I’ve always been motivated by a personal challenge. During a period of unemployment, I took it upon myself to memorise all the countries in the world and all the capital cities. Every day I practised the names for 20 minutes until, one day, I did it. It was a great personal victory. It didn’t mean anything to anyone else and, admittedly, it didn’t mean much to me materially either, but during a time in my life lacking in personal achievement, it gave me a little buzz.
Unemployment didn’t last long, and since I had achieved my goal, neither did my ability to remember all the world’s capital cities. What did change though was my relationship status. After six years I suddenly found myself single, with ample spare time and little need to take anyone else’s plans into consideration. After initially filling a large portion of this time with socialising, drinking and yet more socialising, I rather abruptly decided that I needed a new challenge. Enter triathlons.
I can pinpoint the exact moment this decision arrived and it was during one of my aforementioned drinking and socialising evenings. I found myself sitting next to a guy who, although I didn’t know it at the time, lived and breathed Ironman triathlons – think World Championships in Kona on a yearly basis. He spoke about his training and his prep and I sat there thinking, ‘If you can do it, why can’t I?’ (how naive) So I started training. A lot. I ran three times a week, I did resistance training once a week, I cycled twice a week and I swam three times a week.
It was hard work. I loved it and hated it at the same time. I loved and hated pushing myself to my limits, I loved and hated being so engrossed in the sport, and I loved and hated the variety. I loved finishing a good run, but I hated starting it. I loved the feeling of getting physically fitter, but I hated feeling wiped out after my long 16 mile Sunday runs. I loved buying the kit and wearing it, but I hated how much it – and the events – cost. In one year, I entered one super sprint and one sprint distance triathlon – loved them both – but decided enough was enough. Events were expensive and hard to get to, and a complete mission without a car. Added to that was the fact I preferred running to cycling and swimming, so I turned my attention to that, and with 12 weeks to go, signed up to the Manchester Marathon.
I loved and hated pushing myself to my limits, I loved and hated being so engrossed in the sport, and I loved and hated the variety
As with triathlon, I had a fairly strong love/hate relationship with running. I loved it when I was comfortably into the run – after the first 10 minutes – and a good tune came on my playlist. I loved entering races and beating my PBs, and I loved researching training methods. What I didn’t love was the actual training, being in pain and feeling irrationally emotional when I finished. Essentially, I fell out of love with running. If running was a boyfriend, we got too serious too quickly. I felt drained. My runs came out of requirement rather than enjoyment. I got faster and fitter, but my legs ached, I had to force myself out of the door, and I struggled with nutrition.
I ran the Manchester Marathon in April 2016, carrying a bladder infection, antibiotics and a running belt full of squashed Jelly Babies, singing ‘Crazy Crazy Nights’ by Kiss and relishing the lyric ‘these are my people, and this is my crowd’. Cringe-worthy, I know. I almost cried at mile 25 when someone held up a banner saying ‘You all look beautiful’ (I definitely didn’t, as race photos attest), and I stumbled over the line in 3 hours 53 minutes, thankful that I would still be allowed to talk to my mate who’d text me on the start line saying ‘if you don’t finish in less than 4 hours, I’ll never speak to you again’. I had done it.
Sadly, however, as capital cities fade from memory, so too did the joy of running. Two years on from the marathon, I have now run a grand total of three 10km races and a handful of shorter runs with friends. The love affair, for now, is over. My bike currently sits accusingly in my hallway. I can’t bear to give it up, because I know the second I do I will suddenly feel the need to do the RideLondon, but right now, it’s having a break.
I, however, have entered a new stage of my exercise life. As my passion for running waned, the time I spent in the gym slowly increased, initially, because I needed a way to maintain at least some semblance of fitness, then because it was where my S.O spent a lot of his time, and finally because I started enjoying it. Where before I had trained to help my other sports, now I trained because I loved getting stronger and I loved the way I could shape my body in the process. It’s hard sometimes to admit that something is purely about aesthetics, but that, essentially, is what bodybuilding is about. It’s about being an expert in building, shaping and moulding your own body with exercise and nutrition – and it fascinates me. It’s not as simple as lifting heavy weights a few times a week. This new passion slowly grew. I qualified as a personal trainer and launched a website, in the hope that the things I had learnt would maybe benefit someone else.
This brings us up to the present, and what you are reading now.
I know I am a fickle person when it comes to activities – my father’s disappointment in my decision to quit the clarinet 15 years ago is still a point of contention for us (he mentions it, on average, three times a year) – but I also know that I have been weight training for a year now and the time I spend in the gym hasn’t decreased. It anything, it has increased. I don’t have a goal, which is strange for me. I sometimes think that I might enter a competition, but then I question why: the sparkly bikinis are appealing, but I have little grace and have never liked posing. So, for the time being, my goal is to continue to improve: work on my weak areas (hamstrings and calves) and improve by strong areas (back and arms) and try to show as many women as possible that they too can shape what they have, and it isn’t as hard as they think. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it takes commitment. But if you want it, all you have to do is work for it and your body will listen and respond. I know it will probably be a while until I’m happy with my hamstrings. But I’m prepared for that and happy to give it my time. Until then, I’ll keep reading, keep researching and keep making tweaks to my plan.
I honestly couldn’t tell you how long this passion will last, but right now I love learning, I love training, and I love feeling strong. It isn’t every day you find something to be passionate about. So my advice, if you do find something, is to embrace it!
If you’d like any details of my training plan, or have any questions at all, please do comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.