Category Archives: My History

Series of posts about my history, why and how I started running.

Do you remember your first run?

I started reminiscing about my first run on my way to work the other day.

Obviously the first time I ran was as a small child… But after a decade with no exercise from my teens to my twenties, my first run as an adult was naturally tough.

Not my first run
Not my first run, but the first time I’d let myself get photographed doing it. Now I’m a vain photo whore.

The decision to start running wasn’t one that I made overnight. After dieting for years and my weight plateauing, I knew I’d need to do some exercise if I wanted to shift any more.

I’d tried the gym a couple of times with no success, and my fried Jules mentioned to me that a few years ago she did this “couch to 5k” thing. Intrigued, I asked about it, and she said she downloaded these podcasts by Robert Ullrey. My addiction to running is almost entirely his fault.

Its basically your standard couch to 5k program, but in mp3 form. This was before the days of apps, and a step up from the “stopwatch” route. It was cheesy american dance music with him telling you when to start and stop running.

I ran in a pair of Umbro football shorts with boxers underneath, a cotton tee shirt, cotton sports socks, and my budget MP3 player and cheap earphones in my pocket.

Not a piece of technical kit or GPS in sight.

I had to run in the dark as I was so self conscious about the way I looked and we ran up and down the Ninesprings cycle path – which to this day remains one of my “bread and butter” routes. Traffic free and flat.

That first run saw 60 seconds of “running”, 90 seconds of walking, and repeated 8 times. After every minute of running I was immeasurably grateful of the walk break, and by the end of the session I felt exhausted – but looking forward to the next one.

Looking back on it I began thinking to myself – I barely covered a mile in 20 minutes for that first run, and now I can run 3 in the same amount of time.

And that makes me so proud.

Not that I’m now 3 times faster than when I started – that’s just a consequence. I’m proud that I started at all.

And when I’m in that last 10k at the Manchester Marathon this year, when the chips are down and I’m blowing hard, wondering how the hell I’m going to finish, when I’m on the edge of collapse as I chase that elusive PB that will feel like the end of the world if I miss it – I’ll remember how I felt towards the end of that first minute of running, on that first run of the couch to 5k program.

The satisfaction of finishing will be just the same – because that’s what running is all about. Not the distance, not the time… just running because you can.

Do you remember your first run?

What’s in a (blog) name?

So I came up with a new name for my blog.

The old name, whilst descriptive of my (ongoing) journey from couch potato to skinny fry, didn’t exactly roll off the tongue!

I’m proud of my journey but I’m just as proud to put my bigger days behind me and focus more on the present.

My name is Matt, I’m a runner, and I write about my running, and soon, running in general.

Welcome to ‘Running Matters’.

(See what I did there?)

I’ve spent a little money on a domain so I can have a little more creative freedom, and I’ve revamped the look and feel.

Hope whatever readers I have like it!

My BBC Experience

Last year (before I’d started this blog) I responded to a post on the Runners World Forum from a BBC Radio Five Live producer looking for runners to interview and take part in an on-air discussion abut running. I emailed him, not really expecting much back.

To my surprise, he did email, and called me! He asked various questions and he thought I would be a good guest to have on.

So a week later I drove to the local BBC radio studios in Taunton. Radio is much smaller than I thought! I had to sit in a broom cupboard at a desk with a microphone, and one of the technicians dialled me into the main 5 live studios. In my headset, I could hear the Victoria Derbyshire show discussing the current affairs of the day. Every now and then, a producer would talk in my ear over the show asking how I was, checking I had time and explaining when I’d be on.

It was all quite surreal. It was a bit like a conference call but with perfect clarity – we could have been sat next to each other.

Unfortunately the show over-ran so our segment was cut short, but I said a few sentences on live radio which was quite fun and spoke to some other newbie runners.

As a part of the experience they also wrote an article about us, which should be on the BBC website forever. My claim to fame, and probably the only time I’ll be in the media for running!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25263401

A Brief History of Mine (Part Four)

After Cuba I was much less lazy than I was after Florida. I knew I needed to get right back into it, or lose my new found fitness forever. Running was becoming more serious for me, and I was actually doing research! I read (And continue to read) articles all the time, I got involved on the Runners World forums and I got a proper training plan.

Jamie wanted to run another Half Marathon, and we chose Cardiff as the missus and I both studied there. We had recently graduated from the two universities (She from the more prestigious of the two, admittedly – but mine was a Masters. And Masters trumps Bachelors!). I took the food aspect more seriously than ever and was tracking my calories religiously. We trained together most of the time, though I’m sure she’d be the first to admit that I was more committed than her. I think i missed only 5 sessions from that 12 week training plan.

The actual day itself was fantastic. Cardiff is an amazing city with some great sights. The weather was warm but not too hot. The atmosphere was electric. I was down to 16st, so not QUITE where I had hoped, but an improvement nonetheless. My target was sub-2, and I only went and got it.

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I was already looking for the next challenge. I had entered the ballot for the London Marathon, but didn’t get in. But was a marathon really possible for me?

There was only really one way to find out.

I looked around to find the right one. it needed to be a big one -I needed crowd support. It needed to be flat – I couldn’t face 26.2 miles INCLUDING hills! Then I came across Paris.

Paris was perfect! Flat, great sights, great city, and I could justify the expense by taking the missus on a romantic weekend! It was the perfect choice. I booked it, the flights and the hotel as soon as I could. I was committed. It was ideal, as I knew the marathon would be easier the more weight I lost. I read somewhere that a 1lb weight loss roughly equates to 2s per mile speed increase.

I found a training plan, 16 weeks long. I tracked it back from the race date and it meant I’d have to start training mid-december. I needed something to keep me focussed in the meantime and signed up for the Weston Christmas Cracker. I spent October to December training for it. Unfortunately my weight loss plans didn’t really work, and my ambitious sub-50min target was missed by just over a minute. But it was still a PB by 7 minutes, so I couldn’t complain!

If you are still reading, you may have noticed that it’s become less about the weight loss and more about the running. An observation which was not lost on me. I was using weight loss as a tactic to run faster.

Historically I was obsessed with weights and body image. Since I’ve been running, the obsession has changed to race times and PBs.

For me, now, weight loss is a way to get faster. Yes I still obsess over my weight a bit, but its less about meeting those targets. And I’m much less concerned about my body image, though it is something that will never go away completely.

Running has transformed my life.

Fad diets don’t work. Exercise alone doesn’t work. It’s only through a balance of healthy eating and exercise that my weight has been able to be controlled. Since december, and the end of these series of posts, my weight has descended gradually and in a controlled manner. When I’ve had bad weeks, it hasn’t ballooned out of control because the next week or two brings it back.

You can’t do it in extremes. You have to do it carefully and slowly. Coming back and writing about it has re-clarified this for me and hopefully it will help some others too. Don’t make my mistakes.

A Brief History of Mine (Part Three)

So there I was, Christmas 2012 at 18st 8lbs.

The usual hideous feeling set in about being overweight with a negative body image. I decided that I needed to do something drastic. I knew that I could run a bit. I knew I needed something to focus on and give me some motivation. So i signed up for the local Yeovil Half Marathon. My family were hugely impressed, but I remain convinced that none of them thought I’d actually do it.

Being quite naive, I went abut putting together some sort of training plan. I figured during the week I’d run shorter distances, 3 times a week. Starting out at 3 miles, then each week increase the weekly mileage by about a mile. Then at the weekend I knew I’d need to do a longer run, and increase it a mile at a time until I got to 12 miles.

It wasn’t such a bad plan in the end for a beginner. The training was tough, but as the winter went on and spring came around the corner the training got more comfortable as the distances got longer. Credit to my frind Jamie who ran with me for most of the training – without here, It would have been so much more difficult! But come race day, I felt ready. I hadn’t lost much weight, only a few pounds, but I hoped for the best.

The morning of the race I felt very nervous. And cold. it was the bitterest day, only a few degrees above freezing. I remember being on the start, shivering, looking around me at all these runners thinking “I shouldn’t be here”. I felt completely out of place. I had a target in my mind of running it in 2h 15 minutes. Headphones were banned, So I didn’t have my app telling me my pace, and it was my pre-garmin days so i had to rely on a trusty stopwatch and the mile markers.

The adrenaline kicked in as the race started and I hit the first mile quicker than I should have done. Then I started seeing some of my supporters. My mum and Step Dad were at about mile 1 and just what I needed. The miles came and went and I was ahead of pace. I was worried I couldn’t keep it up. But I kept pushing through. I had a tactic – pick someone in front of me and try and catch them. And it worked! I overtook more people than overtook me. In the last mile I overtook someone I went to school with, which felt pretty special. And with about 400 yards to go, Huish Park, the finishing line was in sight. I picked up the pace a bit, but didn’t have much left. The crowd were fantastic, and I saw my Dad and Step Mum cheering me on. I crossed the line in 2h07m27s.

The satisfaction and pride rushed through my body. I saw my family and friends who had supported me so much through the journey, and my at the time girlfriend hugged me. And I cried. It felt brilliant and I wanted more.

Here are some photos from the event.

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I decided these would be my last fat photos. I honestly did not think i looked that bad. In my head I was floating like a butterfly for all 13.1 miles!

2013 became a big year. After completing that half marathon, I entered some more races. Like the Bridgwater 10k. My first 10k, 60m48s.

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You can’t tell much from the photos, but I’d shifted a bit of weight. I decided if I was going to run, I needed to really knuckle down. This was about 4 weeks after the Yeovil Half. A month later again, I ran the Bristol 10k. I was on my own so don’t have a photo, but I had lost about a stone for it and ran it in 56.07 – 4 minutes off in a month.

In the summer we went to Cuba. I shifted some more weight through running and eating healthily. Tracking calories through myfitnesspal another stone went and pre-Cuba I was just over 16st. But again, Holiday’s are my downfall. it was all inclusive and I got my money’s worth! Heres a photo from early in the holiday and later in the holiday. You can see the visible paunch.

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So the plan was working. Run, eat healthily. Run more, eat healthily. But my lack of self control always seems to win, and after Cuba I was back to about 17st 5lbs. But there was another Half Marathon coming up, and another big turning point for me.

A Brief History of Mine (Part Two)

So it’s 2009. Ish. Like I said in the previous post, I was drinking a lot and it was all a bit of a blur. And my friend Jules had been with me through thick and thin. Recognising I was in a vicious dieting cycle, she correctly pointed out that I’d done all of this without a hint of exercise.

She may have been onto something!

She said that a few years back she had found these things called Couch to 5k podcasts. I now know that Couch to 5k is a very popular training program for getting people running. But at the time I thought that Robert Ullrey was a genius. Regardless of if he invented it or not, he changed my life. Thank you Robert.

So Couch to 5k is basically a program where you run and walk for fixed time periods. It starts out with only 1 minute running intervals and gradually works its way up over 10 weeks to get you running for 30 minutes. It could have been done with a stopwatch, but the podcasts told you when to run, when to walk, and also gave you some great motivational advice – all over the background music of some cheesy american dance music. Jules and I followed the program religiously, and we kept running for about a year. Eventually Jules lost interest with the running, and doing it by myself got pretty hard.

Food wise I was on a self prescribed diet of Jacket Potato and Beans. I had that probably 4 times a week. The other 4 times a week I’d have a minced based dish. Jules used to take the piss that I was on a mince diet! But as a single person wanting to control his portions I found the easiest way to do it was to bulk cook food, freeze off in portions and heat up as and when needed. So I used to spend every few weeks cooking huge pots of Chilli, Bolognese and Curry, and portion it off into the plethora of take away containers I’d kept from my really fat days. I’d rarely even eat breakfast or lunch. Stupid I know but in my head I wanted fast results, and I’ve never been one for patience.

The system really seemed to work for a while. I was about 7lbs away from target – the closest I’d ever been! Without Jules’ running motivation i thought it was high time I joined a Gym to shift the last bit of weight. And I have to say, it was the biggest mistake of my life.

I went from running 3-4 times a week to gymming 3 times a week, following a prescribed program. I don’t think it’s their fault, but the programs (There were several) were never able to get me to lose the weight I wanted. Despite me saying I wanted to lose weight, they were too excited to get me toning and on weight benches. I figured I was burning more calories, and ate more.

After 3 months at the gym I put on a stone. And no, it was most certainly not lean muscle mass.

Around this time I was playing a bit of five a side football on a sunday, and I ended up hurting my knee. I only went back to the gym a handful of times, and that was to use the treadmill when it was too nasty outside.

Of course being injured I could do no exercise at all and my weight fluctuated a reasonable amount, but I was generally heavier than I was lighter. As my knee got better I wanted to strengthen it, and thought I’d try the running thing again. Another 3 months of running helped me shift some weight. And guess what happened.

Confidence. Girls. Comfort. Food. (Though to be fair to this girl, this time, I am going to marry her – exactly a year today!)

But I had learned my lesson (So i thought) and kept running. My weight maintained a reasonable level. I was due to go on holiday for my mum’s wedding in July 2012, so in the 4-5 months leading up to that I made a concerted effort to shift some timber and get some sort of holiday body. I discovered myfitnesspal and through calorie counting and running I got to around 10 pounds from target again.

I should note here, when I say “running” i use the term quite literally. It wasn’t anything I took seriously. I put on some gear and ran. No science to it at all aside from the LogYourRun app I used to see how far and fast I was going. I got to running 6 miles in about 55 minutes which I was quite pleased with.

So there I was, 10 pounds from target, on a family holiday in Florida for my mum’s wedding. Given I still had no self control, I went wild. All you can eat, big breakfasts, massive steaks. I put on a stone and a bit on that holiday. And over the next 5 months, with only a couple of short runs and not paying attention to what I was eating, I was back to a weight I didn’t want to be at. In fact, it was 18st 8lbs. Almost 4 stone from target. And only 3 stone lighter than my heaviest. It was Christmas 2012, and something had to change.

 

A Brief History of Mine (Part One)

I guess this is where I tell my story.

It all started around 12 years ago. I was 20 years old, and I was and still am a bit of a thrillseeker. I love a good roller coaster, thrill ride, you name it I wanted to try it. Alton Towers had recently opened “air” – a new type of rollercoaster which gave you the sensation that you were flying. I’d been eagerly anticipating the opening of this ride ever since it was announced, and shortly after it opened I drove up with 3 friends.

After queuing up to go on the ride for almost two hours, it was finally time to get on the ride. I squeezed myself in, pulled down the harness… and it didn’t close. An attendant came along and tried to push down on the bar, and it still wouldn’t close. I was too fat for the ride. Humilated, I got off the ride while my space was filled by someone else. I was utterly dejected for the whole day and when I get home I told my mum. And I cried. And cried. And cried.

Truth be told, I’d never realised how big I had gotten. I knew I was a 42 inch waist (And they were tight). I was never a hit with the ladies anyway but wasn’t quite sure why, and I don’t really ever looking in a mirror aside from doing my hair.

It was a horrible day, a horrible night. I haven’t thought about it too much in the 12 years that have passed, and writing about it now, emotionally, i can still really feel that same feeling I felt.

I knew it couldn’t go on, and I knew something had to change. I looked in the mirror and was disgusted with myself. I didn’t know it at the time, but that mirror was responsible for the good and the bad of any weight loss journey. Good, that it inspired me to want to lose weight. But it was also the start of a rather unhealthy body image issue which I still haven’t quite got to grips with. But thats a story for another day.

The next day, my mum and I signed up for Weight Watchers. It felt so embarrassing. I was one of only a few men there, and the only others were in there 40s. But it was an important first step. That first weigh in broke the ice, and the thought of having to weight myself with all these other people provided good motivation to stick with the plan. And it gave me that important starting point which I still to this day refer to as my starting weight.

21st 13lbs

It meant nothing to me. Apparently it meant I had a BMI of 36.9, but I didn’t realise the gravity of the task ahead until the meeting leader explained that the top end of my target weight was 14st 10lbs for a BMI of 25. That meant losing over 7 stones in weight.

Gulp.

I stuck with Weight Watchers for about a year, and it worked. The weight started falling off, very quickly at first – I lost half a stone in the first week. It felt great, and I was really seeing the results with the numbers falling week by week. In total with weight watchers I lost about 5 stone in that year.

An increase in confidence through this period meant, eventually I got a girlfriend. Delighted, I stopped going to the meetings as romance played its course. I got a bit comfortable and ended up putting back on over a stone. Eventually, we broke up which caused me to put more weight on.

Looking back now, I can see that the diet alone wasn’t enough to teach me about making healthy choices or permanent life changes. You’d think I’d learn from my mistakes. Well you’d be wrong!

I went back to the diet to shift the weight. Between 2006 and 2007 I managed to get close to that elusive goal weight (Which, as I write this I should add, I am still 3lbs away) and was a mere 10lbs from that target. Feeling awesome that I was so close, I was confident and ended up with another girlfriend. Yep. I put the weight back on. This time about a stone. Then we broke up. And guess what, more weight! Another stone!

Something wasn’t working. I was depressed, in a rut, felt bad about my weight and the way I looked. I was drinking a lot and went through a 2-3 year period of drinking 3-4 times a week. Shocking I know, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world as I made some great friends that helped me through an incredibly tough time. Believe it or not, even with the drinking I managed to shed a lot of the weight – To about a stone from target. And this was because one of those friends, who I drank heavily with on a near daily basis, introduced me to something that would change my life.

It was called Couch to 5k….