The problem with my body is…

…that actually, there isn’t one at all.

Unfortunately, that’s not often the truth I find myself believing about it.

It’s Mental Health Awareness week, and this year the focus is on Body Image. Having shared my struggles a little recently on instagram, I felt like I wanted to blog from my own experience of body image struggles, as a mum, an ultra runner and a mid thirty year old woman.

Please can I precursor this by saying these things;
This is my OWN experience, my own feelings towards my body, and based on MY experience of living in this body. Knowing what is big and what isn’t for MY BODY. I also realise that there will be irrational things which are stupid and don’t make any sense, but again, you don’t need to tell me or roll your eyes at them. I already know! (ALSO maybe you won’t think ANY of these things and it’s my insecurity assuming you’re already judging me for writing this out… urghh)

I can’t remember when my body issues started. I vaguely remember in 6th form that people started going to the ‘gym’. I was more concerned with eating cheeseburgers from the canteen, clearing out the common room vending machines or driving down for a Pizza Hut buffet during our lunch-plus-free-period-bonanza. I wasn’t a big girl. I wouldn’t say I was ever ‘fat’, but I started to see the little belly pooch at 16, but didn’t take much notice, or realise it’d be hanging around a good 19 years later…

I have what i’d describe as an ‘addictive personality’. Maybe not to the extent of the result of a Dr.Google search but there are certainly parallels.

I obsess over things, I suffer with anxiety and depression, I crave excitement and adventure and I become very low when these things aren’t happening. I wouldn’t say i’m a food addict, but I get into very bad cycles of eating, especially chocolate, take aways and the good stuff, el vino.

I’m small in size. 5ft 2 ish, with a short torso. I always get so frustrated with my brother who is a bean pole in comparison (but has had his share of body demons too) – why couldn’t I have got those genes? Why did I get the short and fat ones?

As i’ve got older, and had children, i’ve hit that place most mid thirties seem to. The one where the weight goes on and doesn’t come off quite as fast as it used to. Mine in particular congregates around my middle, not the best when you’re already short waisted and not vertically blessed. This means that when I put weight on, I can feel it and see it quite well.

It always used to be about the scales. The lightest I ever was was when I got married at 21 (I know!). On my wedding day I was 8st 2. My wedding dress was size 8 and a little on the loose side. But do you know what? On my honeymoon, I was STILL complaining that I didn’t like my body. I’d literally punch my 21yr old self in the face over that now.

I’ve been through stages of my life where i’ve been thinner. Notably before, was back in 2008/9, pre kids, lots of time to myself, and getting into running. Andy and I ran a 10k for Cancer Research at Ashton Court in Bristol (where we lived until 2010) and that led to me wanting MORE (addictive) so I booked into the Bristol Half. I had no idea about training plans, all i’d read was I needed to run 10 miles comfortably. So that’s what I did. Maybe 3 runs a week, one short loop (5-7 miles) and a couple of 10 miles. Weight fell off me and I distinctly remember a pair of TEENY Nike leggings fitting me (and also remember looking at myself in the shower and despising THAT pooch despite the tiny lycra).

In reality, the first time I felt completely happy in my own body was when I fell pregnant with Milly. FINALLY I could appreciate my body for the most wonderful thing it was doing. AND to boot – my pooch would be taking a vacation for a while as my baby bump grew and grew… (don’t get me started on criticising the bump btw. It wasn’t a beautiful rounded bump either. It kind of went in and out for a good while…)

Becoming someones Mum gave me respect for my body. I became, for a while, appreciative of it. Of what it had done. That it wasn’t just me anymore – i’d made a human and my body now reflected that! And it took the pressure off how I felt about it for a while. And during my first pregnancy, i’d stayed pretty active. Running a little and going to the gym and swimming.

My post natal depression started to creep in when she was a few weeks old, but she was an awesome sleeper, and I credit my ability to kick the PND quickly thanks to enough sleep. She was 10 months old when we found out I was cooking him up. Things were about to get cray.

Between pregnancies I wasn’t very active at all. This continued once my little chunk of boy was born, as you can imagine – having a newborn/new baby and a 19month old was quite the handful. And this time I wasn’t so lucky with escaping the PND.

Exercise disappeared. I was struggling and I was lonely. I put on my fake happy and pushed it down. I couldn’t cope. I was drowning and failing and I actually was on the verge of not wanting to be here at all.

I was around 13 stone at my heaviest. 4 stone over my ideal weight. I wanted to lose it but coming in and out of weight loss clubs, I didn’t do too well. At most I lost a stone, and put it on again. But then I remembered what had once helped me get into those tiny Nike leggings and started to run, very cautiously and slowly. By the time this happened, Jasper was already 3.

I tried out Lean in 15, and found the world of HIIT. But soon enough running took over, and I became obsessed with it and getting better, faster, going for longer….

Three years ago, in May 2016, my old desire to run a marathon reignited and I started to look for new challenges. Anything to keep me motivated and on track. I was eating well and I was losing weight and getting fitter week by week. For the first time in a long time, I felt happy with my body – there was a long way to go but I was doing something about it. I was pursuing the run on a regular basis and a half marathon soon became three half’s in a 6 week period, and so began my pattern of addictive behaviour, but this time, applied to something i’d not applied it to before.

The next thing was to run every day in December, which I did. 120 miles. The most i’d ever run in a month. I was so happy. I was looking super trim, and felt so fit.

May to December, 2016.

I was over the moon to have a place in both London and Brighton marathons in 2017 (and long story short!) – i’d entered an ultra marathon, Race to the Stones, just from watching someone i’d met on instagram do it, without having even run a marathon first. I thought I could do that too and I booked on! I wanted to try and get in a marathon first, and I trained hard and started to raise money. But being the keano that I was, I got injured and as I was doing London for Mind, I deferred Brighton to 2018. I couldn’t do both this time.

Lining up for my first marathon I had no idea what to expect, as i’d only reached 18 miles in training due to the hip issue.

Despite it all, I managed a respectable 4:23:17 for my first ever marathon, at London no less. But that was it. I was well and truly hooked in.

Despite all these long distance races, I noticed that I wasn’t really physically changing much. The long runs would keep the weight down, but I wasn’t very toned, and the fact that I was rewarding myself with food, didn’t help me to find that athlete’s physique I was after.

2018 came round and I was in my best shape running wise for Brighton. I had a perfect training cycle and ran a Good for Age time, to qualify for London 2019. But guess what? Those Brighton pictures? I saw a physique I didn’t like. All that training. All those hours of running. I STILL couldn’t accept the body I was in. Thick thighs. Big hips. Skinny face sure, but zoom out and it was a different story.

July swang round and I took on my first ever ultra marathon, 100km over two days (do you see the escalation here?). Still not quite mastering my nutrition, and injured in the lead up, I managed to run the thing with my new running family; Martha and Daryl, a pair of pre weds wanting a challenge together before married life, and me, wanting to show my kids just what the hell mummy can do; and had the absolute best time of my life.

I didn’t realise there was such a world out there. I certainly hadn’t been an outdoorsy type of girl since I was pre teen, but this new found freedom to be me, to be outside and enjoying nature and pushing this body to the limits? was a new exciting challenge, and I lapped up every minute of it. As soon as we were done, I knew i’d be back for more.

Finishing our first ever Race to the Stones.

There was this whole new part to my life now, that I never even dreamed of. It stretched beyond marathons. It was new territory and I wanted more of it. Because the more I got into it and the social media side of it, the more I saw that people were doing it better than me. Actually, maybe I wasn’t as badass as I thought – there were people doing it faster, and they were skinnier and they had better gear than me… and once again, social media started robbing me of the incredible things i’d achieved.

In a social media world, it’s flipping hard to make a difference.

And if you’re obsessive and addictive like me, and you constantly fall into the comparison trap, then NOTHING, honestly NOTHING will ever be good enough for you.

No amount of miles.

No weight loss.

No material stuff or accolade will cut the mustard.

If I don’t come to a place where I accept and appreciate myself or my body for what it can and has achieved, what is the point of looking to anything else to validate that? Because it can’t. Social channels can’t fulfill you. Likes and interactions don’t replace real world validation, and to be honest, even that is lacklustre most of the time.

I’m sure many of you repeat marathoners/ultra runners etc will understand that people sort of lose the ability to congratulate you or even care about what you’ve achieved. I get it, it’s not everyones cup of tea, but FLIPPING HECK BABES, I just ran my 5th marathon 2 weeks before my 5th Ultra marathon and you don’t even bat an eyelid? (In their defence, MOST of my family and a good few friends are epic at supporting me, everytime, thank you pals xx)

All that makes me feel is like i’m not good enough. Nothing will ever be good enough will it? What on earth do I have to do to get validation from you and WHY DO I EVEN FIND MYSELF STRIVING FOR THE VALIDATION FROM A PRACTICAL STRANGER?

I joined instagram to document my journey for me. I didn’t start out for likes. Or freebies (I hope that’s the theme you still see today, although i’m very lucky to be gifted a few things these days). I had no idea what I was doing and I found others in the same place, who inspired me and brought me into a world I knew nothing of.

I guess my point, if there even is one, is that I don’t know how I get to the point of loving myself for what I can do. To appreciate that my body isn’t anyone else’s and it has its limitations. That I am more than one crappy race photo which is more than likely an awful shot mid stride where everything is heading south and I look like death… The journey to that race is MORE than that one shot.

And also, the reasons why I do it. Yes I want to feel good. Of course, I want to look good. Who doesn’t like to be complimented on their appearance right? But what is more important to me? Can I win the mind game and convince myself that the good is in the people i’m encouraging to have a go too? The people that have signed up for and run ultras who would never have done so without being moved by my journey? surely that is the biggest flattery and achievement in this whole journey?

I’ve been hard on myself since taking on my 5th ultra marathon this weekend, on my 35th birthday no less. Shaving off 1hr 40 mins from my 50km time. But what did I do when I saw these finish line pics? I cried.

Because I put on weight. Because I want people to say i’m skinny and fit and to me that means being less than what I am here and now. Despite what I did this weekend. And that needs to change.

I showed Milly the finish line pictures and she demanded that there and then, I print out this photo for her to put in her room. “Why do you like it?” I asked her.

“Because it’s just me and you”, she said.

She doesn’t see me as a size or a weight. She sees me and her having fun. Running together, strong girls club. And being taught a lesson by a 7 year old is pretty humbling to say the least.

Mum to Marathon, Pt2.

In October 2016, I signed up for Brighton Marathon, because as I mentioned in the previous post, i’d been on the London reject list once more, and I was DESPERATE to get a marathon under my belt. Even if only in training for the 100k ultra marathon i’d signed up for, called Race to the Stones.

However, come November, the charity i’d signed up to run for, Mind, got back in contact to say a place on their team had opened up, and did I want it. I literally had about an hour or two to decide.

I rang Andy and laid out the facts.

“I’d have to raise £2000….!”

“It’s only two weeks after Brighton!”

“It would be pretty BADASS though…”

We chatted it through and decided that, given my luck in the ballot, this may be the only guaranteed entry I got to London, so I made the bold choice, and took the place.

‘How on earth am I going to raise two grand?!’

Fundraising.

Oh fundraising. It’s one of those things isn’t it. People are ALWAYS doing it. It’s great, don’t get me wrong here, but when it came to the thought of asking people for money, I was super duper nervous and worried.

I ran through the classic list of ideas, bake sales, quiz nights etc, none of which sat with me. Then I realised. I was sitting on a goldmine of talent and possibilities. I could use my professional contacts in the Children’s Book industry, and round up a bunch of illustrators to donate work to the auction! Draw for your Mind was born that November, and as people started to hear about it, more wanted to be involved.

get your bid on

Over a weekend in February, I think we auctioned off about 90 odd books, art and prints from all sorts of illustrators, and that combined with the donations on just giving pages from friends and family etc, totalled up to around £5300.

I’d love to do another Draw for your mind, but felt i’d asked a lot of people last year, so this year I chose not to fundraise for any of my events. Anyway, I was on a total high. Couldn’t believe i’d totally smashed my target. Now all I needed to do was focus on the running.

Then disaster struck…

I got injured.

Ironically, the very lady who had inspired me to run and train for Race to the Stones, Jemma Lewis (@thisgirlcanrunfar), also got injured literally with a day of me. We both crashed and burned at the height of training. March 5th, I ran my first (and only) 20 mile training run, before my hip stopped playing ball. Physio and Sports massages x a million later, we worked out that because I had weak walking muscles (and strong running ones) when I was walking and feeling the pain in my hip, it was because the muscles weren’t pulling my hip into place properly, causing an impingement and friction in the joint. However, it seemed to just be when I walked, not ran, so quite soon, the physio was allowing me to run.

He recommended that I defer Brighton, and focus on London, which gave me a couple more weeks to play with for recovery. I had a few good runs where the pain was not too much of a bother once i’d started running. This one day, about two weeks away from London, the pain was intense during running. I couldn’t even make it a mile. It hadn’t been there for the running before. What fresh hell was this?

If you’ve ever been injured, you know that the constant analysis and second guessing is exhausting. Unfortunately my injury also meant that the pain moved around, so one time it could be up in my lower back, then deep in my groin, near my hip joint or somewhere in my thigh. I posted to ig in a pretty dramatic way (VERY unlike me…) that this was it. My Brighton and London Double dream was out of the question, Brighton was deferred, but now it looked like I wouldn’t even make London.

BUT all those donations! All that fundraising….

tragedy

I got in contact with Mind, and unfortunately they couldn’t guarantee me a place for the next year. I could carry over my fundraising but i’d still have to apply with everyone else.

I decided I would give London a go.

I put on my big girl pants, and planned with Martha (@martha_runs), my newly acquired running wife, that we would both start together. In fact, loads of us were injured at the start of London that year. It’s a miracle we all made it to the end!

I’m going to save my London Marathon story for a separate post because I want to write it up properly (only a year over due…).

But this was it. This was the moment I finally went from Mum to Marathon.

 

Did my problems disappear? No.

Did my kids turn into exemplary human beings? Not a chance.

Was my depression cured? Nope, still there!

 

Do you know what did happen though?

 

I realised that I can do incredible things. I mean, I MADE TWO incredible things* from my body. In pregnancy, my relationship with my body changed. It actually helped me to love it.

PND tried to rob me of a new found love for my body.

Running my first marathon reminded me of how badass it was when my body did its thing, and birthed two kids. It took me back to the ‘marathon’ of childbirth (in a lot of ways it’s scarily similar; Loss of bodily functions, crying, screaming, sweating, swearing…) and reminded me that I CAN DO HARD THINGS. How BADASS I STILL WAS AND ALWAYS WILL BE.

I could also run a REAAAAAALLY long way for a long time and survive it. And the hugs from my kids when I met them at the end?

Worth every injured step.

 

sign-off

 

*my wonderful children who are wonderful.

 

 

 

 

Mum to Marathon

It’s almost been two years since I started on my fitness journey.

I’d battled with Post Natal depression and my weight since my son was born, and despite trying Juicing and Slimming World, nothing quite sat right with me. But I wasn’t really exercising.

Before I got married, I went to the gym 4 times a week and it worked for me. With my daughter, I stayed active throughout pregnancy, using the gym, pool and (infrequent) running, and I was fortunate of a small baby that time around. We had planned to have a minimum gap of 18 months between kids, and as it had taken us 13 months to fall pregnant the first time, we’d assumed it would take a similar time for number 2.

So when we found out I was expecting one month after coming off my pill, we were a little shocked (but happy!). I had a 10 month old, and now I had to battle through pregnancy whilst looking after a baby on the outside.

I was much sicker with my son. I remember M being in the corner of the kitchen playing as I threw up into the sink… thankfully she was pretty unaware at that point of what was going on. Being pregnant the second time is a whole load of different.

ANYWAY – back to the fitness stuff…

I found it very hard to fit anything in at this point. Even though I have an incredible husband, once he was home from work, I’d be entirely exhausted from looking after a human on the outside AND growing one on the inside. My fitness suffered, and my diet became questionable.

The problem however, came once i’d given birth, and the eating continued as if  I were growing a baby. I wasn’t anymore, but my diet carried on the same.

The new mum fog descended, and with two under 2, my mental health started to take a beating. It’s quite incredible what sleep deprivation can do to you. M slept through from early on, but J wasn’t a fan. He was up 3-4 times a night until he was 2. And this only triggered my PND.

I want you to understand how paralysing it is to feel out of control and in charge of two human beings. And how scary it is to not be in control of yourself AND have to look after two human beings. I remember at my lowest point, I was screaming at Andy (poor sod, he’s put up with so much…) and actually clawing at my face. Then looking behind him to see M had toddled into the doorway and was crying. WHAT EVEN WAS I?

I’d known for months I had PND, and had suggested it to Andy on numerous occasions, to the response of ‘Go to the Doctor then’. The shrug off response only fed my doubt of perhaps it was just me and I needed to just chill. Fact was, Andy had no idea how to deal with it, and like most people who don’t understand depression, He didn’t have the responses I needed. This manic episode however, forced him to admit what was going on, and told me I needed to go and see the Doctor. Finally it was the acknowledgement and permission I’d wanted from him to go and seek some help. It wasn’t just in my head.

We went to the Doctor together when J was 6 months old, December 2013. I cried with embarrassment as I explained to her I wanted to die to make it all go away, and how I wouldn’t cry, but instead got so angry I would scream the house down.

IMG_2368

She was wonderful, and prescribed me my first set of happy pills.

I wasn’t sure how I felt. I wanted to feel better but this wasn’t what I thought depression was. I’d always been of the persuasion it was black clothes, dark rooms, crying and lamenting. I had a strong view of depression, courtesy of stigma.

What I began to realise was I could put on a brave face. People didn’t have to know if I didn’t want them to. This was the only power I had left. The power to trick them, and sometimes myself, into believing I was fine. Fine with the weight. Doing a great job as a parent.

I took the pills for about 4 months before deciding I didn’t need them. I was wrong, and it took me a while to get them back into my system after abandoning them for a couple of months (they usually take a good month to kick in). I’m not sure when I came off them again, but I reckon it was another 7 months of using them to aid my recovery.

When I came off the pills, I felt I was in a better place. Life had settled into a rhythm and I was much more used to how it felt with two little children. I was able to manage myself a lot better, and J’s sleep had started to settle down too, so I was getting that important sleep my brain needed to chill. However I’d now got myself into habits with eating that weren’t helping in any way. For a while it would take the edge off; wine, chocolate, cakes, takeaways (all still my downfalls btw) but I got to a point where I HAD to do something about it.

In 2014, I celebrated my 30th birthday, and I thought it would be a great way to inspire myself into healthy ways, but despite my best efforts, 30 came and went, and although i’d lost some of the weight, it wasn’t the glamorous turnaround i’d been hoping for.

It wasn’t until 2 years later (and 2 years of failed Slimming World attempts) that I realised, if I was going to do this and lose this extra 3+ stone, it would have to be through the way I knew had worked for me pre children. EXERCISE.

It was just after ‘Lean in 15’ had burst onto the scene and I signed up for another instagram profile, under the handle ‘leancleancooke’. May 5th, 2016, I posted my first picture, a quote saying ‘Don’t give up. Great things take time.’

It was my battle cry, this time I would see it through, I would stick to the plan. I needed to break the destructive cycle for my physical AND my mental health.

Once I had got into the Hiit workouts, and the VERY different way of eating (sw – no fat lots of carbs, L in 15 – high fat, low carb) I saw the weight drop pretty quickly. I lost my first stone within 2 months, and by December 2016, I was back in the high 9st’s. Something I hadn’t seen for 3 years. I also realised for the first time, it was about how I looked (bear with me!) not how much I weighed. I didn’t have scales at home, only weighing myself when I was at my mum’s or a friend’s. This really helped my perception of weight.

Once i’d found a rhythm with exercise, I quickly wanted to get out running again. I knew from when i’d dabbled in running for enjoyment back in 2009, that running helped me lose weight and feel really good. I’d run a Half marathon in Bristol in 2009, and was planning on stepping up to London Marathon (which obviously I got rejected for, and every year since…) but i’d turned my ankle and fallen out of the running swing of things.

Fast forward to 2016 and starting with running around the field at the back of our house, I would complete a couple of 1.7 mile laps a week, slowly does it, building up my momentum and pace. I soon pushed it to 5k, and then I vividly remember trying my first 10k. The socks were old, the trainers weren’t right, and boy did they make me pay for it…

GET YOUR GAIT CHECKED PEOPLE!

Once I felt brave enough to go into the scary running shop (not actually scary) – I tried on a good few pairs of trainers, but being the secret label lover I am, I went for what I knew best (and aesthetics were important at that point and I didn’t like RUNNING BRANDS) and bought a couple of pairs of Nike Pegasus, which are still my trusty trainers.

It’s a bit tricky to know where to take my writing from here, because from this point, it sort of went a bit crazy.

I knew I was goal orientated so I booked myself onto my second ever Half marathon. But then I wanted more of a challenge so booked onto two more Half marathons, one being my first taster of fundraising, for Tommy’s the baby charity. My Brother and Sister in law were going through a really hard time trying to conceive, and had two horrible miscarriages, losing two precious babies. It felt like the only gesture I could give at the time.

I realised the 3 Half’s were within a 6 week time frame, and training stepped up a notch. This was my first challenge. I was doing something BIG. Something good.

Maybe I’ll do a separate post about them one day, but they happened, and although they weren’t the quickest (you try running around the Isle of Wight sub 2hrs) I felt happy to nail the third in my then fastest time, 1:57!

The only logical step from here was to try and get that marathon box ticked. But instead, I did something really crazy. Having had (once again…) a ‘Sorry’ magazine drop through my door a couple of weeks post Half-Trio-Challenge, I shook off the inevitable London FOMO and booked on to do Brighton Marathon instead.

This is the crazy bit….

When I signed up to instagram, I began following a girl called Jemma. She was honest and slightly outspoken, and like me, she had never run a marathon. But she HAD just run an ULTRA Marathon. 100k over 2 days. I had so many questions.

WHAT IS AN ULTRA MARATHON?

COULD I RUN AN ULTRA MARATHON?

JEMMA RAN AN ULTRA MARATHON WITHOUT DOING A MARATHON FIRST! MAYBE I COULD TOO?

I spoke to Andy, who clearly in a moment of his own madness, said I should indeed sign up to said ultra marathon, and let me use our (very sparse) cash to do so.

It was the most impulsive, scary and bloody exciting thing i’d done for YEARS.

I was taking back control over my own life. Those years of depression and physical compromise were melting away with one race entry. I was going to do something really huge. Me. Not my kids. But me.

To be Continued…

 

sign-off

 

 

 

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