Firstly, thank you so much for all the lovely comments, tweets and emails I received on my last post about how I lost weight. I’m really touched my how many people can relate to my story, and how loosing weight was not quite the answer I’d been looking for.
I mentioned that my fitness journey came about at around the same time that I started to lose weight. I’d been inactive for most of my life, apart from swimming lessons as a child and a brief encounter with the gym as a teenager.
My first tentative steps into fitness were with weekly belly-dancing classes in 2006. As someone who was very overweight and unfit, I felt too self-conscious to join a gym or go running. I loved the glittery costumes and enjoyed the social aspect of belly-dancing. I danced with ‘Benazir’ for about 3 years, there were lots of ‘larger ladies’ in the troupe so I never really felt self-conscious of my weight when we would perform at festivals and events.
The gym was always an intimidating place, but I wanted to get started with some group exercise classes. Body Balance- a Les Mills programme based around yoga with elements of tai chi and pilates, was described as ‘gentle’ on the class timetable, so gave this a go. I loved Body Balance, and attended the class regularly for about 3 years, it was my first experience in the world of yoga.
I knew that fitness had to be fun above anything else, in order to get myself to stick with it. As I began to lose weight, I started to venture into other exercise classes to see what appealed. Pole-dancing was one of the classes I tried, but I simply didn’t have the upper-body strength to support myself on the pole. I also took a 8 week trampolining course, which I loved but I was too nervous to throw myself into a somersault. A brief encounter with Ceroc (a fusion of salsa and jive) ended after one class- definitely not for me! I experimented with some fitness DVDs at home, but found I didn’t have the motivation to exercise without being in a group setting.
My first attempt at running came in 2008 when I took part in a Race for Life 5km to raise money for Cancer Research. To say that I struggled was an understatement! My training was non-existent and I hated every moment of the 5km run. I finished feeling nauseous, somewhere around the 38 minute mark and vowed never to run again!
|Smiling as I was glad to be finished!|
The Zumba craze really hit the UK in 2010, and after trying my first class at a local sports centre, I was totally hooked. I loved the latin music, high-energy instructors and that it was suitable for even the most uncoordinated of dancers!
I was taking up to 9 Zumba classes a week a one point, and considered training as an instructor, but I was also aware that this was a fitness trend that would probably pass in a few years. I went to loads of Zumbathons, including the world’s largest at Twickenham in which we broke a world-record!
By 2011, I was a fully-fledged gym bunny taking every group exercise class on the schedule. Some of my firm favourites were Body Attack, Body Pump and circuit training. I also took on a Personal Trainer and started to find my way around the weights room at the gym. My upper body strength began to improve, and I was chuffed to be able to complete 40 press-ups in a row! Boxing with a PT was my favourite way to pass an hour in the gym, I’d leave with throbbing hands and dripping with sweat.
|At the Pink Aerobics in Hyde Park 2011|
One class which still really intimidated me was spin. I’d heard that the class with the pumping music and fast-paced cycling was only for the super-fit, so I avoided it at all costs. One day curiosity got the better of me, and I went for my first spin. I found it impossible to keep up with the instructor and could barely walk for days afterwards!
It’s so funny how I’ve come full-circle and now manage an indoor cycling (spin) studio, which can see me taking up to 6 classes a week. I now know that my experience at that initial class was due to a bad instructor, poor posture and incorrect technique. I’m glad that it never put me off!
In Spring 2011, 2012 and 2013, I grabbed a group of friends and headed off to the Fitness Fiesta. These weekenders are 3-day long events held at holiday camps across the UK. There is the opportunity to take part in a huge range of group exercise classes. I generally averaged 15-18 classes over the weekend including pilates, aqua aerobics, dance, boxing, weights, circuits and cheer-leading! I’d come home from these weekends absolutely shattered, but buzzing from all the atmosphere.
|Hula-hooping at the Fitness Fiesta in 2011|
Fitness had really become an integral part of my life by this point, it was important to incorporate it in to my day even on holiday. I had grown in confidence through finding enjoyment in exercise, and I was keen to try anything new and challenging.
I spent a lot of time on the Weight Watchers chat forums and there would always be a lot of talk about ‘Couch to 5k’- a running programme which coaches beginners right up to being able to run a 5km race. After the disastrous attempt at Race for Life, I wanted give running another shot so downloaded the C25k app and I signed up for a 5km to give myself a goal to work towards. The training plan was broken down with a run/walk strategy, gradually building up to a 30 minute non-stop run. I found it incredibly tough to run for more than a few minutes, but was determined to stick with it. After training all summer, I ran my first ‘proper’ 5km race- the Adidas Women’s Challenge in 30:40.
|My first 5km- the Adidas Women’s Challenge in 2011|
The following year, I wanted to build my running further and booked a place in the Bupa London 10km. This time I used a training plan from Zest magazine, to build up towards 6.2 miles. I’d really grown to love running by this point, and I went along to running clubs organised by Sweaty Betty, Boutique Sport and Lorna Jane to train for the 10km.
|Sweaty Betty Run Britannia run club|
Later that year, Glen and I walked 26.2 miles through the night as part of the Shine walking marathon. I must say this was the toughest challenge I’ve done so far- I’m not good on little sleep!
2013 was all about trying as many different types of exercise as possible. Last year saw me take on an obstacle course, try different styles of yoga, join Nike Training Club classes, hike 20 miles along the Jurassic Coast and trying rock-climbing.
I’d heard that swimming is a fantastic form of cross-training for runners, so last summer I decided to sign up for a course of adult swimming lessons. I’ve kept up with the swim training for the past 16 months, and I’ve seen massive improvements in my technique, stamina and ability.
This year has really been ‘my year’ in terms of fitness. I’ve ran three half-marathons, completed three triathlons, changed careers to work in fitness, and taken countless classes including hot pilates, ballet bootcamp and kickasana, and trained as an indoor cycling instructor. I’m keen to try new forms of fitness all the time, but I think I’ve really found ‘the one’ in triathlon.
I’m amazed at my transformation from fitness-phobe to fitness-freak over the past 8 years. I never dreamed that I would be the girl who enjoyed open-water swimming and found a love of road cycling. Triathlon has become my real focus, with several Olympic-distance races on the schedule for 2015. I’ve taken on a coach and I love training with my club Havering Tri.
For me, the buzz of getting fit, has far outweighed the disappointment that I felt after losing weight. It’s been important for me to separate exercise and weight loss in my mind- I don’t train to burn calories or lose/maintain my weight. I train because I enjoy it, I love feeling fit and strong, I love setting new personal bests and I love learning new skills.
For anyone who is new to fitness and struggling to get started, I’d recommend trying as many different things as possible and finding out what you love. I believe there is something out which will appeal to anyone, it is just a matter of trying and having some fun along the way.