I wish I was half as confident as my sports bra thinks I am!

When I first started my move from sofa to regular exercise I hardly thought about the clothes I wore. As an obese woman exercising in public for the first time I wanted to disappear, for people not to notice me. Basically I was looking for Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak but moisture wicking. I settled for whatever fitted, mostly in greys and blacks.

Since I started running I’ve gradually built up a small supply of specialist running kit. I have a limited budget so have to prioritise and seek out bargains. It didn’t take me long to realise that the slapdash, inconsistent attitudes to clothing sizes and availability of plus sizes are as prevalent in sports gear as they are on the high street. Even after losing a lot of weight my size, approximately an 18, ranges from just not stocked at all through XL to XXXL in running kit. And this really affects how I feel about exercising.

Let me share two stories with you to illustrate:

1. The tale of the reflective jacket.

Once nights started drawing in I realised I needed something reflective to keep me safe on my run commutes and dry in the rain. I spotted a jacket online that I loved. It was out of my usual price range so I had to save up.

Eventually I was able to order it. At this stage I wasn’t fully aware of the variations in sizes between brands, but I ordered it in the biggest size available. When it arrived it was great, lightweight, perfectly designed for running in, reflective, a bit unusual… It made me feel like I was a proper runner, if that makes sense.

Then I tried it on. It didn’t even meet across my chest and could only just get around my shoulders. I was gutted. I felt big and clumsy and stupid for expecting that I could have anything nice.

I’m not going to name and shame the brand that didn’t fit me, because it could have been almost any brand. Even the brands that go up to my size only do so on a small selection of their range. I investigated and couldn’t find a single brand that does women’s reflective rainproof jackets that would fit me. 18 is not exceptionally large. I know many runners my size or larger.

I imagine a discussion among the buyers, designers and decision makers at the running brands…

“What about plus sizes?”

“We don’t need to bother about them. Fair weather runners, they’ll stay indoors in the winter. They’re not going to be serious enough about running to pay our prices and invest in decent kit. We only sell to proper runners.”

It makes me, as a plus size runner, feel excluded and overlooked. I run in all weathers, but when it’s dark I’m in danger and when it rains I get wet, because no one thinks women like me deserve decent kit.

If this had happened earlier in my fitness journey I might have given up, but I was already in the habit of running by then. I had goals and things to prove. I have supportive communities of other runners around me and I’m too stubborn to stop!

Today’s parkrun was cold and wet. I was able to borrow a men’s waterproof and get a PB despite the conditions. And I guess I could buy myself a men’s jacket. But why should I? I could buy a plain jacket with a couple of reflective details, but I really wanted a jazzier one! Why can’t I have a decent, fitted, reflective running jacket designed for my shape?

2. The tale of the sports bra.

After consulting with many other runners I heard many good things about Shock Absorber sports bras, and was able to bag a bargain in the January sales. This was a challenge to the invisible black and grey palette that I, as a plus size woman, am used to. To call its orange and green bright is to miss the perfect opportunity to use the word garish. It is ultra supportive, although challenging to get into! But that’s not why I’m telling this story.

My Shock Absorber bra is reflective! Despite being a large size, and I checked and they do go much larger, no one at that brand has considered that plus size women might not be comfortable in public in just a bra. Imagine another conversation between buyers, designers and decision makers…

“What about plus sizes?”

“What about them? We make a quality product with features to safeguard the runners who wear it. Why wouldn’t we include those same features for larger women? They have just as much right to be safe, and to remove layers if they’re hot as anyone else. The reflective details stay.”

My Shock Absorber bra assumes that I am confident enough to wear what’s best to run in, rather than what covers me up the most. I wish I was that confident.

I’ve been running several months now, and I still tie my jacket around my waist because I feel uncomfortable running in public in leggings. Even when it’s below freezing. Although I own a few “proper” running tops I’m likely to revert to oversized cotton Ts once the weather’s warmer, because I’d rather people see the sweaty patches from the effort I’m putting in than the shape of my body.

Society generally makes people my size feel bad about their shape. We’re vilified for “letting ourselves go” but when we try to get more active we’re unable to get the kit we need to stick to it. When you’ve faced that for years it’s hard to get over it. I’m in the ridiculous situation where my bra is the most reflective item of running kit I own!

The first sports manufacturer to recognise the number of plus size runners out there and offer them a full range of kit is going to make a fortune. I wish more of them thought like the people at Shock Absorber!

– – – – –

Disclaimer – this is a personal blog, I make no money from it, and any brands I mention are purely because of my experience of them.

Disclaimer part 2. The picture of the bra is copyright of Shock Absorber, and used to prevent me having to even consider taking a photo of me in the one I own!


What a difference a year makes #thisgirlcan #iwd2018

A year ago I battled my anxiety to walk the Active Newcastle This Girl Can International Women’s Day 5k. It was the first organised exercise I’d taken part in for years, and my mental health nearly stopped me. At the time I wrote:

It challenged me physically and soothed me mentally. By half way round I was smiling, and by the end I felt great. Sweaty, muddy and tired, but great.

How far I’ve come since then!

At this year’s event I ran the full 5k, and it wasn’t a problem because I regularly run that far. This year I was looking forward to it rather than dreading it. This year I saw lots of faces I knew, and was joined by women I’d cajoled/inspired into coming along for the first time.

This year I’m more relaxed about the name This Girl Can, which I’d initially misunderstood (I’d still rather be called a woman than a girl though!)

This year my whole family were with me, daughter running again, son and partner cheering us on. My son coped well with the challenge of of noise and crowds, and I coped with running off leaving him in a place I knew was challenging for him. I’m not sure I could have done that a year ago.

Last year I had no idea where my fitness journey would take me, this year I have goals: first 10k, Blaydon Race, a sub 30 minute parkrun, the Great North Run…

I can’t wait to see where I am next year 😁

– – – – –

I’m dedicating my running this year to two charities that have helped me a lot. I’ll be writing more about this in a future post. If you would like to sponsor me that would be lovely.

Snow, speed and two parkruns.

After my sickness bug I took things easy for a week. No running, no gym, not as much dashing around as usual. I let other people do things for me, which I’m not always good at.

I returned to running at last weeks parkrun. It felt hard, I couldn’t keep up with the 30 minute pacer past the first k, and I really struggled to keep going, even after slowing down a lot, in the last k. So I was astonished when my official time was a new PB.

photo from Newcastle parkrun’s Facebook page.

Only by 3 seconds, but progress is progress and it so contrasted with how I thought I’d done, I was delighted.

Also that weekend I signed up to SCREAM if you want to run faster, online running training by Julie Creffield of the fabulous Too Fat To Run. This has been one of my go to websites since I started getting fitter. I am just slightly too old to be comfortable with the idea of online training, but so much of the advice on Julie’s website has served me well that I thought I’d give it a go. I’m using my parkrun PB as my base time, aiming to improve it by 5% over 8 weeks, which would see me break that 30 minute barrier. And it’s another really friendly and supportive running community helping keep me going.

I started this week well, with an early morning run on Monday, knowing I’d miss running group through working late. Following the #TFTRScream guidance I included lamppost sprints, which I managed for roughly a mile, although the sprints were coming less often towards the end of the mile.

…I don’t want to give away all the #TFTRScream guidance. I’m sure the course will run again in future for those who want to take part. So let’s just say following it all certainly spurred me on…

Then on Tuesday the snow hit. Wednesday the roads were chaos, no chance of even getting to the gym. But the Facebook running groups I’m part of were discussing running in the snow. So on Thursday, as I was working from home, I went for a lunchtime run. It was bitterly cold, so I found a sheltered street and ran up and down it. But it felt great. And I felt positive about doing three runs this week again.

My running shoes were purchased ignoring every bit of advice written. I went for what was cheapest, not even understanding the different types available. As chance would have it I ended up with trail shoes which have never given me a single blister and have really good grips in the snow.

Yesterday my local parkrun was one of the few still on. But the police were still saying essential travel only (Is parkrun essential? Discuss) And the buses weren’t operating a full service. So I ran to parkrun. Then I ran parkrun. Then I had a cup of tea, but after that I ran/walked home. (I would have liked to have got the bus home, but none came).

What a difference a week makes!photo from Newcastle parkrun’s Facebook page.

Despite the snow and having already run two and a half miles I did parkrun in 34.46, which I’m really pleased with. And including the run/walk home I did eight and a bit miles, which certainly makes up for missing my run commute. But next time I run home from parkrun I won’t break for tea in between and let my body cool down!

Pondering Inspiration: Great North Run is go.

This arrived in my inbox today…

You can’t say it was unexpected. I’d put in for the ballot, I knew the results were out this week. I had no idea how they sort through the entries or what my odds of success were, but I was expecting a yea or a nay this week.

I wasn’t prepared for my immediate reaction, which was a mixture of excitement and terror. A year ago I hadn’t done any exercise bar walking for decades and was wondering how I could. Five months ago I was questioning whether I’d be able to run the whole of my first 5k. Now, I realised when I opened the email, I’m fairly confident I’ll be completing my first half marathon in September.

I’m not used to being confident! It’s a weird feeling.

If I hadn’t got involved with Newcastle Can I’d probably still be doing no exercise bar walking, gaining weight and wondering how to start doing something about it. What I’ve found by being involved with Newcastle Can is that the tiniest changes can make a massive difference. Every successful change, no matter how small, gives you the confidence to try the next one. And as your confidence grows you’re prepared to try bigger changes, bigger challenges.

I’m not comfortable being the centre of attention. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything unusual. I blame myself for getting so overweight and inactive rather than celebrating myself for dragging myself into healthier habits. I’m practicing being kinder to myself.

Newcastle Can features me among the amazing people on the Hugh’s Heroes page.

I’m still worrying that next time I eat cake or chips in public someone will call me out for being a hypocrite!

I don’t think I’m exceptional.

But I’m realising the most inspiring people are ordinary.

A million professional athletes displaying incredible endurance are not going to persuade someone like me – middle aged, obese and stuck in a rut of no exercise – that they can do it. But it seems one Sally – sweaty and straining, keeping at it and sharing the struggles as well as the successes – does show people in similar circumstances that they can do it too.

The first time someone told me they’d started the couch to five k programme because they’d been inspired by my running I was stunned. Several people have told me that now and it really fills me with joy. This is exactly what Newcastle Can is about, ordinary people making sustainable changes that make a positive difference to their health and sharing that with their communities.

I’ve been saying since that first run – if I can, anyone can! It’s great to know people are 🙂

There are lots of fantastic stories of other people involved in Newcastle Can on Hugh’s Heroes page. Check them out. And share your story. Even if you don’t think it’s exceptional I bet it will inspire someone.

Now I need to get training! Wish me luck.

More hills – Night run at Gibside.

Saturday night was my chance to find out if my hill practice had worked. My first night run and my first official run over 5k combined in one of the hilliest places I’ve ever run.

To add to the hill training I’d varied my run commute on Thursday to include more hills, a tactic I pondered the wisdom of as I struggled to keep my shoes on my feet through thick mud and icy winds. The view was good though.

I didn’t fancy doing a 5k run in the morning and a 6k in the evening, so I volunteered at parkrun as tail walker. This involves being at the back of the field of runners and walkers, providing encouragement and support, and finishing last. I was so scared of being last when I started out, now I’m volunteering for it! It was my slowest ever parkrun, but also one of my best as I got the opportunity to get to know other runners and hear what brought them there, rather than focus on myself and my pace.

The night run itself was a fantastic experience, and something I’ll be looking to do again. I arrived early, with son and partner who’d been cajoled into being my support team! Gibside has a pub in the evenings and offers pizza from their bread ovens, so they were content to wait while I ran!

As we enjoyed a cuppa we watched more and more people arrive for the night run. It’s actually 2 runs, a 2k and a 6k, so all ages and abilities amassed in the cafe, keeping out of the cold. It was good to see a lot of familiar faces from running group and parkruns.

It had been sleeting and raining all day, so the briefing warned of mud at various points. Then we were off!

The crowds spread out quite quickly, and at points during the route you could see the lights from other runners spread out across the dark landscape ahead. When it’s dark you can’t see the hills coming!

As expected I had to walk at the steepest bits, but only once for more than 30 seconds. I got settled into the rhythm of running, and resisted the urge to go too fast downhill.

Gibside is a familiar and much loved place for me, but in the darkness I completely lost my bearings. I was very grateful for the volunteer marshals – without them I’d have definitely got lost and probably not have laughed as much.

“Come on, keep moving. If you must walk then at least walk sprightly!” (Night run marshal)

I was pleased with my time, less than 10 minutes over my Gibside parkrun time, for 1 extra k and in the dark! And when I got back to my family they had pizza and a hot cup of tea waiting for me. I call that a good Saturday night 🙂

How do you persuade a reluctant teenager to be more active?

Will you judge me harshly when I tell you the most effective answer seems to be chocolate?

But let me start at the beginning…

Since joining Newcastle Can and becoming healthier I’ve tried to bring my family along with me. My partner has joined a gym and has promised to come along to a parkrun when the weather’s better. My daughter has also joined a gym, although this may be due to peer rather than parental inspiration. My kids have both said they’ll join me for a parkrun when they can.

My son likes to see the maps of where I’ve run. He, perhaps even more than the rest of us, may benefit from getting into the habit of regular exercise now. He faces a double whammy in the obesity odds, having both a family history of obesity and an undiagnosed genetic condition causing a learning disability. It’s widely recognised that:

People with a learning disability are more likely to have problems with their weight.

NHS Choices

I wish I’d been a better example to my kids when they were younger, but it’s too late now to change their childhood. What I can do is provide a good example now, show them you can change bad habits and make a positive difference to your health no matter your starting point. I know they are proud of the distance I’ve come.

I’m still looking for future challenges, runs and races I can sign up for to add variety to my running and gradually build me up to my planned half marathon later this year. And thus I heard about the Prudhoe Easter Egg 5k. Chocolate stops and spot prizes! Suddenly my son was more keen to accompany me than he had been for anything else I’ve signed up for.

This, it seems, is how to persuade a reluctant teenager to be more active! Image from Pinterest, as is chocolate image above.

I tried to persuade him that 5k is a long way and will take practice…

He tried to persuade me that I was selling him short and should have more faith in him…

I persuaded him to come for a practice run with me this evening, where he could go slow at my pace and show me how far he could run…

The practice run/walk (as it turned out) persuaded him that mother really might know best and he’s agreed to join me for more practice runs.

2 miles in 27 minutes isn’t bad for his first attempt, although you can see we needed to walk often.

He is faster than me, but so far only over short distances. I have more stamina. But he knows he will improve, because he’s seen me do it, so he has no doubt he’ll manage 5k in Prudhoe and get some chocolate.

My partner will be joining us then too. And my daughter was going to, but it turned out it clashed with a course. Our whole family are definitely fitter and more active now than we were a year ago. And maybe by Easter I won’t be the only family member who’s a regular runner.

The difference the dark makes…

Apart from running group, which I only started earlier this month, I pretty much exclusively run in the daylight. I work part time so my run commute is generally finishing as darkness falls, even in winter, and my evenings are generally too full of family to fit in running.

Tonight I decided to run home from work even though I wasn’t finishing until much later in the evening than usual. I had to miss running group and felt I should make up the miles. I could have got up early and done it, but, you know … mornings!

So it was dark by I left work in my reflective gear, and I was instantly struck by how different everything seemed. Shops were shuttered and the streets were quiet, but the pubs were noisy. Back alleys I think nothing of running down in daylight seemed sinister and uninviting.

Image from Pinterest, quote by Terry Pratchett.

My first half mile was the fastest I’ve ever run, just because I wanted to put some distance between me and the drunken rowdiness of the pubs. I knew full well it wasn’t a pace I could sustain, and forced myself to slow to a more manageable rate.

I had areas where I usually weave through pedestrians and cyclists all to myself in the dark. Rather than appreciating the space I felt stressed, anxiety creeping in as the familiar became unfamiliar. I started at every unexpected noise, jumped at shadows.

After a couple of miles, on a stretch I have covered with running group in the dark, I felt less anxious and was able to settle into a steady pace punctuated only by pauses for traffic lights and iPod problems. I kept to the main roads though, telling myself this was an attempt to increase my distance and not me being scared of being alone in the dark!

Not creepy at all!

It was a good run, I felt I could see an improvement just since last week. My stamina is definitely getting back to where it was before the chest infection. By mile 3 I felt like I could keep going for ages, and I didn’t slow to a walk all the way home. However it was a lesson that I need to mix things up, get out of my familiar routine to challenge myself. It’s perfectly possible to run safely in the dark, especially as I live in a well lit city. I will be doing it again.