My family and I have always suffered with weight problems. As a child, I was on the brink of obesity many different times. Most of these times it was always the same cycle I’m sure some of you have also been through: gain enough weight so that your parents (who are also overweight) decide you need to go on a diet, lose a few kilos, much too few to be healthy, then progressively gain the weight back again.
This cycle followed me through my school years. Sometimes it would be a few months without a diet and other times less. It wasn’t only me, my brothers, my mother, aunt etc… When I was 16 years old my grandmother died of obesity related illnesses. And you would think that would be enough for something to ‘shift’ in my mind. Well it wasn’t, that only made me hide deeper in my problems. To a point where the Pizza Hut guy knew me on a first name basis. Being 16 in Belgium means that alcohol and cigarettes were cool, and a bigger factor that only made things easier to ‘escape’. It’s too easy for me to blame it on my surroundings, my families’ way of living or my friends but I do think that following blindly without asking questions is what sunk me in this hole. We are all made to question things, decisions and go against the common saying, ‘’ Well that’s how it has always been done’’.
I finally had enough of what my parents wanted me to do and I decided to break the cycle. I’ve always been a sporty person but I only really discovered running when I was 20 years old. Running gave me a new way to escape my problems, and even fix some. It gave me time to think, time to find out who I really was and if I was where I wanted to be with my life. 5 years later and I am a semi-professional long distance runner.
Running really started like how it does for most people. Going around the block just making it to 4k and dreading every last minute of it. Most of my runs were like this until I found that it was much more than just about the distance. It was about the challenge.
Things suddenly got a lot more serious after that. I ate up running articles and books for breakfast. Running finally took meaning in my life, it defined who I was. 5 months after I started running I finished my first marathon in Paris, it was one of the greatest moments of my life. An amazing feeling of liberation and happiness I’d never experienced before. Although the training was strenuous and pushing myself through the winter months is never easy, when I got to the race I knew all I had to do was try and enjoy the moment! I wasn’t worried about hitting splits, worrying about my carb intake or the famous tunnels and their ‘hills’ on the 27th km. I let my legs be pushed by the music I had put on my playlist and just went with it. On that first marathon I was even able to enjoy the run, until the 36th km that is.
In fact, I’ve found that the more I focus on the clock, the splits or distance, the worse I will race. The more I forget about all the training and just go for it and let the legs do the talking is the better I’ll perform.
I strongly believe that people worry too much about their running and they forget to enjoy it. They’ll try to apply a mathematical equation to running a marathon, or a 10 step plan into completing their 100 miler. Through all this they’ll find themselves stuck between gel 3 and 4 or in the first leg of an ultra, worried about the next kilometre and suffering because of the previous one.
Don’t get me wrong. I live for and somewhat with running which means I do study the science behind it. I train my ass off for it, put in the track sessions and hill repeats. But once I get to a race it’s all about forgetting the training and having fun trying to express myself from start to the finish. At that point, it could be anything from letting myself slide on my ass down a 33km ski slope whilst passing the struggling runners that had the sense to stay up on their feet or doing the airplane arms dance that went out of fashion before I was even born.
Recently I decided I wanted to share my experience. I wanted desperately to break from the status quo that is going on at the moment. People are being more and more openly critical or racist on the internet. I wanted to do something that linked my experience with a positive message for this world.
A few months ago I decided that I wanted run from the north to the south of Europe to raise money against childhood obesity and to bring a sense of unity in Europe. It is a 5200km trip that will take me around 70 days. I’m inviting people to donate and help out. But I also plan on inviting people to join me on the run. I want to help people push themselves. Get off the couch and go outside. To break the status quo, ask their own questions and do what they believe is right for them!
I want people to discover by themselves that they can do a lot more than they believe they’re capable of doing. The only way I can try to show this to others is by applying this to myself, which is why I’ve once again decided to do something I have no track record in doing. But damn if I’m not going to give everything I’ve gotten to raise that money and get to that finish line!