When it comes to exercising, we’re often told to ‘find something you love’. There’s no doubt that will help to keep you motivated. Some of us do find that one thing and that’s us sorted for life. But what if you go off something for a while or even permanently? What if you just like experimenting and gaining new skills? There’s so much to be gained from varying your exercise. I’d like to introduce Lucy Thorpe who is the perfect example of how falling in love with running doesn’t mean you’re set for a life of miles on the road and nothing else. Be inspired by her drive to try new things according to where she is in life.

Tell us a bit about yourself Lucy

Hi, I’m Lucy Thorpe. I’m a 55 year old menopausal woman – sometimes struggling, sometimes winning. I’m also a talented digital marketer, a constantly worried mother (girls 18 and 21), a stressed wife, brilliant cook, former BBC radio newsreader and journalist. I’m a good friend who loves to swear, drink, eat, dance and exercise although I didn’t always!

You can find me on Instagram @elbylou and Twitter @LucyThorpe

When did you decide to start exercising regularly and why was that?

I didn’t really make friends with exercise until my mid 40s when I fulfilled a lifetime’s suppressed ambition to be a runner. I had tried it before and made a hash of it – giving up breathless after one circuit of the park. So I told myself I didn’t really fancy it after all and bashed away at step aerobics and Cher videos during my 20s and 30s instead – then kids put paid to everything.

 Spin forward to my mid 40s and we decided to get a family dog which I was now walking regularly. Some school gate mums had formed a running group and I used to look at them enviously as they set off each morning all perky with achievement. One of them had a dog who ran with them and asked me why I didn’t give it a go so I did!  I was really shocked when I made it through the first 20 minutes without pain or breathlessness. I got the bug then and found that I wanted to run further than they were comfortable with – so I started going by myself and just loved the freedom. I carried on running with our little schnauzer Lottie – only leaving her behind once I got to training for a half marathon. After that although I swore I never would, I ended up doing two marathons – Milton Keynes and then the holy grail- London! Our lovely dog died during the first lockdown which was terribly sad but she was a good age and we had stopped running together several years before so she could slow into her old age.      

What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?

It’s hard to keep a love affair with running going forever – it’s an up and down thing for me although it never goes completely. In the last few years since the London marathon I have been searching for what really motivates me. As a result I now work out once a week with a guy round the corner. (If I say personal trainer it sounds so grand – he’s a lovely guy called Chris Hall – my age and a trained PT with a gym in the bottom of his garden) We do a tough hour of cycling, rowing and running with weights in between – tabata/Hiit style. He keeps track of all the numbers and let’s me know how I’m doing. Since lockdown we have met up outdoors on a local hill for interval hill sprints which has had an amazing impact! I love being accountable to someone else because it makes me work so much harder!

I did hot yoga for a couple of years when I needed the mental headspace and found it really meditative and my flexibility improved (as a runner I have very stiff hips) but I started to look enviously at the weight lifters on Instagram and got a little bit obsessed with the wonderful Laura Hoggins who has such a great strong body. I feel so much more inspired by Laura’s body than say someone like, Gillian Michaels – although she does a great job! Maybe it’s because I have naturally big arms and shoulders and I wanted to make the best of them rather than giving in to hiding my arms and getting depressed about ageing! (There is this 70 year old lady on Instagram who works out with weights and has the buffest body -so inspiring!)

As a result I ditched yoga (sorry) and signed up with Red Beard’s Barbell Club. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done since I started exercising. Just finding the gym in a dark muddy farmers backlot was terrifying! Red Beard, who is actually former rugby player and coach Charlie Knight, was so lovely though and didn’t question why I was there. I started to learn how to do the two basic Olympic lifts – the snatch and the clean and jerk. Then lock down came and Charlie kindly lent me a bar to use at home. I loved the technicality of it all and got deep into the weeds of the lifts – but sadly trouble was brewing – and an old broken collarbone started to give me gyp and my shoulder started hurting every time I lifted. In the end I had to give up, although I would not rule out a return as it is really awesome. I still squat low (breaking parallel) when I squat which is a real lifters move and do 30 of them while holding a 10kilo plate most mornings to keep up some of the gains.

Then I moved onto reformer pilates simply because a studio opened up literally opposite my house run by renowned local physotherpists. I am currently three classes into a pass of six and lockdown hit but I was loving the relief it gave me for my shoulder injury!

Meanwhile I found Coach Cory @bitbeefy on Intsagram and just loved his huge enthusiasm for running – so I signed up to a January run 60k challenge on the Nike app and am now running 5k most days to keep me sane in this third lockdown!

What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome in your fitness journey?

The biggest barrier was getting over the idea that I couldn’t run. Once I realised I could, whole world opened up. It helps to have someone to encourage you – for example I would never have started swimming – (yes I did that too!)  if it had not been for a couple of mates who did it – I ended up doing an adult swimming class for about three years while the kids were at school and before I returned to working – with a former paralympian swimmer at our local pool in Maidenhead. Having a coffee afterwards made the whole hassle of finding a parking space and taking off your clothes worthwhile!

Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?

My husband made a few Schwarzenegger quips when I started training with  weights but now he does a regular online pilates class with a bunch of women and there is much revenge I could take there! Also, when I was running a lot some people questioned whether I was over-exercising but I know that wasn’t true – so I just ignored it. I think if you are going to do a marathon you have to become a little bit obsessed because otherwise you aren’t going to get the training done and make it round. It takes over and requires a huge sustained effort. To some people that might not look healthy but I think if it is planned out and in service to a goal then it is fine. Although looking back I don’t know how I did it!

What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?

I try to have a goal but the problem is – in a long term relationship with exercise you will meet those goals ie a marathon and then what do you do? Keeping going and keeping motivated for the long term is the hardest thing. You have to face that you will fall out of love with your first passion, which for me is running and then forge a new, different relationship with it. I don’t really go further than 5k these days but that may change. Different things fit at different life stages and trying new things is good! I tend to do something for about two or three years – so I do commit and give it a go – before moving on if I need to. If my mind is not stimulated then the gains tend to stop. The science of maintaining fitness gains long term is something I don’t fully understand – so this is my version – a kind of constant rebalancing between strength and cardio – trying to dodge injury, boredom and inflexibility. 

What benefits has being active brought you?

I love the fact that I learned to love exercise. I was often overweight as a younger person and looked at active people with envy. I am still short and curvy but when you are strong it feels so much better! Menopause is a challenge but exercise saves me over and over again. In fact exercise supports my general mental health to such a degree that I think I would suffer badly if I became incapacitated for any reason. It is something I dread.

What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?

Try as many different things as you can – do things that look fun or interesting. Look out for taster sessions and offers as things can be pricey. Take inspiration from social media – I got so much from Kelly Holmes instagram community during the first lockdown with daily live core workouts to start the day. Get out into the open air as much as possible – I did a boot camp in the open for several years and it really helped my immune system.

Don’t be put off by your fellow exercisers. We all want the same thing basically. I’ve exercised alongside skinny blokes in shorts, sweary blokes with tatoos, urban woman with mantras, ladies who lunch in lycra – every type of exercise has its tribe but most people are decent human beings and just want to get some headspace and feel good about themselves for a bit. If you hate people and we all do every now and again then do something by yourself – totally for yourself – no one is watching or even cares. Just do it.

If you’ve become active and would like to share your journey to celebrate it and help motivate others then please get in touch.

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