July 14, 2014
Walking into the office on a Monday morning after a heavy weekend I was bombarded by one of the sports team
“You are going to do the run on Saturday too right?” she said enthusiastically
I was coordinating volunteers for the launch of Newham Councils community fit club an initiative to get residents excited about the upcoming 2012 Olympics, but staff from across the whole department were being roped in too.
“Yeah sure, why not” I replied.
It’s only 3 kilometres I thought, how hard could it be?
The year was 2005 and I was in my early twenties enjoying everything that life had to offer. I was a big girl, topping the scales at about 20 stone but who cared? I had an active social life, money in the bank to spend on nice clothes and even had a serious boyfriend so I didn’t care that I did not match the unrealistic beauty standards set by the media.
The launch date loomed. I did mean to go for a practice run, but before I knew it the morning had arrived and as I drove to Beckton Park in my jogging bottoms and my XXL Fit Club t-shirt I didn’t really give much thought to what lay ahead. Of course I can run I convinced myself, I run for the bus occasionally, I go swimming sometimes and I go clubbing all night without too much effort, plus its only 3K.
It was a bright sunny morning perfect for some outdoor exercise and when I arrived on site my colleagues were all busy setting up before the public arrived. I briefed my volunteers and joked with them to keep an eye out for me as I whizz past in case I collapsed.
We didn’t know how many people would come along for the first event but as the start time crept ever closer the park soon become a hive of activity, the health team were checking blood pressure and handing out leaflets and up and coming runner Christina Ohurugo led a warm up before getting us in position to start the race.
Lining up at the start I was excited and I couldn’t wait for the starting horn to go.
And then we were off.
Now, Beckton Park is a large park in the south of the borough, I had never been here before so didn’t really know where I was going, but I just followed the crowd moving my legs as fast as they would carry me in the hope I would keep up.
But then something happened.
A pain hit my windpipe, a type of pain that I had never EVER experienced before, my mouth felt dry, the veins on the side of my head started pulsating and I realised then and there that this 3K was not going to be as easy as I thought it might be, and as soon as we turned the corner and behind the safety of the bushes I stopped running and tried desperately to catch my breath.
Sweat was dripping from the side of my forehead, and slipping into my eyes making them sting. I was already at the back with everyone else overtaking me in the first minute or so.
I am 22 and I can barely run for 30 seconds.
Oh well, I was feeling a bit better now I had caught my breath so I started jogging again, this time at a more realistic pace, but the route was now taking us around the perimeter of a lake, a fishing lake with a handful of fisherman probably quite annoyed at us fun runners interrupting their peace and quiet…and that is when I spotted him.
He was only small, but his Adidas tracksuit, shaved head and grubby little face was enough for me to tell that he was trouble, and as I got closer and closer struggling to maintain the running I saw his face break out into laughter, as he then caught the attention of the older men in his group, possibly his older brothers and dad, they too started laughing.
I did my best to ignore them and ran past them stopping only when the route had hidden me from their view, I was exhausted and annoyed. Maybe they were just laughing because they don’t see many runners in the park I tried to convince myself, maybe they had laughed at everyone else that had passed them too.
I was now out in the open again and could see the finish line and hear my colleagues shouting my name.
“Come on Julie, move those legs”
and I dug deep ignoring the pain in my legs and my red face. But as I approached the line I noticed the old guy about 300 meters in front of me continue running.
Oh no I gasped as the realisation hit me it was a two lap course and I would have to pass that little scallywag again.
Remind me why I had signed up to this race I thought.
I continued with my hiding behind the trees approach and prepared myself for the moment I would be exposed again and have to face the music, I had managed to calm my breathing down by walking calmly in the cool shade provided by the trees but as I looked out towards the sunlight I took a big deep breath and headed out to meet my fate.
The group were closer to the lake this time, the little boy crouching down and fiddling with something in the reeds and for a moment I thought I had got away with it, but as I passed them and headed towards the safety of the bushes once again I heard “RUN FATTY RUN” belted from the mouth of that feral looking 7 year old with as much welly as he could master, most of Beckton must have heard it.
As I ran towards the finish line I could no longer hear the cheers of my colleagues and I wasn’t even happy in the knowledge that it was nearly all over. I was shaking from anger, embarrassment and shame, holding tears back while trying to remember to breathe too. The voice of that kid was still ringing in my ears and the realisation that I wasn’t that happy with my size 22 frame after all and that my fitness for someone of my age was not normal.
I was fat and unhappy and I couldn’t run for toffee and today had proven it.
As I drove home with my medal shoved in the glove compartment I had a little cry, cheering myself up with a detour to McDonald’s drive through. I knew in that moment that I needed to make some changes in my life. How could I promote healthy lifestyles in my job yet not follow any of my own advice – I was a joke, but I wouldn’t be forever.
That evening as I soaked my sore muscles in the bath I decided that enough was enough.
Monday marked the start of my new life
And the rest I guess is history!!!