Welcome to my new ‘Active Women‘ interview series. I’m passionate about helping inactive people to become active. There are just so many barriers stopping women from making exercise part of their lives. Time, health issues and lack of confidence are just three that spring to mind. Through my work as a GP, health writer and master coach of 261Fearless I meet so many women who enjoy activity. Once you’re exercising regularly it’s easy to forget just how hard it was to get started.
This series will talk to women who’ve managed to take those first steps and are out there trying to fit in exercise whilst they juggle the demands of daily life. I want to share their journeys to help motivate and inspire us all to become and remain Active Women.
Today I’d like to introduce Claire who is a member of our village running club. I asked her to tell us about herself and then fired away with some questions.
“I’m 39 years old with a primary school aged son. I work just less than full time in a professional role at a University. I’d been almost totally inactive since leaving school where I was typically ‘picked last for games’ and I suffered with lower back pain for a few years before I became active.
I’ve now been running for 18 months and recently completed my first marathon. I’m known for my love of acquiring finisher medals for road races of all distances – although I don’t think I’ll ever try to complete an ultra-marathon!”
When did you decide to start exercising regularly and why was that?
I used to have dreams about running, floating over the ground effortlessly. I’d tried to run once, years ago, with my now husband. I was gasping for breath and felt terrible within two minutes and it seemed that this would be the beginning and end of my running career. But I still used to listen with envy to work friends who were runners, talking about their exercise.
I had SPD and lower back weakness during pregnancy which continued for several years after I gave birth to my son (now almost 7 years old). I didn’t realise just how much this weakness was due to my sedentary lifestyle. An NHS physiotherapist eventually referred me to a LANDMARK back pain course. I had to be lifted up from the floor at one point! I realised what needed to be done but I didn’t act immediately.
Around the time that I attended the back pain workshops, Juliet established Wray Women’s Running Club and I watched with more admiration and envy as fellow ordinary mothers of children at the village school went from Couch to 5k and completed a Race for Life. I so wanted to be able to run like them, but felt very behind.
At Christmas 2014, determined to become active, and also motivated by the idea of losing weight, I downloaded the Couch to 5k NHS app, donned old trainers and leggings and set off with a determination which had been a long time coming. The first week’s sessions involved intervals of just 30 seconds of running between walking. I was amazed to find that I could do this without the lung-busting pain I’d previously experienced. I completely got the bug, and with Juliet’s support I completed the Couch to 5k plan, began to join in with running club activity, and was amazed to find that running was possible for me.
What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?
Starting to run, and the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, also gave me the confidence to get back into a swimming costume and brave the ‘walk of shame’ from changing room to poolside. I’ve also developed a love of Yoga which is a great compliment to running. I do a hand weights class and occasional spinning and HIIT classes. If I could only ever do one type of exercise again, it would without doubt be running – I now feel quite edgy and my mood lowers if I haven’t been able to run for a few days. Running helps me to feel calm and noticeably elevates my mood after a few miles and for a few hours afterwards. Yoga is certainly the next on my list for similar reasons. The two activities help me to feel reasonably fit and strong.
What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome in your fitness journey?
Without doubt the biggest barrier was in my head as the inertia which stopped me getting active for so long. Worries about being judged seems to be the common factor holding women back from activity among my friends and colleagues.
Having a job, a young child and other responsibilities, finding time to exercise is one of the most difficult aspects of being active, but it can be done.
I’ve had a couple of minor injuries and had to cancel my entry in the second half marathon I had planned. I also struggle with liking sugary food too much and trying to discover my ‘racing weight’ is an enduring battle.
Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?
I was so anxious that I would receive negative comments as I started running, but I can honestly say that the only comments (at least those which I’ve heard!) have ever been words of encouragement.
What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?
It’s my 40th birthday next year and I have a pre-40 bucket list of which my running-related goals were to complete a marathon and raise money for a charity helping children in poverty and danger. I managed to achieve these goals a couple of months ago. The 2016 London Marathon was the last of my ‘7 Races as a Supervillain’ running in fancy dress for UNICEF UK after holding a few fundraising activities including a Christmas themed fun-run which was well-supported by my village community.
My new goals are to keep moving forward as a runner. I would like to lose more weight and get faster, and am training with this in mind, but I realise that the most important thing for my health is simply to continue to be active. I’d also like to improve my swimming technique and complete my open water diver qualification.
What benefits has being active brought you?
Significantly improved physical health, better mental health, the friendship of lovely women at Wray Women’s Running Club, a sense of empowerment plus a load of finisher medals!
What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?
Be brave and take the plunge, the first effort to begin is the hardest and it quickly becomes easier.
Do you have a ‘getting active’ story that you’d like to share? If you’d like to feature in the Active Women interview series and inspire other women to get going then get in touch.