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I’ve been rather absent from the blog during lockdown as I had nothing to say in the pantheon of opinion that had filled the internet. Instead I chose to spend my time mostly eating biscuits and assuming that what will be, will be.

There are consequences however to at least half of this approach and that is you become fat.

I became even fatter during the lockdown – ballooning to over 85kg.

I walked past a mirror one day with a giant slab of cake in my hand, having difficulty breathing and realised I had fucked myself up.

You fat fucking bellend,’ were my exact words. The GingaNinja has already started the process of removing the biscuits and sweet treats from the house as she too had realised that we had both treated lockdown like a unlimited visit to Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory.

I realised that none of my clothes fit and that I was down to my last half a dozen running tops that didn’t go immediately skin tight in a size ‘L’. It was these little things and the fear that my daughter might think this was good behaviour made me rethink things.

I also spent a lot of time working at the kitchen table during lockdown with a view out onto the street I live on and noticed a curious daily behaviour of one of my neighbours – daily take-away orders (once available). Now that’s their choice and I am not judging the rights or wrongs of this for them but it became a real point of incentive for me – I don’t ever want to find myself feeding the whole family from KFC, McDonalds and Dominos.

I was motivated, internally, to act.

I weighed myself at the end of June and coming in at 87.7kg proved to be the final straw that I needed to get back on it.

I decided to go cold turkey, there would be no sliding into a change of pace, straight down to 1200 calories a day and exercise as often as I could manage it with the addition of doing other types of activities that might address my occasional lethargy about running.

I bought a couple of kayaks, a stand-up paddle board, multi-gym and thanks to the influence of instagrammers @wonky_wanderer and @loopy279 I tried my wetsuit on again and added in a trisuit and some OW swimming kit and found a lagoon I can go to.

I’ve cleaned off the bikes, bought a weeride tag-along bike for the child to join me, returned to hill hiking and I’ve been committed to this. I’m also using all of this kit to help my achieve my aims and between the water sports, running and even dance I’m finding that breathing is better, weight is shifting and clothes are starting to fit better.

The best thing is that both the GingaNinja and I are all over this and we are both focused on becoming fitter, stronger, faster and just generally better. It is that togetherness that makes this whole thing possible and if one of us fails then inevitably both of us fail – however, wobbles are being ironed out and managed. I mean don’t get me wrong I’m hungry way too much of the time but I have a new appreciation for the food we are eating.

Every day starts with Weetabix and finishes with an Options Hot Chocolate and in the middle there is a shitload of coffee to keep me going. I haven’t looked at chocolate in months, I’m cooking more and eating better – it’s not perfect but since that first weigh in I’ve dropped just over 12kg and I’m happy about that but I’ve still got another 11kg to go and the toning work needs to be done as I approach my 43rd birthday.

At my height the recommended low weight is about 64kg and that is where I am aiming. My old boss and I used to joke that every snickers bar took me a step further away from fitting into my compressport kit, well GCJ, I intend getting into it this time and staying in it!

Now here’s your part;

Lots of the people who read this will know me from the ultra running and ultra racing scene, many of you will have met me and had to put up with my near endless poo stories. So, if you see me at a race or running and you think I’m about to tuck into a sweet treat that is going to deny me the prize of fitting into that tiny compression top then you have my permission to spout the most vitriolic, offensive, fat shaming you can think of.

Fat shaming is rightly considered horrific, so many people suffer with both the physical and mental side of weight issues, but for me being fat shamed serves only to fire my desire to do better. Yes I’ve written before about my issues with body shape / body image, weight and the mental battle that is ongoing but please – I put myself in this position and I’m asking for your help.

When a fellow ultra runner told me last year (before the big weight gain) that ‘I’d put some beef on’ I was so horrified that I started to do something about it – sadly I slipped off the wagon. However, this time I feel like I’m approaching it in a more rounded way and part of the rounded approach is people not saying ‘well done’ but saying, ‘get it sorted you stupid prick’. And remember the more offensive the bettervery seriously though don’t take this approach with anyone else, it really isn’t for everyone and will most likely offend, hurt or worse those less able to deal with such hateful terminology.

And my part;

Well I just have to remain committed and that very much starts with my attendance at the 55km Ultra North in just a couple of weeks time.

I know I am getting on in years, in 2019 I will reach the ripe old age of 42 and it seems inconceivable to me that I’ll make it to 50. I mean I’m falling apart and my family medical history isn’t screaming, ‘welcome to long life’. Every inch of my beleaguered body calls to me daily demanding that I ease off or better still, retire.

Vitality

It seemed to me a good idea that I should sign up to things like income protection, life insurance, etc and for a number of years I had a rather unobtrusive policy that simply sat in the background presumably never doing anything other than waiting for the day I needed it. However, on a fine October morning my excellent financial advisor suggested to that I consider Vitality as an option. He said that given my lifestyle (outdoors and active) that I would benefit from the multitude of (ever changing) schemes and offers that they put forward. Plus the cover was mildly better, the premiums were mildly lower and it all seemed pretty sensible.

I signed up.

Now let me explain a bit about Vitality with its swanky marketing and how I feel after my first year of use and why I now avoid the doctor.

The marketing of Vitality is all about the benefits, earn a weekly coffee, get a nearly free Apple Watch, half price Garmin, get half price trainers, get cinema tickets and on the surface that seems lovely. However, it’s not that simple and the old adage is true, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’.

The Experience

Upon signing up and downloading the app you fill in lots of information and connect tech that will support your collecting of points. This collecting of points determines your Vitality (premium) level up to and including Platinum. You are given the opportunity to submit health readings, take examinations, etc and have this data fed into the ‘machine’. Once the machine has been sated you are given a Vitality age and advised on the what’s best to do to be fitter and healthier.

So far, so fine.

It’s then that you realise you’re locked in and have to do the work to make sure that your premiums don’t sky rocket and that you reach the maximum level possible. Again this is fine, you’ve signed up for something and so you are committed.

As an iPhone user I took the decision to get the Apple Watch through Vitality to use as my fitness tracker. I wouldn’t normally have done this but Vitality refuses to directly support my plethora of Suunto devices. This was a minor irritant as the Apple Watch is absolute rubbish and I feel for anyone that paid for one of these things. Now as a reasonably fit and active person I assumed that reaching my daily goal of steps or activity would be pretty easy but I found that this wasn’t always the case.

The reason for this was simple I’ve often found the desire of active people to track ever last iota of activity they do to be a little tiresome and as such I’ve never been a numbers athlete, until three weeks ago I’d never even used Strava). The problem that this caused was that in the early months I would forget to track activity or I would only put the watch on half way through a day and this meant I was chasing activity, especially on days where I was not running.

This was clearly a mistake I was making and one that I rectified pretty quickly but it was made all the more challenging by the fact we were in the middle of the hardest part of our move to Scotland. I would often find myself stopping at service stations and trying to build up extra steps even as I was in the middle of 900 mile round driving trip.

The crux of it was, for me, that I was being driven regardless of my situation on any given day to HAVE to exercise or be financially penalised for it. I would run 60 miles in a race on a Sunday and know that this had the same value as the person who ran for 30 minutes and the real annoyance here was not the imbalance – not at all – the annoyance is that no matter what state I was left in I felt forced to put my running shoes back on and exercise the day after a race.

This left me in something of a quandary as I look back on it and rather than motivate me to exercise more regularly I felt disenchanted with the idea of ‘having’ to do steps or exercise or whatever. I found that rather than improving my wellbeing it was having the opposite effect – my mental well-being was suffering and I was committing to the bare minimum of exercise to get ‘over the line’.

This culminated in my effectively withdrawing from any of the real running training I would traditionally do and just do the thing that got me the 8 points the quickest. What was the result of that? Understandably, my ultra running suffered, races that should be well within my ability suddenly felt like trials and I began to fear racing.

The negative spiral continued, manifesting itself as comfort eating and I found myself gaining weight, battling my body image issues and struggling to motivate myself to do any exercise. It was a nasty place I’d managed to get myself in and I could not find the motivation to get out – I was also much more difficult to live with and the GingaNinja would note my anxiety about having, ‘not got that days points’ and then seeing me stuff a giant slice of cake in my pie hole!

I realise that I might be an extreme case but the promise of Vitality inspiring you to do more has had the exact opposite effect on me.

And then there is the other side of it…

Medical

So, insurance is insurance but what do you do if you have a problem with say your back? Followers of my ultra adventures will probably know that the last couple of years have been plagued by DNFs – brought on mostly by lower back pain during races. I figured it was something and nothing for a while and had extensive privately funded physiotherapy which helped to keep me running. The problem however, refuses to go away and I don’t feel like I can see a doctor about it.

The reason? Insurance!

I’m confident my back can be fixed but I’m also confident that Vitality and any future insurer would consider this a future exclusion – especially as I’ve seen the piss poor excuses given to refuse cover to other perfectly healthy potential customers. Given my relationship with Vitality has so far not been filled with joy I’m weighing up whether to remain with them and therefore I don’t want my back concerns to sit on my record. But that thought goes further I was genuinely concerned about going to the doctor recently to ask about changes in moles and whether I might have skin cancer – how ridiculous is that? Thankfully I decided to say ‘fuck it’ and get a potential cancer threat checked out.

Less life threateningly is the need to get my ten ingrowing toenails sorted, this too has been delayed by my wondering what impact this will have in the future and who will cover me if I do have them done. I mean my feet are valuable to me as an ultra runner (never mind day to day bimbling around).

Currently I can perfectly legitimately and honestly declare that I don’t have any diagnosis of any major problems – even if this 42 year old body feels more like a 72 year old – but the moment I do have a diagnosis for something insurances suddenly become more problematic.

The future

Now in my second year of Vitality, and having reached their highest status, I remain uneasy about this policy. My mental well-being the (perhaps) unintentional victim of the pressure Vitality applies took until very recently to start its recovery. I would hasten to add to there were other circumstances that contributed to this being a hugely stressful time but I am confident that Vitality was very much a significant part of it. Balancing my new life has very much helped and the Vitality issue does not seem as severe but it does still weigh on me and I do find it a disincentive to stay healthy.

As a note I should most certainly say I’m immensely grateful to my family who have been excellent in supporting me finding my own motivation again (mainly by signing up to a shitload of ultra marathons, despite the back issue)! Thanks guys.

This all sounds mildly ridiculous when you begin writing it down but I when I’ve discussed this with other Vitality users I’m realise I’m not alone.

I do want to be clear though I’m not writing this to decry Vitality, this is an example of a corporate monster putting a slick gloss (with freebies) on an otherwise rather dull product – and for some it will provide the incentive they need to sort their health out but there is another side to it. Vitality would probably argue that they are helping to beat the obesity crisis that the UK faces and doing it with carrot rather than stick, I simply feel that the carrot they’re using is rather stick-like.

Ultimately this is my opinion and experience of Vitality and all I would suggest is that if you’re considering some form of incentives/rewards based health scheme then ask all the detailed questions about the implications of it and how it will affect your current lifestyle.

I didn’t do Janathon this year.

I did attempt it last year and enjoyed it but as it comes to an end I am filled with a kind of sadness, a sadness because I know that my inbox won’t be quite as full of the blog posts from all the Janathoners attempting to make it to the full 31 days without a hint of an excuse, plus there will be the battles at the top of the leaderboard, the middle of the board battles and the general Twitter banter that comes from a group of people so diverse that you’d think they simply couldn’t find a common ground – but they did, exercise.

What is Janathon / Junathon?
Janathon and Junathon are a months worth of exercise, logging of that exercise and then blogging about the experience, or as a new addition micro blogging. It is an opportunity and excuse to perform some exercise every single day of a month. Some people, like me, would call this RunStreaking but to the ‘athon community this is much more than that, it’s as much about understanding you personal fitness as it is about the exercise.

As with ultra running it’s all about personal commitment and the support of those around you to help you to the finish line, infact the ‘athon experience is very much like an ultra marathon. The distance of 31 days seems epic at the start but once you get into your stride it all becomes habit, the endurance needed become second nature, the spirit that is built up through the blogging, Facebook and tweeting is akin to the moment when your head goes down at mile 55 and somebody just puts an arm around your shoulder and makes it all better and suddenly you can do that last little bit. I suppose the greatest connection between an ‘athon and an ultra marathon is the sense of achievement as you cross the line and know that you’ve done something really special.

What I got
I found a great deal of enjoyment in the adventures of others as much as I found enjoyment in the doing, I got into habits that I carry through to today such as reading blogs and writing blog posts on the train in the morning and then running to and from work, doing longer runs at the weekend. Janathon helped me set up my mantra for ultra running of ‘never give up, never sit down, move your fat arse’. I made some lovely friends along the way, some of whom I met, some of whom I didn’t but many of whom will be friends for a long time to come. Being a part of the ‘athon community is a good thing and I would recommend giving it a go when June comes round.

Why aren’t I doing it in 2014?
That seems a reasonable question and the answer is pretty simple – priorities. The first thing was I was injured at the start of January and therefore was resting when it launched this year, the second thing was that my ultra marathon training comes first and I find my competitive nature means that Janathon isn’t so good for those days when I need to be resting as I get obsessed by leaderboards and mileage and that should no longer be my obsession. I may one day go back to being an ‘athoner but not this time but if you ever needed a kick up the bum or some heartfelt feedback this is an event that can deliver both by the bucketload.

Try it in June and see what you think.

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