Fit, Fat, Fit and Don't Mention Haribos (or any other fruit-flavoured gelatinous foodstuff)
I had just come back from 3 weeks in New Zealand watching The British Lions rugby team get a thrashing from the All Blacks and my wife announced she was pregnant. Our first child… First steps.
I pondered impending fatherhood, reminisced on my own childhood and realised that to the age of 18, my life had been almost totally defined by sports.
Rugby, football, cricket, yes… But also trampolining, diving, swimming, tennis, squash, badminton, judo and running. I had loved them all at some point. I was good at some of them too.
But now? Since turning 18 my life had been almost totally defined by junk food, beer and trying to forge a career.
For exercise I struggled my way through a game of 5-a-side football once a week and took the occasional walk that always finished at a pub.
At 5ft 6 (and a bit) and 83 kilos, I was fat. I was out of breath. I wasn’t what I imagined I’d be as a father figure.
I laced on a pair of old trainers and headed out of the door for a run. I managed a mile. Just. I thought my head was going to explode. But it was a first step.
I tried press ups. I almost broke my nose. And I thought my head was going to explode, again. Another first step, though.
I started to make a note of what I ate. I was sure I ate fairly healthily. Did I really drink that much beer? Did I really eat that many take-aways? And crisps? And cheese?
Slowly, I began to eat more vegetables, salads, fruit. Crisps weren’t allowed in the house. I got better at resisting sweets, cakes and biscuits ('better'; showing me a bag of Haribo still induces a Pavlovian response resembling piranhas gorging on a dead man's leg).
I tried to stop eating before my tummy felt like it was going to explode over the top of my trousers. Step by step. Tiptoes at times.
Every day I made a point of doing something active. Anything. I kept practicing the press up (it stayed singular for quite some time). I kept lacing up my running shoes (I even ran in them occasionally). I wanted to redefine my life around a sport again, something new. I wanted to move forward into the future, not the past – I wanted to try kickboxing but I thought I was too old, I thought people would laugh at me. I was scared of getting hurt; not just physically. It took months of worry before I finally found myself at the dojo door. Another first step.
Paragraphs make light of time and I took a lot of it. The wagon was slippery and I fell off – daily sometimes. But I grew to realize that life is like running. You can stumble, stop, sit down and watch everyone run past. You can even laugh at the slow runners puffing along at the back. Eventually you realise they’re stepping towards their goal and they’re getting there quicker than you. It’s simply about making a choice to stand up and rejoin the race. First steps. Take a thousand of them if need be.
Gradually my own runs got longer. I was able to do a full press up; then two, then three. I came to love the life-affirming exhaustion, the sweat and ache that comes with running hard, or hitting the pads with stress-busting jabs and crosses.
Always incapable of doing anything by halves, I dived headfirst into this new world and eagerly began drinking the deep end dry. I was a philosophy and psychology graduate who worked in publishing. So naturally I read, a lot. I read all that I could about weight loss, nutrition, running and martial arts. I sought out coaches, experts, courses – any light that might illuminate my next step. I asked for help and I got it.
Eight years on I weigh 63.5 kilograms with 17% body fat – and I’m currently aiming to cut that by another three. I coach kickboxing four times a week to adults and children. I coach runners taking their first sweaty steps outside their front door and those taking on 100km races. I run those very same races with them.
I no longer work in publishing. I have my own business helping others to lose weight, eat better and move more.
Most importantly I have two children, 6 and 8 years old. They enjoy running, swimming and cycling, playing football, kickboxing… my daughter is the only person I know who thinks ‘circuits’ is a fun game.
Of all the things I’ve done, that’s what I’m most proud of. And I’ve done a lot.
I’ve fought in the ring and I’ve run 87 miles in 18 hours without stopping. At times I’ve also fallen flat on the canvas, given up the race after just a handful of miles, lost my way and piled on the pounds. But now I worry less when I get lost.
The path forward is never a straight, paved road but just as long as I keep walking I’ll get somewhere eventually. And there is always, always someone who will help with directions – coaches, trainers, friends – you just need the nerve to ask.
I’ve come a long way in 8 years and to get there all I had to do was take that first step. I wish I’d done it sooner.
If you have been dreaming about your own journey, take that first step now. Just give us a call. Your body will thank you for it; your partner will thank you for it; you children will thank you for it; you owe it to yourself to start exploring.