Thursday 25 October 2012

Fat to Fit to Ironman

My weight chart from June 2008 to November 2012
I was never a skinny child, apart from a 2 week period around the age of 11 or so.  And though I managed to not get too overweight at university; finishing my undergraduate course (in 1995) at the same weight I started it at around 67kg; I started to slowly gain weight during my post graduate years.  I dabbled with losing weight during my undergraduate years when I got a little chubbier and that's the only real "diet" I had been on in my lifetime.
Probably around 2004 - at Clarecraft Discworld event

By 2006 I'd really gained quite a lot until one day I went to the doctor with a rotten cough, tiredness, an aching chest and feeling really rough, to be diagnosed as having a quite nasty chest infection.  And then the doctor put a sting in the tail, by saying "you're rather overweight aren't you?".  She plopped me on the scales and I was horrified to see it saying 94kg, then took my blood pressure and said I needed to be monitored as it was quite high.

That was May 8th 2006.  Packed off with a prescription for anti-biotics and an appointment for a follow-up blood pressure appointment in a month with the nurse, I left feeling shocked, depressed but also with a switch in my head flipped.  I didn't know it at the time, but this was a huge turning point in my life and instrumental in completely changing my life.  I was also in a very unhappy relationship at the time, which gave me an extra bit of ammunition which would help me on the way for the coming months.
2006 at my peak weight of 94kg
 The day after seeing the doctor, I decided to lose weight.  And I started by examining food packaging, working out calories for the day and trying to keep it under control on a day-to-day basis.  What was tricky to get info on was the values of raw ingredients rather than prepared foods, i.e. stuff like bananas, carrots, beef mince, lettuce, peppers etc. didn't have info on the packaging for me to use to work out what I was eating.  As I did (and still do) cook and prepare almost all of my food from raw ingredients rather than prepared food, this made things difficult and I increasingly found that the nutritional data I needed was available on one particular web site - Weight Loss Resources (WLR).  So after around a month of trying to lose weight (and succeeding, losing 7kg off the bat!), I decided to join the site as a member so I could make the task of counting calories, checking fruit and veg portions etc. a lot easier.

The handy thing about WLR is that it will do all of the difficult stuff for you - you input weight, height, rate of loss desired (and it won't let you specify more than 1kg a week) and it'll calculate your daily allowances for weight loss (or gain if that's what you need/want to be doing) and weight maintenance as well as having a massive database of foods, calculating the macro-nutrient splits, counting fruit and veg portions etc.  And as I stuck to my allowances religiously, week on week I lost 1kg a week like clockwork.

What also helped me be quite so focused on weight loss was that, although I didn't realise it at the time, I was very unhappy in the relationship I was in.  The process of weight loss gave me a level of control over a part of my life that was clearly missing elsewhere and, like people who self-harm by cutting themselves, I gained a sense of ownership over myself that I clearly needed.  Yes, I was mentally ready to lose weight when I did, but I also was desperate for an outlet for the feeling of having no control over my emotional well-being.

62kg the first time around
After 3 months, I hit my first weight target of "healthy BMI" (for me that was 72kg).  OK there were a few tantrums and tears along the way, but compared with a lot of people I had a pretty easy ride with no real plateaus.  But just skimming a healthy BMI, especially being very inactive (OK I walked a lot, but that's it), didn't mean I felt (or in my opinion) looked great.  So I set a new goal of 67kg which was right in the middle of the "healthy BMI" range and reached that a couple of months later.

Over the next year, my weight stayed pretty stable and then towards the end of 2007 it started to drop again.  Sadly, at that time my relationship was falling apart and despite having reached a weight I was happy with, it still kept going down.  By January of 2008, with my relationship over and having hit rock bottom emotionally, my weight bottomed out at just under 62kg.  I looked thin (to me) and not exactly happy, despite the face showing to the world.  What did make me happy was being able to go into a normal high street shop and buy clothes without being scared there would be nothing in the shop I could get into.  And I could buy clothes because I liked them and they looked good rather than them being simply big enough for me to get into them.

Shortly after that I met a man.  And we liked each other quite a bit.  He was loving, supportive and more than a little bit sporty - cycling lots and having done a triathlon once a few years ago.  So I bought a bike to cycle to his house to see him and there was sown the seed which would later grow into something really quite incredible.
Coast to coast (in Cornwall)

We cycled a bit together and after a while I got up the courage to cycle from London to Brighton with him; which filled me with a huge sense of achievement.  And we went on holiday and hired bikes together and cycled about having fun.
So, at that point I was cycling once or twice a week, doing about 10km each return trip but exercise really didn't feature on my mental radar as something I was that interested in.  Yet.

The lovely man (MrTOTKat) and I got married early in 2009.  And secretly, shortly after the wedding, I joined a gym to see about getting some strength back (having lost a lot of muscle when I lost all that weight).  A lot of ladies on the forums of WLR did weight training and the more I read and saw about it, the more I thought it was something I wanted to do.  So I did.  I discovered when we got back from honeymoon that the bathroom scales I'd been using were broken and I was, in fact, a good 5kg heavier than I thought!  So I had a bit of an effort to get that 5kg off over the following 6 months with the help of weight training as well as my new healthy eating lifestyle.
MrTOTKat and me on honeymoon
Happy with weight training and wanting to be able to eat with a bit less calorie restriction, I decided to start walking more.  Getting off the tube on the way home a stop early, then two stops, then three.  I wanted to go further but it was starting to make my commute longer than I was happy with, so I decided to try running.

My first parkrun (after my first 10K race)
Running hurt quite a bit.  So I found the Couch-2-5K (C25K) programme to follow and picked up at week 4 as I felt I could run a bit longer than the early weeks of the programme.  Running was horrible, but it meant I got home quicker and with the confidence that weight loss and my husband gave me, I felt fine about sitting on the tube in my running gear half way home before getting off to run the rest of the way.  3 months later, in October 2009, I ran my first 10K race - one of the Clapham Common 10K race series - smashed my 1 hour target, coming in at 00:57:37 (despite light stomach upset and naff all sleep the night before) and got my first sports medal of my adult life.
In 2010, after going skiing in January, not liking it much breaking my coccyx, I re-discovered swimming and signed up to do Swimathon - a 5km swim for charity in my local swimming pool.  Although it was mind-bendingly boring and I had a chest infection (again!) at the time, I managed it in under 2 hours.

I have no idea why, but I decided that I wanted to do a triathlon.  So, after having researched ones that were near us, involved a swim in a pool (I'd read enough horror stories about open water swims and how brutal they are), I signed up to do all four Thames Turbo Triathlon Club sprint triathlons in that year.  With a busted bum, I missed the first one, but cheered MrTOTKat on on that freezing cold Easter Monday morning and looked forward (sort of) to my first one on the next bank holiday Monday of the year.

Over the next year, we did the other sprints, and then a swim in the Thames - a first wetsuit swim for me.  Thoroughly enjoying the races, getting faster and learning at each one, we had a race signing up frenzy one drunken evening at the end of 2010.  All four Thames Turbos again, plus some of the British Triathlon Super Series, joined British Triathlon, then an Olympic distance race too - the Virgin London Triathlon.

British Olympic Ball Oct 2011
I got hit by a car while cycling to work one day in March 2011 and thereafter had an iffy knee which resulted in a number of DNFs at races.  The first was a shock, but I stopped about 1km into the run with shooting pains in my knee and stopping was the right thing to do.  It was useful to learn about DNFing as I had a good few of them over the next few months.

Working with a physio my knee got better - it turned out I just couldn't run properly and I learned to run with a mid-to-forefoot strike rather than the really quite harsh heel striking I'd been doing and that resulted in a 10km running race that I completed, then the Virgin London Triathlon (which really hurt), and the last Thames Turbo in the series.  Leaving me hungry for more races I entered the HSBC Olympic triathlon and had a horrible experience.  But by then I was already bitten by the idea that I wanted to do an Ironman.

I was looking and feeling fit, slim and confident and even having trouble with the corset I got married in being a bit too big now, though it didn't stop me from using it to glam up a night out at the British Olympic Ball!

The 2011 wall of medals and race bibs
Volunteering at a race is a great way to get a feel for it.  So, as suggested in one of the books on Ironman I'd read, I volunteered to crew at Ironman Wales.  The thinking behind Wales was that it's in the UK, so costs aren't too high, and I fear heat more than hills so Wales in September was a safe bet.  And the day we got back, we signed up for Ironman Wales in 2012, plus the UK 70.3 at Exmoor as a pre-amble earlier in the year.

From November of 2011 we were planning and training for UK 70.3 and IM Wales and everything was exciting and a bit scary, but not all that scary.  Even in March of 2012 I could visualise a 70.3 distance, maybe not with monster hills, but the distance itself didn't hold any real fear already.

 Then Mr TOTKat came across this...

"Dan James, Operations Director for IRONMAN UK, explains: “After launching the Ironman Ireland and Ironman Wales events last year some people started to talk about the ultimate test of completing our four races in one season. We thought this was incredibly hard but knew we had to recognise the achievement if someone could succeed in finishing all four in the same year.”
This is no easy feat as it will require an exceptional effort to complete over 420 miles of racing inside three months. A number of athletes, like Charlie, have already put their names forward for the challenge and Ironman have responded to the idea enthusiastically. The UK organising team have agreed to provide some extra reward for athletes who are attempting the extremely difficult task." 
My first reaction was "you're crazy!".  We've not even done a 70.3 yet, have no idea about recovery times or even how we'll cope with a 70.3, never mind a full distance.  Plus, the last two are two weeks apart!  So, I suggested that coachJoe (Mr TOTKat's coach) be consulted to see just how crazy it was. The response came back pretty much as "do it!" (with a bit more about the practical and sensible bits).  So I thought about it and...

There we were; signed up for 4x Ironman events in one year, in fact in a 13 week period:-

"As a result athletes embarking upon the ‘ultimate’ will receive special race numbers and a commemorative package including t-shirt, jacket and a unique medal as part of a special awards ceremony. A ‘Wall of Fame’ will also be created online to honour the success of those who can overcome the odds to finish all four races in the same season. "
Now I was excited.  It got to its logical conclusion; there was no more we could realistically do in 2012.  It was not going to be easy, but then it never was doing "just" the two.

As I trained, the weight dropped off even more without actually trying.  Even fuelling for the training effort and slap up meals after long sessions didn't seem to stop the downwards trend that you can see in my weight chart from November 2011 to June 2012.  

With the help of new coach Rich Jones, I had a great few races at UK 70.3 and IM UK...

IM 70.3 UK 2012
Ironman UK 2012
I was an IRONMAN!  But no time to stop and smell the roses as there were two more races to get through.

And then Ireland 70.3...

IM 70.3 Ireland 2012
And this is how it ended.  I had a bad bike crash at IM 70.3 Ireland, broke my collar bone, finished the race in a respectable time (an hour quicker than UK 70.3) and got patched up.

With less than 2 weeks to IM Wales there was no way I'd be able to swim or cycle at Wales, so that was the end of the challenge for me.  4 days before IM Wales I had a titanium plate put in to pull the two ends of my collar bone and the bits in the middle back together again and straight so it will heal properly for the future.

And at IM Wales I volunteered at the finish line and handed out all 4 race medals to my husband when he crossed the line.

MrTOTKat and his full set of Ultimate Challenge finishers medals in 2012
With a haul of medals in 2012 that anyone should be proud of, I was at peace with not finishing the Ultimate challenge.  Now, I'm looking forward to 2013 and a season of shorter races...

Stowe, Blenheim, UK 70.3, UK IM and Ireland 70.3 all in 2012
6 and a half years after I decided to drop a load of weight and I'm the fittest, healthiest, lightest, slimmest and happiest I've ever been in my adult life.  Oh and I'm an Ironman.

Shortly after the end of my 2012 season, I decided that an Ultra marathon might be interesting... so I did one in February 2013 and then ended up doing 5 in 12 months around the other races.

After Country to Capital

1 comment:

  1. Great story - its journeys like yours that are motivating me to get back off the couch and back into running!