Everyone’s barriers to activity are different. Ann explains how she had pretty much given up exercise in her twenties due to long term back pain. She discovered for herself how exercise is really important in managing and preventing back pain. Read about how she overcame it and the amazing, active things she’s getting up to now, in this latest #ActiveWomen interview!
Tell us a bit about yourself Ann …
Hello, I’m Ann Currie and I love running and triathlon. I blog as Adventurous Mum, mainly about the events I have entered (there have been a few). I recently left the legal profession to seek out a life with more fun in it! I run a business renting out my camper van and have become a Run Leader, hopefully inspiring others to take up running and enjoy it. I’m also mum to twins who are nearly 12 and, along with my husband, we endeavour to keep them and our 15-year-old border terrier, healthy and happy.
When did you start exercising and why?
I hated PE at school but I was lucky enough to have a fantastic English teacher who taught fencing. He encouraged me to join his after-school club. I joined the fencing club at Strathclyde University and continued to fence throughout Uni. From there, I did lots of exercise classes (step classes were THE big thing at the time), the gym and swimming.
I hurt my back when I was 26. It gradually got worse so that by the time I was 29, I was in a lot of pain and I had all but given up exercise. Luckily, I was referred to a pain management programme which educated me that I needed to get back to exercise but to do it gradually. I went back to swimming and built back up to swimming a mile three times per week. I then added in walking, building up to walk/running.
When I was invited to take part in a corporate 5k race, I built my fitness up and was pleased to complete it in 27 minutes! I then set my sights on a sprint triathlon (although I can’t remember how this actually came about in the days before social media!) I did a taster tri (much like the Go Tri sessions you see now) organised by Chester Triathlon Club, in a swimsuit, on my mountain bike and loved it. I then did about seven sprint triathlons, a few 10ks and a half marathon before having my twins.
My parents and my sisters weren’t very active so I am not sure where all this comes from! However, I have always liked how exercise makes me feel. When I had my back pain, I was desperately unhappy with how I looked and felt as I had put on two stones in weight so this was my impetus to start again.
What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?
I am not so fond of ball sports (school PE teachers have a lot to answer for!) but I have tried every type of exercise class going and love a good spin class. I took up Taekwondo while my twins were small. It took six years but I got my black belt at the ripe old age of 43!
I enjoy hill walking with my husband although we don’t get to go out to the hills as much as we used to. I have always loved swimming despite never having any lessons as a child. I am not a fast swimmer but I have been lucky enough to be a natural swimmer in the sense that the breathing always seemed to come naturally to me. Starting open water swimming in 2014 was a whole new dimension. I love the feeling of looking up and seeing the sky and not the ceiling of the swimming pool. Triathlon is a passion too. The variety of the training keeps it interesting and the buzz of race day is like no other. However, if pushed, I will say that running is my favourite discipline and the sport I enjoy the most.
What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome on your fitness journey?
Overcoming my back pain was without a doubt my biggest barrier. I had got myself into a mindset that exercise was bad for my back and that it was making the pain worse. I didn’t realise that the lack of exercise was the problem as you need to have strong muscles around the injury and a strong core (as Darcy Bussell is always telling us on Strictly!) to help overcome the injury. I have not suffered from major back pain since taking up endurance activities and running. I am also hard of hearing and wear two hearing aids which can make swimming and triathlon difficult. However, I have never let it stop me; it just makes me extra nervous on race day about trying to leave my hearing aids in a waterproof box with a marshal. I shouldn’t really worry as no one has ever said anything negative about this either.
Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?
I have had my sister asking me whether I was sure that this running was good for my knees (eyeroll – that old chestnut) but I have persuaded her that the opposite is true. Most of the recent studies say that it could even be good for your knees and not just because it keeps your weight down. However, when you join the running and triathlon community, you will find mostly like-minded people who do nothing but support and encourage. There are a few people who are a bit elitist but I find that the community on the whole is wonderfully welcoming and encouraging.
What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?
I have set various goals over the years, mainly about trying various races and trying to see where my limits are. I have since done two standard distance triathlons and I completed the Liverpool Rock and Roll Marathon last May, a long held ambition of mine. I also took on a quadrathlon last year (canoeing is the fourth discipline) and a marathon swim, swimming the entire length of Coniston in the Lake District (5.25 miles.) I then began to believe that an ultra-marathon was possible and, indeed it is, because I completed Canalathon, a 50km ultra last month!
I haven’t got many races planned for the rest of 2018 as I am focusing on my new business. I am thinking about Chester Marathon in October and I plan to work on my fitness in the meantime, building in some more strength and conditioning.
I qualified as a Leader in Run Fitness last October and have finally set up a running group here in Meols where I live, aimed at beginner and improver runners. I’d love to grow this and offer different sessions.
My long term bucket list includes a half ironman triathlon, the London and/or the New York marathons and the Hoka Highland Fling (there, I’ve said it!)
What benefits has being active brought you?
I think most people come to exercise as a means of helping them with their weight control, much like myself. The benefits extend beyond that, though, to include the release of endorphins as a powerful mood lifter and the feeling of strength within that helps you cope with everyday life. It’s well documented that being connected to other people and enjoying strong social circles has an impact on your mental health and longevity. Hopefully, you will also meet the most wonderful people who will become firm friends, as I have.
What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?
I would say to examine what is holding you back. If it is a fear that other people will be watching and judging you, then put that to one side. Most people are too busy with their own exercise to look at others. Anyone that does judge you will likely have their own self esteem issues and what matters is your health and your enjoyment. If returning to exercise, take it slow and build up gradually to get the most out of it. And enjoy!