No offence, but…

Well I’m doing rubbish at keeping the blog up to date! Let’s just acknowledge it and move on rather than me launch into the reasons/excuses, shall we?

Since I last wrote I’ve run much more, managed to buy clothes from the ‘regular sized’ section of the store rather than the fat-shaming section, and even worn clothes that don’t have an X in the size!

And the TV series Britain’s Fat Fight featuring the Newcastle Can project has aired – for a few Wednesday nights my phone was buzzing as people spotted me in my blink and you’ll miss me screen appearances. I’m not sure how well it was received outside of Newcastle, but it’s really got people talking about their health and weight again here.

And that’s brilliant, mostly.

But I have had a handful of comments which, as I’m in a positive frame of mind at the moment, I’m choosing to file under “Not quite as supportive as they’d intended to be”, although next time the depression and anxiety kicks in they’ll probably be upgraded to “Things to worry about incessantly when I can’t sleep.” I imagine other new and/or obese runners will have heard similar, those comments where you wonder whether to take offence or not.

For example:

  • “10k. Will you be running it? Really? All the way?”
  • “Well it’s nice you got a place, but I think it’s a shame for the proper runners who miss out on places.”
  • “You’ve dropped another dress size? I suppose it goes to show that you can eat whatever you want and lose weight so long as you exercise.”
  • “The Great North Run’s a brilliant experience, even though you’ll have to walk, and don’t worry about being near the back.”
  • And so on…

My partner and I forgetting parkrun isn’t a race!

Recurring themes in these comments are:

Surprise. Starting with surprise that I can run at all, followed by surprise at how far I can run, then surprise at the speed I do it in. I’m not offended by that – I know I don’t look how most people image a runner – although I’m definitely far leaner than I was. The surprised people are usually then impressed and interested.

Failure to take me seriously. Comments implying I’m “not a proper runner”. Which of course begs the question “What am I doing that’s improper?” 😂

I’m not offended by these comments either – it’s taken me a long time to get my head around the idea that I am a runner, even after several months running regularly and knowing the running community is made up of people of all shapes, sizes and speeds. If I struggle to believe it myself why would I be offended that other people think the same?

Ringing the PB bell the only time to date that I got sub 30.

Implying I’m not trying hard enough. The “eating whatever you like” comments. I’m not offended by this, in fact I think it’s mostly my own fault. I have made dramatic changes to what I eat, but I haven’t banged on about as it half as much as I have about the running. And there are photos of me running all over the place, no photos of me refusing snacks or chopping vegetables! But for the record I’m not eating whatever I want…

I didn’t want to go on “a diet”, because to me that implies prohibiting things and is a temporary change. If I prohibit things I’ll just crave them more. If I just revert to my old eating habits when I reach a healthy weight I’ll just pile the weight back on.

So I aimed to make small, incremental changes to how I eat that mounted up to a big positive difference – and I’ve succeeded, or just about. Stress eating is still a problem.

Food changes I’ve made and (mostly) kept to:

  • No unhealthy snacks at work (except for a couple of really stressful weeks)
  • Healthy snacks ready and available – fruit in the bowl, chopped veg in the fridge, etc.
  • Have a drink rather than eating when first feeling like I need a snack.
  • Smaller portions
  • Fewer treats – e.g. one piece of cake a week, usually after parkrun (except for special occasions!)
  • No treats in the house – if I really want ice cream I have to go out and get it, if I really fancy a biscuit I have to bake them.
  • More cooking from scratch/less processed foods
  • More fruit and veg/less meat and dairy
  • More awareness of what’s in food – labels, protein/carbs/fats etc.
  • More awareness of when I need food – am I running later, will I be stuck at my desk for hours, etc.

All that mounts up to significant changes. Yes, I could restrict my calorie intake more, but I’m doing OK as I am, and the results show.

Im now far enough into my fitness journey not to wobble when someone says something thoughtless, so at the moment I’m not offended by any of those comments. And if I do start worrying about them in future I’m going to shift my focus, because the comments above are a tiny minority. Instead I’ll remind myself of the multitude of positive comments like…

  • “You’re doing so well.”
  • “Guess what I did? You inspired me. I’ve signed up to couch 25K.”
  • “You’re definitely getting faster.”
  • “Will you be doing *insert name of difficult race*?”
  • “See you at parkrun…”

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This year I’m dedicating all my running to two charities that have made a massive difference in my life. If you can spare a £ or two please sponsor me.

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Addressing the elephant in the room.

My running has gone well this week despite hiccups. I didn’t get to do my run commute because my son was sick. Parkrun was cancelled because of ice (again!) Strava kept losing me so I’m not sure how far I ran. But I ran a total of at least 17 miles over 3 runs, plus a gym session. I’m enjoying running more, I feel like my speed’s increasing and gradually building my distance is working too.

Gibside parkrun as my regular one was cancelled.

But running isn’t what I want to write about today. Today I want to address the elephant in the room. And I’m fairly sure the elephant in the room is me.

I’m now over a year since I signed up to Newcastle Can and started exercising and eating healthily. My weight loss was dramatic at first but stalled fairly quickly and is now very slow. It will fall by a couple of pounds, go up by more, drop again and tends to average around the same point.

It’s hard not to feel disheartened. I’m making an effort to cook more from scratch and eat healthier. I’m definitely exercising a lot more. But my weight doesn’t shift.

I try to think positively. I know my body now is in much better shape than it was. I’m stronger, I’m fitter, I can do things I never thought I could. But one of my targets is to lose weight, to at least get down to overweight rather than obese. Although I’ve reduced my risk of weight related ill health it’s still pretty high.

The problem is stress and emotional eating. I’ve managed to change my eating habits massively, but the second I’m stressed it all goes out the window. And life is stressful.

Coming in the next few months are my daughters A-levels, my son’s EHCP review, a DWP assessment of my son’s disabilities before he turns 16, son’s GCSEs, daughter’s choice of post school destination, son’s transition to college… That’s just parenting stress, there’s also money worries, health concerns, work… So many stressful things I can’t avoid.

I have to be careful that stress doesn’t turn into paranoia, anxiety and /or depression. My mental health has been ok lately, but I know how fragile it is.

image from healthyplace.com via Pinterest

Throughout my life food has been consolation and celebration. It’s an embedded habit that I’m really struggling to shift. The guilt and sense of failure when I binge is getting harder to cope with, and sometimes I cope with it by eating more.

I’m trying to be kinder to myself. Not to beat myself up for every failure. Not to give in to every craving. It’s hard going but I’m sticking with it. Hopefully chipping away at the problem one hour at a time will lead to positive change. I’m staring down that elephant. I’ll get there.

image from Pinterest.

Elephant cover image from Pinterest.

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!

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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.