I’ve had an overwhelming response to my new interview series. Thank you everyone! There are so many of you out there willing to share your exercise journeys and explain how you became active and most importantly how you manage to keep it up despite life throwing things at you. It’s really motivating and encouraging to hear about women who are out there just ‘doing it’. It helps us all through the days when simply pulling on a pair of trainers seems an impossible task.
Read this uplifting interview with Kate Hutchins. It’s packed full of wisdom and fantastic tips. I guarantee it’ll have you jumping out of your chair and signing up for a new activity!
Tell us a bit about yourself Kate.
I’m 40, live in Cornwall and work from home. At heart I’m generally quite lazy and will revert to path of least resistance. Motivation is my key issue so exercise has to be fun. The older I get, the more I know myself. I’m never going to be the fastest, but that’s sort of what I like. I know I’m only ever competing with myself and trying to improve on my own results or times. Now I’m just interested to see what I can do.
When did you decide to start exercising regularly and why was that?
Like many woman, school PE put me off exercise for a really long time; picked last for teams, feeling embarrassed in PE kit, dealing with periods, school making it feel like a chore. I swam a lot, even competitively for the county, although the unheated, outdoor school pool didn’t help! I have a vague feeling I quite enjoyed cross-country running, too, but possibly just because you were out of sight of the teachers and could walk and chat.
For years I didn’t really do anything fitness related, occasional swimming, walking, a bit of yoga and I tried the odd Zumba class, but nothing stuck and I would return to a pretty sedentary lifestyle. My partner at the time was very fit and outdoorsy, but if anything that worked in the opposite way to what you might expect. Although he tried to be encouraging, I just found it patronising – that wasn’t his intention, just my interpretation, so I became quite stubborn in not doing things.
I used to work next to the Watersports Centre in Falmouth and I saw the gig rowers (a Cornish pilot gig is a six-oared rowing boat) go out regularly and I wanted to try it. I was nervous of going, as I didn’t know anyone, but I was walking past one evening after work and saw the Novice group waiting to go out. I decided to be brave and went down to chat to the cox and they were so nice. I promised myself I would go the next week and that’s where it started. I loved it. You’re out on the water and you have to really concentrate, so you can’t think about work, home or anything else. You just have to focus on your oar, the timing, your breathing, there’s no room for anything else. You’re part of a crew, so you can’t give up or slack off, because everyone suffers; it’s addictive.
What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?
We started doing short rowing races and I realised I needed to be fitter, so I downloaded the Zombies Run app on my phone and did their 5k programme. I love a story and it made me want to run, so I could find out what happened next. It often made me laugh out loud or terrified me with zombies in my ear. I found myself sprinting along the seafront, determined to outrun them. I never thought I would enjoy running or be a “runner”; it felt like magic.
I also joined a gym and started doing weights to improve my upper body strength, both free weights and Kettlebells. I did a few classes, but they weren’t really for me, I don’t respond well to encouraging instructors. I think it must trigger some memory of school and it just makes me want to do less, rather than more. The rowing club had training programmes and I started using a rowing machine; it sure feels good when you’re finished! I started swimming more regularly both in the pool and outside and now I really love cold water swimming, in the sea, a river or a quarry, which is something I never thought I’d say.
What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome on your fitness journey?
Almost certainly it’s been getting over myself. You have these ridiculous thoughts that fit people will judge you for not being fit, when in reality all other people ever think is “well done for trying”. I know I’m silently cheering in my head (and occasionally out loud) every time I see another woman doing a walk/run or wobbling on a bike.
Confidence is a big issue, I like to know how things work before I do them, so volunteering helped with that. I volunteered at Parkrun, so I could see what people did and how long it took, then I tried the course on my own, before I figured I’d have a go.
I found that running on hard surfaces like roads gave me almost immediate pain in my shins, so I took to the trails. I’m lucky as where I live I can get onto the coast path very easily. Originally this was partly so no one would see me. When I started I was very conscious of how I looked and I wore full length leggings and baggy T-shirts, now I’ll be in short leggings and a vest and couldn’t care less. I found that I love running at night. I bought myself a decent head torch last year and now I can’t wait for it be winter again, to be outside, in the silence, with just a pool of light in front of me; it’s intoxicating.
Having friends that enjoy being fit helps, too. I do a lot of running with a friend, we have very similar temperaments and both like running alone. We meet up somewhere, decide on a time and run in opposite directions. We meet again for a coffee and a chat afterwards. It offers me a bit of safety, too, knowing that someone else will know if I don’t get back. If we can’t get together for any reason we do it via text message. Ensuring that you have to report in to another person gets you off the sofa.
Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?
I honestly don’t think I have. Twice a car full of boys have shouted something out of the window at me when I was running, but I’m always listening to music, so I choose to believe they were shouting lovely encouraging things and just wave cheerfully.
What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?
When I started rowing I wanted to do the World Championships in Scilly. It’s a huge event and I went last year with my club. It’s pretty exciting, sitting on a start line with 150 or so other boats. After a weekend of racing we finished 49th, top of our group and got to go on the podium, which was amazing. I’d like to improve on that result in another year.
I tend to set myself lots of small goals, to keep me going. I entered a 10k run when I first started running, to give me something to aim for and since then I’ve done some small events and I’ve entered a half marathon now, to give me the next milestone to aim for. Maybe after that a marathon or possibly even an ultra some point. I want to have covered the whole Cornish coast path eventually and I mark it off on a map as I run bits of it.
I challenged myself to do an informal half-ironman last Christmas Eve. A friend and I set a route and did a pool swim, run and then the bike ride. It took us all day and we finished in the dark, but I just wanted to see if I could do it.
I’d like to do a long distance swim – like the Dart 10k – one year, so I’m volunteering this year, to see what it’s like and maybe I’ll enter next year.
What benefits has being active brought you?
I’m easily the most confident and happy I’ve ever been, I wish I’d done it years ago. Since starting exercise I’ve lost some weight and seen a change in my body shape, but most importantly I care much less now about how my body looks, but enjoy what it can do. I love that this body can run up a hill, pull an oar through the water or plunge into a freezing quarry. I couldn’t give a toss if bits of it are a bit wobbly, it’s mine and I love it. I want to change things for practical reasons, rather than because of looks. I’d like to lose a bit more weight, because it will make running more enjoyable and make it easier on my joints, not because it will look better in jeans. I’d like to build muscle to make me a better rower. Changing that perspective is so freeing for your mental health. I’ve made new friends and think I’ve helped other friends to find the thing that they love, too and that makes me feel good.
What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?
Find your thing! For some people it’s running, for some it’s dance or a team sport or exercise classes. Try things, discard those you don’t like, keep doing those you do or think that you might if you get a bit better. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself or spending money on a class or a pair of leggings that make you feel amazing. Volunteer if you’re nervous or force a friend to go with you, even if it’s only once and they never go again. Ask for advice, but feel free to ignore it or do your own thing. Set small, achievable goals. Do it for fun, for adrenalin, for a smug feeling that you’re doing something when others aren’t, not as a punishment because you think you ought to. Do whatever it takes to make it easier and fun – listen to music, reward yourself, buy cool trainers, get an app where a nice lady tells you what a good job you’re doing. Whatever works for you.
I know, rationally, that it hurts when I run or row or cycle. My muscles hurt, my lungs hurt, I want to stop, but that’s not what I remember. I remember seeing a buzzard hovering as I’m shouting out the lyrics to Shake it Off by Taylor Swift on the coast path, or the sun setting over St Ives as we row back to Hayle or feeling unbearably smug, because I stayed 20 minutes in a 12 degree quarry and my fingers have gone numb and I can’t do up my laces, as I’m shivering and I want to do it all over again.
Most importantly if you have daughters then help them to find joy in sport and exercise. Take them with you, let them see it’s fun. If their school is rubbish or they hate team sports then find them a class or junior parkrun, anything at all. Make it a habit. I dearly wish I could go back and tell me that exercise didn’t have to mean standing on a freezing hockey field fervently hoping that the ball would never come near me.
You can follow Kate on Twitter @whatkatyfollows