Have you ever had a proper Love/Hate relationship? I don’t mean the kind where you secretly adore annoying a person or flirt fight with them. I’m talking about a full-blown “when I’m with you I’m giddy but when you’re not there I can’t fathom the idea of spending a second more with you”.
That perfectly described large chunks of my relationship with running. I was never a sporty child or teenager. I was uncoordinated, clumsy and worst of all on the list of any teenager’s perceived sins – I was medically categorized as obese. So when I first took up running years later, I had decades of mental conditioning to break free from.
At first I wouldn’t even leave the apartment for fear some stranger would judge my particularly pudgy frame, wobbling up the street. It helped that it was the middle of a brutal London winter so there wasn’t anything too strange about hauling a rented treadmill up the world’s narrowest flight of stairs. I spent hours staring mindlessly at the books on the shelf in front of me while I put myself through so much running-based torture. I can still see the titles now.
I put myself on a dangerously calorie-deficient diet for months that saw me drop so much weight I became skeletal. But still I refused to run outside without the comfort of cargo pants and a baggy t-shirt. I was the whitest gangsta runner ever. Baggy-jeaned kids had nothing on me.
There were no rest days and no way I would allow myself to eat three meals unless I’d worked out at some point that day. Running was purely a means to an end. I could shop wherever I wanted without the fear that I wouldn’t fit into anything or that the assistant would judge my size.
It was tiring. I hardly had the energy to get through the day, so how did I expect myself to last through an entire 45 minutes of intervals?
For every minute of “happiness” I got from the change room mirrors, there were countless hours of self-loathing. Of hunger that tied my stomach in knots and kept me awake at night. Of worry that it was only a matter of time before I went back to my old self. Of tears, self-doubt and the awful crushing feeling that I would have to exist in this food-deprived state for the rest of my life.
Looking back I can see all the hallmarks of an eating disorder but at the time I thought that was how all women kept their weight “under control” (as if it’s a monster just waiting to break free) and that eventually being skinny would make me happy. It didn’t.
And so I hated running. Every single second was a struggle. My body was asking for rest but I didn’t respect it enough to give in. I was fast and I didn’t give up back then, but I never really appreciated it. I ran long intervals and I ran them at a pace that I shudder at the thought of today. I used anger and hatred as my fuel. I was my own drill sergeant and I wielded my perceived weaknesses like no other.
Eventually I broke. It took about eight months but there was no going back once the floodgates opened. I moved back to Australia and stopped running because it bookended a chapter in my life that I was perversely proud of in some ways but also extremely ashamed to admit to.
I had caved to my own pressure and someone else’s standards of how I should look and what should make me feel good about myself. I still get an awful feeling when I think about it.
Then Operation Move came along.
I’d seen it pop up in my Facebook feed through a friend, and was always curious but was never confident enough to join. I’d been through a harrowing few years in the meantime that ended in the decision that it was time to focus on a small goal to get myself back on track.
Naturally I chose the easiest goal I could think of… run a half marathon. Yes, that was sarcasm.
I tried two months of training on my own but those bad memories haunted me and I just couldn’t sustain it. Eventually I signed up to Operation Move’s Event Training course and I fell in love with running.
I’m not saying that it was easy, but it was the polar opposite of what I’d experienced before. I owe my health, my complete change of attitude towards exercise, my self-worth and so many moments of happiness to Operation Move, its founders and every single one of the lovely women who supported and inspired me, just by being there.
There’s a lot to be said for the camaraderie that Op Move provides. Of feeling accountable to a group of people who sometimes get their motivation from you. Of seeing the child-like joy that reaching a goal brings to others and to yourself. Of that feeling of REALLY belonging somewhere.
And of having a coach who understands the journey and who is never disappointed when you miss a training session. Zoey always works with you to sort out why you couldn’t lace up and get out there, and how your workouts can fit into your lifestyle and schedule. She’s a coach who hears your goals and finds a way of getting you there, even if those dreams seem completely impossible or out of reach.
There aren’t enough words to describe how much I look up to Zoey and how her optimism, sense of humour and sense of belief in me, have completely changed my view of running.
I looked forward to it, I wanted to smash my next goal, but most of all, I just wanted that uplifting feeling of doing something for myself that I loved and was finally good at.
That’s exactly what I got out of Op Move.