From binge drinker to Ironwoman
From couch potato to running bean
I was living in London in my early 20s when I first started running.
As a student, I used to occasionally go to watch two close friends finish 10k run events and would loudly declare that I could never, ever run that far. Binge drinking and smoking were my favourite activities back then.
Still a binge drinker and on and off smoker, one day I was sitting on my windowsill having a cigarette and I saw a woman run past. She looked fit, strong and happy. Having felt a bit down and empty for a while, a crazy idea came over me. Maybe I could become one of those people. Maybe running would be good for me.
The next day I put on my gym shorts, a baggy t-shirt and trainers and went outside for my running debut. Within a few minutes I felt like I was about to have a heart attack but I was determined to continue.
I ran to the park gasping loudly for breath and wondered why on earth anyone would ever do this. I lasted 15 minutes in total and when I got home my face was as red as a tomato.
Despite this painful start I kept going and somehow, a year later, I ran my first ever half marathon. If someone had told me I would do that the year before I would have laughed loudly and told them to stop joking.
It was slow and painful but I had the bug and continued running over the years. I finally ran my first marathon almost four years later. Crossing the finish line was the most amazing feeling and while my time wasn't fast compared to many, I was so proud of that moment.
In 2013 I decided to have a go at a triathlon. My partner had done several Ironman events and made a deal with me that he would do another one the following year if I completed a triathlon of any distance.
I started having swimming lessons and I was useless. Having never swum freestyle in my life I had no idea how hard it would be.
At the start I could only make it to 25 metres and I'd be hyperventilating and hanging on to the edge of the pool for dear life.
I also bought my first road bike and turned up to a group ride run by Revolve, a women's group in Wellington, feeling like a dork wearing old running shoes, a mountain biking helmet and an ill fitting borrowed cycling top.
I was terrified but I had nothing to worry about - those women were so welcoming and looked after me for the entire ride. It was a great introduction to road biking.
Still swimming with a style that could be best described as 'controlled drowning', I completed a short triathlon at the end of March - a 400 metre swim, 15km cycle, and 4km run.
I breast stroked my way through most of the swim in a panic but had fun and became determined to improve. I had also recently gone to watch Ironman New Zealand in Taupo with my partner.
I was so inspired. I had no idea how anyone could swim 3.8km, bike 180km and then run a marathon. In my mind the people doing it were verging on superhuman.
Yet I saw many ordinary people doing it, young and old, all shapes and sizes and people with physical impairments (including an amputee). The strength these people showed to get through that day filled me with emotion. I didn't think I could do it but quietly wondered whether maybe, one day, I could.
I'm not sure what came over me but I found myself registering for Ironman New Zealand 2014 a few weeks later. My partner was doing it and managed to persuade me that it was possible for me to be ready to complete the event under the 17 hour limit with a year of training.
I was determined to do it and spent the year working on my swimming, biking and running. There were so many skills to learn on top of just getting out there - even taking my hands off the handle bars to have a drink was hard for me at the start. Then there was learning to ride on aerobars, and eating on the bike (I wondered how that even worked).
There were so many challenges along the way but somehow, with the help of an amazing coach for the last 12 weeks of training, I found myself getting in the water in Taupo on March 1 to take part in my first ever Ironman.
I eventually crossed the finish line 14 hours and 49 minutes later. It was one of the most painful and enjoyable days of my life and I burst into tears when I crossed the finish line because I was so overwhelmed by the fact I had done it.
My time certainly wasn't fast but it was something I would never in a million years have thought I could do. Never once during the day did I ever think 'I'm never doing this again'. I was just happy to be there doing it, being one of those people I had looked at in awe a year previously.
I didn't write this story because I think I am remarkable in any way but because I want to inspire people who have exercise-related goals that they think are impossible - whether it is a 5km run, 10km run, a marathon, an Ironman or just having the courage to make it out the door to go for that first run.
It's been almost seven years since I started running and my life has improved immeasurably as my passion for exercise has grown over the years.
I am happier, healthier and have made so many great friends along the way.
You might not think you are that sort of person. You might think you will look ridiculous. You may even think that your body is just not physically capable of certain things. I used to think all of those things.
But if you start slowly and take those first steps, you never know where it could lead you to.
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