m happy with who I am (who God created me to be, in fact) and I know the maths, so I know what to do to reverse some of the damage I’ve done.

Victimising fat people will do no good. Neither will victimising food. Until there’s an holistic approach to Britain’s ‘obesity epidemic’ no change will be permanent.