In April 2014, I walked into Anytime Fitness Adelaide City and did my first run on the treadmill… naked.
Last year I was at a gathering when the topic of running came up. I mentioned that I recently did a marathon in Switzerland. A wave a disbelief came over the conversation and then even more so when I mentioned that I’ve completed many ultra marathons. Of course that famous line was said, ‘I don’t mean to offend you’ followed by some bullshit about how they didn’t expect someone my size to have done that blah blah blah you slim prick. I don’t think he would be a good advocate for the running community.
When my running journey began, I weighed 308lbs/142kg. At that stage Instagram wasn’t a big platform and I never knew of any runners my size. In fact I didn’t really know any runners except some people at work and those random super fit people you would always see running so gracefully. So for the billionth time, I joined a gym. In April 2014 I walked into Anytime Fitness Adelaide City and did my first run on the treadmill… naked. Well in my mind I must have been naked because I thought everyone was staring and laughing at me the whole time. However the reality is that I wore clothes and no one even noticed me. We have this perception that people will stare at you in gym if you are overweight, however this actually isn’t the case. It was only as time went on and my treadmill running continued that I realised this. I found my gym to be very support, however my friendship circle certainly wasn’t.
When I told my friends that I had started running, many just laughed at me. Instead of being the token fat guy in the group, I was now the token fat guy who claimed to be a runner. Oh fuck my life. in 2014 running was a sport that societal views were that it was something only the slim people of the world did. I’d argue this is still the case (I’ll explain why later). But as Forrest Gump would say, I just kept on running. I entered a couple of local 5k events which at the time felt like marathons. I was beyond scared to talk to other runners so I kept to myself. Something that stood out straight away was that there were other runners out there just like me. I remember crossing the finish line of my second 5k race and a random runner even said ‘I tried catching you but you were just too fast!’. Well hello to you my new favourite person! It was soon after this that I joined Instagram and seemed to have found people who understood how I was feeling as a chubs runner.
While I enjoyed the running events, I found it extremely difficult to venture outside of my comfort zone and run solo along the streets. It’s kind of due to my shark theory. I can’t swim at a beach by myself because if a shark sees me, then clearly it will eat me. However if I’m with someone else, there’s a 50/50 chance that it will eat me. And that theory actually makes me comfortable swimming at the beach! So if I’m running solo, clearly now everyone is going to be looking at ME and only me! While I had built up my confidence on the treadmill, it was that naked moment all over again. I’m yet to find a new runner who hasn’t gone through that and even some of my running friends still feel that way. So how do you get through it? Not ‘get over it’, but get through it.
- Run during times when no one would be around – I would run early morning or late after work. It made it easier in the summer months. This would help break that anxiety of people staring at me because no one was around. The only people I usually saw during these times were other runners who were also very nice
- Select a route away from foot traffic – Choose a park or secluded route away from the main roads. Go to the Parkrun website and type in your suburb. This will bring up the actual 5km route in your area. This will be away from all of the cars and usually on a paved path. You don’t need to attend Parkrun on a Saturday to do this route
- Create a ‘feel good’ playlist – Put the head phones in a focus on the tunes. Music for me helps to zone out from all that’s going on around me, so this played a huge part in building my confidence to run outside
I put the question out on my Instagram page for some other helpful advice. There was a clear theme of two main answers that particularly stood out to me. ‘Don’t compare yourself to others‘ and ‘Don’t worry about your pace‘. Some could say they very much go hand in hand and that it’s great advice for all runners. Particularly the writer of this blog! Here are some other great pieces of advice from other runners on Instagram and added recommendations from yours truly:
- Tape your nipples! It’s true, that your nipples can chafe and bleed. I’ve used a plaster many times!
- Invest in a good chafe product! I use 2Toms and my fiancé uses Body Glide
- Don’t be afraid to run ‘short’ distances. Any distance when starting is a massive achievement and should be celebrated!
- Run in clothes that you are comfortable in. I personally try to wear a really baggy vest, simply for comfort.
- Be patient. I’m still struggling with this one!
Last year I was invited to a promotional event for a new race that was happening in London. The person who I went with was running late, so I stood amongst the others like an idiot with no friends. I was surrounded with stupidly fast people which was extremely intimidating. To make matters worse we did a sprint session around the stadium that was hosting us. We were instructed to do sprint interval (basically run fast for a period of time). After the first one I was at the back of the pack. Alone. I say alone, but the rest of the group just stared at me while I gradually caught up to them while they stood around. Then off we went again! My initial thought was ‘when the fuck do I get a break?!’. This went on for about 15 minutes. With each interval the group pushed away from until they were out of sight. Even the organisers of the PR event didn’t run with me. It was safe to say that I absolutely fucking hated that event. A PR event of which your average runner is made to feel like the token fat guy.
I’m fine with running by myself, yet that event was different. Why? Because instantly I began comparing myself. They were seasoned runners. I was just me doing my thing. They were fast compared to me, slimmer, knew more people, looked cooler (hard to believe I know), healthier than me and trained harder than me. They simply were better than me. My head thought this was all true, simply because I compared myself to them which didn’t help me at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for not comparing yourself to someone, but fuck me in the beard it’s bloody tough to stop yourself from doing that.
There is always going to be someone who is faster than you. I promise you that someone has gone from no running to completing a marathon a lot fast than you ever will. People will run further and faster than you ever will. And that is ok because they are not you! Your running journey is just that. YOUR RUNNING JOURNEY! It’s not Mo Farah’s, it’s not mine, it’s yours. Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world correct? Don’t forget that Eliud Kipchoge is is the world record holder for the marathon. Yet you most likely agreed when I said Usain Bolt was the fastest man alive, now you probably don’t. Neither athlete would worry about the other beating them in a race, nor would they be intimidated by one other. Why? Because they do not compare themselves to one another. It makes zero sense. The same applies for yourself as well.
It’s not something that you can say to yourself once and instantly will never have an issue with it. If you do, please let me know your secret. This is something that you will need to work on regularly. Basically a nice daily reminder during your run that it’s about you. Personally I find it most difficult after a race. Everyone posts super fast times and here I am dragging my body over the finish line. PB after PB will be spammed on IG while I quietly post that I survived. I’ve felt that way after most events, however the period I feel that way slowly decreases. We need to remind ourselves that we are fucking amazing. Whether you are day one of Couch to 5k, doing a half marathon or a 100 mile ultra, you are fucking amazing.
My final suggestion would be to surround yourself with people who believe what you are doing is also fucking amazing (Seriously James is going to slaughter me for all the swearing!). I know some really fast runners, many who can do sub 4 hour marathons in their sleep. They are pushing sub 20 minute 5k’s and are seriously incredibly fast. Yet when I message them saying that I had just ran a five hour marathon or a sub 30 minute 5k, they genuinely think I’m God’s gift to running. And that’s the way it should be. Genuine support and excitement for one each others achievements. No matter your pace or the distance you run. Whether you got a PB today or haven’t for many years. You run! And that will always mean you are amazing!
When you are waiting for your watch to connect to the GPS, why don’t you use this time to tell yourself how amazing you are? That you are an amazing runner who is in charge of their own journey. Just as I am. My name is Andy and I truly wish you a good race for many years to come.