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Julie Creffield - Inspiring The Unexpected Athlete

In her twenties Julie Creffield was working as a project manager for the 2012 London Olympics. Inspired to get active, Julie signed up for a fun run. But things didn't quite go to plan: coming last and finding the finish line long since cleared away. Far from putting her off, Julie was spurred on to set up Too Fat To Run, an online resource and support network for ladies of all shapes and sizes to get active.

Inspiration for Too Fat To Run came about because…

the media kept going on about how unhealthy we are as a nation but the offers and opportunities for overweight women were so limited. I was training for the Brighton Marathon and I pulled a muscle in my back. It was unrelated to running - I picked up my daughter at an awkward angle and it just went. I went to my doctors with a bad back and he told me that I was too fat to run so that’s where the name came from. But I knew my own body and I knew if it was happening to me it was probably happening to other women.

At first running was really…

difficult, but that’s what I loved about it. There’s this perception of what a runner looks like and I love challenging that. I like telling people that I’m an athlete and I run marathons. It’s fun playing with people’s preconceptions. Running is more about your mind and less about your body. When I come up against an obstacle in my life I apply my running mentality to it.

I look at running…

very broadly. I think walking can be done in a running style. If you plan your walk then you can apply the principles of running to it. If you are severely overweight you can still schedule your walks, buy good kit, still be part of the community. It’s about challenging what you can do. Of course, people have limits but if you want to run there are ways of doing it. Some people aren’t that interested in achieving a specific distance, they say I just want to get active so I set them the goal of getting out of the house three days a week and going for a run.

Running is one of…

the few forms of exercise which is affordable and flexible. When you look at people’s lifestyles these days not everyone can commit to evenings. Especially if you have a family. For some, weekends can be difficult. So it’s about finding something that fits into your lifestyle. Running is so flexible.Sport had a very…strange image. It was all about the end goal. We talk about elite athletes and people who have lost weight and now look great. That’s how gyms lure you in. We’re so focused on that transformation that you lose sight of the more important things. It’s about how people feel about themselves. I think Too Fat To Run challenges that in a visual way.

We never do…

‘before’ and ‘afters’ because you never see a year down the line in those images where someone has put all the weight back on. We focus on general health and wellbeing, feeling great about yourself. People stumble upon my stuff online and think ‘oh, that woman looks like me’. The majority of women don’t look like women in health magazines. That’s why I’m so passionate about growing Too Fat To Run, to show people what normal is.

There’s a misconception that unless…

you look like a model you’re not healthy and that’s not true. Especially in women over a certain age. Most people who follow my blog are 35 plus. There’s a lot of women who have had kids and they know they’re never going back to their 20 year old self, even with the best intentions of healthy eating and exercising. It’s about setting achievable goals not ones that you’ll never get to. I want people to feel better. It sounds clichéd but a healthy mind leads to a healthy body. When you don’t exercise after getting into a good routine, you really feel it. So many women suffer from depression and anxiety about how they look. Running is something where you set your own goals and no one else can impact them.

Our default setting is…

sitting on the sofa. We always want to take the easiest option and there are so many more desirable options than going for a run. Whether it’s going to the cinema or meeting your friends we live in a world where everyone else is doing something fabulous. What I try and do is combine those things. For example, there’s a great social life to be had at the end of a race. When I started I didn’t know any other runners and now I’d say 50% of my friends are involved in running. That’s the best way to integrate it into your life, not by thinking ‘oh, I haven’t been to the gym this week’ but making it about how I want my life to be lived.

We’re obsessed with…

metrics. Most women get on the scales at least once a week, some once a day. They assess their sense of worth by what those numbers say on the scales, or by what size jeans they’re wearing. I’d much prefer to be happy in my own skin than be a size 10 and unhappy. But it’s something you have to do personally.After having my daughter I realised…I wanted to appreciate what I’d got. After you complete a long run you find a sense of self respect. Okay, you might have a soft belly or this bit of extra weight but I’ve just run 26 miles you’re suddenly aware of what you’re body is capable of. Your body is not there to make you look good, your body is there to house you for your entire life. When you make that switch you begin to love your body more. Not in how you feel about it but how you treat it. So now I fuel my body much better than I did in my 20s.

For me there’s a sense of…

responsibility because people have set out on this adventure due to what I do and I want to stick with them. To help them find the level of happiness I have. If you think about it in a social context there are poorer communities who aspire to be these Instagram stars and it’s depressing. For the majority of women they don’t want to look like that, they just want to feel a little bit better about themselves. If I can help that it’s worth it.

One of the biggest things to overcome when getting active is…

confidence. That’s easily overcome especially in a group. Then there are practical ones. When you go out and run for the first time it’s hard. It’s hard on your breathing, it’s hard on your muscles and your joints. For an inactive person, overweight or not, it’s going to hurt. You’ll go out and you might feel really chuffed that you’ve done it but the next day you hurt so much that the fear of going out again can be crippling. There’s a lack of information around for when you’re in pain. What is the difference between joint and muscle pain. If you wake up with joint pain you need to take it easy. When women come to me and say they want to start running I give them a plan. I’ll tell them to get a good pair of trainers, not a cheap pair from a cheap shop. Warm-up properly, look at the way you’re running. There are so many adjustments you can make to help these things. As people our problem is we expect something to be easy and pain free. I don’t want to run a six week programme and then see you later. I want to work with women for a whole year or more to build confidence. They know they can have a break and come back without any judgement for taking some time out. Our lives change all the time, you have to be willing to roll with that. It’s about taking the practical side of exercise and combining it with the mindset and goal setting side of it.

You can find out more on Too Fat To Run on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn

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