The thousands of runners lining up for the Great North Run in September will face a gruelling challenge, but Grantham competitor Anthony Burton has already completed a punishing examination of his determination, willpower and resolve just to get to the start line.
Fifteen months ago the 46-year-old father of two grown-up children weighed 22 stone, and had dangerously high blood pressure.
When he runs in the half marathon in Newcastle on September 7, he will be a remarkable six stone lighter and fit as a fiddle, having kicked a 25-a-day cigarette habit.
Here Anthony, a technical manager for a manufacturing firm, who lives with wife Kirsty in Kedlestone Road, Grantham, tells us how he did it.
It’s an inspiring achievement, Anthony. What was your motivation?
My story started in September 2012 when I went to hospital for continued pain between my shoulders, palpitations and breathlessness. I was admitted immediately as they saw my blood pressure was dangerously high at 208 over 132.
There was also some concern that I may have had a distended aorta which is a killer, and it was the upset this caused my wife that made me realise I had myself to blame and I had to change my lifestyle before it was too late.
After two days in hospital I was discharged to outpatient care to determine the cause of my still high - albeit reduced - blood pressure.
It was during this two days that I determined to change my lifestyle and set myself a phased approach to losing weight and getting fit. I gave up smoking 25 cigarettes a day - I had been smoking since the age of 14 - just after leaving hospital. I kept this up until Christmas to make sure I had kicked the habit and on the first Monday of 2013, phase two kicked in, changing what I ate and exercising.
I did not want to diet. Dieting is a temporary measure that results in some weight loss before we go back to eating what made us fat in the first place and putting on even more fat than we started with. The plan was a permanent change and involved cutting processed foods, and a lot of high sugar food, drinking plenty of water and eating five to six times per day.
After losing three stone I joined the gym. I went three times a week, mostly for rowing, cycling, running and some weight work, and kept this up until November when I set myself a goal to run a half marathon for charity in Milton Keynes the following May. I started to road run, and the gym work meant I could run 5km now.
5km is a long way short of a 21km half marathon. What kept you on track?
I decided to raise money for St Barnabas Lincolnshire Hospice. Hospices in this country deserve every penny they get for the care and support given to patients and families during very upsetting times. I ran four times a week before the half marathon, though snow, rain, wind and darkness but came out knowing I could run the distance.
I actually ran in the Derby 10km race as a learning exercise and surprised myself with how fast I completed it.
How did you get on in the half marathon?
On the day, the field was a mix of marathon and half marathon runners, totalling about 6,000. I was very excited and nervous too. Not only because I was running a distance I had not done before and did not know what might happen, but also because more than £2,000 had been pledged to St Barnabas and they were relying on me to finish the race. As it transpired, I finished in 2hr 10min and I was elated. I had achieved so much in a short period of time and the money raised for St Barnabas was fantastic. I used Facebook and Running Bug websites to keep people up to date with progress, but mostly for the motivational comments I received during the journey. These really keep you focused on your goal.
After the Great North Run on September 7, what will be your next challenge?
My ultimate goal was to run the London Marathon in April next year, and this was realised this week when Help the Hospices offered me a guaranteed place in their team. The London Marathon is difficult to get into, so this was great news and a real goal to aim at. Fifteen months after weighing in at 22st with high blood pressure and
generally been unfit, I have now completed a half marathon, have low blood pressure and will be running in the Great North Run Half Marathon on September 7 (watch out for Darth Maul).
I will also be running the biggest challenge yet in the Nottingham Robin Hood Marathon on September 28, which I am now training for. My quality of life is much better now. I can shop in any clothes store, I can ride a sports bike again, and I won’t get thrown off roller coasters any more for not been able to fit in the safety restraints
Your achievement has been remarkable. Could anyone do it?
There is no quick fix or miracle diet. The only way to get fit and lose weight is to permanently change what you eat and drink, and exercise regularly. Aim to lose up to 2lb a week and no more. By the end of a year that’s over seven stone in weight. Another key is eating five to six times a day. You never get hungry when you eat this frequently and it makes for efficient digestion.