One addiction quit, a new one is born

JANUARY 2014: I first met Danny on a Saturday morning in March 2013 in Hove Park Cafe. He’d just done Parkrun, completing the 5km course in 17 minutes 50 seconds. Not bad, I thought! Sub 18 minutes is a respectable time. I was surprised not to have met him before. Having myself been on the Brighton & Hove running scene a fair few years, I would surely have come across him in races if he ran for a local club.

He told me that he had only recently taken up running and had just joined Arena 80 AC. Wow, I was impressed, he must be a natural!

I was a tad sceptical when he explained that, 18 months earlier, he had been significantly overweight, did no regular exercise and was smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Really?! He pulled out a photograph of himself from his pre-running days. I strained a while before I realised it was genuinely Danny I was looking at in the picture. He was 16 stone! And this morning he’d raced around a 5k in under 18 minutes.

Having observed his improving race results over the last few months, I wanted to meet up with Danny again. I was curious to know how he’d managed to transform himself and where the motivation had come from. He agreed to share his story…

“Well, I guess my journey began back in September 2011, when I decided that enough was enough. It was time to put an end to the 20-a-day habit of the last 20 years – a habit that had taken my dad from me in 2004. The cigarette I smoked at 7:30am on September the 16th was to be my last. From that day on, my life would change. I would become free of the addiction.

I weighed around 16 stone and was eating like a pig to help fill the smoking void. I decided to use the money I would normally spend on smoking to join a gym and see if I could shift some weight and do normal things again. So, fat and out of shape, I hit the gym hard. Every single day I’d take my big, fat, sweaty body down to the gym and spend an hour on the cross trainer and exercise bike before going for a sauna and swim; it was not a pretty sight! At the time, I was suffering from Achilles tendonitis in both feet and was unable to get on a treadmill. However, the more weight I dropped the better my Achilles began to feel.

By February 2012, I was down to 13 stone. I felt it was time to try a run outside. Having built up a bit of cardio fitness on the cross-trainer in the gym, I was confident that my debut outdoor run would be a success.

That first run, on a Sunday morning, was just over 3 miles in total. It felt incredible, although the next few days were tough; I struggled to walk as my legs had been worked like never before. But a new addiction was born and no one could stop me! I immediately cancelled my gym membership and focussed on running outside.

I slowly began to build up my mileage, running with my brother-in-law and pal, Mike, who helped motivate me and push me in my training until I could run just over 13 miles, the equivalent of a Half Marathon. I’ll never forget it. It was incredibly hard and all I wanted to do throughout was stop. But he kept me going. I completed the distance in a most satisfying time of 2 hours 9 minutes. I was delighted.

The more I ran, the more I was addicted, the more weight I lost and the better my Achilles felt. Running was my new drug.

In June 2012, I completed a 26.2 mile run, the equivalent of a full marathon, around the streets of Brighton. I did this on what would have been my dad’s birthday. It was so hard, I swore I’d never run that distance again. But it wasn’t long after that I decided to sign up for a couple of races. I decided on a 10k in Littlehampton and my first official half marathon, the Robin Hood Half, in September back in my home town of Nottingham.

Prior to those races, I ran my first Parkrun in Hove Park in July, and finished in a respectable time of 21:36. I was over the moon.

September soon came around and it was the day of the Robin Hood Half. I’d run almost every day since February and lost around 4 stone. I’d been looking forward to this day for such a long time and, to add to what was to be a fantastic experience, my brother, sister and Mike had agreed to run it too. I finished in 1 hour 31 minutes.

I returned back home to Brighton, wondering what was next for me. A little while later I decided to join a running club. I chose Arena 80. Everyone there was so welcoming and I made some great new friends. Since joining Arena, I’ve competed in several races from 5K to a marathon, but my highlight so far has to be the Brighton Marathon in April 2013. This was my first official marathon, such an incredible experience and one I shall never forget. I finished in a time of 3:02:56, which means I qualify for a good-for-age entry to London in 2014.

I’ve met lots of really nice people through running, and the support on twitter from fellow runners is just incredible!
I’m now down to 11 stone, which means a total loss of 5 stone. I don’t plan on losing any more weight now. I love running and can’t imagine my life without it.”

I asked Danny if I could take a look at his training diary.

As I suspected, his results have not been accomplished purely off raw talent. Danny’s achievements are from hard work and thoroughly deserved. In the 18 weeks leading up to the Brighton Marathon in April 2013 he took just a handful of rest days and, on a number of occasions, trained twice a day. Danny’s running is also complemented by cross-training on the bike, including cycling to and from some of his running sessions. His longest Sunday run in the build-up to the marathon exceeded 23 miles and, in his biggest week a month before race day, his total mileage reached 84.

Hopefully, Danny’s determination and dedication will be an inspiration to anyone thinking of getting into running for the first time.

In the meantime, I look forward to keeping an eye on Danny’s races and watching him get even faster.

Danny is currently supporting and providing encouragement on the RunBrighton Marathon Group Training Runs in his role as an Ambassador.

By Mike Bannister