April 24, 2018
6 years ago my life changed FOREVER.
Actually, that’s a bit of a lie, it was way back in 2005 when I first got the crazy idea in my head that I wanted to run a marathon…it just took me a while to realise my dream, and yes over the past 12 years I have been slightly obsessed with the London Marathon.
I don’t know why I wanted to run a marathon initially because at the time I struggled to run to the top of the road, but there was something in me that knew it would change me. It would change me physically as I trained of it no doubt, but what I didn’t expect was how much it would change me as a person, and how it would change how I viewed the world.
Marathon day in London is EPIC…I never tire of it.
Even at 6.30am on Sunday when my alarm went off and I began the task of loading up my car for the Too Fat to Run cheering station. I felt excited. But I also felt nervous and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I wasn’t even running it, after making the decision to defer my place a few weeks ago due to injury, fatigue, and stress.
I was, however, looking forward to cheering on my 20 or so women that I have been training and supporting, and many other friends and colleagues out on the course.
It was going to be a scorcher.
Now look, in previous years I have given a blow by blow account of who came in first and what happened, and how it all felt, reporting on my ladies finishing times and all of that, but this year I want to do something different with this blog, because this year it all feels very different.
The irony was not lost on me that the year that Katherine Switzer was running the race, I sadly was not. Some of you will know that Katherine was the female runner who officials tried to pull off the course of the Boston Marathon back in 1967, why? because she was a woman and women were not allowed to enter the Boston Marathon at that time.
Of course, things have changed significantly since those times, but it is only in recent years that the gender split of the London Marathon has been equal, women are still not allowed to compete at some distances in cross-country, and we are only a few years out from that shocking stat from Sport England research that showed that 2 million fewer women than men play sport because of the fear of judgement.
ANYBODY who runs a marathon in my mind is a hero, no matter their gender, age, ability, background, reasons why…it is simply a heroic wonderfully brave thing to undertake, all that training, all that anticipation, and then putting yourself out there with the absolute possibility of failure….success yes, but failure too…often quite a public failure.
But I also stand by the fact that to undertake a marathon in a LARGER BODY, requires something even more special.
Now of course science dictates that the heavy you are the more effort it will take to get yourself round the 26.2 mile course, but what is often misunderstood is the weight of anxiety, self doubt and feelings of “I don’t deserve to be here” that is often experienced by larger than average marathon runners too.
I see it all the time in my training groups, women who have followed their plans, done the work, put in the hours, changed their fuelling, given up the booze, bought all the kit, read all the books…still worrying that they won’t be able to do it on the day or that they will be unfairly judged.
Now I know those feelings are sometimes felt by other new runners at a marathon, it is just the unknown of it all…but there is something very special that happens to an overweight women when she…
A. Decided to run a marathon
B. Signs up for one
C. Runs it
And this is what drives every aspect of my work, both as a fitness blogger and running coach, but more recently as a motivational speaker and life coach.
There is nothing more powerful than proving to yourself that you can achieve goals you never really thought were possible, overcoming barriers and challenges beyond the comprehension of others…and to do it in a body which it is impossible not to be visible in.
I feel honored to be able to help women do that.
Most years at the London Marathon the Too Fat to Run Cheering station doesn’t really come into its own until the 4 hour runners have gone by…now don’t get me wrong we cheer the speedy runners too, shouting their names and offering sweeties (OMG did we have a stash of sweets) but this year due to the heat I guess…it was unlike no other.
I knew it was going to be a hot one, but our cheering station between mile 9 and mile 10 near Surrey Quays, is a little out on a limb, with nowhere to like I dunno fill up a dustbin with water and offer sponges, or run a hose pipe. So in a bit of a last minute attempt to cool down our women I bought 3 plant sprayers and figured when they come in we could spray the backs of their necks and faces with water if needed.
But as little as 15 minutes after the male elites went past I could see how hot the runners were and we started using the sprayers…well, that was pretty much it for the next 3 hours. It was relentless….relentless but oh so bloody rewarding.
The levels of gratitude were completely unreal, the relief of being temporarily cooled down and I guess the surprise that we would be willing to stand there for hours on end squirting these bottles which are normally used for keeping you roses fresh in the summer…the number of men who told me “I love you” was unbelievable.
We had to work as a team though as the bottles didn’t last very long, so we took it in turns to rush to a pub 10 minutes away to restock. At one point I found myself using a bottle of Evian water I had frozen to drink myself into one of the bottles…and the recipients of that sprayer were extra lucky I guess.
The day went by in a blur…maybe the emotion, maybe the sun…or maybe the Prosecco?
I remember my first runner come through Becky…she literally jumped into my arms before I even managed to see her properly, she was on fire on for a great finish time.
And then one by one my other ladies started to coming through. Seeing Lou (in the purple here) come through so emotional did me in, but she looked super strong too. This means so much to every single runner.
Some of my ladies I missed sadly in the never-ending task of hydrating, fuelling and providing sun cream…yes we did that too. There were like 9 or 10 of us I think, with 4 teenage girls helping out…but it felt like an incredible way to spend a day.
Many of my runners I was meeting for the first time in the flesh, even though I have been supporting them for 6 months, a year…some maybe 2 and the emotion was unreal. At 10 miles the ladies were working hard but I think the realisation was setting in that they were actually doing this…they were actually running a flipping marathon.
There were tears, there were confetti bombs, there were one or two glasses of prosecco shared. It was such a special experience for everyone involved. A highlight being seeing Dorinda coming towards me in her Wonder Woman looking for the glass of Prosecco I had promised her.
We ticked off women from our list, and we tried to track them using the app and our virtual cheering squad in The Clubhouse (our awesome online running club) but it was so hard to keep tabs on who had come through and who had not.
I can’t remember what time the sweeper truck came through, but it never feels nice…every year it brings with it a weird kind of sadness. I know the reasons they are there and I wrote a post about this a few years back Are Marathon Cut off Times Necessary? but in this heat, it felt like more and more runners who would have been ahead of it at this point any other year, were not…and you could visibly see the impact it had on morale.
We stayed though…we persevered.
We had all the space in the world now to come onto the street and offer the support that so many runners still needed, and then with the sun still beaming in the sky we started to pull down our cheering station too.
I headed off to the pub with an old uni friend for a couple of diet cokes and a chin wag to await the opening of the roads. It felt a little odd to be sitting relaxing while my women were still slogging it out…but I was exhausted and emotional and I would soon have to go and pick my daughter up.
We had done all we could do really. Plus I knew the virtual cheering station would be coming into their own now, tracking where each woman was and updating the rest of the group…offering support if the women themselves posted their progress in the group.
When I got home later that evening at 8.30ish and put Rose to bed, I looked forward to sitting down with my phone and being greeted with all these smiling faces with medals and sunburn and tales of missing toenails…and I did indeed find all of that…and loads more besides.
What I didn’t expect was for one of my ladies to still be out on the course.
A wonderful lady called Nikki, who I had managed to miss at the cheer station was still completing her 26.2 mile challenge.
Nikki is one of our runners from our Sport England funded project in Barking & Dagenham, she also started running through my 5 weeks to 5K programme…this woman epitomises what my community is all about.
- No judgment
- The setting of Big Fat Stupid Goals
- Supporting one another even if they have never met
- Being the best versions of ourselves
I literally sat there glued to my phone for 90 minutes as we supported her across the finish line…egging her on with words of encouragement and our best wishes…if Rose wasn’t tucked up in bed I would have gone up to the Mall to see her across the line…it was so bloody emotional.
Nikki crossed the start line in Greenwich at 10.40am and proceeded to cross the finish line at 21.35pm a full 10 hours and 55 minutes later.
This woman is my bloody hero.
A woman who in the worst marathon running conditions persevered and even after she could no longer run any more just kept moving towards her goal…long after the crowds had gone home, the finish gantry had been brought down, in the dark…to receive her medal and the glory of knowing she had run a marathon.
But do you know what really saddens me?
But actually doesn’t even shock me any more?
To hear that in Canary Wharf around the 15 mile mark she was abused by a bunch of men who shouted,
“You still ain’t finished ya fat bitch?”
Like who does that? Who abuses someone who is minding her own business undertaking the challenge of her life?
And sadly this was not an isolated case yesterday, as another one of our runners reported back…
Overall I loved the marathon just a shame they dismantled the course the further I got on and the t@@t who shouted at me “run fatty this is why your last” (screw him I’ve run the marathon you haven’t).
And let me tell you if you are reading this blog and agreeing in any kind of way that these women do not belong in this race, you are just as bad as those idiots shouting out. There is no law that says runner must be a certain size or speed, we have as much right to be there as everyone else.
And it doesn’t stop even after you have finished. This morning…
Wow, just had my “what took you so long?!” comment for taking 7h26m to complete the marathon. I’m sure she didn’t mean to upset me but she has. Now I feel embarrassed at my time and not proud of it. Why do people insist on taking the shine off?
Nobody gets to take anything away from the women who achieved such an incredible thing yesterday. They spent months training and getting themselves mentally prepared.
Nobody has the right to do that.
I wanted to use this post to celebrate what was an incredible day, with some incredible achievements and I hope it does do that, but I also wanted to use this opportunity to highlight the discrimination which still exists in the sport that we love.
There is room for us all.
Can’t we just be nicer to each other?
Can we not agree that more needs to be done to make running for overweight women a safer activity.
I want to congratulate everyone who endured that heat yesterday, who supported each other on the course, who gave it their best shot….and I ask that anyone who ever questions someones finish time, or remarks that “you should be able to run a whole marathon” thinks for a moment that perhaps it isn’t just about the running. Perhaps it is something far more fundamental than that, that of human endeavour and challenging yourself to do something great.
So I do want to finish this long post off with some wonderful testimonies and results from the day, apologies that I haven’t included everyone, because for each of these stories I showcase there are more with equally inspiring tales to tell.
You are all heros.
Dorinda – “What an awesome day the London marathon was. I really struggled in the heat but the crowds were amazing and having the TFTR station at mile 10 kept me going. I love the photo of you Julie racing to give me that drink and the biggest hug. That prosecco my first drink in 4 months was the best I have ever tasted. I left you guys with a prosecco in my hand and a spring in my step. Thank you for all of your support and tracking me it made me proud to be part of this amazing community. I saw people of all shapes and sizes running and it was truly inspiring how no matter what people were giving it their all. I discovered a lot about myself yesterday that I have more grit and determination than I realise. I will never forget this day for the rest of my life ❤️🏅❤️”
Rachael completed the VLM in 7:22:42…in a full blown Rhino suit!!!
Katherina our resident power walker all the way from Germany, completed the marathon in 6.55.26 WALKING!!! She even stopped for a hug from me, as she missed out last year.
Adele has finished the Virgin London Marathon in 6:56:36
Susie finished London marathon in 5:31:11
Sue finished in 7.31.23, she spent a couple of minutes hugging me at mile 10 too which was lovely
Lucy finished in 6:48:31
Becky finished in 4.39.34
Beth finished in 6:59:07!
Julie – it was fab to see you on the cheer station today! The bottle of water was a life saver!
Jo finished in 6.56.36
Teresa in 5.56.30
Lou in an incredible 5.27.49 (in that heat!!!)
Katie finished in 6.16.11
and another Laura 7.49.50
Mo Farah may well have come 3rd, but our Mo did an outstanding job too finishing in 7.18.21
Apologies if I missed anyone off or didn’t get to share your epic tales and pictures.
You all did an amazing job.
Sorry, I know this has turned into a mammoth post…but I just have so much to say. A final thank you needs to go to a lovely one of my ladies called Adele who came to the cheer station and took photos. I didn’t know she would take photos and I can’t really remember her doing so…but what she did was capture some of the most tender moments that illustrate the love and understanding there is in my community.
These pictures summerise why I do what I do.
The power of having someone believe in you.
What it means to women to live their biggest life
This one in particular really chocked me up, I never get to see myself in this way, and when it was shared in our group the comments said much the same.
This image sums up much about the support you give Julie, and not just on days like today! I feel that look of care every time you give a piece of advice on social media. Thank You
I have had a really shitty few months and in some ways feel a bit let down by the running world, but how can I when I have love like I do from these women.
It has taken me far too long to realise my skills and superpowers which far exceed the stuff I do with fitness, and that I have a real ability to bring the best out of women and help them believe in themselves when sometimes they can’t see it yet, not only in helping women train for races, but in just taking the very first scary step.
Not only just in the running world but across all of the work I do as a coach.
Women in the last cohort of my Living a Bigger Life Programme for example in just 10 weeks have launched businesses, started to write books, taken up new hobbies, booked holidays of a life time, improved their relationships, stood up for themselves at work, made better choices, treated themselves, been more visible.
They took the first step…thats all, and then followed a process surrounded by folks who actually give a shit.
I do this work because it is important.
I do this work because I know how it feels to be in their shoes. I have felt like they have. I have been where they are and know how it feels to make a change, to grow, to become someone you never imagined you could be.
This is truly my life’s work and in June I will share with the world why, when I do a Tedx entitled “Living a Bigger Life”
Today the cart opens for the 3rd round of my powerful online life coaching programme and I look forward to welcoming 30 new women who are ready to take on a challenge and change their lives.
This isn’t about running marathons, or climbing mountains (unless that’s what you truly want to do) but it is about taking the first step towards doing something incredible, whatever form that takes.
But don’t take my word for it.
This course changed my life!
Don’t hesitate to commit to this, it is one of the best things I have ever done. I didn’t realise how much I wanted to change until I started… now I don’t want to stop changing.Be indulgent It’s the best money you will ever spend on yourself. Do it! You will not regret it! You will find clarity for yourself/dreams/goals along the way
If you are coming across The Fat Girls Guide to Running for the first time…welcome. We are an online fitness movement that supports women to thrive and survive in the world of running. With 3 marathons under my belt, an ultramarathon and hundreds of half marathons and 10Ks under my belt all run in a plus size body, you could say I know a thing or two about the world of running.
I have written books on this topic, appeared on national and international TV and run a range of online and in-person programmes for women, and I now work as an international motivational speaker and life coach.