How I got into running at the age of 39
I was never into running growing up. I played football when I was little and then Judo in my teenage years, but really from the ages of 14 onwards sport had very little to do with my lifestyle. In my mid-30s I was depressed about my weight and my looks and I saw a personal trainer for a couple of years, but then I moved to Hong Kong in 2012 and the demands of my job and the lifestyle there pretty much threw that out the window. I valiantly tried to go on small jogs, but nothing outweighed the continuous lack of sleep, long work hours, travel, eating out and drinking. After 22 years in the corporate world, culminating in a position of Chief Financial Officer looking after the Asia region for a global consultancy, I decided to quit to find some balance in my life and pursue a journey of self-discovery. I had been back home to Crete for Easter (my favourite holiday) and being surrounding by loving family, I knew something was missing in my life. I had no commitments, some money in the bank and if I didn’t get off the merry go round now, then a new work challenge would come along and I knew that I would never get off it. I was feeling restless, unfulfilled and needed a change. It was one of the biggest and scariest decisions of my life but ultimately one of the most rewarding ones. The night I handed in my notice to work I had a dream I was soaring through the skies like a bird. I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom and happiness. It was this dream that later sparked the inspiration for ”Live Happy Run Free”.
I did some travelling and eventually ended up back in Greece where I studied Greek in Athens. My brother and I hadn’t learned the language growing up, as the teachers back then had told my parents that we wouldn’t learn English so well if they continued to speak to us in Greek. What a shame! We know now, that this is the best time to learn! I was conscious that my Greek Grandma wasn’t getting any younger (she was in her 90s at the time) and not speaking English, the only way I was going to be able to communicate with her effectively and learn all her stories would be to learn the language. It was great to have a project in that first year of not working which was probably the most difficult for me. I felt lost at sea, without a purpose. For years, my career had driven all of the decisions in my life – what I was doing, where I was living. Suddenly, I had a blank sheet of paper and I could do anything and live anywhere. It was very daunting. After about a year, I came to the realization of how lucky I was to be in this predicament and vowed that I would make the most of every precious day to figure out this thing called ‘adulting’ and try to be the best version of myself.
While living in Athens, I was feeling restless still unsure about what I was doing with my life. So in a bid to combat this feeling, I laced up my trainers and started jogging. There is no other word for it, I can’t pretend to call it running. It felt slow and hard, the first 20 minutes always being the most difficult and not managing to last much more than 30 minutes at a time. I would do this a couple of times a week and each time my little route would take me past the local butchers store and through the park. I went into the butchers store one day to buy some meat and the butcher greeted me warmly, saying that he had seen me running and that I had good form! Of course, I laughed at him, saying it was hardly running, more like a slow jog! He pointed to his trophies and told me that he competes in the Athens Marathon. Wow!! A marathon?? I couldn’t even fathom running that far. I had run a half marathon in Cambodia for charity a year back and it had nearly killed me and I swore I would never run again after that experience. Still, a seed had been planted and I went home thinking about the Athens Marathon. The first authentic marathon! And in my homeland! I wondered whether this was the challenge, the purpose I had been looking for? It would certainly be a challenge! I remembered getting bored easily at work, functioning better with a long list of tasks and the thought of running long miles didn’t appeal, how on earth would I be able to run 26.1 miles?
I had a look at when the marathon was and it was some 4/5 months away. I researched training plans and found one that looked sensible, from a well renowned running magazine. I thought, ok, lets try and follow week one of the training plan and we’ll go from there. So, I did and I amazed myself by how much I enjoyed it! I of course, loved being outside in the warm sun and I loved feeling like I was getting fitter. Since living in Greece, my life really took a 360 degrees turnaround. I was sleeping on average of 10 hours each night, I was eating nothing processed with the plethora of fresh food, fruits & vegetable available, hardly drinking and I was exercising with the running. I soon embraced the training plan and was becoming an “expert” in all things running. I subscribed to all of the popular websites and magazines, getting daily informational downloads. I was using myself as the guinea pig. For example, if my lower back started to hurt, I would research possible causes and remedies and then adjust my running form or start to do back strengthening exercises. I experimented with food, before during and after. I started using GU gels for my longer runs, eating a third every 15 mins, so I would be consuming one gel every 45 mins. My stomach seemed to like it. In these early days I was still frightened of the boredom factor so I used to listen to music in all my runs, but soon it was the music that was causing me to be bored so I stopped listening all together. The nutrition piece really interested me, so I enrolled in a UK college and studied to be an Advanced Sports Nutrition Advisor.
The miles were ramping up and I loved the ‘call to action’ that was getting me out of bed each morning. I was excited to see how my body was adjusting to this new lifestyle but probably most importantly I relished my time out pounding the streets. It was my “me” time, an opportunity to meditate, to process life’s trial and tribulations, to sort out my thoughts and return home clear headed and with direction. I continued with my training and the marathon loomed ever closer. Never running the full marathon distance in training, I was excited to see what I was capable of and if all my hard work and training would pay off. My goal for the marathon was simply to finish, to see if I could run the full 26.2 miles. Race day loomed and it was the night before. I wrote this in my journal:
‘I have to capture this moment. I am so ecstatically happy I can’t stop grinning. I am so proud of myself even before race day. I have diligently been training for 5 months and to be honest I have loved every minute. I have enjoyed the organization aspects, the actual running, the planning and the rising to the challenge of achieving a goal. I need this in my life. It makes me feel alive. I know in my heart I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. I have the power and the strength, both in body and soul and of course mind. I feel exhilarated!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Now let’s see how I feel post race hahahaha!!!!’
Race day came, filled with excitement and anxiety, eager to get started and see the fruits of my labour, so to speak. I liken races to opening up Christmas presents, its not until Christmas Day you see what you have got and it can be a total surprise. I kept it steady as I had no pace in mind at all. About half way round, my friend Magda and my Aunt and cousins were on the course cheering me on. A big smile broadened my face and that stayed on for a good hour afterwards, my heart fluttering from their support and the power it gave me to continue on. It got to the last 10km (6miles) and my legs didn’t want to function properly. I knew they were strong, so I needed to reprogram my brain. I started chanting “easy easy” over and over again, to tell my brain I was ok. This got me through. I came running into Athens stadium with the crowds cheering and tears flowing down my face. I couldn’t believe what I achieved. From then on, I was hooked.
Great read, keep it up H
Thanks Rob 🙂
Well done great post keep the story flowing
Wow go Helen! Really impressive x
Thanks Paula x
Loved reading how your started your journey!! Definitely is making me think about my journey. 😊😊
That’s awesome! Thanks Mary 🙂
Indeed it required a lot of courage and determination to have a complete change of life. You are healthy and pretty.
I love this story………Incredibly inspiring and making me think about my direction as those feelings when you were in the ‘corporate world’ really strike a chord!! Love it…!!
Thanks Dale. It’s never to late to make a change! 🙂