Inspire Someone – A Response

On Sunday a fellow #Run1000Miler Paul Newey posted an entry on his blog titled ‘Inspire Someone’. It begins with two pictures of fat people running and the line: ‘What do you think when you see this?’ Well I think the best response in the group was Gary’s: ‘I see two runners competing in a race’ which is what I would have said. Mostly the responses to Paul’s blog were positive, agreeing with him that fat runners are inspirational and it’s so hard for us because were carrying all the weight….blabla. There were a couple of negative comments about how this was just another personal trainer trying to flog his business (don’t think it was) or how it was using fat people or whatever. I tuned out as I scrolled. One comment stuck with me though ‘If I was big and someone used my pic like that I’d want to die of embarrassment’. Oh my. So if someone used an image of me without my permission I’d be pissed off. If someone used it to be offensive, take the piss or whatever I might be a bit upset (depends on my mood on the day, I may just be fucking furious) but embarrassed? Nope. The comment suggested that the person posting it would be embarrassed IF THEY WERE BIG. I sort of wish I had a bikini pic of me I could plaster all over with all the wobbly bits in all their glory – but I don’t. I don’t own a bikini. Don’t get me wrong, I have my insecurities, I’m not a huge fan of my flabby wobbly bits, I get self conscious but embarrassed? Fuck no.

Anyway I digress. So I read most of the comments before I read the blog itself and I wanted to love it and be firmly on Paul’s side. I wanted him to have got the message right. I read the blog. I read it again. And then I posted this:

Hi Paul. First of all thank you. I’m a fat runner. I appreciate the support and the sentiment behind the post. I really do. I really really do. I know how hard it can be – for a long time I preferred to run in the dark when nobody could see me, I’ve been laughed at and commented on – not often but enough. But there is something slightly patronising about your blog. I know that you don’t mean that and it might really just be me and my insecurities. Maybe it’s the them and us – you know the fatties over there compared to the rest of us… I don’t know. Can I think about this a bit more and then maybe do a response to your blog on mine? I don’t want you to change it, I want to love it but there’s just something niggling me. Second issue – the photos – just because they’re on google doesn’t mean the people in them gave permission so this is something you might want to think about. if you do decide to swap them you are more than welcome to a picture of fat me running.

So, I don’t love the blog post. It’s been on my mind and I think I’m getting closer to being able to articulate why. So here are my thoughts

  1. I think Paul is genuine. I think the blog post is well intentioned and genuine and I think Paul is really trying to be supportive and lovely and caring and I think he really does see the hard work, mentally and physically, that these runners put in as inspirational. The blog comes from a good place, the right place.
  2. Mostly I like the blog
  3. There is something slightly patronising about it though – the tone is a bit them v us. Us is the ‘normal’ folk, the runners. Them is the fat runners, the not normal. He says:

To go out running when you have this shape takes much more mental strength than physical fitness. You’re not only fighting a battle against your own body but also against your own mind, more so than the rest of us in my opinion

Hm, well does it take more mental strength than physical fitness? This is loaded with assumptions. Fat does not necessarily equal unfit. I’ve always been fat but not always unfit. I’m not as fit as I’d like to be now but I know plenty of thin (or are we calling them normal?) people who are less fit. There are also assumptions about what goes on mentally. Yep I used to be a bit (ok ok A LOT) self conscious and I liked the cover of darkness but not anymore. I no longer care who sees me in my running kit. Wobbly bits will wobble – that’s life. And I really really don’t think we’re fighting against our own bodies. I mean really? Ok so granted, my body doesn’t always make this running thing easy but I’m not fighting it. I actually think it’s quite amazing really. I do fight my mind – daily. But that’s not because I’m fat, it’s just because I’m a fruit loop. So I think the thing with the paragraph is that it assumes that fat people struggle more than ‘normal’ people and I don’t think that’s right for either fatties or non fatties. I think running can just be bloody hard. I think sometimes the battle is physical and sometimes (mostly?) it’s mental. If the #Run1000Miles group has taught me anything it is that runners are not really so different from each other – tall, short, fat, thin. It’s kinda the same battles and where the emphasis falls is far more about where we are in our running journeys than about whether we’re fat or not.

4. Paul refers to the comments and and abuse fat runners face. Yep. Been there. But I’ve also been lucky. It’s been minor. The idea that a running club for obese people had to close down because of it is heartbreaking. People are cruel sometimes and I want to say thank you to Paul for calling out that cruelty and for adding his voice to the opposite message.

5. ‘These ladies and gents need to be encouraged’. Hm. Do we? Or rather: Do we need to be encouraged more than any other runner out there? I don’t think we do. Surely all runners like a bit of support and encouragement. Actually those who do need encouraging are those not yet out putting one foot in front of the other. And this is why actually Paul’s blog is important (thought possibly unlikely to be read by those it could benefit most). Fatties stuck on the sofa need to know that for every abuse shouting twat out there, there are 50 (at least) supportive, encouraging, friendly faces excitedly waiting to hear about their journeys, ready to be proud of them and their achievements. I can say all of that – but I’m also fat so that leaves room for doubt – normal people might not be so encouraging. Well Paul, sorry to label you normal but thanks for adding your voice.

6. Through the blog post and the comments on it in the group there is also an implicit and almost hidden assumption that fat people run because they want to get thin (normal!). Actually in my experience that’s mostly not true – particularly with fat people who have been running a little while. I think I probably started running to shift pounds – that hasn’t been my ‘why’ for a long time and it’s not the ‘why’ for many fat runners I know.

7. Something that was said in comments (Gary again I believe): ‘sometimes people just want recognition as a runner not because of their size’. I think Gary is my new hero. A while back my osteopath told me I was quite flexible for my age. I felt like punching him. I’m actually probably quite flexible for someone 10 years younger too so sod off. There’s the same thing with running sometimes and there are undertones of this in the blog – a sort of ‘aren’t they doing well for fatties’.  This is coupled with a slightly irritating ‘oh my god they’re so amazing’ attitude and ‘I couldn’t do it if I was that size’.  You don’t know that, you’re not this size, you’re just saying that because it sounds like the sort of thing you should say (Paul – I’m being unfair here I know).  Sorry but sometimes being told that you’re ‘brave’, ‘inspirational’, ‘courageous’, ‘strong’ is really exhausting (sometimes it’s also uplifting and amazing – sort of depends on the context). No I’m not. I’m just a fat person who runs. I’m delighted if by me being out there doing my wobbly thing others can take something from that which helps them go chase their dreams (or let’s face it – just get off the sofa). I’m not inspirational because I’m fat. If I am at all it’s because of my story in the same way that every runner is because of their story. We all have our whys and we all have our demons and we all run… So yes, inspire someone and hell yes keep running ladies, gents and unciorns but don’t make exercise of any kind about size, don’t assume fat means it’s harder, don’t assume thin means easier. I’m with Gary, I see two runners. The rest is kinda irrelevant.

BTW – I’ve been ignoring my Sunday weigh-ins – because quite frankly, they’re irrelevant!

 

The Clubhouse

I started this post last weekend but then got busy with other stuff so I thought I’d finish it today. I wasn’t running that day. I was sitting in the summer house trying to get some work things finished and learning how to cope with my new MacBook Air. Facebook tells me that lots of ladies from the Clubhouse were running races that day and that others were battling the warm weather on their training runs. So the Clubhouse. I thought I’d tell you about it and about the Too Fat to Run  (TFTR) Community/Group/Whatever you want to call it in more detail than I have before.

I am probably about the last person you might expect to join a running club. I am also about the last person you’d expect to join an online group of any kind and I am probably also one of the least likely women to like the idea of joining a women only group. Let’s face it, we can be bitchy and competitive and dramatic and mostly I really can’t be bothered with that shit. I’m also not the most sympathetic and I get irritated by other people’s dramas quite easily. I also don’t really care what other people think most of the time so it is difficult to see what I might get out of such groups or what I might contribute. The Clubhouse is an online, women only running club – so exactly what I would usually roll my eyes at and what I certainly wouldn’t pay to join, except that I did.

So how did the Clubhouse and my engagement with TFTR turn out to be so amazingly positive? Back in November when I felt totally lost and I was struggling to get off the sofa, Facebook showed me a suggested page for Countdown to Christmas run by Julie Creffield who is behind TFTR. It was fairly cheap and I thought it might give me a positive focus through December and it did.Daily challenges kept me doing something and it was fun to interact with people and laugh about our attempts at some of the challenges and celebrate our successes in others. It felt like being part of something at a time when I wasn’t really sure where I was going with anything. I read about the Clubhouse and I wondered whether it might be fun. I signed up on a whim really. I’m glad I did but I still find it really hard to articulate why.

The Clubhouse is a pretty simple premise – you pay a monthly fee (or pay all in one go for the year as I did) and get access to a closed online Facebook group in which Julie provides a sort of coaching thing which is also hard to capture in words. There are monthly themes (May =retreat) with challenges set to go with it, there are opportunities to ask questions – generally of course but also at specified points each week, there’s a discount on merchandise and the other things Julie does, there’s a closed section of the website with resources – running plans etc. You do actually get a lot for your money including tips on running and fitness from Julie which are specific to you. The Facebook group is the most valuable. I interact with someone on there daily. Ok, I hear you, I could do that on the open Too Fat to Run page too but it’s not the same. For a start the main page is public, the group is private and the page has too many followers to create the feel of a supportive group and network – it’s too anonymous (eventhough it is public – I know what I mean!). Ok, I could set up a closed group and invite all my running friends to join that – oh wait I don’t have many running friends… I have some friends who run but it is not running that has brought us together as friends and somehow there are things about running – particularly running as the fatty that I am that I’m not sure I want to share with people I actually know in other ways – not in a personal sort of closed facebook group kind of way (yes, weird given that I will happily blog about it all).

So the Clubhouse works for me because I am not a sociable runner and therefore don’t talk running with a group of likeminded runners on a regular basis – an actual running club fills me with dread (although I will go one day just to try a session, it’s good to be a little scared, right?!?) but I do have this slightly odd need to share my running stories, fears, disasters and successes with people who ‘get it’. The Clubhouse brings together a group of women who get it. The ‘it’ is slightly different for all of us I think. We are all at different stages of our running lives and our lives generally, we have different views on everything, including running and health and fitness but so far, surprisingly for a group of women, I have found it to be supportive, encouraging and totally non-judgmental. I like hearing the stories as much as I like sharing mine. The funny thing is, I’m not sure I would in ‘real’ life. Online is good. Others in the Clubhouse do meet up and make more of an effort to meet up at races etc, I’m not sure that’s what I need from the Clubhouse, what I need is instant unquestioning support right there when I need it and for that it works (don’t ask for much do I ?!?)

There are other things about the Too Fat to Run community I really like – there’s a blog, monthly virtual One Big Fat Run – a 5k run on the last Sunday of the month. You can even buy a medal in the shop if you run for the bling (more on that another time!). I like my Too Fat to Run t-shirts because whenever I wear them I get brilliant people watching opportunities  – people don’t quite know how to react when they see me walking or running along with ‘Too Fat to Run?’ in big letters across my front and I wish I’d had something like the 5 weeks to 5k programme when I started out because it is so much better than the programmes I tried to get through and work with. And if you like having a nosey at what other people are doing there is always the Runner of the Month feature (I’m January and blogged about that here).

It might not be for everyone and maybe it won’t be for me in the long term, who knows, things change but for now I really value the support I get from a whole bunch of women I’ve never met (save for a few who I have met briefly before and even more briefly during the London Marathon). If you want to begin to get a sense of what it’s all about have a look at the main Too Fat to Run Facebook Page.

Happy Running

 

50 Days

So it’s 50 days to the London Marathon. Wow. So in 50 days I am going to put myself through the emotional rollercoaster that is running a marathon. Hm. So why am I doing this again? Well, I’m beginning to realise just how big a deal it is. Two marathons in relatively quick succession is hard – emotionally rather than physically. But I won the place and I am committed to it. Julie Creffield of Too Fat to Run teamed up with the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund to put a team together for the London Marathon. If I’m honest the Memorial Fund is probably not a charity I would have picked or even paid much attention to in the past. However, I have spent a fair amount of time looking at what they do and the more I read the more impressed I am and the more proud to be running for them this year. Ultimately they are about helping people achieve their dreams – I’m all for that and the focus of grants is on practical stuff – equipment, travel… It’s an obivous and down to earth sort of approach and I like that. It’s straight forward. The focus is on helping young athletes make the transition from junior to senior level and this also makes a lot of sense to me. So many promising young people never achieve their potential and the fund tries to ensure that young athletes have all the support they need to make the step up to senior level.

I have a couple of fundraising bits and pieces planned but I’d really appreciate your help to raise as much money as possible to help the next generation of athletes make it to the top. Help them be the ones we cheer on at future olympics, help them be the role models of the future, help them translate their hard work into success at the top level and in doing so inspire the next generation. Or just sponsor me for me. I’ll be honest. I’m struggling. More so now than before the Dopey challenge I am worried about whether I can do this. I am terrified of failing and not making it. I am also much more self conscious about this and more worried about what people think. It’s the London Marathon for goodness’ sake. I am craving the recongition and the belief in me that seeing that sponsorship trickle in brings with it. A little pathetic I know but that’s how I feel and I am so scared of letting people down. I know it’s a big ask because so many of you just recently sponsored me very generously indeed but if you can please help me focus and work hard over these next 50 days and show your support. You can donate via my fundraising page here.

Thank you

 

 

The Fat Girls’ Guide to Running Runner of the Month

Hm, so I’m The Fat Girls’ Guide to Running‘s Runner of the Month. I am absolutely chuffed to bits that someone in the Clubhouse nominated me and that everyone seemed to agree that I should be it. Chuffed to bits but bemused… so let me explain. Oh and just a warning – I have got a hideous cold, I haven’t been out running, I should have been going to a party to celebrate one of the most loveliest and most supportive people I know and I’m not because of this cold and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and emotional and have been thinking too much.

I mentioned that before Christmas I decided to sign up for the Countdown to Christmas challenge run by Julie Creffield – the woman behind the too fat to run brand who runs the Fat Girls’ Guide to Running community and its virtual running club called the Clubhouse. I thought a challenge that had me doing something health and fitness related every day in December would give me something positive to focus on while I was off work sick and trying to get my head screwed on right. Well I loved the Countdown to Christmas – and I was surprised that I did. I am not a hugely sociable person. I roll my eyes at online clubs and communities and I wasn’t expecting to really like the people. I was there for the challenges… Anyway, the people on that countdown were just lovely and many already belonged to the Clubhouse – so I signed up.

What I got from the Clubhouse was immediate and unconditional support. Support from women who know what it is like to put your running gear on and then sit on the sofa and cry because you caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror; women who have the same fears, anxieties and questions. I instantly felt that I could share that we were not only attempting the marathon but the Dopey Challenge – not something I had wanted to share with anyone else. I had been a member for less than a month – just a couple of weeks in fact when we did Dopey and the Clubhouse community made it less scary. I posted updates and comments about how I was feeling before and after every race and I drew a huge amount of energy from the supportive messages that came back. Not something I would have thought was possible before I joined. The group even tracked me on marathon day posting updates to keep the group informed. It’s hard to explain what that means to me – you know the me that was always always picked last at sports because nobody really wanted the crap fat kid on the team – suddenly there is a whole group of people who are right behind you, believe you can do it and desperately want you to succeed.

So the Clubhouse is currently the best £10 per month I spend on my health and wellbeing but I am totally bemused by the Runner of the Month thing. The intro calls me incredible and speaks of determination and grit, amazing and awesome are other words used. Words I struggle to link to me or me running Dopey. Yes I ran Dopey, I really did, and I go look at the medal every now and again to check I didn’t dream it – but I just did what I did. I’m not special, I don’t warrant all this… when I think about this my brain just refuses to acknowledge that Dopey is a big deal. But it is. 48.6 miles in 4 days a year after not being able to run at all is a massive deal and I would be so so proud of anyone who did that. In fact I am so proud of Kath who took every single step with me, so proud of each and every one of my fellow 2016 Dopeys, so proud of the lovely Jacqui who ran the last third of the half marathon with us and yet I am somehow not really proud of myself. You see I’m just me and I’m not an awesome, amazing incredible woman with grit and determination, I’m just me. And maybe that’s the point that’s important here.

You see, if  little (ok large) average me can complete the Dopey Challenge then you can too – whoever you are and whatever you think you can and can’t do right now. So I’m trying to welcome the limelight and attention from being Runner of the Month but I’d like to think of it like this: What I did was awesome, what I did was amazing and incredible, what all of us Dopeys did over those 4 days three weeks ago was a fucking huge deal BUT and you better be paying attention to this – BUT I am no different to you. I have the same self-doubt, the same anxieties, the same ‘I can’t do this’ days and the same ‘fuck it I’ll have a glass of wine and another chocolate’ attitude. You see, if you see me as some sort of superwoman you are giving yourself permission to not try, to keep sitting on the sofa, to not change – if you recognise me for what I really am, just another overweight woman giving it a go, then we can go on this rollercoaster of a running journey together just putting one foot in front of the other as fast or slow as we want for as long as we want and that is fucking awesome.

New Year, Same You – Review

A couple of days ago I finished reading New Year, Same You by Julie Creffield and I thought it was worth reviewing/ sharing my thoughts here! Now, I don’t do self-help type books really. Years ago I picked up the ‘You are What you Eat’ crap and that just made me feel miserable and then – as some of you will remember I picked up ‘Run Fat Bitch Run’ a while back and that didn’t go too well. Actually I am still angry about the existence of that book. So why did I pick up this one? Well I joined the Too Fat to Run Countdown to Christmas challenge – essentially a Facebook Group with daily challenges that are health and fitness related and fun. I thought it would be me something productive to do with my time while off work and give me a bit of something positive to focus on. It’s been great. Julie runs it and mentioned her new book. I read the blurb and thought that just maybe this is something a bit different, something more positive, something that I can identify with a bit more – and I was right.

Right from the intro I ‘got’ this book. I ‘get’ Julie’s story and I identify with lots of it. I found myself chuckling at her stories about keeping a journal and the benefits of writing or blogging to aid self-reflection. I was nodding enthusiastically at the idea that New Year’s resolutions don’t work. Of course they don’t. It is obvious if you think about it for a second. I liked the way Julie very clearly (and for some perhaps brutally) points out that if we keep giving ourselves permission to put things off, we will keep putting them off. Now I am the queen of ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’, ‘I’ll start again Monday’ and ‘Next term will be better’ and it hasn’t done me any favours at all, the change in thinking that Julie suggests is positive and powerful – but of course anything but easy – but maybe not as hard as I think – or maybe much much harder. We’ll see.

There was one section where Julie talks about yo-yo dieting where I was thinking – nah, I’m nothing like you. I’ve never been on a diet in my life – I just don’t do diets. I can’t do them. I know I don’t stick to them. If you tell me I can’t have something I want it, simple. But thinking about it, I am of course exactly like Julie and all the other millions of us who have complicated relationships with food. I agree that simply saying ‘move more and eat less’ isn’t the answer to most of our weight issues and not being told what to eat or not to eat was refreshing. There’s a section about food in the book but it’s not a section about what to eat. It’s far more honest than any diet book I’ve ever flicked through. Anyway, the book isn’t about losing weight so I don’t want to go on about the food stuff… I liked the fact that Julie acknowledges that our relationship with food is complicated and that a relatively simple thing, like starting to think of yourself as an athlete can change how we think about what we put in our bodies. I struggle with thinking of myself as an athlete. I’m a now size 16 (yay me!), nearly 37 year old woman who – as the blog title suggests – isn’t really a runner. BUT as someone who (doesn’t really) run(s) I have noticed changes in what I crave and what I want to eat. There is still and always will be a lot of chocolate and sausages and yorkshire puddings but I am now much more aware and eating a bar of chocolate or entire packet of biscuits without really noticing hasn’t happened in a very long time.

There’s a section early in the book which made me smile – I have always told my students to follow their dreams as long as they were big dreams; to hang on to those dreams and to work towards them every single day. I haven’t always followed my own advice there but that’s another story. Anyway, Julie doesn’t believe in SMART goals which is a relief because I always thought that was management speak bollocks too. Julie believes in STUPID goals. How brilliant is that. Everyone needs a really really stupid goal in life. It has to be Silly, Talked about on Facebook etc, Unrealistic, Posted late at night/after a glass of wine or two, Idiotic and an ‘in my Dreams’ kind of a thing. Well I did that with the marathon coming up – I’m now pondering my next STUPID goal. What could possibly be more idiotic and unrealistic and therefore more exciting than me running a marathon… We’ll see.

So the book is about being happier and healthier and an important chapter in the books is about how we often feel about ourselves. Whether we really actually love ourselves and how we perpetuate the over critical examination of women’s bodies all the time. I liked this. I find the ‘OMG have you seen how much weight she’s put on…’ and the ‘we’ll she’s let herself go…’ as irritating and unhelpful as the constant ‘oh look you’re fat and therefore must be stupid, lazy, undisciplined…’ or the ‘no wonder she can’t find a boyfriend’ or ‘well if she wasn’t so fat she wouldn’t be a lesbian would she, cos she’d get a bloke’ kind of rhetoric that is everywhere. I don’t look in the mirror often. I learned long ago that my looks are not a particularly useful asset to me. My brain is. However there have been times when I have looked at photos and cringed. Just recently my perception of what I see when I look in the mirror is changing and I think it is that change that Julie is getting at. I saw my reflection in a window the other day. I was super conscious of my backside after a longish run and about 100 squats the day before and before my brain could stop itself I’d thought ‘ now that’s a fabulous arse’. Then I laughed. The book helps to focus our minds on the things we really liked about ourselves and to accept the things we don’t like.

Essentially the book is about finding balance – balance between Food/Fitness/Fun and Recovery/Rest/Relaxation – so basically balance in life. Now that sounds easy but it isn’t because what we need in all of these areas changes all the time and means that we have to keep re-evaluating and reflecting on this – which brings me back to where I started – the keeping of a journal or blogging or whatever tool it is you use to help you make sense of life and just reflect on what you need for you. Task one of about 50 in the book is to buy a notebook to use as a journal – I did and I started scribbling immediately and maybe I am a step closer to my next STUPID goal. I might not do all the tasks but I will do some.

The book won’t take you long to read but it could make a difference to the rest of your life – sounds dramatic, sounds fanciful but for this book it might just be true. Even if you are, right at this moment, the happiest you have ever ever ever been, I bet there are still changes in your life you’d like to make to ensure that happiness is something permanent in your life. Well just do it. Get away from the ‘on diet – off diet’ or ‘on exercise regime – off exercise regime’ sort of thinking and focus on you, focus on now. Think about who you want to be and then decide to be that person NOW, not tomorrow, not on the 1st January, NOW. Set your STUPID goal and then do something every day to take you closer to it. Most importantly though – make friends with yourself. You’re the only you you’ve got and you’re awesome. Read the book, it’s helping me think more positively and it just might help you too.