Guest Blog: My Journey

April 30, 2018


I have always been the big guy. It never really bothered me, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself.  I was sporty at school, playing rugby to a decent level. I was one of the few rugby players in a school of footballers and loved the term when rugby came around.  I played cricket in the summer, gold, squash and would give anything a go. 


My major issues started when I started work.  I had a sedentary job and carried on my teenage eating pattern well into my twenties. Unsurprisingly, the weight piled on. At my heaviest I tipped the scales the wrong side of 24 stones, 24 stone 3 pounds to be precise.  I haven’t got the common story of wanting to run around with my kids, or my family telling me I must lose weight – I have a wonderful family, a loving wife and two daughters, who love me no matter what.  I enjoyed photography, but that was probably a good excuse to be behind the camera rather than in front of it.  There are very few photos of me from my late twenties through to when I turned forty, and the ones there are don’t make particularly happy viewing.



I still don’t know exactly what inspired me to get myself sorted – looking back, I honestly think it was a mid-life crisis – but for whatever reason I found motivation in April 2016 to try and make improvements. I plucked up the courage to join my local gym, but found those early days hard going, only managing some light jogging for 30 seconds before having to walk again. I know now how unfit I was. Five minutes on the rowing machine had to be split into three sections because that was all I could cope with, but I built up gradually.  Walking was also important too and through the summer of 2016 I gradually built up the distances I went for. 


I decided to try some light running in the Winter of 2016.  I downloaded the couch to 5k program but couldn’t keep up with more than the second week.  It’s a great app but moves on a bit fast for those trying to lose significant weight at the same time.  My preferred ‘run’ time was any time it was dark, so nobody would see me attempting to run. I even used to run in my wellies whilst walking the dog, so if anyone did happen to come the other way I could pretend I was just out walking the dog. It makes me smile when I think about me then, trying to run in a winter coat and wellies, I must have looked a right idiot!



I put on a stone and a half over Christmas and New Year 2016, as that little voice inside told me I’d earned a holiday and could eat what I wanted for a couple of weeks – a couple of weeks that lasted from mid-December through to the end of January 2017!  By then I was tipping the scales around the 18 stone mark.  I found the Man versus Fat web site, which is a great resource for any men out there with a lot of weight to lose and thoroughly recommended.  I joined their groups and lost weight steadily throughout the summer of 2017, albeit a little slowly, as I still had and still do have a few food demons I’m trying to conquer.  In October, a ‘run every day’ challenge was posted and, as my gym sessions were going better by that point, I decided to give it a go.  I have never even considered running, but surprisingly I enjoyed it. 


A small group on the site carried that on into RED November and RED December.  After a few weeks talking myself out of it, I plucked up the courage to go to my local Park Run, plodding round in 37:04. I couldn’t run the whole thing so mixed up a bit of jogging with a few walking stints.  My second run was even slower, at 37:32, and I began to wonder if I was really cut out for this. Three weeks of PBs followed, culminating, on November 18th with me completing the route in 35:17, but more importantly I did it without walking for the first time ever.  My biggest regret from my journey so far is that I didn’t have the courage to go to Park Run sooner. It’s an amazing institution, which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone, regardless of their standard.



Around that time, I also discovered my local ‘Jog Derbyshire’ group, based three miles from where I live.  It took me a month to send the initial email as I pictured a group full of fast, slick runners, who would leave me behind in a sea of embarrassment as I huffed and puffed along.  Again, fears were unfounded, as when I went to the group, they were unbelievably supportive of all standards of runner and some of the chat spurred me on to keep going.


I kept going through last winter.  Whereas the previous year I wouldn’t have ventured out in wet/cold/windy weather, I bought myself some decent winter running gear and carried on.  My motto was ‘a slow run is better than no run’ as I plodded the local pavements, still being a little self-conscious and preferring running in the hours of dark in case I was spotted by someone I knew!



I emerged from the winter months feeling pretty good and over 11 stones lighter than when I started my journey. I was no longer worried about running in the light and perceive other people to be thinking ‘there’s a jogger’ rather than ‘look at that fat bloke trying to run’. As with most of these things though, those perceptions most likely only exist in my head as most people are just getting on with their own lives as I trot by.


Over the last few months, I have joined a second local running group. With their encouragement I entered the Derby 10k on April 15th which was my first ever ‘proper’ race.  I absolutely loved it.  My previous best for a 10k training run was 75 minutes, so I said before the race that I would be delighted with 70 minutes. I felt good on the day, enjoyed the crowds, ran with my head up and got home in 63 minutes, which I was ecstatic about!  A few times during this run I thought about the last few years and the journey I’d been on and actually welled up a little, before pulling myself back together. I felt like shedding a tear at the end but stopped short…just.


So where am I now?  I am happy with the weight I’ve lost to currently sit just below 13 stones, although I am also aware that’s still on the heavy side for a runner and I could do with getting rid of another stone.  On a bit of a whim, I made my second entry to a race the Manchester Half Marathon in October 2018.  I figured that is a god target to allow me to advance my training over the summer. I have a 10k race entered for once a month between now and then to build up, although I have since entered another half marathon in August as my training has been going well. 


My Park Run PB is now 32:11, but I have been neglecting my attendance on Saturday mornings in recent weeks in favour of one of my running group’s 10k+ Saturday morning meets. I figure that I am never going to become a speedster as I head towards my late-forties but am starting to enjoy the distances much more than trying for pace.  I discovered the amazing running community on Twitter in recent months and have taken inspiration from so many of the stories I’ve read.  I feel like a genuine member of this community now, although I am in awe of some of the feats that now appear on my Twitter feed.


To finish off, in breaking news, I took advantage of the early-bird offer last night and entered the Manchester Marathon in April 2019.  Might live to regret this, but there’s only one way to find but and we all need goals to aim for, don’t we?


Twitter: @IllsleyJames

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