Let me take you back to a cold and dark Monday morning back in early December 2010. I was sitting in a room on my own. It was a small room, the walls painted dusty pink and there were a dozen chairs lined up against the walls with a coffee table in the middle, magazines scattered across it with a few leafets.
As I waited, the chairs filled up. All women. Everyone looked up when the door handle clicked. “erm Mr Driscoll…” Now picture one of them moments where everyone thinks exactly the same thing at the same time and they all turn to look the same way in surprise. Yes, here I was waiting in the Breast Screening Unit at Queen Mary’s at Sidcup waiting for a mammogram as my GP was most concerned about a lump I had in my chest.
The next hour or so was the longest I can ever remember. I was terrified. The radiographer done her best to put me at ease, telling me “oh its my lucky day, I’ve been doing this job nearly 20 years and this is the first time I get to touch a man!” which raised a laugh but my mind was elsewhere.
Now you female readers will know about the mammograms so let me fill in the male readers here. Basically, the radiographer will squeeze the breast between 2 metal plates to take the xray. For the ladies, its not the nicest experience in the world as you can probably imagine but for a man, it’s a little difficult even with the dreaded overweight moobs. I was mortified. After the mammogram, they were convinced with was nothing to worry about but I had an ultrasound to make sure, cue more giggling from the radiographer who really couldn’t believe her luck.
The radiographer then gave me the all clear. She suggested the lump was likely to be a fatty deposit in the chest wall and perhaps I should start to look after myself a little bit better. That conversation proved to be the biggest kick up the backside I’ve ever received.
Later that day, I made the decision that from 1st January 2011, I’d take my fitness a little more seriously and I’d make a real conscious effort to look after myself.
During my years of secondary education at Bexley Grammar, I was active but never the fittest. With the regular activity at school and then later at University, the metabolism was high and my weight was never really an issue. After graduation, I was working 60 hours a week between two jobs just to make ends meet. The issues began as soon as I got my first ever office job. Trainee Management Accountant at Queen Mary’s NHS Trust at Sidcup. On the plus side, Professional Qualifications were on offer…on the other side, being sat at a desk behind a computer for the best part of 7-8 hours a day was a recipe for cake, biscuits and constant nibbling on whatever was knocking around the office at the time.
I was still playing Sunday football on and off and 5-a-side once a week but it was not enough to control my weight. I was still consuming more calories than I was burning off.
Two jobs later, I was in my mid-to-late 20s when I was to meet someone. In a whirlwind, our daughter Izzy arrived on the scene. It felt surreal how things were moving so quickly. In the meantime, we were selling one house, buying another, trying to plan a wedding and I’d just started another job. All while trying to care for a 6 month-old. Just one of those events would be enough to deal with but I had my hands full.
I couldn’t cope. I had what I can only describe as a mini-breakdown. Anxiety, panic attacks. I could feel my blood physically pulsing through my veins. Now imagine the scenario. Phoning your boss to explain you can’t come in to work because you can’t physically get on the train without having a panic attack. Can you imagine the reaction?
I’m fortunate that I’ve got a very good boss. I eventually got into work and they packed me off to Occupational Health and they booked me in to see a Counsellor. My GP has dosed me up on anti-depressants but they were making me worse, not better. I was suicidal. I told the Counsellor how I felt. I had everything I could ever wish for around me but I didn’t want to be me anymore. Its was horrible. The Counsellor told me to stop taking the medication immediately and packed me back to the GP but the conversation I had with the Counsellor on that dismal afternoon put me back in the right direction.
I went back to work, battled the panic attacks on the train by forcing myself to do Suduko and anything else to keep my mind off the train and got back into normal life again. Finally got married as planned and it took me almost a year to feel reasonably confident again. It was a slow process.
Then came the bombshell that turned my world upside down. The wife wanted out. In her words, “I don’t love you anymore”. Of course, I wanted answers but none were forthcoming. The thing that hit me hardest was not being able to see Izzy every day. I’d gone from being the most active hands-on Dad you could imagine to one that saw his daughter only at weekends.
The depression came back. With a vengeance. I cried enough tears to fill an ocean. Just looking at a picture of my daughter could set me off. Even now, 6 years later, the sound of kids playing in nearby gardens and the tunes belted out by Ice Cream vans in the summer months get me in the pit of my stomach.
That was the beginning of a huge downward spiral for me. I had no choice but to move back in with my parents. If I was ever going to get back on the housing ladder again, I had to save and save hard, even if it meant sleeping on my parent’s sofa. I slept on that sofa for the best part of two years. That was a character-building experience I can assure you. I no longer had a family to come home to. It became far too easy to stay out drinking with work colleagues and friends after work. I reasoned that coming home almost unconscious would dull the pain and stress of my divorce and I’d pass out as I hit the sofa. The weight piled on to the point I was tipping the scales at 18st. I just couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I lost respect for myself.
Almost two years to the day my ex-wife told me my marriage was over, I finally moved into my own 2-bed flat in Welling. Six months later, I discovered the lump in my chest which the GP referred me to the Breast Screening Unit at Queen Mary. Full circle complete. I just had to get fit. If I continued down the same line, I could easily have been dead by 40. I wouldn’t see my daughter grow up. Enough was enough…
So how did I get into running? Well first things first, I had to lose some weight. I started with cycling. I’d purchased a mountain bike not long after moving in with my parents to spend some time with my old mates doing some off-road rides but I soon picked up the cycling bug again. I soon bought a road bike and now compulsory lycra and started munching up the miles on the road. I joined a local cycling club where I was to meet a great friend in Richard, who had found himself in a similar state of fitness.
I soon racked up my first 50 mile ride, my first sportive and my first century ride in the first year with Rich at my side for the best part. 18st became 15st. In 2012, I rode London to Paris over 3 days. One icy Sunday morning before Paris, I’d decided that cycling wasn’t the best idea in them conditions and I pulled out my old trainers from the cupboard and went for a 5 mile run instead, off the cuff. I was destroyed…but felt awesome all at the same time. 15st became 13st 8lbs.
I ran a little bit here and there through the spring and summer but it wasn’t until a near miss on the bike in September that I started to run more regularly and that’s when I properly got the bug. I just felt I could get so much more out of running than I could get from cycling. I could burn the same amount of calories in running 10k in around 60 mins rather than spending 2.5 hours on the bike to do the same thing.
So 2013 was my first proper year of running but I was still cycling a great deal. I set myself a target of a sub 2hr half marathon in the spring. I ran the East London half in 1:56 in April, smashing my previous PB of 2:45, set on a one off half I ran in 2008 when I was extremely overweight. I cycled London to Brussels via Amsterdam in May and pretty much ran my way through the rest of 2013, clocking up just over 1,000 miles in the year. 2013 was also the year I properly discovered the Gym and found I had the makings of some abs under my belly.
2014 was the year I discovered marathons. Just the four of them. I went tee-total in the build up to my first marathon, Paris. It helped me drop another stone down to 12st 8lbs but lack of experience in the latter stages saw me clock 4:24. I’ve since ran the Ranscombe Challenge, the Kent Coastal and most recently, Amsterdam, which I finished in a disappointing 4:34 but then again I was suffering with an upset stomach less than 12 hours before the start, so it was a miracle I actually started, let alone finished it!
So here I am, coming up to the end of my fourth year of looking after myself. I sit here typing looking at the picture showing me sitting with my daughter Izzy, taken exactly 5 years apart. I don’t recognise the person on the left.
The guy on the right I do recognise. That’s me. Self-respect and pride restored with a smile on my face, knowing I can look forward to a great future of seeing my daughter grow up. Its never too late to make changes in your life. You only live once and you need to grab life with both hands, not waste it. Most importantly, I'm happy. The depression seems to be a thing of the past. I'll occasionally get the odd down day but I'm in a great place. I remember a phrase used by one of my fellow Plumstead Runners. Running is the greatest mental ironing board going. I cant disagree.
I really do need to thank two people especially for helping to get me here. Chandra, best mate from University and my personal trainer. Many sessions done and many pints drunk too. Words of wisdom and encouragement when I’ve needed it as well as the right old-fashioned proper b*llocking when I've needed reigning in. Then there’s Rich. Cycling can be a lonely sport at times. We’ve spent hundreds of miles together on the open roads of Kent and beyond and it would never have been the same without him. Then of course, there's my daughter Izzy. There is no greater inspiration to get out of bed every day. I hope when she grows up she realises I've done my best by her and have always put her needs before mine. Hopefully, she'll be very proud of her old man.
Jan 2011 – First day of taking my fitness seriously.
Jan 2011 – First ever cycle club ride
Feb 2011 – First 50 mile road ride
Apr 2011 – First cyclesportive (the Wiggle New Forest) – 85 miles
May 2011 – First 100 mile road ride
Dec 2011 – First ever Christmas Day training session (now a tradition)
Mar 2012 – First 5 mile run
Mar 2012 – First time I’d managed to ride up Brasted Hill in Kent without stopping
Jun 2012 – London to Paris by bike
Jan 2013 – Joined Plumstead Runners
Apr 2013 – First sub 2hr Half Marathon
May 2013 - London to Brussels via Amsterdam by bike
May 2013 - London to Brussels via Amsterdam by bike
Nov 2013 – First cross country run since school
Dec 2013 – Start of Marathon training
Apr 2014 – Paris Marathon
Jul 2014 – Ranscombe Challenge Marathon
Sep 2014 – Kent Coastal Marathon
Oct 2014 – Amsterdam Marathon
Apr 2015 - Brighton Marathon
Apr 2015 - Brighton Marathon