Currently 60% of Essex women don’t participate in any sport or exercise; up until about three years ago I was one of them. I’d never set foot in a gym, couldn’t run for one minute without stopping and got out of breath walking up the stairs.
I always hated PE at school (who wouldn’t after being forced to wear gym knickers and do the bleep test?!) I never saw myself as a ‘sporty’ girl as I didn’t feel like there were any activities I was good at. This negative attitude towards exercise became more engrained as I got older and became less active; by the time I started an office job I had a completely sedentary lifestyle. I remember a few occasions when I contemplated doing something about it but there was always a reason (or excuse) not to. I almost signed up for Race for Life a couple of times but decided against it because I thought I was too unfit or just couldn’t be bothered. I once tried yoga with a friend and was so achy the next day I could barely move, so I never went back. I also remember one summer evening when I got my childhood bike out and attempted to go for a ride, but gave up after 5 minutes because the seat was uncomfortable and I was so out of breath I felt sick!
Everything changed when I had a freak accident early in 2014; I fell over very dramatically walking home in the dark one evening after a night out and managed to break my leg and ankle in the process. I needed an operation to fix the bone back in place with a metal rod from my knee to my ankle as my tibia and fibula had completely snapped in two, with a spiral fracture down into my ankle. I was in plaster for two and a half months and on crutches for five months after my operation during which time I lost almost all of the little strength I had in my leg. It was so frustrating being stuck in the house all the time and dealing with the logistics of getting around on crutches!
After undertaking a number of intensive physiotherapy sessions and classes to get me back on my feet, for the first time in my life I felt motivated to get moving (or face walking with a limp for the rest of my life). My physiotherapist suggested swimming as a low impact activity to start with, so that summer I went to Everyone Active Basildon’s swimming pool two evenings a week. I started to feel the difference straight away; not only was my leg feeling stronger, but I felt so good after every swim! I started counting and timing my lengths and felt so motivated when I managed to go one further or a bit faster each time.
After a few months I decided to step up my activities and join a gym for the first time ever. I was really nervous when I first went to sign up as I didn’t feel like I really belonged there. When I went for my first work out I threw together a makeshift outfit of an old tshirt, pyjama bottoms and some old trainers I had from school, and I had no idea how to use any of the equipment. Luckily the staff were very helpful and explained the basics, and no one seemed to notice or care what I was wearing even though I felt really stupid. I started off going two or three evenings a week; after a few weeks I bought myself some sports bras, a proper pair of trainers and gym leggings and felt so much more comfortable! I started with some basic cardio to try and build up my fitness level, with a mixture of walking, jogging, cycling, cross-training and rowing. It was slow progress initially as I struggled to run (with a limp) for 30 second intervals on the treadmill without getting out of breath.
After a couple of months, going to the gym regularly was part of my weekly routine, but I realised I needed to set myself a challenge if I wanted to make tangible progress. In January 2015 I decided it was time to sign up for Southend’s 5k Race for Life, giving me 4 months to train and raise some money for a good cause as added motivation. I managed to convince a couple of friends to do it with me for moral support (thanks Jenny and Rachel!) Feeling really determined, I created a running playlist on my phone with all my favourite songs, which I still use today, and downloaded the NHS Couch to 5k app. I’d recommend this to anyone thinking about running – its perfect for beginners as it gradually builds up the distance over a 9 week programme. Each week was a huge challenge but slowly my confidence grew as I continued to push past what I thought was my limit and keep running.
It was around this time I first heard about This Girl Can; their motivational messages really resonated with me and helped keep me going when I thought I was close to giving up. My favourite slogan was “I’m slow but I’m lapping everyone on the couch”! By the time race day came around I was finally able to (very slowly) run 5k without stopping. Even though it took me 45 minutes I was so proud of what I’d achieved and felt determined to build on my progress. A month later I took part in the 3.5 mile Race4Business in Chelmsford with work colleagues, and once again I was really happy to finish it without stopping, even though I was about 20 minutes behind my colleagues, and runners in fancy dress were overtaking me!
For the next year I ran every weekend along with going to the gym a few times a week, doing a combination of HIIT, weights and strength training to continue to build up my strength and fitness. I also attended Back to Netball classes over the summer which I really enjoyed.
In January 2016 I decided I needed a new challenge to focus on so I signed up for the Southend 10k race taking place in October 2016, to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK with my partner. We trained almost every weekend that year, gradually increasing our running distance from 5 to 10k. It was a struggle at times, running in all weathers, but after completing Couch to 5k I knew I could do it. Our main aim was to finish without stopping (and not in last place) and happily we succeeded! It was an amazing feeling to cross the finish line with a Personal Best time of 1 hour 11 minutes, and to top it off we’d raised nearly £700 for charity. If someone had told me two years before that I would be able to run for one minute without stopping, let alone 10k, I’d never have believed them.
I completed the Race4Business again this year, 10 minutes quicker than two years ago, which was a great feeling – one of the key things that motivates me is being in competition with myself, and I love the natural high you get from running which puts you in a good mood for the rest of the day!
Three years on from breaking my leg I still can’t put any weight on my bad knee and I get occasional aches and pains, but apart from that I feel fitter and healthier than ever and now can’t imagine life without exercise. I know I’ll never be the fastest, the fittest or the strongest, but I also know that won’t stop me enjoying being active.
Earlier this year when I saw This Girl Can Essex were looking for new ambassadors, I jumped at the chance to apply – I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me to share my story and hopefully motivate other Essex girls to get active. My motto is: if I can do it, anyone can! Now I’m looking forward to finding my next challenge and getting involved in as many Ambassador activities as I can over the next year.
It would be amazing if just one person reads this and increases their activity levels as a result. Let me know what you think or share your story by leaving a comment. Find me on Twitter (@ilovemaximo) or Instagram (@amy_louise_45) to keep in touch!