I’m fat. And here’s what I’m going to do about it.

If you’ve not guessed from the title of this post, I’m fat. I’m really, really fat. My BMI is (literally) off the chart at 42.1 putting me firmly in the obese category. Shameful. Embarrassing.

For the avoidance of doubt, I hate being this size. I struggle with anxiety and depression and my weight and physical appearance play a huge part in this. Tying my shoelaces is an effort, I get out of breath putting the bins out and I can’t remember the last time I bought clothes from the high street.

I’m sick of being the ‘big lad’ and I’ve been fat for so long that many of my friends have only ever known me as overweight. When I have moments of clarity, this really isn’t the version I me I think I am, but I’ve been battling with my weight for so long that inevitably, I feel it’s starting to define me as a failure, which permeates the rest of my life..

The tragic thing is that I’ve been here before. Numerous times over the last 15 years I’ve promised myself, my girlfriend (now wife) and friends that I’m going to get fit and healthy (“you just wait and see!, I’ll be slim for our holiday/wedding/birth of our son”). But I haven’t got fit and healthy. I’ve got fatter and fatter and fatter I’ve failed numerous ‘weight loss challenges’, missed loads of running events that I’ve signed up for and never taken my t-shirt off on holiday because I’ve never lost the weight I said I would. Man, this isn’t even my first blog post about the topic.

When I think it about it – properly think about it – it’s hard to put into words how much being slim and healthy would affect me. A slim me feels so alien that it generates the same feelings that I get when I imagine winning the lottery or scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final – great but ultimately unattainable.

But when I do let myself dream, it’s fair to say a slim version of me would be be life changing; Pride in myself, pride from my family, actually enjoying going clothes shopping and having energy to get up early and go for early morning walks. I will be able to get up hills in the lake district without having to stop every 10 yards, I will be able to do park runs with the very real goal of improving my PBs, I wouldn’t be out of breath going up stairs or get sweaty fastening my shoe laces, and I would be able to maximize my life with my son and give me the best possible chance of seeing him grow up.

That last sentence is the killer. I’m 41 now and realising that I may only have 30 or so more summers left. Time is of the essence.

Things have to change.

So how am I going to do this? Well, with the help of an amazing coach I’ve condensed months (years?) of thinking and struggling and talking and reading into a list with some accompanying emojis. The items on this list have come to represent my golden rules if you like, which alongside discipline and a positive outlook, will see me finally change my life.

💤 SLEEP. Sleep is so important. I was told by my coach that if nutrition and exercise are the building bricks to weightloss, then sleep is the foundation. I have discovered this is the absolute truth. So, I am aiming to get 8 hours a night (10ish to 6ish) and then attack the day.
🧘‍♂️ MEDITATE. I use the headspace app and need it in my life. Every morning for 10 minutes sets me up for the day and has so many advantages.
👣 STEPS. Being more active is also key to being healthier and happier. We have a dog so taking him out is a great motivator. I’m aiming for 7,143 steps a day (about 3 and a bit miles in real terms) as this equates to 50,000 a week, which I think for a man of my size, is a pretty good benchmark.
🍕 TAKEAWAYS. My big achilles heal. So I am going to limit these to TWO a month. I am not going to remove them completely because I find that just creates cravings and who doesn’t like a takeaway? Takeaways can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle and with busy lives can be an enjoyable and easy option. But I can’t rely on them or reach for them when the going gets tough. So 2 a month it is.
WRITE. Over the last few months I’ve really found writing has helped me untangle the shit in my head. It perhaps comes from the fact I have a stammer and so the written word lets me communicate exactly how I want , but whatever it is, I’m going to do more of it. Planning my days and weeks also is of huge benefit. Writing things down tends to mean I stick to things, and who doesn’t feel a sense of satisfaction crossing an item off a list?
🏃‍♂️ RUN. I’m going to get out and run 3 times a week. In the early days it ain’t going to be pretty and it’s certainly not going to be fast but it’s something I’ve enjoyed in the past (I’ve completed 3 marathons) and want to do so again. Will help getting those steps up, too.
📖 SELF IMPROVEMENT. Reading (or listening to) one self help book per month is my target. This is something I enjoy and the best ones can be truly enlightening.
🧮 CALORIES. All of the above is great, but if I’m eating 5,000 calories a day then I’m not going to get very far. So I will be using Nutracheck (which is loads better than My Fitness Pal in my very humble opinion) to help me aim towards a calorie deficit. In the past I have been completely caught up in the micro-detail of calorie counting but going forward it’s simply going to be a tool in my tool belt that can help me towards my goals.

And the big one, which sort of pulls all of the above together …

📈 1% BETTER ALWAYS. Small consistent improvements every single day are the absolute key to all this. 1.01^365 = 37.8, but 0.99^365 = 0.03. Compounded over time, just a 1% shift in attitude, habits and behaviour can have can have huge, life changing differences.

So there we are, my personal health manifesto laid out on the internet for all to see. This is going to be hard. It’s not going to happen over night, there’s going to have to be sacrifices and there’ll be times when I want to give up. But it really is now or never for me and as Marcus Aurelius wrote in his meditations:

Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly. 

Horse Racing and me …

“To spend our days betting on three-legged horses with beautiful names” — Bohumil Hrabal

I was born within a stones throw of the Knavesmire*, home of York racecourse – one of the country’s finest flat courses. As a nipper, my dad, and sometimes my grandad would often take me for walks around the vast expanse of green grass and along the miles of seemingly never ending straight white rails.

Once or twice, our walks would coincide with a race day and we would stand near to the old Tyburn – the site of the gallows where Dick Turpin and hundreds of others met their demise at the end of the hangman’s rope – and watch the exhilarating scene of horses and their jockey’s breaking from the stalls, at what I now know to be the 1m6f start.

Despite this early introduction to the world of horse racing, all though my school and college life I never really had more than a passing interest in the sport, and would generally only really pay anything resembling attention on Grand National day, and perhaps when the Epsom Derby got a few column inches or a segment on the news.

In fact, I left it until the last year of my teens until I struck my very first bet on the horses. I can remember it vividly. It was in a Ladbrokes shop on Percy Street in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where I was at University. One October afternoon, a friend and I had a bit of time to kill before meeting some friends for some beers to celebrate my 19th birthday, so on our way to the pub, we went into the bookies.

I can’t remember the actual reasons why we went into the shop that day, it wasn’t raining, and my friend wasn’t really a gambler. I also can’t remember why we decided to both have £5 on Red Guard in the 3.50 at Fontwell, but we did, and Red Guard, trained by Josh Gifford and ridden by Philip Hide …. won by a length at 7/2.

The die was cast.

Red Guard had piqued my interest and as the months and years passed, I started to, slowly but surely, get more and more interested in horse racing, finding myself buying the Racing Post, attending race meetings, reading around the subject and trying to select horses based on more than just nice silks and good names (a tactic though, which nevertheless, seems to work exceptionally well for my wife whenever she comes racing with me).

Which sort of leads me, in a roundabout way, to the here and now, an avid horse racing fan, writing this nonsense on the internet. It’s now over two decades ago since Red Guard did the business at Fontwell and I’m still trying to select horses based on more than just nice silks and good names, but as the saying goes;

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”

*This almost sounds like the opening of Disco 2000 by Pulp. Unintentionally, I should add.

My favourite racing tracks

A day at the races is one of my favourite things to do in the whole wide world. The form study beforehand, the walk to the track, finding a good bar, standing at the parade ring, being appalled at sockless youths, striking a few bets, slowly hearing the hoof beats as the horses run towards you, paying £10 for a burger and a slice of cheese, your Racing Post becoming crumpled beyond use between race 2 and 3 etc etc etc.

I’ve got an ambition to do them all in a single calendar year, but until then, here is my list – in order of preference – of all the ones I’ve been to so far. It should be said that I like them all, so courses towards the bottom aren’t rubbish, they’re just me least favourite. The order also changes extremely reguarly.

  1. York – My local track and one of the best in the country in my very humble opinion. Superb facilities, great racing and walkable into the city for excellent beer. The Dante festival is one of the highlights of my year.
  2. Newmarket (Rowley Mile) – I know the views aren’t amazing but for me, being at the home of horse racing is magical. Love it. And every course should have an Adnams bar.
  3. Cheltenham – Not much else needs to be said really; Cheltenham.
  4. Hexham – Perhaps a shock that this is so high but I love Northumberland and this is probably the most picturesque course of the lot. A different world from Cheltenham, but charming because of it.
  5. Aintree – I wouldn’t go on Grand National day again but there’s little to dislike at Aintree.
  6. Newmarket (July) – Like the Rowley, the views aren’t great but can think of few better places to be on a summer afternoon (unless there’s a music night on).
  7. Sandown – Only been once but was impressed. Some great racing, good facilities and I like the wall that’s at the way to and from the parade ring.
  8. Kelso – I like Kelso for many of the same reasons I like Hexham. Northern, not huge, picturesque. Once got absolutely (and accidentally) smashed on Aspall’s cider there and hugged a stranger when winning the lucky last. Happy days.
  9. Ripon – Just lovely. Green and friendly and in a nice town with some good pubs.
  10. Hamilton– Despite being hugely underdressed and not as drunk as 98% of the patrons, we had a great time at the track. Stayed in the hotel right next door. Great stuff.
  11. Salisbury – Similar to Ripon. Always know it’s a good course when you don’t have any winners but still have a great day.
  12. Catterick – Good old Catterick. Another one which is a bit of a pain to get to on public transport, but once your there there’s not much to dislike. Small, but perfectly formed. Great value hospitiality.
  13. Doncaster – Has got it all and would be much higher if it wasn’t in, you know, Doncaster.
  14. Beverley – Another local track to me and one where I love to go. I would generally avoid at the weekend when Hull’s finest come to town, but had some great days there during the week or at quieter meetings.
  15. Wetherby – The third closest course to my home. A great place to visit on Boxing Day and the Charlie Hall is another yearly highlight of mine. Plenty to like about it although the location is driving is pretty much the only way of getting there.
  16. Pontefract – Very pleasant. Some good action on a Friday evening and home of the longest flat handicap in Europe.
  17. Market Rasen – An absolute bugger to get to but worth it. Really friendly track and close to Lincoln which is great for a weekend’s stay
  18. Haydock – Been 3 or 4 times to Haydock and always had a good day. No good pubs anywhere near the course though.
  19. Southwell – Huge soft spot for Costa Del Rolleston. The Saracen’s Head in the town itself is great, it’s close to Newark which is a fabulous litte town and who can’t fail to love a 5f sprint where the horses run in slow motion?
  20. Newcastle – Brilliant city, very decent course. Had some great days up there and some better nights, too.
  21. Uttoxeter – Popular midlands track, who host some very decent racing. The Sunday that I visited, it was absolutely packed and there were a few too many sockless gelboys for it to be a National Hunt course. The Horse and Dove micropub in the town is excellent.
  22. Musselburgh – I’ve only visited once and I enjoyed it. The end.
  23. Ayr – Very Scottish. Accidentally gave a £10.80 tip to a waiter here.
  24. Clonmel – My first and only Irish course. Did a great pint of Bulmers. Found a STUNNING pub in the town called Phil Carrolls Bar.
  25. Thirsk – Got a feeling it should be higher. Nice little town and had some great wins there.
  26. Wolverhampton – The course is better than the town. Reliable.
  27. Nottingham – I’m advised by a friend and good judge that this should be higher. It probably should to be fair, but thems the breaks.
  28. Carlisle – Always great to visit after you’ve bagged a Wainwright or two (fell and pint).
  29. Sedgefield – Very northern, very national hunty. Once went to a ‘family fun day’ there. Took my 4 year old boy. The family fun literally consisted of an elderly magician sat in the corner of the bar making balloon animals. Tremendous.
  30. Redcar – Once got a 2/9 jolly turned over with a 25/1 shot. Thought I was the king of the paddock. I wasn’t. Nice for a walk down the beach. Always enjoy the 2yo trophy.
  31. Leicester – Perfectly, perfectly fine. Saw Bristol De Mai hack up one Christmas whilst availing myself of some excellent champagne.