Running is a huge part of my life these days. And in recent months, Virtual Runner UK has become a regular, large chunk of that too. I haven’t entered that many non-virtual races thus far, so this is a nice way to get an encouraging medal or two. Because I run a lot these days, distances like five and ten kilometres aren’t much of a challenge, so I usually sign up for the cumulative mileage ones, unless I really love the design of the medal (e.g. Run like a Time Lord) I’m not dissing the distances, or those who find them tough. I find them tough too, when I’m going for a PB, it’s just where I’m at the mo, having been lucky enough to get through the training for a couple of marathons and halfs uninjured.I’ve only been signed up to the website since around March 2017. In that time though, I’ve already earned six medals and am in for fourteen more, taking me through to April 2018! Four of those all get submitted at the end of this month (October). It’ll be a bling rich month, so long as I remember my submission dates. Reminders are already set 🙂 I think the favourite earned so far is the 1000 Mile Challenge one. Not the prettiest, but it represents by far the greatest achievement. I used to be big. I mean really big, and the thought that I could run any distance at all, never mind 1000 miles would have made be laugh a few years ago.This is why VR is so good for me. It gives me mini targets to aim for. If I just sign up for one each month, it will be a cumulative and it makes me think about each day’s run and what it will add to the running total. And where possible, makes me want to better the previous month’s total. Not to mention that I need to keep going to April now to get the use out of the races I’ve entered. I HAVE to continue to run.That reasoning doesn’t take into account the added benefit of getting involved online with others, on the Facebook page. It’s lovely to see happy faces in selfies, showing off their hard earned bling, and the look of pure joy after a run (or just pure knackered!) We share running advice, woes and triumphs (real and virtual) and the best bit is that all ages and abilities are represented. Want to run, but scared of the couch to 5k? Post a question and it’s answered almost immediately by other runners, eager to encourage and help. And you can earn a wee medal while walk/running/C25king too! Or perhaps you’re a seasoned runner, but looking for new tech. Ask who’s got what and see what you fancy. Share your aches and niggles and find out who did what to cure similar ones. I’ve found it particularly useful when I’m down and looking to be given a boot up the backside. Who better to tell me to get my gutties on and get out the door than other runners!I mentioned that I used to be big, so here’s a bit about me, where I was and where I am now.The heaviest I’ve ever been was 287 lb, or twenty stone and seven pounds. That was a few years ago now, probably as much as ten actually. I was around a size 28/30 I think. Certainly, I could no longer buy jeans in ASDA, even though they’d gotten a lot better at supplying cheap, bigger sized clothing in supermarkets. So I was in trackie bottoms, with massive sweat shirts and tee shirts mostly. My other half, The Gorgeous Guy, was reminiscing in a sports shop just a few days ago about him buying my XXL men’s running tees, and them being a neat fit, and when we were in the same shop last week, I bought some boy’s base layer. That made me smile so much!Being 287 lb and loosing weight at that point was not my first attempt to get healthy. My first serious effort was in my mid/late twenties, in 1996 (good grief! Was it really that long ago???), with Weightwatchers. I was sixteen stone ten then, lost six stone in six months and took a year to loose a further fourteen pounds. That was the last time, until now, I was on the right end of my BMI range. As well as WW, I swam almost daily. That was the first time I used exercise regularly to get healthy.I’ve tried a number of times since then, yoyoing between over twenty stone and eleven stone, losing over 100 lb on three separate occasions now. I’m five foot two, so while eleven stone wasn’t too bad, and I was about a size fourteen, and felt I looked good, I was still officially considered over weight. It felt as if I was always going to be a work-in-progress as far as my body was concerned, and frankly, I was sick of it. Was I always going to have to be uber conscious of everything I ate? What sort of life is that?Things changed with running. That is to say, they’ve changed now. It took a while. I ran about twenty-five years ago and let the habit fall to the wayside. I’m not sure I truly enjoyed it, but I stuck with it till I over did it one day, ran ten miles and hurt my left knee (which has never been quite the same since.) I started again seriously in 2011, with my last WW attempt, using on line support, but really getting in to the whole running scene, and discovering parkrun. Women I knew on line were running sub-thirty 5ks and I was in awe. No way I’d ever get to that sort of level, I thought, but I was well chuffed with myself the day I entered a 5k at Stormont Estate in Belfast, and went sub-40! I used Runkeeper to keep track of all my runs from the start, including my own Jeffing version of C25K. I love that I have my RK records back to August 2011. It really tracks my progress (as well as a few regressions I have to admit 😉 ) That’s why I always come back to Runkeeper. I feel unfaithful if I try Strava or MapMyRun, even though I think they might have better functionality as apps and better, more compatible wearable tech.I gained weight again after the 2011 go at it, and decided in 2014 to try for the sqilllionth time. This time I used MyFitnessPal and thought I’d add a bucket list item to the process, so started to train for my first marathon. It was a terrifying concept for a middle aged, habitual chubster such as myself, but it was something I’d been thinking about for years. I really wanted to be able to say I’d completed a marathon. Did you know that so long as you can run for thirty minutes, or run 5k, you can train for a marathon in sixteen weeks? It’s true. I used a training plan that concentrated on finishing, with no emphasis on time. That’s not to say I didn’t have a goal. I wanted to come in under six hours.Training was labour intensive, but I got through it. I lost some weight, but for some reason, a month before the race, I stopped trying to eat healthily. Go figure! I’ve no idea why. It would have made the running so much easier to have been lighter. I continued to run, and on the day of the 2015 Belfast Marathon, I was about fifteen stone. It was tough, especially around mile thirteen, when I cramped up and ended up walking a good part of the second half. My time? 6:25:45.I was devastated, especially given how bad the cramp had been. I mean, I finished! Amazeballs! And people were so proud of me. My Gorgeous Guy has always been such a positive force in my life, and I swear, he couldn’t stop grinning and hugging me when I got to the finish line that day. It was the same with my sister, and and uncle and aunt who’d shown up to surprise me. Still, I wasn’t entirely happy. It felt as if I had unfinished business with the Belfast Marathon. I thought right then that the next time I ran it, I’d go under five hours.Finally, in March 2016, back up to 261 lb, I started tracking my food on MyFitnessPal again. You’ve gotta love my tenacity with this weight loss. I followed my calorie allowance almost fanatically for six months, losing six stone and starting to finally feel good about myself again. That’s when I started running again. In August 2016 I ran 5k twice, delighted to make it round in about thirty-eight minutes. I was about thirteen stone.So I entered the 2017 Belfast Marathon, which is always held on May Day, Monday 1st as it happened. Training commenced after New Year, but till then, I ran regularly, getting my 5k time down to around thirty minutes, purely though repetition. I did a 28.09 in January, and nearly peed myself with excitement!The 1st May saw me run my second marathon in 4:21:35. I still grin when I think about breaking 4:30, never mind five hours. Of course, you know what runners are. I’d no sooner basked in my finish time for all of five minutes, before I was thinking, “What would I need to do to shave twenty two minutes off that?” 😀Present day and I’m about 136 lbs, (me! Under ten stone. Who’d a thunk it?) have been maintaining since early February and am finally considered to be a healthy BMI. I still track my food and exercise on MFP. I’m on day 576 of a continuous streak. I suppose that sounds a bit obsessive, but it works for me. It keeps me aware. I eat plenty, and I often eat the wrong things. Too much sugar is a biggie with me, in the form of ice cream. But I no longer bury my head in the sand. After a weekend of over indulgence, I weigh myself and get back to trying to be more healthy. And I still track every mouthful, even when I eat way too much. It makes for scary reading sometimes. I’ve had days when I’ve been 6000 calories over allowance. Having that in a food diary makes it hard to ignore that I’m out of control sometimes.The running has definitely given me a comfort zone though. I can eat a certain amount of rubbish and not gain too badly, so long as I reign it in after a few days. Mind you, nowadays it’s about more than weight maintenance. I love the feeling of completing 10k, early in the morning, knowing I’ve been active before work. That feeling of fitness means I’m proud of myself, and makes me carry myself differently to how I used to. I walk taller, shoulders back, with a smile on my face.I’m so proud of myself. I don’t want to come across as smug, but I’ve lost 150 lb over all, and I’m a runner. Me. The person who couldn’t throw the discus at school sports day is a regular runner. It’s got nothing to do with distance or times. It’s sticking one foot in front of the other. So Mo Farah and Usain Bolt may not have to worry about their world records falling at my feet, but my shambolic shuffle was valid back in the early days, and it’s not more valid just because it’s become a little faster and more fluid.I’ve always had a few targets in mind that meant I’d see myself as a “real” runner. They are sort of milestone times that mean I can look at myself, in my own opinion, as a good, non competitive, recreational runner.– 5k: sub thirty minutes– 10k: sub sixty minutes– half marathon: sub two hours– marathon: sub four hoursAnd as of today, my PBs are– 5k: 23:11– 10k: 50:04– half marathon: 1:59:03– marathon: 4:21:35I might not have hit the marathon goal yet, but I’m so pleased with myself. I love looking at those times. They don’t make me more or less of a runner than anyone else, but they’re mine.Something else I’ve done is join a running club. I have an official NI Athletics number and everything! I’m a registered athlete. I say again, me! We train together twice a week and it means I do drills and training sessions that I’d never do if I was running alone. It can only be good for me. And it makes what’s always been a very solitary activity a lot more social. I like the solitude, not having to rely on anyone else’s participation. Stick on your shoes and go out the door. You’re set! But the variety is great too. And meeting like minded folks in the flesh adds to the variety. I can’t explain how good it feels to know I can represent a club as well as myself the next time I enter a race. Club vest is the next thing!I think the moral of this tale is that old cliche, if I can do it, anybody can. Fifty years old next year, five foot (ish), ex-fat female, running and genuinely loving it. Seriously. Who’d a thunk it!