'Workout completed. Distance: 21.1 kilometres. Time: 2 hours, 16 minutes, and 21 seconds.'
Slowing my pace, I beamed, ending the workout on my phone. The feeling of accomplishment was unrivalled. My legs felt somewhat disconnected from my body, and I had a piercing stitch that I had talked myself into believing was an appendicitis for the past hour, but the temporary pain was overshadowed by the pride I felt. I had run my first half marathon! I submitted my evidence via the MedalMad app, sneaking another peak at the Wonder Woman medal that would soon be en-route to reward my efforts.
Between 2014 and 2015, I suffered from anorexia, which manifested itself via an unhealthy obsession with exercise and a desire to counteract every single calorie I consumed throughout the day. I had never run a step in my life, and yet, suddenly, I was getting up at 6am every morning to run 5k before work, only to do it all again later that evening, plus 100 sit-ups and stair-runs.
Running was simply a chore that I forced myself to endure twice a day, manipulated by the strangulating voice inside my head. I detested every single second of my pressured exercise routine. It became my only focus, driven by the irrational yearning to drop my weight lower than six stone. My life was a miserable mirage of calories consumed, calories burned, and that number on the scales. I was blindly wading through the loneliest point of my existence.
I have now been free from the grasp of anorexia for almost four years.
At the start of 2019, I agreed to compete in a 5k 'fun run' with my partner. The run, which promised all competitors two slices of pizza upon completion, was scheduled to take place at a local park in June. I was apprehensive about starting running again, as painful connotations of my eating disorder flashed through my head. I knew I had to be careful to keep my exercise on the right side of enjoyable, without it becoming a negative necessity.
I started to train for the run in May. Having given running the cold shoulder for the years following my anorexia recovery, I found it especially difficult. I seemed to acquire a stitch almost straight away, and my shins protested bitterly. I pushed myself to finish, grimly noting the time it had taken me.
I aimed to complete one 5k a week leading up to the run, and I was shocked at how quickly both my stamina and speed seemed to improve.
The fun run wasn't timed, but I managed to get around the course without stopping (I'm not going to lie – it was probably the thought of pizza that spurred me on!). The atmosphere was amazing – everyone was so supportive, and the crowds stood cheering their encouragement at the finish line gave me the boost I needed to keep going.
I caught the 'running bug' there and then.
At the start of July, I discovered MedalMad, and entered the Hakuna Matata 5k Virtual Run. I succeeded in getting my time down to 24 minutes, 22 seconds. A few weeks later, I decided to just go for it, and signed up to the Wings of Transformation 10k – my first time running such a distance. It was gruelling, but I managed it in 54 minutes.
The brightly-coloured medal collection hanging on my wardrobe was growing.
When September's challenges were released and I saw the Wonder Woman Half Marathon medal, I knew it was time to really test and better myself.
One Sunday evening, I pulled on my running gear and embarked upon my Half Marathon. I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it, and how fast the time passed! Armed with a playlist of my favourite 'running tracks' (anything by Kasabian!), I ran through kilometre after kilometre. From the highest point of my run, I was even lucky enough to watch the sunset as I pounded along. Every kilometre past 10 was an achievement for me, as this was now the furthest I had ever run. It was such a buzz, and adrenaline-fuelled energy pumped through me.
Completing the Half Marathon was one of my proudest moments of 2019, and I am even hoping to enter one of MedalMad's full Marathons in 2020. I have my eye on the New York medal, actually.
Joining the MedalMad community has had such a positive impact on my relationship with exercise. It provides a fun way to keep fit, enhanced by a cool medal at the end of the challenge, without the whole regime becoming detrimentally obsessive. It has taught me that exercise is there to be enjoyed, and to form part of a healthy lifestyle, rather than to be used as a tool of self-destruction.
Now, instead of meticulously watching the calorie burner, I simply like to compete with my previous times, aiming to create new Personal Bests.
One of the things I like best about MedalMad is the fact that I can complete challenges anywhere, at any time. Whether it's a sprint around the block after work, or a few laps of the running track on the top deck of the cruise ship during our summer holiday, it is convenient and practical, and varied.
There are challenges to suit everybody, and every ability and, I warn you, it's so easy to become addicted to adding yet more pretty medals to your collection!
CARA JASMINE BRADLEY