I’ve always liked the idea of love at first sight. But, whilst I’m a romantic at heart, in reality I believe that true love starts with an initial attraction; a spark, which can turn into a roaring fire if it’s given the right encouragement.
My love of running is true love. It’s up there as one of the greatest loves of my life. But, this relationship was definitely not love at first sight and, in fact, it took me nearly 35 years to even find that initial spark.
I was a registered asthmatic as a child – bad enough to need a nebuliser at home. But despite that, I remember running – racing my sisters to get to the swings first, playing tag with my friends during break-time at school and running down the fields with our mad Springer Spaniel, Susie. Running felt natural and fun. But, as I approached the end of my time at Primary School, I suddenly became very aware that I was the slowest runner.
By age 10 at school cross country competitions I expected to come last and started every race knowing I wouldn’t enjoy a single moment. Once I got to secondary school I would do anything to get out of PE – forget my kit, forge notes from my Mum, tell the male PE teacher I had ‘women’s troubles’… you name it, I did it. I wasn’t sporty, I was picked last for everything and sports day just felt like an annual humiliation.
I was overweight throughout my teens and by the time I was 21 I was wearing a size 20 and loathed any sort of exercise. I battled my weight for years, there isn’t a diet that I haven’t tried – and, because I’m a determined person, I usually had some success, often losing several stone in weight. But, none of those diets educated me about energy balance and inevitably, once I stopped ‘doing’ the diet, I regained the weight I’d lost – and usually a bit more.
The photo on the left was taken in September 2015. I weighed about 18.5 stone and just climbing the stairs left me out of breath. That day I tried to play badminton on the lawn with my family – and was hit by the realisation that my 85 year old Grandma was more fit and able than me.
I knew I had to make a change. Initially I rejoined Slimming World and had good results – I still wasn’t exercising but I was losing weight. If I’m honest, I never really followed the Slimming World plan – as a stay at home Mum with a young baby I liked the social element of the weekly group and I needed the accountability of a weekly weigh in, but I lost the weight following a ‘diet’ of my own – and the more I read about nutrition the more interested I became.
By April 2016 I had lost over 4 stone and a good friend of mine asked me if I’d like to go for a run with her. Initially I laughed, I couldn’t run! To this day I’m still not sure what prompted her to invite me that day – but my goodness, that invitation changed my life.
We set off. It’s no exaggeration when I say I could barely run 200 metres. It was a struggle from the moment I started to run, I couldn’t breathe, my legs felt like lead and I had a stitch within seconds.
But, something happened that day. For the first time since I was little, I felt a little spark – there was something about running that I liked… and I started to wonder if I could grow to love it.
I’m stubborn. And I wanted to run. So the next day, on my own, I put my 10 year old trainers back on and I went out again. And I made myself run a little bit further before I gave in and walked. And I kept doing it. Day after day. My friend encouraged me and came with me as often as she could. Having her with me inspired me to keep going and I remember so clearly the day I ran 5k without stopping… that feeling of pride and elation was worth all the weeks of effort and I was hooked – running and I just got serious.
I set little goals – a sub 30 minute 5k… to increase the distance half the kilometre at a time until I could run 10k without walking. Each time I achieved one of my goals, that little fire in me burned a bit brighter and, once I started entering local events and experienced first hand how amazing the running community is, I knew it was true love.
Running has changed my life – it’s made me physically and mentally stronger and I’m achieving things that I never even imagined possible.
I’m Laura. And I’m a runner.