I've been on a huge journey over the last couple of years, but to fully get where I started, I want to share something of how I got there in the first place...
Back in 2014, just after having a promotion in my job as a local charity worker, I saw an advert on TV for the Manchester 10k, and thought to myself "I can do that". I had 6-weeks of training time, and on my first outing I managed... about 800m before I needed to walk - I had seriously taken a big bite, but I was raising money for the charity I worked for, so had to keep it up.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I managed to bring up my stamina, and even stopped hurting/feeling stiff the day after by the time the race day came. I'd wanted to break the 60min goal... and fell short by a few minutes.
The feelings around competing in the race were euphoric, and so as soon as I could, I signed up to take part in the same race the following year. I now considered myself "A Runner".
Over the next couple of years, I took part in the Manchester 10k (2015 & 2016), and through a FitBit challenge one night in 2017, I found my groove and thought "can I do a Half Marathon?".
So at 23:40 one evening, I got in from my first ever Half, thrashing the competition on the FitBit challenge, and so now I considered myself "A Runner".
I took part in the Manchester Half Marathon later that year, and again, signed up for the following year as soon as the option was available. I still was only doing one event a year, as doing more than that would be excessive, and even though I was a runner, I was embarrassed by my shape and speed.
Between the two Half Marathons, I said to myself "I'd like to complete a Marathon before I'm 40", and being 34 at the time, I knew I had plenty of time to prepare... So, signed up to take part in the Manchester Marathon 2019! I managed it, but was wiped out by it. I was NOW "A Runner" though.
People asked if I'd be doing another one the following year, and although I really wanted to say Yes, I knew that I didn't really think I could afford the time, and the energy (I felt broken at the finish line, even though my face didn't show it).
Over the following months, I had a really hard time with my job, especially with some of my colleagues - I felt attacked, and isolated by my subordinates (even though I'd been in the same job for years, and knew my stuff, I felt ignored). This led to me suffering mentally, but being the stereotypical 1980s bloke that I was, mental health wasn't really something that affected me, it was something that only affected others who were 'softer-skinned' than me.
They all left in the summer, but the mental damage had been done. I was extremely anxious when interviewing a replacement worker, to the point that whenever she emailed to ask something about the role (and even once she had started), I assumed that she was withdrawing from the role, and I'd blame myself.
The pandemic hit shortly afterwards, and the break from work was well-received. I spent the first 3 months of furlough sitting in the kids' paddling pool, reading, and eating grilled cheese sandwiches - what do you know, I put on a few pounds. Someone had shared a virtual run on Facebook, and asked if I'd like to do it, and as the weather was good, I agreed.
It was hard going. It was only a 10k, but I'd really got out of shape. Meanwhile, my wife had noticed that I was very much 'rounding out', and so she encouraged me to keep going for runs to try and stay fitter. I happened to weigh myself one day, and I was shocked by how much weight I'd put on... after all... I was "A Runner".
So, in 2020, I decided to sort myself out, and started running regularly. Over the course of the year, I started going out several times a week, early in the morning, late at night, in the heat of the day, whenever I could. I set up a new profile on Instagram, as I didn't want to spam my friends/family with running stats, and post-run selfies all the time.
And I found a whole community of people who were encouraging, and at various stages of running ability - some were where I wanted to be, and others were where I had been, but all were inspiring to me - keeping going when it's tough - I just hope that I have been able to inspire them in return.
I saw PBs reached, smashed, and replaced, and all the while, I was bringing my weight back down, which meant I could go faster, further, for longer. I was doing Half-Marathons before breakfast, several times a week, I completed an few marathons, and wouldn’t do anything under 10k (as I didn’t want to get my running clothes sweaty for “such a short distance”).
Over 2020, I managed to shed over 20% of my body-weight, and I felt great for it. Towards the end of the year, I'd been tempted to someday do an Ultra-marathon, but I knew that that would still be a way off.
Well, someone invited me to do a 12-hour Ultra (DawnToDusk) in the March of 2021, and so thinking that there's no time like the present, I accepted, and took part, completing 85km (2x marathons) in one go. Another significant milestone reached, and passed. My running trend of smashing my own PBs continued through 2021, peaking in the July, with great stamina, and the best physical shape I've been since my teenage years, as well as feeling great mentally.
However, on returning to full-time work in the September of 2021, my monthly mileage suffered. I started going along to Parkrun once they were able to start back up again, and I'm still able to get along most weeks, even completing my 50th recently (as well as volunteering several times too).
I've volunteered to pace for a few races, as I feel that this helps people who are earlier on in their running journey, and so makes me feel good (as well as getting more mileage in for myself). I’ve even completed my second Ultra earlier this year - a 5km loop around Heaton Park… 10 times(!) I got into some really good eating habits during the early 2020s, and they've started to slide a little, but I know that I can manage them as long as I keep up getting out, and running. And I'm still not yet 40, but it's getting close now.
I’m now not ashamed of being seen when I’m running, or what I look like (what I’m wearing). No matter whether you just about drag yourself around a Parkrun, or knock out Ultra-Marathons at the drop of a hat, know that you are a runner. Running is my happy place, my place where I can block out the rest of the world, and recharge myself mentally. After all... I AM "A Runner"
Big thanks to Dave for sharing his incredible story and you can follow him on social media: @dave_rob_run_nerd.
If you would like to share your running journey, then please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.