Eileen's Story

Eileen’s Story

Eileen Stewart has made a complete transformation by taking up running and is 12 stone lighter, recently taking part in her first ultra. Here, she talks to Athletics Trust Scotland about her successes and what triggered her to make such an amazing life transformation.

How and when did you initially get involved in running or athletics?
On 31st March 2018, aged 37, I went to my first parkrun. I had heard of parkrun but did not know what to expect but I knew I needed to make changes in my life and I thought maybe something like this would help.

What made you want to change?
I was nearing 24 stone, despite numerous attempts to lose it over the years. I have two children and I knew I was not being a role model to them. I was scared that they might turn out like me. So I went to parkrun and that day changed my life forever.

Has it helped you?
Yes! I run for fitness and to maintain a healthy weight, but they aren’t what drags me out of bed on a cold winter’s morning. I run for strength, both physical and mental. Running makes me feel powerful, capable, and confident.

How has it helped?

In January 2021, my then 10 year old son was unexpectedly diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. As we were in the middle of a national lockdown, I had to attend appointments with him on my own, gathering information, passing this on to those that needed to know, organising appointments and treatments, all while comforting my child.

The day after his diagnosis. I went for a run with my head in turmoil. I felt angry at the world and the injustice of it all. As I ran I became so overwhelmed, I stood on the path and sobbed, then shook myself off and started running. It was one of the hardest and equally one of the best runs I have done. The run didn’t fix the situation with my son, but it helped me process what I felt so that when I walked back through that door I could be strong for my family.

How would you describe the running and athletics community?

In one word… amazing!! I have met so many people who have encouraged and supported me. Those I meet give a smile and a nod. Running past someone who smiles or cheers brings a smile to my face and keeps me going that little bit longer.

The running community is filled with runners and volunteers, event organisers and general public supporters. Whatever the role, these people are just wonderful and I know without that support I wouldn’t be where I am. This is one of the most inspirational, encouraging, supportive and non-judgemental communities you’ll ever come across.

What was your first parkrun experience like?
When I did my first parkrun, it took me 1 hour, 4 minutes and 22 seconds. The tail walker kept me going and never complained about the time it took me. The volunteers were there at the end cheering me over the line with such joy even though it was a miserable wet day and I made them wait so long. Those people helped change my life.

How have you kept it up?

In January 2020 I finally plucked up the courage to join a running group and I am so glad I did. There are times when the group pushes me out of my comfort zone which is needed. I am one of the slower runners but the support from everyone in the group is amazing. We cheer each other’s successes and we push each other to be better.

Where are you now?

I am 12 stone lighter and I am training for my first Ultra, Run the Blades 50k at Whitelees Windfarm. It’s safe to say my life is not what it once was. I was morbidly obese for 20 years of my life. I hated myself, I tried not to look in mirrors and I avoided cameras whenever possible. I knew I needed to change but it can be so hard. I tried so many times but I was so scared of judgement that I couldn’t ask for help. I needed to find my own self belief.

I used the principles of couch to 5k but I adapted it to what I could manage. I gradually increased my pace and managed to start running small blocks of time. I would run along my local cycle path, walking whenever I saw someone approach, my head down so I didn’t have to look at them. I kept returning to parkrun and gradually my time improved.

I managed to run a whole parkrun one week and almost cried as I crossed into the finish funnel. Of all the achievements I’ve managed since then, nothing will mean as much as the first time I ran the full 5k. My 5k PB now sits at 26:34.

Upping the distance
I have since completed 10ks, half marathons and one virtual marathon. I love the training, the planning and the getting out there and running. I often have moments when I’m running when I think ‘oh wow … I can run’.

I have so much more confidence in myself. I will push myself out of my comfort zone and try things that I would never do before. I am able to talk to people more than I ever used to and I no longer need someone to hide behind. My increased confidence in myself and my abilities means I don’t worry nearly so much about what others think. This means when I am in a hospital room surrounded by doctors and nurses I am able to be an advocate for my child in a way that I don’t believe I could have before running came into my life.

There is often a photographer at parkrun. I saved the pictures of me from my first couple of parkruns so I could see how I’ve changed. The obvious change is my size but there is another huge difference. In those first pictures I’m covered up, with a baseball cap on and my head tilted down. I’m trying to hide. Pictures now are so different. I still wear a cap but I hold my head up high and smile and wave as I run past the photographer in my bright clothing.

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