I love running. Now, I’m not a born runner and I’m a big girl so when I made the decision to start running back in January this year, I knew that I’d be up against a very special set of circumstances in order to succeed. Six months on, I regularly run 4k and I’m well on my way to being ready for the 5k race I’m training for in October.
How have I got this far? Well, before I started running, I did some rummaging around on the internet for information about what I would encounter as a plus size runner and I found some excellent sources of information (check out The Fat Girl’s Guide to Running and The Running Bug). But there’s nothing like personal experience to help climb the steep learning curve, so if you’re thinking about taking up the sport or you’ve just started, these are my top ten tips for the fat bird running:
- Download Couch to 5K from the NHS website. Realistically, it should be called ‘Couch to running for 30 minutes’ because I don’t know anyone who has gone from zero to 5K in nine weeks (but plenty who have gone from zero to hero). Listen to a few of the podcasts, familiarise yourself with how it works and know that it’s all about starting out your way, at your own pace, in your own time. I’m a big girl and I did it from beginning to end without missing a week and it’s started a running habit for life. It’s a flexible programme that gets you walking and running in intervals, slowly building your stamina until you can run for thirty minutes. It is doable and if you struggle at any stage, the option is always there to re-try a week until you feel comfortable enough to move on.
- Defeat any niggles about your heart or joints by having a chat with your doctor if you’re really concerned. I don’t know a GP in the country who would consider this kind of discussion a waste of time, especially with current concerns with obesity and the NHS. A personal fitness trainer friend of mine suggested running on grass or mud in order to reduce stress on my joints – which is what I often do (and it means I get to run in the countryside, always a happy thing).
Buy a really good pair of running shoes – shop around on the net, try a few on and if you can stretch to it, go to a local running shop and get fitted. Supporting your feet, ankles and other joints is imperative if you’re carrying a few extra pounds with you along the track.
- Get some comfortable running gear. Sainsbury’s Tu do a range of great running clothes off the peg up to a size 22. If you’re over a size 18 don’t even bother with Sports Direct – it’s just disheartening. J.D. Williams also do running gear up to a size 32 if you’re happy to order off the internet.
- Worry about the jiggly bits. Get a really good running bra and be prepared to spend a little on this because it is really worth it. Mine came from Marks and Spencer and I really feel as though I’m well strapped in when I’m running. It does give a bit of an uni-boob effect but believe me, when you’re half way through a 30 minute run, it really doesn’t matter.
- Don’t worry about the jiggly bits. If I wobble here or there, or if I feel I’m showing a bit more bum or belly than I would normally be happy with I think of how hard my healthy heart is pumping to keep me moving. Besides, I’m lapping everyone sitting on a sofa or in a car seat.
- Be prepared for it to be more than a little bit addictive. I twitch if I haven’t run for a while, I’ve heard my trainers singing to me from the hallway on more than one occasion and sometimes, I choose to swap my Saturday lie in for a blast in the early morning sun. It has to be said that while the slog is sometimes hard work, the buzz afterwards is more than worth it.
- Be prepared to be hungry – and respectfully answer the need. I’m carb sensitive, so I find that loading up with bread, pasta or sugar after a run quickly sweeps away the happy feeling but those kinds of foods work for some people – we’re all different. What’s important is that you feed your body good things because it is a good, healthy, strong body. Reward it, don’t deny it and whilst honouring your body with good quality nourishment is the kind thing to do, remember that the occasional doughnut won’t do any damage (but hating yourself afterwards will).
- Be prepared to be slow and steady. I can’t run fast, I’m carrying too much weight – I often see lean runners bounding past and I’m not bothered, I just wonder how much bounding they’d do if they had several stone in weight strapped to their body. I eat healthy and build strength in order to run – losing weight is not my focus, it’s just a happy by-product.
- Running really is an inclusive sport. Slogging along the riverpath where I usually run, I often meet fellow runners – often girls with ponytails in pairs lithely bouncing along in pretty sports gear or solo, muscly chaps complete with water bottle and strong legs. Far from feeling intimidated, I always get an acknowledging smile for my effort and very often a fist pump too. Watching the runners finishing the recent Polesden 10k race in Surrey was an eye opener – coming over the line were the faces of exalted pensioners, ladies with more than ample bosoms and in fact every kind of person you could imagine – old, young, slim, heavy, tall, short – they’d all taken on the challenge of the Surrey hills and won. All individuals with the same goal – putting one foot in front of the other until the finishing line.
And so, when I went for a medical appointment yesterday and the nurse had recorded my weight, she was genuinely pleased to hear about my running habit. This makes a happy change from being hassled about my weight which I have never enjoyed or found very helpful.
There is so much negativity around weight when in reality, heavy bodies can be strong bodies. They can be beautiful, healthy and worthy bodies. In a culture obsessed with the fat someone is carrying, it is easy to forget the possibility that a healthy heart and lungs can lie within. So while the debate about whether or not it is possible to be fat but fit rattles on, I know I’d rather be breathing in and out in the sunshine rather than crying into a pot of processed, low-fat goo.
In my mind, the movement of the needle on the scales is not as important as the movement of my feet along gravel paths; over hot, summer grass at the park or to some cheesy tunes alongside the river.
But that’s just my opinion.
Is there anything I haven’t thought of – what are your tips? And have you just started running or are about to? How do you feel? I’d love to know.
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