This Girl Can, Too

For most of my life I avoided exercise, thinking I was too fat. With poor self-esteem and body image, I thought exercise was only for those with long, lithe legs and flat tummies. I still don’t have long, lithe legs, and nor do I have a flat tummy, but I am now voluntarily running 5 kilometres a couple of times a week. What is that all about?

For the last few months I had been half-heartedly running on the treadmill. At first, I was struggling to run for two minutes, but had progressed 20 minutes, with a distance just shy of 4km.

Last Wednesday, I decided to give a 5km a go, but to relax and see what happened. I put the speed on the treadmill to 9.5, nice and steady. When I got to 15 minutes, I increased the speed by 0.1 every minute until I got to 10 at 20 minutes. After that time, I was into unchartered territory. At 23 minutes, I was really struggling and slowed down to a walk for two minutes to get my breath back. By 25 minutes, I was back running again, increasing the speed to 10.5. A strand of hair had escaped from my ponytail and the sweat was dripping down it, tickling my neck. My legs and lungs were begging for mercy.

At 31.47 I saw the distance counter tick over to 5km. I was overjoyed.

This girl can!

I was so proud, I recorded the event in my diary, and awarded myself a gold star.

I was so proud, I recorded the event in my diary, and awarded myself a gold star.

[Hazy flashback moment…]

My reluctance to take part in sport began at school: with puppy fat, being clumsy, a daydreamer, and having poor hand-eye coordination (no self-deprecation here, it’s all true), I didn’t get on well with the traditional school sports of netball and hockey. I was always picked last, which cemented my belief that I was hopeless at physical activity. I did after-school dancing class, and swimming, but there were always girls who were better at both than me – and these were the girls with long, lithe legs and flat tummies, not like dumpy little me (so I thought.)

During the formative years of my life, I had a constant belief that if only I was slimmer and taller, I would be able to [insert ambition here].

Fast forward a few years, and I am living in Auckland, New Zealand. I haven’t grown any taller, sadly, but I am getting slimmer. While I am generally more active than I have ever been, I have also discovered running. Martin and I started by running up and down the road next to where we lived in Mt Eden, and we then progressed to running up the volcano the suburb is named after (don’t worry, the volcano has been dormant for centuries). I lost loads of weight, and was the slimmest I have ever been.

On returning home to the UK, I continued to run. I took part in the Race for Life, running the 5km in a fairly decent time of 25 minutes or so.

Me after running a Race for Life, in about 2006. I was classed as 'overweight'.

Me after running a Race for Life, in about 2006. I was classed as ‘overweight’.

The funny thing was, being slim did not give me the self-confidence I so craved. Weight loss isn’t a magic concept that can change your mindset in itself, I discovered.

The weight began to reappear after an accident on a walking holiday in the French Alps. The day after our arrival in Chamonix, we set about walking the Grand Balcon Nord. Martin and I were both pretty fit, but we found the walk up much harder than we realised – the altitude was a bit of a shock to the system, too. As I mentioned earlier, I am clumsy, and on the way down I slipped and twisted my knee.

Me at Lac Blanc. I was too knackered to smile: sensible people get the cable car to Plan Praz and walk up from there. Not us.

Me at Lac Blanc. I was too knackered to smile: sensible people get the cable car to Plan Praz and walk up from there. Not us.

Well, most sensible people would say “Oh dear, I had better rest my knee so it gets better.” Not me. A trip to the pharmacy sorted me out with anti-inflammatory painkillers and a knee brace, while an outdoor shop equipped me with a pair of walking poles. I carried on with the holiday as though my knee was fine.

You don’t need to be a knee specialist to figure out that was not very wise. You will also not be surprised to discover that my knee took a very long time to heal.

While my knee was healing, the running and other activity in the gym I had previously been doing became very difficult. Even when my knee had recovered, I developed a psychological aversion to the treadmill, thinking I couldn’t do it and besides, it was deathly boring. I didn’t change my eating habits, and the weight piled on.

But you know what? Due to a variety of factors while my weight increased, my self-confidence soared.

The trouble for my waistline was I now did not want to equate my self-confidence of body self-image with my weight or dress size. I was awesome no matter how much I weighed! I started achieving the ambitions the younger me thought would be possible only if I was slimmer, and taller (I’m still only 5’2″).

I am a comfort eater, and during the past year since Hugo died I have had a very good excuse to comfort eat. However, I was feeling uncomfortable and bloated. Eventually, I came to the realisation that all the chocolate and cake in the world is not going to give me back my son. In addition, the HELLP syndrome and pre-eclampsia that necessitated Hugo’s very premature birth, and that caused his death often causes the mum to get cardiovascular disease in later life.

Today, I am a dress size 14 to 16, and the body mass index (BMI) chart tells me I am ‘obese’. How rude. To be honest, even when I was running before my knee incident, and a dress size 10 to 12, I was still classed as ‘overweight’. BMI is only one indicator of health and fitness.

Me, after a recent workout. I believe the polite term is 'glowing'.

Me, after a recent workout. I believe the polite term is ‘glowing’.

I have returned to exercise, in Hugo’s honour – prolonging my life, when life was denied to my precious boy. Imagining Hugo was saying “Come on Mummy, you can do it Mummy” helped me during the 5kms I have run this week (I repeated the feat last Sunday, shaving 10 seconds or so off the time). I have returned to running as a mark of respect to my body – I nearly experienced multiple organ failure and after Hugo was born I recovered physically very quickly. I need to keep my body physically strong.

Already, I am feeling better. My tummy is less bloated, my waist is returning to its former hourglass shape, my legs feel firmer. I am comfortably back in my pre-pregnancy jeans. I still eat cake and chocolate – life is too short not too indulge a little. It is about balance.

I love the new This Girl Can campaign. I wish it had been around when I was younger, so I could see I  didn’t need long, lithe legs and a flat tummy to go out and do sport. That I can exercise, even with bits that jiggle.

That this girl can, too.

 

#BloggingToJogging

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

35 thoughts on “This Girl Can, Too

  1. mrshsfavouritethings says:

    A brilliantly inspiring post lovely Leigh. I too was awful at sport as a child and the idea of running around our school lacrosse pitch still brings me out in a cold sweat. But in my 20s I discovered that exercise didb’t have to be competitive or demeaning. I found a love for running and yoga. I now mostly do exercise DVDs and I attend a bootcamp on Saturday mornings. I feel so much better for it. I am glad that Hugo is your motivation. Keep on running! Hugs Mrs H xxxx

    Like

    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Yes! Absolutely – exercise doesn’t have to be competitive. There needs to be more options available for sport in schools, to save that kind of fear of exercise. It’s fab you’ve discovered running and yoga. Bootcamp sounds full on, but I’m glad you feel much better for it lovely xxx

      Like

  2. Honest Mum says:

    Oh Leigh I’m crying reading your post, you are so strong and brave and hearing your son’s voice to keep you going is so important-let that continue to drive you. Taking those steps to feeling healthier too will have a big impact. I do think food can be negative emotionally too, I remember going through the trauma after O’s birth just wanting to eat rubbish and the days I forced myself to eat low GI balanced food supported me a little better. Exercise can help too. Yoga has helped me no end. You are amazing and love your attitude, the fact you didn’t let your knee set you. Your determination is inspiring. Thanks so much for linking up to #brilliantblogposts x

    Like

  3. DrJuliet says:

    Yes!! So many women will relate to this post. So right that exercise is not just about weight control. It goes much deeper than that. Wonderful that Hugo can motivate and inspire you and help to keep you healthy for the future. x

    Like

  4. DrJuliet says:

    Yes!! So many women will benefit and identify with this Leigh. I agree the benefits of exercise are not always about weight control, it goes much deeper than that. How wonderful that Hugo can help you improve your future health through being your mantra and inspiration. x

    Like

    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thank you, Juliet. It’s so important to show that women (and men!) of all shapes and sizes can exercise – weight control is only one benefit. Hugo is definitely a key motivation for me xx

      Like

  5. joyandpops says:

    Well done for getting back into it – I’m a big believer in exercise as a mood lifter.
    I was never into sport when younger. In fact I was well into my 20’s before I realised that I could actually enjoy exercise. Now it’s a huge part of my life.
    After 3 (quite large) babies my body is stretched and things will never go back exactly where they belong – however, exercise is about so much more than the number on the scales. It’s about being strong.
    Best of luck with the running!
    Xx
    #brilliantblogposts

    Like

    • Leigh Kendall says:

      You’re right, exercise is about so much more than the number on the scales. It’s about being strong, fit, healthy, and confident – and not obsessing about your shape. Glad to hear you’re enjoying running too! Thanks for the comment xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Spidermummy says:

    I don’t mind admitting that this post really moved me, I love that Hugo keeps you going when you’re running & that you’re doing it for you and him. Good for you and I’m glad it’s making you feel good, running is awesome in my book (not that I go often enough these days!) xx

    Like

  7. Hannah Budding Smiles says:

    You totally, absolutely can do it and are doing it!! So pleased for you Leigh, what an inspiring post to read! It’s made me so happy reading this and I hope that you get a lot out of your achievements (and well done for recognising them) xxxx Thanks for linking with #BloggingToJogging xx

    Like

  8. anotherbun1 says:

    I’ve always wanted to run, but like you I’ve always felt I couldn’t. Reading this just proves I can, and it’s given me a kick up the bum. Fantastic blog post as always

    Like

  9. sriches says:

    Oh wow that is fantastic well done! 🙂 I have just started running too after always hating it… hoping to run a few 5k races this year but need to feel more comfortable about it yet – will get there but your post has definitely inspired me to carry on! 🙂
    Sim @ simslife.co.uk
    #WeightLossWednesday xx

    Like

  10. Franki ~ Little Luca & Me says:

    Love this. I heard a debate about the campaign the other day and could not believe they were even debating about whether it was a good thing or bad! I love the advert and campaign and I too am going to blog about it. My experience with sport was slightly different to yours as a kid but I too hated it! This campaign has made me think about sport differently now and maybe would have done for my teenage self. Your ‘glowing’ self looks fab by the way, I look much less attractive when I’m ‘glowing’!

    Like

    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Thanks Franki! As we were discussing on Twitter last night, that debate really was rather silly and distracted from the positivity of the campaign – it is not objectifying women at all – I’d be against it if it was! Thanks for your comment lovely xxx

      Like

  11. Tim says:

    Well done, you. Although, yet again, you put me to shame. I’ve set myself a more modest ambition of going out and doing at least 20km of walks every month, with the vague ambition of taking up running again (I say “again” – I hate running and have never managed more than a few weeks at a time) during the Easter holidays. Small steps!

    Like

  12. Amber says:

    What a positive post! I’m 5’2″ and never going to be slender either, but I am gorgeous (if I say so myself!), capable and healthy. And I can run a 5k. I’m so pleased that you have rediscovered running. As well as feeling physically better, I’m sure that the endorphins will be kind to you.

    I wish that you lived in London too. It would be fun to have a running partner.

    Like

    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Gorgeous, capable and healthy are good things to be! And being able to run 5km is awesome, isn’t it? Yes, shame I don’t live in London, would be lovely to have someone to run with. Thanks for commenting, lovely xxx

      Like

  13. Mummy Tries says:

    Oh Leigh you are so amazing, such a massive inspiration to us all. I’m really pleased to hear that you’ve got into your fitness, and 25 mins for 5km is awesome. Well done lovely lady, keep up the marvellous work xxx

    Like

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