On Thursday morning Peter wanted to take a photograph of me. “You’ll be proud enough to place it on the shop wall” he said as I made a face at him. It was a bold statement since I’m not sure I’ve got to the stage where I can bear to look at photographs of myself.
Peter and I have been working very hard on building speed and strength over the last few months. It’s a part of fitness that is often overlooked but is integral to success when training for long distance. I have come to love and hate the ladder run in equal measures. Building the motivation to try and run as fast as I can in the early morning has proved to be challenging and all told, I’ve seen very little improvement after the initial few weeks. But the weights session afterwards has become an epiphany of progress.
This week was a double whammy of joy; we made it to the bumper plates (the big circular weights on the end of a barbell) and I re-discovered a whole new phenomenon in Peter.
He can’t count when he’s excited.
It had happened once before which was unusual enough at the time for me to turn my head and look at him. On this morning he gleefully skipped down the garden to retrieve the weights as I completed my usual set. Once done, we returned to the newly amended barbell to go through the squats and lunges before attacking the main piece, a version of the clean and press.
My word the bar was heavy, but my heart was willing and my head was strong.
I ignored the jump from three to five but when it went to seven I just couldn’t help myself as my head involuntarily turned towards him. “Seriously?” I questioned, “Ooops” he replied and then made me feel really bad by congratulating me on my honesty when I didn’t cough up to the first jump.
But then he threatened me with the photograph so balance was restored in the world.
I find it interesting that the threat of a photograph can still make me run away. It makes me question what the real purpose of these sessions is and why I am putting myself through it week after week.
Fundamentally, the weight loss is an integral part of achieving my goal of finishing the Ironman. After so many failed attempts in the last few years, it is fundamentally the finish line which drives me on. But now that people are starting to notice the change in my body, body shape is becoming a motivating factor too. I suppose it’s ironic, with so many people noticing now, I want to make myself less visible.
When you are fat, you spend your life trying to make yourself less visible. You wear dark shapeless clothes, spend your life buried under folded arms or sofa cushions and hide in the corner in social situations. You avoid mirrors and photographs or your reflection in glass.
But when you are fat, you are always visible. It’s like wearing a a big shiny fluorescent sign above your head. I’ll never forget the embarrassment of an event several years ago highlighting my point perfectly. I was about sixteen, it was a Saturday morning and Hartlepool United were playing at home. The away team coach had just arrived outside the Grand Hotel as I walked by. The door to the coach had just opened and one of the team catching sight of me walking past shouted ‘Fucking hell lads they breed them ugly up here’. The whole bus turned to look at me and then started banging on the windows and cat calling. Oh my God, the shame. And there was nothing I could do but carry on walking in mortification, tears streaming down my face.
The effect of that episode has never really left me.
It seems a bit bizarre, that strangers shout judgement at you, both verbally and non-verbally with a well timed up and down LOOK. But then when you go to see people charged with looking after your health, your fat becomes the elephant in the room that no one talks about. The doctor who can’t use the word ‘fat’ or the chiropractor that keeps putting you back together without mentioning the real cause. And to be honest, I don’t blame them, it’s a very emotive subject to raise. One is very rarely morbidly overweight purely because one eats too much.
That’s just one thing I love about my sessions with Peter. He doesn’t ignore or skirt around it but he doesn’t make me feel bad about it either. There is no judgement, just honesty and encouragement and under that (and the increasingly heavy) barbell (even without photography) I’m seeing myself more clearly. And that is definitely a good thing.