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!


Not giving up…

According to Runners World and Strava today is the day most people give up on their fitness related new year resolutions. I’m determined not to, so I went for a run.

Not a bad pace considering I had to walk the last little bit.

It would be easy to use selective photos to make it look like I run somewhere pleasant surrounded by nature, and for some bits of my run I do. But a lot of it is alongside the metro line and I’m never out of earshot of the motorway. For bits of the run I dodge fly tipped furniture and daren’t fall because of the broken glass. I love that among the urban sprawl there are still beautiful patches of nature that I can run through.

Running over the motorway.

The run went ok, although my stamina is still not great. I had to walk the last little bit. I briefly toyed with the idea of stopping my tracker when I stopped running, and decided I’d only be cheating myself. If I don’t record the bad bits I won’t see how I improve. So I decided to consider the walk a cool down.

Once home I braved my first trial by scales of the year. As expected the combination of inactivity, illness and indulgence in December has led to a 6lb gain. This is frustrating. I feel like I’m doing so well since I joined Newcastle Can, but for it to work long term I need to maintain the weight loss. Hopefully now I’m active, well and eating healthily again my weight will start heading back down. I’d like to at least get myself into the “overweight” rather than “obese” BMI band this year. And to contribute a few more pounds to the Newcastle Can total!

Image from Newcastle Can Facebook Page.

However I’m not going to stress too much about the numbers. Keeping active and being mindful of what I eat have been the two biggest changes I’ve made in the last year. I’m going to concentrate on keeping those going, and hope the weight loss will follow.

I’ll keep on telling myself I can do this!

Billboards and bright lights.

Nothing jolts you wide awake on a Monday morning like spotting yourself on a billboard as you drive through the rush hour! This morning I spotted the Newcastle Can ad above the central motorway. As I was driving I couldn’t take a picture, it’s the same photo as was used on the metro ads last year only now lit up on an electronic billboard! Such a crowd of people that you’d only spot me if you knew me, but a strange feeling to see myself up there.

The ad on the metro. Can you spot me?

I still think I’m fairly ordinary. I don’t feel like I’ve done anything particularly exceptional. I’ve started doing all the things I knew I should have been doing for years but hadn’t got round to enough – exercising, cooking healthily from scratch, cutting back on sweet treats. It’s been a challenge and I haven’t always kept to it – yet there I am on a billboard. I hope it shows people that if I can do it anyone can.

This evening I attended my first running group. This was one of my aims for the year and it’s good to get it ticked off in January! I already know a few people who attend the group, so I didn’t feel as anxious as if I was going somewhere completely new and unknown. And my confidence for trying new things has grown a lot over the last few months.

Everyone was really friendly and welcoming. It was great to set out running in a friendly group of women, with trainer and arm lights shining brightly in the dark. I have added several things to my running wish list having seen other people’s kit!

For the first meeting of the year the group was taking it gently, which suited me well. I managed the running, even the brief speed work (although my fast is not that fast yet!) The biggest challenge to me was the 3 minutes of squats, which I imagine I’ll still be feeling tomorrow. I’m very glad I went, and will be making every effort to attend regularly.

Best finish position, slowest time, same #parkrun!

I managed to get myself up and out early enough this morning to visit Gibside parkrun. The run itself was new to me, but Gibside is a familiar and much loved place, so I had an inkling of what I was letting myself in for. I was fairly nervous. My first parkrun of the year, still taking it slow after being ill, and yet I’d picked Gibside which has far more hills than I’m used to. In fact one of the volunteers told me it’s the 12th hilliest parkrun in the country!

This is considerably steeper than anywhere else I’ve run.

And it felt it! I was proud to manage a run up the hill to the Column of Liberty, but there were other places where I had to slow to a walk until it evened out a bit. I couldn’t even enjoy the scenery at first as freezing hail pelted down. However the final section, which is mostly downhill, and was after the sun came out, felt fantastic!

You can see how I speeded up on the downhill bits!

Gibside is also the smallest parkrun I’ve attended. My home parkrun, Newcastle, is massive with several hundred people taking part every week. At Gibside today there were 49. This let to the slightly weird situation where I got my best ever finishing position at a parkrun (45th) with my slowest ever time for a parkrun (38m 13s) at the same parkrun!

For a lot of the run I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me, partly because of the trees but also because there was a long and increasing gap between us. Then I got back to the Stables where I was still labouring uphill as lots of runners were coming back on the downhill final stretch, and almost every one smiled and encouraged me.

No other runners in sight!

Gibside is not only a beautiful place, it’s parkrun has an incredibly friendly and welcoming group of volunteers and runners. I’ve never yet been to a parkrun that didn’t, but I think because there were fewer runners at Gibside there was more chance to chat to volunteers as I passed and more chance to chat to other runners at the start.

Passing the Column to Liberty in the hail.

I’m pleased with 38m13s, despite it being slower than my usual. For my first go at serious hills, while building back up to full fitness, that seems a good time.

Taking it slow

Having accepted that my recent running hiatus has affected my stamina, a conclusion I drew partly due to my failure to run one of my regular routes on Wednesday and partly due to how much my legs ached after the attempt, I’m going for a slower return to running over the next few weeks. Initially I’d planned to be straight back to 3 runs a week plus gym, but it’s clear I need to take it a bit easier and be more realistic about what my body can do.

So instead of a run today I took my teenage son and dogs out for a long walk. We did 5.6 miles in 1 hour 37 minutes, punctuated with a break for lunch. And that was with the dogs stopping to investigate every new smell and my son slowing dramatically towards the end!

It was a lovely walk, despite the cold. We sailed my son’s boat on the lake in the park, had lunch at Cafe in the Park, who gave the dogs sausages and helped me work out how to pay with my phone when I realised I’d forgotten my purse. It was cold, but not too cold while we were moving, and I definitely felt I could have gone faster.

Old dog standing guard while young dog relaxes in the Cafe.

Tomorrow I’ll be doing parkrun, possibly as a parkrun tourist elsewhere if I’m up early enough. I think two runs is plenty for my first week back at it.

I’m still keen to build my stamina and distance though. I’ve put my name into the ballot for Great North Run places, and am intending trying to get a charity place if my ballot’s unsuccessful, so I have a definite goal to aim for.

Back to it.

Today was my first run of 2018. Having spent Christmas and New Year with a rotten lingering bug I’m desperate to get back out there, knowing that the longer I go without running the more likely I am to slip back into inactivity. Although I’m still a bit sinusy I no longer feel like it’s an effort to be upright, let alone moving, and have managed a couple of days of normal activity. So on with the trainers and back to the streets!

It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, and with hindsight I should have started with a shorter distance. My first run of the year turned into a run/walk as it turned out my lungs weren’t as recovered as I’d though they were.

But I ran the first three miles, with only the occasional leap over or detour around branches left by storm Eleanor.

After that it was walk/run to home. And given I’ve had 2 weeks out with a bug, closely after 2 weeks out with an injury I think I did comparatively well.

I always feel bad about walking though. Running is so much a battle with yourself, and once my body knows walk is an option it just doesn’t want to run any more. It becomes a struggle to go every the shortest distance at a jog. I’d rather keep running, even if it’s very slowly, than walk, because I know how hard it is for me to speed back up again. Today I couldn’t do that. I need to work on building my stamina.

And work on it I will! Next week I have my first session with a running group, and I’ve already signed up to a 6k night run in February and 5k International Women’s Day Run in March to keep me motivated.

An end of year update…

Since my last blog post in November I’ve only managed another 3 parkruns. First I hurt my leg, and just as I was getting back from that I developed one of those annoying winter bugs which just keep on going. So only three parkruns and no additional running, similar lack of attendance at gym, and pretty certain to miss tomorrow’s double parkrun. If you’d told me this time last year how much not being able to run would upset me I’d have laughed at you!

Image from Newcastle parkrun Facebook page.

Other things that have slipped clearly include blogging. Updating here more regularly is definitely on my to do list.

Healthy eating has wobbled a bit. I have indulged over Christmas more than I have the rest of the year, and given that and the lack of exercise I haven’t dared step on the scales! However what I count as unhealthy eating now is still miles better than what I was eating just a year ago. Many of the small changes I’ve built in are still holding.

It’s hard not to end the year a bit despondent. I’m inactive, over indulging and feeling grotty. It would be easy to imagine myself right back where I started. So I need to recognise what I have achieved this year.

  • Eating healthier. I have completely changed the way I eat, with more meals cooked from scratch, greater understanding of what’s in my food and fewer unhealthy treats. I’ve got braver at substituting ingredients and giving things a go, and am calling for takeaways far less often. This doesn’t just affect me, the whole family are affected.

Cooking from scratch

  • Exercising. I’ve gradually increased my exercise from a daily dog walk to regular running and weights training, via dancercise. I’ve gone from unable to run for a bus to able to regularly run 5k and beyond.
  • Obesity. While my BMI stubbornly remains just within the obese rather than overweight scale I have dramatically improved. I’ve lost almost 2 stones, have changed body shape and am much healthier than I was.
  • Health. My bloods are no longer alarming my practice nurse, no more high risk of diabetes, cholesterol and heart disease! Obesity related back pain has vanished, a recurring skin condition has cleared up and I’ve had far fewer migraines than usual. Eating less highly processed food has also lessened IBS symptoms.
  • Mental health. Fluctuating. I’ve had bad spells and good spells, and I accept that this is how it’s likely to continue to go for me. I’m getting better about noticing the bad spells early and trying to stop downward spirals. And I’ve used good spells to push myself, trying new things and making new habits, which will hopefully mitigate future dips.

And looking forward? For the first time in years I’m starting a new year with concrete plans for improvement, rather than a vague “I must sort myself out this year.” In 2018 I plan to:

  • Join a running group. Through people I’ve met at parkrun I’ve been invited to several, and have shuffled evening commitments so I can get to one.
  • Get to 50 parkruns. This may be an ambitious target, I’m on 10 now, but I think it’s achievable.
  • Enter some races. My big goal is the 2018 Great North Run, a half marathon in September, but to train for that I’m intending doing some official races beforehand, building distance and trying new routes and surfaces.
  • Blog more. Keep myself accountable and track my progress so I can celebrate the highs and work through the lows.
  • Get creative. I’ve signed up for the 64 million artists January challenge, hoping it will get me trying new things.
  • Lose more weight. I’ll continue tracking my weight with Newcastle Can, aiming to get out of the obese bracket, and possible even into the healthy weight bracket!
  • Keep it sustainable. I’ll be attempting Plastic Free July again, but also trying to make changes throughout the year to reduce my impact on the planet.
  • Look after myself. While plans are great to have it may be my health, mental or physical, won’t let me achieve them all. I won’t be beating myself up if that happens, I’ll be putting myself first and making sure I’m strong and safe and have time and space to recover.

I’ve done a lot this year. I still can’t quite believe how much I’ve changed. I started with tiny baby steps, and I kept on going. Now I’m running, and I don’t intent stopping any time soon.