Why I started Endurance Women

I’m an ordinary woman, but very occasionally, I feel extraordinary – after a week of hard training, or when I’ve completed a big race, or got up and met some friends for a freezing cold swim in the sea at 6am.
I think I’ve always been an endurance woman. As a child I loved to push myself running or swimming further and faster, climbing trees higher, staying out to play later. When I was six years-old I set myself the challenge of swimming 100 lengths of the outdoor pool at the Hotel Hermanus in Winterton near Great Yarmouth, as my dad lay on the lounger and counted for me. Soon after I was doing backward dives off the top board at Amersham swimming pool and had ambitions to go higher at the 40ft board in Galway (but somehow mum and dad distracted me). There were some blips along the way, you can read my story here.
My career is driven by my passions. For more than 20 years my work in content and communications focussed on health, fitness and sport. For 10 of these years I worked as a personal trainer and coach. Endurance is in my DNA (literally) and I’ve run over 20 marathons with most success in my 40s when I ran 10 under 3.30 and five under 3.15; I’ve competed in ultra events and triathlon and at my best I’ve been competitive for my age.

Approaching a new age category

As I got closer to the big 5-0 I realised what I’ve gained from this passion is so much more than times to be proud of: I’ve made great friends; had amazing experiences and I’ve learnt all there is to know about myself and what I’m capable of. So, at the end of 2017, as the big day loomed, I decided it was time to create Endurance Women and consolidate what I’ve learnt as a coach, content provider, and story-teller.

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

First, I wanted to share the stories I hear every day of ordinary women being extraordinary. Each woman I’ve spoken to has an amazing story to tell. Jane went from feeling a bit fat and unfit at 40 to winning Ironman Kona (the competition for the world’s best age-group triathletes); business owner, Joanne, a 49-year-old mum of three, didn’t let blood cancer and persistent injury get in the way of her aspirations to race long; Buggy-miles Becci, a new mum of two and general hospital Sister, transformed her local park-run into a fundraising event for the local hospice; and of course, The Guardian‘s very own Running Blog Editor, Kate Carter, mum of two young girls who took just six years to go from starting running to completing a sub-three hour marathon.

Endurance Women are Pioneers

All endurance women are pioneers. We’re the first generation of women to push our endurance boundaries, and to take on challenges like these. And the further we go in distance, the closer we get to being on a par with men, as we’re more efficient at burning fat and stamina is one of our strengths. But in the year I was born (1967), the general consensus was that women were too ‘fragile’ to run a marathon. Kathrine Switzer proved this was not the case, by being the first women to officially enter and complete the Boston Marathon. She was famously man-handled by the race manager, who tried to pull her out of the race but went on to finish the in 4.20 and is celebrated as an advocate for positive change and the founder of 261 Fearless, an organisation that uses running to empower and unite women. Read her story here.

We are strong!

We must not underestimate our strength. When we set a goal and achieve it whether it be going from couch to 5K like many of our community, or taking on a seven-day treadmill challenge like ultra-runner, mother and grandmother, Mimi Anderson (story coming soon), we’re making an impact and forcing positive change. As we share our fundraiser pages, our success stories, our smiling race-face pics and medals on social media, the movement gathers momentum, and the ripples of positive energy become a tidal wave of change.

The power of Endurance Women

When we stretch ourselves through sport – physically, emotionally and mentally – there is power. And endurance is a pathway to a very big positive change for women individually, and collectively for society. From interviewing ordinary women being extraordinary and from my experience as an endurance athlete, I’ve seen that when we come out of our comfort zone we unleash an inner strength and great things happen. When women push limits the effect in the world is a little different to when a man does this. Women are at the core of creating families, and making change happen from the inside out. This can be catalyst for a powerful movement, creating healthier homes in the workplace and going beyond boundaries both physical and metaphorical – ultimately creating a stronger and happier society where we don’t just live long (kept alive by modern medicine) but we live well.

A Growing Movement

As the community of endurance women grows in numbers, I’m inspired and can’t wait to see what comes next. It’s easy to take for granted that every time we push a little more, when we put on our Lycra, get muddy, and celebrate crossing a finish line the impact we’re having. Each step forward is a step away from self-imposed limitations (and excuses) of age, time, family, work.

Join Us

I’ve focussed on women, but I believe all of us can be more successful in life if we adopt the qualities of an endurance athlete: never giving up, staying in the moment, keeping positive, setting goals, and supporting each other.
Join us and set your next challenge. Be at the start line. Celebrate on the finish line.
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Endurance Women Stories: Fiona

This week I’ve been in contact with lots of brilliant women who’ve responded to my call out for Endurance Women stories. And their stories will be coming over the next few weeks.

Here’s my Endurance Woman Story

For me being an endurance women is in my DNA (literally), but it’s not just about sport, it’s about how I live my life. And that’s about getting the balance right: balancing doing what I love with the mundane stuff; working hard, and knowing when to rest; successful highs, boring plateaus – and thudding lows; PBs and PWs.

Yesterday morning I woke up to yet another headline about Britain being out of balance. Once again we’re called the ‘fat man’ of Europe. The Times report that ‘obesity rates have doubled in two decades, meaning that Britain is the sixth heaviest developed country, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), up from tenth two years ago.’

The health pendulum is swinging to less healthy and how we live our lives is making us fatter. Binge drinking from teenage years, sugary snacks in hospitals, children being kept in at playtime because it’s raining, huge portion sizes everywhere, and exercising only to solve a problem (i.e. get slim), not to enjoy for the sake of it.

As a child I loved sport, especially swimming. I was always outside, climbing trees, running about, fighting with my brothers, playing football (yes I was a Tomboy). I kept active and did sport because it was part of my DNA. As puberty hit, and puppy fat settled, I started to focus negative feelings about myself and insecurities on my body and, particularly on my weight. A sensitive kid, one comment about me being a ‘hefty’ girl when trying on my secondary school uniform sowed a seed. As hormones kicked in, and sensitivity became more like depression, I became obsessed with my weight and from the age of 15 to around 25 I battled with disordered eating, too much smoking and quite a lot of drinking.

Ironically, I stopped exercising in the difficult times (I think I did a Swimathon and a bit of aerobics in that time) and I turned my back on the thing I loved, not using exercise to control my weight, as many do. But as I recovered, being active was my refuge. Initially, it did start as solution to a problem (i.e. an easier way to control my big appetite), but if weight control had been my only motivation I wouldn’t have got very far. The more I moved, the more I started to remember and feel the joy of just doing it, of the freedom of exercise, and soon I remembered the real joy of racing (first experienced at Watford Swimming Club). Moving, motivating myself to get up and get out, setting new goals (other than weight) meant any feelings of depression were managed and neutralised. Activity is the best anti-depressant.

By the time my children arrived, I was exercising because I loved it. I cannot deny that I was also motivated to lose the baby fat, but exercise (back then aerobics) became part of our family routine, an hour at the creche whilst I did my aerobics, followed by the park and toddler groups. I did loads of walking and loved loved getting my babies out in the fresh air (and now they’re 17 and 21, I still do). With young children, I found running the most flexible way to train (no need to drive to a gym and get changed). In 1998, I decided I wanted to use my valuable time to inspire others, and earn money, and began the process of education needed to be a personal trainer. For the next 10 years I combined teaching fitness with journalism – all part of my ‘portfolio’ career.

As a mum and a gig economist, training (no longer exercise) became a key part to helping keep me focused and to continue to send out pitches and ideas, and work on new businesses. I’m very fortunate as I do have amazing stamina, which you need to juggle, kids, work, looking for work, doing lots of different projects at the same time, all with the ups and downs of day to day living and no job security.

Running and now triathlon have always been my way to stay positive, motivated, work hard, play hard – and I hope I’m inspiring others when I teach or write. I was born with endurance, but it’s very trainable and training can help anyone feel energised, keep going and, ironically, achieve a balance in life.

As well as physically being all out about endurance, I’m quite an extreme person, which in the past attracted me to the energy of start ups and long working hours – and like a magnet draws me to the challenge of an Ironman. I definitely don’t think that this is something everyone should do. In some ways I have to work harder to achieve balance as I’m prone to go one way or the other. And we live in a culture of extremes, with growing obesity at one end, obsessive exercisers and endurance junkies at the other.

But the balance, the equilibrium, is much easier to maintain when you’ve been out in the fresh air, swam in the sea, or being exploring on your bike with good, supportive friends who share your positive ‘can do’ attitude. Just getting outside helps me to stay in the moment and not over think – a burden of the sensitive soul. And training helps to add structure and discipline to a very untraditional working life – and I sleep very well.

I still have to keep a check on my inner barometer and not let training become something I don’t enjoy, either pushing too hard, or giving myself excuses to not do it. But my life has that balance now, and I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by loving, like-minded, and supportive close friends and family. I’m now surrounded by cheerleaders, not critics and importantly I’ve learnt to support myself. As an endurance woman, the process of getting up every day and getting out in the fresh air, ticking off one more session on the way to the next race or goal, having a routine and discipline make for a happy, healthy life.

#endurancewomenstories #realwomen #justdoit

Read More: Why I started Endurance Women

Please comment below and join in the discussion and share your Endurance Women Story with me. Contact me and we’ll set up a call.

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