Every year our Great North Run team come together to run 13.1 miles in a bid to raise money and awareness about the growing issues affecting our young residents, who would otherwise be homeless. Our team ranges from highly experienced runners to first-time runners, each of whom has their own very special reasons for choosing to run and fundraise for us. Every now and again the story of one of our team captures our hearts and shows us just how truly inspirational they can be.
“I was on social media the other day and a memory came up from 2 years ago about the Great North Run. Basically, the bus times had changed because of the race and I was forced to run for my bus, it said
‘If I liked running I would have signed up for the Great North Run.’
It was mind-blowing to see it the day after I had done it, just two years later.”
Sitting with Anna, 35, who is relaxing in our café after an intense session in our gym, chatting about her first experience of participating in this years Great North Run, you’d never know the journey she had been on to get to this point. Anna talks openly about the experiences that lead her to the start line.
“2 years ago I had separated from my ex, it was a very toxic relationship. I felt really lost. Career-wise I had sacrificed a lot to try and save the relationship, I had stepped down from a management role, which I had worked incredibly hard for so that I could try and focus my attention on making things work. It didn’t work and I was left in a really difficult position. The house we had bought together, the home that I lived in and loved, was going to have to be sold. My confidence was in the gutter, both with how I looked and felt about myself. I was 14stone 11lb”
“The turning point came when we had to replace our uniform at work and the size 18 tops didn’t fit. I was given some size 20 from a friend at work and they fit. Size 20! I knew I had to do something different. Within a few days, I started at slimming world. It forced me to pay attention to what I was eating, make healthier choices and basically just be more organised with mealtimes – breaking bad habits. Initially, over the course of a year, just from dieting, I lost 2 stone.”
Speaking from the heart and with an inner strength that radiates, Anna went on to paint a picture of some very painful experiences which has impacted on her physical and mental health.
“In 2007 my Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and just 2 short months later, we lost him. I was 24. I’ve had years of dealing with grief, I don’t think you ever get over it, you just learn to live with the loss. After we lost him I had anxiety and depression, it’s a really hard thing to deal with at any age. I had previously been medicated to try and manage the symptoms. I also suffered from an eating disorder, bulimia.”
A huge part of Anna’s recovery and progress has been her ability to hold herself accountable;
“I did a lot of work over the years to reach a point of feeling better within myself, but once my weight-loss started to plateau I needed to do something different. To take control and not allow all of the work to unpick. Accountability is really important in anybody’s journey in trying to change themselves. Things like taking my own food round to my mums when she was having a take away with my daughter, it may have seemed like I was being obsessive, but I needed to do it. It was all about being realistic and planning.”
Anna recalls the first time she took the plunge and visited the gym.
“My first trip (to the gym) was with a friend from work. I did what I imagine most people do, 10 reps on everything and too high a weight and absolutely refused to go anywhere near the treadmill. I was still smoking at the time, overweight and felt so unconfident.”
Slowly but surely Anna began to progress by going to more classes and using the machines more effectively. Anna never quite found the confidence to go on a treadmill though, and then one day it all changed. From that point on there was no going back.
“I remember the first time I went on the treadmill. I was just going to walk next to my friend. I never thought that I actually could run, I didn’t think my legs would carry me like that so I just walked.”
Anna wasn’t ready to give up there,
“The second time I actually had a go, I picked my feet up and I ran for 10 min straight without stopping. Within two weeks I had run for an hour without stopping…I couldn’t believe it. Within a couple of months of starting at the gym, something happened in my personal life that really brought home the reality of my lifestyle choices. A close friend lost her husband with a heart attack. It really affected me in terms of my own behaviours and I took responsibility there and then and gave up smoking completely within 2 months. It was a total game changer.”
Anna found ways of keeping herself motivated and on track.
“I gave myself realistic goals – I remember there being a class at the gym that looked intense and hard work. I gave myself the goal of trying to make the class happen after a couple of months. I stuck to my plan and did it. Having achievable realistic goals meant that I was never far from reaching my next target!”
Anna’s family have played a huge part in keeping her focused;
“Being my best for my daughter also drives me. Especially when she’s at an impressionable age, where the media tells women to look a certain way, and be a particular size. I want to show her what matters is being fit, strong and healthy.”
After talking to Anna about why she chose to run and fundraise for us, it’s clear she is really passionate about what it means to her.
“YMCA embodies values I really agree with, supporting people to feel better in and about themselves. It gives them opportunities in education, housing, and their gym facilities are brilliant too. The work that YMCA do really resonate with me as if I hadn’t been lucky enough to have the support of my family, I could easily have ended up in a similar place to some of those less fortunate young people. It was easy for me to ask people for money based on the work and training I was putting in, but also knowing that the money raised transforms the lives of vulnerable young people. It gives them chances that they might not have had otherwise.”
Anna’s transformation goes so much further than the physical. She explained;
“I’m feeling much more capable to deal with the stressful and upsetting events that happen, because I’m in a better place, now that I eat well and work out. I still feel the stress, sadness and fear but after the initial hit of emotion, I feel able to look at the problems and ways to work them out. In the past, I would have spiralled with alcohol, cigarettes and binge eating. Normally followed by a purge. I just feel stronger physically and emotionally.”
I asked Anna if she had any advice for anyone who resonates with what she has been through;
“Don’t underestimate the benefits of diet and exercise on your mood and your confidence. Don’t be scared to use medication in the short term if you need it. Don’t sit in your comfort zone. If you sit there then that’s where you’ll stay. Don’t let one bad day, or slip up, derail everything. Every small step really does make a huge change.”
Anna is still setting herself goals and is motivated for the next challenges that she hopes to smash.
“Heights terrify me, but I keep pushing myself to do the things that put me outside of my comfort zone. And yoga! I saw someone doing the peacock pose, and thought ‘I could never do that’. Then I remembered I said that about the Great North Run!”
Are you ready for a challenge?
Are you ready to set yourself a realistic goal that will help you get motivated?
YMCA Gym can help you get fit, get motivated and be part of a supportive ‘family’ that will celebrate every success with you and keep you going when you need that extra bit of encouragement. Our amazing array of classes covers everything from Yoga to Les Mills Bodypump and Body Balance.
Head over to our website to find our gym class timetable, a full list of prices and more information on our state of the art accessible facilities.