The 4am wake up call... and the importance of being brutally honest with yourself


This was me. I hate this photo. But it's also responsible for change. A change for the better.

January 2020. We had just become parents to our beautiful baby girl and when moving furniture and things around to make room for all of the stuff that accompanies a small human I stumbled upon this photo. I had attended an event with the one and only Paolo DiCanio at the city Hall in Sheffield and was super excited to see one of my boyhood favourite players face to face. That was until I saw this photo after the event.


I have always worked out. At the time I was huge on hitting the weights. I loved big heavy compound lifts. Deadlift, squats, bench press… specifically the bench press. I'd do chest more than pretty much any other exercise. I thought that because I'd been to the gym I was doing enough to stay healthy. I thought I was in good shape. This photo was my accountability. I looked at it and it revealed all the truths I was too afraid to face.


I can't tell you what the last version of cardio I did. I had "run" a fair few tough mudder events, but generally saved all my energy for the strength element of each obstacle. The thought of running without obstacles was absurd to me! But that photo, it haunted me. I HAVE to do something to change how I look. Having just become a dad I kept thinking that I had given in to the "Dad bod". Even friends and colleagues had mentioned I had one.


So I laced up the old running shoes I had once bought for a brief stint attempting to run and headed out. I drove near work and parked about 2 miles out. Meaning I'd get 4 miles running in. I did this 1 maybe 2 times a week. It was unbearable for the first few weeks. The early mornings (6am) and relentlessly slamming my heavy body through my fragile shins onto the unforgiving pavement.


Then what reward? To see that my strava stats were terrible, running 11/12 minute miles, my heart rate was all over the place and I could hardly breathe. Still I persevered. I hung that photo on my mirror and was forced to look at it every day. At the time I was listening to a lot of motivational podcasts (David Goggins, Dwayne Johnson and the likes) trying to find every ounce of motivation and inspiration to get me through the gruelling runs.


I did this for a few months and then the awful period of life began… the pandemic. Isolation.. social distancing.. LOCKDOWNS! Most people will look back at the lockdowns and see how much they’d let themselves go. Instead I was in the zone. I'd been running a fair bit by now and this was an opportunity to do more!


Working in the NHS I didn't get to work from home but in a way this was a godsend. I'm not saying I didn't have struggles. Mentally I did. But the running was my coping mechanism. I found an amazing route near my home. A 4 mile loop with some good hills and great scenery. Some of the weight started to go. I was running quicker. It felt easier. I wasn't without niggles and achy legs but overall I felt healthier.


At the time we could exercise for an hour a day. I wondered if I could go further than the 4 miles a day before work - still parking 2 miles away. So I worked out timings, where I would park and a rough route. I would run 10k. Maybe once or twice a week. I got up at 5:30am parked near work and did a loop from the car and back to work. Some elevation, some downhill, all road. It felt tough but by this point I had well and truly gotten the bug. Things started to escalate…


Fast forward a few weeks I was sat at home. We could now exercise outdoors for as long as we wanted. The weather also started getting better. I wondered whether I could run a half marathon. Could I run it before work and still function properly at work? Could I run 1 a week and maintain the usual 4 runs a week (the other 3 being between 5 and 10k). I did just that. I knew the routes well, sometimes it involved running in circles until the watch said 13.12 (strava had a bad habit of cutting a few decimals off me!).


This progressed. I thought to myself "I wonder if I could do 2 half marathons a week?" And then "I wonder how far I can run before work". Back to the drawing board and working out how much time I would need. I worked out if I can get up at 4am I would have loads of time to run to my hearts content. Something incredible happens when you get up early. If you run in the right place you get absolutely stunning scenery. The first week is tough but then you quickly adjust to the early starts and the endorphins from accomplishing a run early on outweighs the thought of getting up so early!


Doing this also shows you what you are truly capable of. If I wind back to the person in the first photo and all I did was lie on that gym bench and bench press, what do I find out? Nothing. I know I like to bench press. I know I can do it. But, do the things you don't want to do and you soon find out you have so much more to give. Working out and running has always been a mindset thing for me. I always used it as a tool to cope with difficulties life threw my way. There is no better way to reset yourself that heading out before anyone else is awake and running long distances. The pavement pounds all that stress out of you.


At the start of the pandemic I had some mental health issues that I was taking a small amount of medication for. It just helped me keep on top of things. Through running and strengthening my mind by pushing myself and doing things that no one else would want to do (getting up at 4am for one!) I no longer needed the meds. I could cope again!


I've since completed an array of challenges and events. I spent the whole of 2021 fundraising for The Children's hospital charity completing 10 events including: The Sheffield Half Marathon, The Yorkshire Marathon, a run from Sheffield to Nottingham (32 miles), a month running 40 miles per week and toughest of all 4x4x48. The 4x4x48 if you haven't heard is where you run 4 miles every 4 hours for 48 hours. This is more a feat of the mind than body and I reflect back on this often as it highlights for me how far I've come not only physically but mentally! There were points I wanted to give up, points I wanted to cry but that final run was one of the best feelings in the world and I ended up doing one of the fastest runs of the whole challenge!!


More recently I've been getting involved in social media aspect of running. The community is huge and incredible. I find so much support comes from people I have never met! Yet there is always someone giving you a thumbs up or words of encouragement. And I reciprocate to others who I see going through what I have (or similar). I've completed a couple of the Flying Gazelle virtual events, I find they are a great way to keep a check on your progress between the big live events as well as giving you a direction in training and I have joined their Strava club, which I forever spend trying to top that leaderboard! If you're a runner, new or old, get involved is my advice.



Joe is a runner from Sheffield that got into running in January 2020 following the birth of his first child. He is currently training for Manchester Marathon and an Ultra X summer series 50k.

@AverageJoeRuns - Instagram/Twitter

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