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Life Changing Journey to London Marathon

Our latest blog is from one of our newest members, Leigh Graham. A very frank, but inspiring account of how Leigh has turned his life around and how, with the motivation provided by being a member of Havering Tri, he ran the London Marathon this year – something he would never have dreamed of doing a couple of years ago…

As a new member to the Havering Triathlon Club I would not have expected anyone to have known me before, because the last 15+ years my life had been spent in local bars drinking a minimum 6 pints of larger 6 nights a week. In the summer this would mostly be spent in beer gardens were I could participate in smoking 20 to 30 cigarettes a day. I have probably fallen out of more bars and clubs than the whole of the triathlon club put together. Even getting rushed in to hospital with a suspected heart attack in 2013 and hobbling around for 2 years with the most excruciating gout did not change my life style or my diet, normally set by whatever carryout was available came my way on my way home each evening from the lonely bars. I work with club founder Mark Billyard, and he kept talking about the club to me during 2015. When he mentioned Lanzarote training for a week I thought… “I can think of better places to go like Ibiza for example”. Anyway Mark kept talking to me about the club and by late 2015 I had hit rock bottom. My lifestyle had taken over and I was probably one step away from being, if not already, an alcoholic. By mid-day at work I was thinking about a pint. Something had to change…

In the New Year 2016 something clicked though… and I pledged to make a change. I stopped smoking and a few of you may remember me first turning up in the freezing cold one early Monday evening of January when we did hill work in a strange place. I turned up and my hamstring went, but I kept running up lamp post after lamp post. Now it was hard for me at the time and I was thinking what the hell am I doing here… but we smashed it that night even though I could not find enough strength or energy to run the last lap and pulled out to stretch. I talked to Mark at work and he said that the club do spinning on Wednesday’s… why don’t you come along, so I did… I sweated a lot… did not know anyone… but suppose I enjoyed it considering this was an unheard of second workout for me in a week!

Before you know it I had joined the club and then I spent a few hundred pounds ordering the full club kit range. Things were now getting real and I knew I needed to take this training lark seriously. Then the next day Mark registered me for Raphael Park Run, which is held every Saturday morning… so I turned up, in the middle of winter and attempted to run 5k, blowing out my arse... I walked and ran and tried to get around in 46mins I think. The great thing for me personally, which a lot of longer term members may not realise, is that the club and its members, with their unlimited enthusiasm and positivity drives you on, giving the support that someone like me needed. I turned up for running again on the Monday and spinning again on the Wednesday each week, week in and week out… I joined swimming lessons and before you know it developed from someone who could not swim 5 lengths to someone who was smashing 2200m on a Saturday morning before backing it up with Park Run!!!

With Mark’s encouragement I registered for the Dartford half and died, but finished, then did the Brentwood Half and died, but 20 minutes quicker than the Dartford. Little by little I noticed the difference in my health, the body was toning up and my whole outlook on life was changing for the better. My urge to drink has stopped, my diet has changed and I am feeling the fittest and strongest I have ever felt for over 20 years. The other good thing is people are now noticing the difference and I get comments all the time about how well I look, how I have lost weight and look so much happier and contented. Being 45 I am no spring chicken and I don’t expect to win or come in the top 10 of any races. For me it’s currently completion with no interest in the time... but this may change as I develop and get stronger still.

I often think about where I’ve come from to where I am now. My initial aim is to just keep plodding on, building my fitness base and doing a few challenges on the way. Little by little I’m getting closer to completing my dream of completing a triathlon, planned to be the HSBC Triathlon in September 2016. My biggest achievement so far though is something that I would never have dreamed about… I actually ran the London Marathon and completed it in 5hrs 8mins. This would never have been possible without the Havering Tri coaching team and the support of my Havering Tri club mates! Thank you for spurring me on giving me the belief to achieve and finding my lost dreams again, being there for me and allowing me to enjoy life again in a different and fitter, healthier way. Here’s to 2016. Let the season begin!

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