Life feels like it’s finally starting up again and while we’re all so pleased to be back at the gym and heading out with our friends again, there’s no denying that this “return to normal” can be a little bit anxiety provoking.
From perfecting your gym routine to fitting in friends and family around your busy work schedule, a strong mindset can go a long way in helping you thrive as life gets busier.
To help you make the most of this, we caught up with runner and body-positive influencer, Em Clarkson, to chat through her journey to being stronger than ever and how you can get everything of what you’ve got.
From P.E. dodger to marathon runner
I, like a lot of people, had a horrific relationship with exercise for a really long time. I started doing it because I wanted to lose weight and, as a result, my relationship with it was incredibly negative. I obsessed over calories, wouldn’t go to sleep until I’d completed 100 sit-ups, and ran solely as a punishment for eating “too” much.
This changed when I signed up to run my first marathon in May 2019. Without being too dramatic, it changed my life and during that process I learned a great deal about myself. For the first time I was exercising not for how my body looked but for what it could do and, I realised how it made me FEEL.
I was the happiest I had ever been that year, which was why, before the blisters had even had a chance to heal, I decided to do another one a few months later in November and then why again, I said yes to running the London marathon, in 2020, a few months after that.
Running totally changed my relationship with exercise. The abs that I thought I wanted became irrelevant. Where I used to look at calories on my fitness trackers, I now measured distances. I’d wanted for so long to be SMALL. And then all I wanted was to be STRONG.
To complete London marathon in April 2020 would’ve meant that I’d have run 3 marathons in one year. My back was a bit tired (I had a couple of problems with my sciatic nerve) and I’d lost 7 toenails, but I was loving it. I was fit and strong and moving and energised and excited and PROUD and pushing myself and confident and it was all going fab.
Then the marathon got cancelled.
And the gyms closed.
And I, like a lot of people, saw my relationship with exercise change again, entirely.
Surviving lockdown life
After lockdown restrictions were announced I all but stopped running. I went back to my mum’s house at the beginning of the pandemic and couldn’t hack the hills (I’d only ever run in lovely, flat, London before) and without something to aim for I let it all fizzle.
I did a bit of cycling (honestly didn’t have a lot else to do and it was good for getting me out the house) and, like the rest of the country, did my fair share of Instagram live classes but it wasn’t… the same.
I felt myself getting weaker, and slower, and further away from the person that I’d been so proud to be becoming the year before. Mostly I just couldn’t really see the point of any of it.
And then one sunny day, bored out of my mind of the same four walls I’d stared at for months, at saturation point with IG lives and filled up with an anxious energy, I did something I’d never done before: I went running through a field… and I didn’t hate it. So I did it again. And then again. And it was different.
I wasn’t smashing out the split times, I got lost a lot and I was going down on my ankles about four times a minute and having to walk a lot… in fact I was probably walking more than I was running for most of them, but I was happy.
Which was why I decided at the end of last year that I was going to run an ultra-marathon. Let’s blame lockdown. With hindsight it was an impulsive decision but it gave me what I needed and that was my spark. After such a sedentary and uncertain year, I found this to be exactly what I needed.
I was out the house and trying something new, getting lost, having fun, pushing myself and TRYING again. I wasn’t worried about looking like a knob, or failing, or anything really: I was just doing it.
And it was epic. I ran it alone, in the end. I plotted my own route and roped my family in as my support crew (my fiancé and my mum both ran 10 miles each with me!) and on a dark and snowy morning in January, I pushed myself in a whole new way.
It changed my life again.
Changing your mindset for the better
With the first two marathons I made my body so strong; with the help of physios and friends and gyms and event organisers and PTs and people I got through those events. With the ultra-marathon I made my MIND strong.
I rarely toot my own horn, but at this point why not – I trained during the depths of winter, as we entered another lockdown, for the most part totally alone and I did something I genuinely didn’t believe possible for someone like me.
Someone who skipped every PE class she could. Who hated exercise because she was so scared of failing that she wouldn’t even try. I pushed myself in a whole new way and it was epic. So epic that I’m currently in the process of being talked into another ultra later this year and I haven’t said no…
It might not have been an ultra-marathon. If I’d been up a mountain, it might’ve been cross country skiing. If I’d been by the sea maybe I’d have taken up swimming. It could’ve been dancing. Yoga. Rock climbing. Hiking. Ironman (thank God it wasn’t, I’d be knackered!).
I’m not some unreal runner that found my calling in life and suddenly found the meaning of it all. I’m not that great at running, truth be told. I have stamina, but lack much style or grace.
But it doesn’t matter.
I found something that made me really, really happy. I did something that made me proud to be me. I had a go. And I loved it.
Take home message
So, as we come out of this lockdown and enter another new world my advice would be: just have a go. Even if it scares you. Particularly if it scares you. Because we can do hard things.
That’s what this should all be about. Having a go. And having fun in the process. Life’s too short to do anything else, and no other reason seems good enough to me.