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Team GB Runner Stories:

Anthony Forsyth

Before and after: Anthony Forsyth

Approaching my wedding anniversary I was approaching 17.5st (245lb). We had had friends staying with us for a week and I had been eating out a lot pushing me up the last 5lb or so. We had just had our fifth child a few months earlier and I should have been on top of the world, but the truth was I felt like I was dying. Literally.

In my late teens and early twenties I had been a triathlete at a reasonable level and so I knew what it felt like to be fit and strong; I had learnt to listen to my body, to understand what it was saying. And it was saying, "I'm dying!"

How did I get there? Like all things—one step at a time. When my wife was pregnant with our second child I put on about the same amount of weight that she did. I was getting a lot of study done in preparation for the ministry, but not exercising and eating way too much for a sedentary guy. Most evenings were spent side by side with my wife on the sofa reading, studying and eating a 400g bar of chocolate.

Obviously, the bulk of my wife's tummy disappeared in a single day, whereas mine didn't. And I didn't like being fat again. I had been a fat child until I got into first water polo, then swimming, and eventually triathlon in my late teens. So I set about trying to lose it. And so started my annual routine—3 months of losing weight followed by 9 months putting it all back on, plus a little more.

Anthony Forsyth

This went on for 7 years. Each year I would learn more and get a better understanding of how to lose a lot of weight. And each year I would put it all back on. Soon I was spending the 3 months getting "down" to the weight I had first gotten "up" to—each year was getting worse.

So this anniversary, in May 2003, I decided to try one more time—for the last time (although I had said that the year before). I could feel my life seeping away—I wanted to be around to enjoy not only my children but, one day, my grandchildren and I was becoming unable play with them as I once had. Also, by now I was pastoring a small church. I was supposed to set an example to the flock, yet here I was a very real example of the fruit of gluttony and a lack of self-control—something had to give. So I told my wife we'd have to forgo an anniversary meal out and I started my quest... again!

We received a gift of a good chunk of money and bought a treadmill with it. The warranty would have been invalid had I run on it (only for use for up to 17st I was 1/2 stone / 7lb over that), so I started out on a liquid only diet to shrink my stomach and kick start the weight loss, walking as much as I could.

Within 2-3 weeks I was ready to do my first run. I did 1 solitary mile on the treadmill at 10 min/mile pace (6mph)—my heart rate was quickly up to around 145bpm (and would have been much higher had I kept going). I now know that I am faster on the treadmill at home than on the road due to the cooling effect of the fans I use—so on a pancake flat road I would have been slower still.

I stuck with it though. Slowly picking up the miles; steadily dropping the pounds. Eventually I plucked up the courage to run outside and that made it mentally easier to pick up the miles. But soon the dreaded 3 month mark arrived. Would I get through it? Would it be injury this year? Or just mental weakness?

As it happened, I did get injured. I always did when I hit 40mpw or so and I was doing 45mpw now. Shin splints—a regular enemy of mine over the years. But by now I had been logging on to running forums and two in particular were to get me over the 3 month hump. "Runners World UK" had given me many friends who were a huge support to me when I wanted to give up. "Let's Run" had provided a lot of information about training in minimalist shoes—using lightweight racing flats all the time. This tied in with the Pose running phenomenon too. I had had a friend who was involved with Pose and he was a guy of great integrity and so that gave the method much weight in my eyes.

So one day, as I tried to run on the treadmill in my stability shoes and orthotics and the shin splints returned, I took the plunge. I took the shoes and the orthotics and I put them in the bin. Slowly the pain went and the mileage went back up. I never became a "proper" Pose runner, but I used some of the drills to get the basics right as my technique was appalling. And I ran in minimalist shoes only. And when I got back up to 45mpw, a funny thing happened—I kept going up; without injury.

Eventually, like all runners, I did succumb to injuries here and there, but each time I picked myself back and got the mileage higher still. I was taking a lower intensity/higher mileage approach and I was finding that it suited me well and I enjoyed it.

By the end of my first year back running I was down to 165lb I'd lost 80lb. Not only that but I was running faster than I ever had in my youth and at a lower intensity. I had hit 100mpw for the first time and was running pretty well. My 14yr old 10K PB (36:09) went almost exactly a year after I started again (I ran 35:21). A few weeks later I managed 7th at a local 30km race—mainly off-road, in the heat of summer and over the hilliest course they could find. This was a race I had noticed while just starting up the year before—this was something I had desperately wanted to do well in and for the bulk of the year I had been working towards it. I was delighted, but not satisfied.

Over the next year 100mpw became the norm and the training became more structured as I learnt more. Also, with my degree having been in Sports Studies and with me learning more now about training than I had ever known, I set up a coaching consultancy ( too as I was getting many requests for help by those who had seen what I had achieved.

Winning the North Downs 30k

In the lead up to the North Downs 30K the following year I got the weight down to 152lb, the mileage up to 140mpw regularly (hitting a peak of 160) and was getting faster. A year on my 10K PB came down to 33:20 with no speed work, but my real joy was winning the 30K—2 years after being 245lb and with zero fitness, I had won the toughest race around.

All my training has been distance oriented, with little faster running, and so I have been waiting to do my first marathon for some time with great expectancy. And on September 25th, I'll be doing just that at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I am hoping to get down to 2:25 (my 30K result and training times suggest that I will) for race day and perhaps even hit that magic 100lb of weight loss by hitting 145lb.

But whatever I do, I know this—that my life has been transformed and the lives of those around me. My wife and older children run now too. Chloe (12) and Timmy (8) both run 20min for 5km—faster than most adults. And I do not consider myself especially talented—I have simply had the knowledge to train smart and been prepared to train hard—damn hard!

My hope is other obese people will be inspired by my story and make the change too. Maybe I'll see you at the start line next year?