As I was walking to work very recently it suddenly dawned on me that it was 5 years to the day that I first visited Sportlink Running & Fitness and bought my first proper pair of running shoes. It made me reflect how different my life is now compared to back then.
I first ventured into Sportlink prior to embarking on my maiden marathon journey (Paris April 2011) and whilst being ridiculous unhealthy I knew a decent pair of running shoes would be a good starting point. At the time I was still smoking 20 a day and drinking at least two bottles of wine a night so let’s just say that whilst I got round the 26.2 miles of the Paris streets, the outcome was not very pretty. However and most importantly my immediate thoughts were that I wanted to do better and The Running Bug had well and truly bitten me!
Going back to my junior years I was obsessed with sport, my evenings, weekends and school holidays were consumed with sport. I loved it, I loved competing and I loved the challenges sport presented. Through my early teenage years I was playing cricket at a national level and playing football with Norwich City. Although I never considered myself as a runner I was running cross county at county level and ran in two national schools championships. As I moved towards my later teenage years it became apparent that I would not fulfil my dream of playing professional cricket or football (I genuinely just assumed it would happen in one of the two sports) and my interest began to wane. I still played football and cricket at the highest local level, but my heart wasn't really in it and I had discovered a new passion called smoking and drinking. By my early twenties I had stopped all sport and was working even harder on my twenty a day habit. My alcohol consumption was consistently in excess of 150 units a week as well. This continued right through my twenties and in truth increased as I moved into my thirties.
Just to add to the car crash I had developed an eating disorder (anorexia) which in reality went back to my mid twenties resulting in a loss of over one third of my body weight. Standing at 6 foot 3 and weighing 9.5 stone wasn't a particularly healthy position to be in and was a frequent visitor to A&E due to regularly collapsing. I was so weak I couldn't support my own body weight! After 2-3 years of starvation I received some great support from the NHS and moved slowly towards a more normal body weight and an improved relationship with food (it will never be normal again but by applying certain strategies things can at least appear reasonably normal).
As a mechanism to cope with the mental scars of an eating disorder I really hit the booze hard and I am ashamed to say that it wasn't just alcohol I consumed as a means of 'escapism and was also using controlled substances at what could be considered as that of substantial and frequent consumption. This lasted for a good five years and needless to say my health was in a terrible state. Drinking in the morning was a fairly regular occurrence and use of other substances had pretty much slipped out of control. I genuinely couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without gasping for air and having to stop at the top to catch my breath. Thankfully a turning point did occur when my employer at the time said he was organising a charity 5k and a work colleague mocked me for not being able to run 100 metres let alone 5k. Just what I needed and the challenge had been laid down! I dug out a pair of old trainers and went for my first training run. It lasted 400 metres before I threw up and had to walk home feeling very unwell and out of breath. I consoled myself with a beer and a cigarette. The second run did actually last nearly a mile before I had to cling on to a lamp post on the verge of collapse. I carried on having the odd run here and there and was confident of being able to complete the 5k and whilst things did get a little better, I never made the start line. After a rather excessive day that went through the night meant I was going to bed when the 5k was starting.
Having to face my boss and of course mocking work colleague really was not good. However, it did give me a good kick and things started to turn around a little bit for which I done my best to focus on the fact that I used to be a competitive sportsman who thrived on physical challenges. Slowly, very slowly, I ran more and consumed less. I kept in my head the embarrassment of missing the 5k charity run and even closer to home the words of my sister when spending time in New York whilst at the height of my excessive ways which just happened to be when the New York Marathon was on. I commented that I used to love watching the London marathon as a kid and that one day I would like to run one. My sister laughed so hard she nearly fell off her seat, it was an absurd statement. She told me that I didn't have the self discipline to run a marathon.
As previously mentioned the Paris marathon was not a pretty affair and I was disappointed with my time but I completed it. To celebrate I smoked 20 cigarettes and drank copious amounts of alcohol. I woke up the next day with a sense of needing to do better, I knew I could do better, there just had to be more focus and discipline. I haven't had a cigarette since.
I went back to Sportlink and bought my next pair of 'marathon' trainers. A few strong words of encouragement from the staff and I was off preparing for Amsterdam in October 2011. This proved to be a marked improvement on the Paris effort and I felt very encouraged and satisfied that I was now achieving something positive. Training had given me a new meaning to life and whilst not fully recovered the consumption of alcohol had seriously eased.
Being a competitive individual I wanted to continue to improve and by focusing on training hard all aspects of my life improved and four years after that first marathon in Paris I achieved the London marathon championship entry time by running a sub 2:45 marathon. I am very aware that there are many many runners who are far better than I will ever be, but thinking back to where I was 5 years ago I feel satisfied inside to know that personal progress has been made. Life is a funny old thing, but it is precious and sometimes when you think that you are right at the bottom, it is still possible to turn things around with a little bit of focus, hard work and honesty to those around you and just as importantly yourself. Never ever give up on yourself and if my story helps inspire just one person then I am glad that I have shared these very personal thoughts of mine here on the Sportlink website.
I would also like to thank Neil and his team for all the help and advice over those past 5 years and of course friends and family who have helped me along the way and never ever forgetting those immortal words of my sister when in New York. I now smile every time I enter a marathon thanks to her. Onwards and upwards as they say!!
*The above has taken me a long time to put down in words, but after a conversation with Neil in respect of him telling me that lots of highly motivated and driven people have had personal issues and setbacks to deal with in their lives hence why they are so driven made me realise that I am not the only one and perhaps I shouldn’t shut away all my personal problems of the past especially if it helps others. Yes I still beat myself up at times about my past failings and I am sure my thirst for hard training goes someway to trying to make up for lost time. However if it is the training and running which now helps mitigate what I suppose was in the past self destructive tendencies, then at least it has given me a purpose in life and of course the benefits from being healthy, happy and contented through sport once again.