Throughout my life, I never did any exercise. In fact, I lived quite an unhealthy and destructive life – excess alcohol, cigarettes, partying, and everything else that came with it. Exercise wasn't ever on my radar.
But, when I began my transition in 2008 and started HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) in 2009, I knew I needed to make positive changes to create the life I wanted for myself. I ditched the bad habits and tried to invest in good habits like exercising regularly and quitting smoking. I started slowly with home workouts and exercises DVDs – I just starting my transition and felt extremely self-conscious. Also, as someone who had never exercised before I felt I needed to learn the basics first.
I started to see visible change quickly and about six-months in I felt much fitter and thought I'd try to get out for a short run. It was baby steps, really – I walked around the block. I'd never run before and little things like, 'how do you run?', 'how do you interact with the world?' were on my mind.
Those first few runs weren't good and I was still very self-conscious. But, I carried on and found a lot of my self-confidence there. I did a few small, local races and then the Race for Life with a friend before building myself up to a half-marathon. I trained and ran it on my own which was a slog but I was running for charity and that really inspired me – I felt that it was a proper challenge and if I could raise some money for a good cause too, then that would be great.
A few years and a few half marathons later, in 2015, I felt confident enough to reach out to a Liverpool based run-club I'd always been aware – Dockside Runners. Before my first session, I was so scared and worried but I shouldn’t have been – they were so welcoming and I've been running with them ever since.
About 18-months later I became a Dockside run-lead which felt incredible as a trans person to be so visible. I would run a couple of sessions a week which was great and before the coronavirus pandemic we had almost 100 runners a week coming to our Tuesday sessions. We were a big crew but between me and the seven other run leads, we managed it which was always exciting.
Dockside Runners are non-competitive, no-ego environment – in fact, the sheer range in runners is big, from beginners to a couple of Team GB athletes. But, everyone is on a level and we're all there together, cheering each other on.
It gave me an enormous amount of confidence to be a Dockside run-lead for three years – everyone was accepting and welcoming and we're quite a diverse bunch so it served me well. I made a lot of close friends and built a community which is something I'm extremely passionate about.
When I was a teenager and really struggling through my 20s – losing myself, essentially – I could have never imagined that I would have the ability to do something like that or the bravery to embrace who I was and put myself out there. I'm very proud of myself.
A friend and I even started an online group in 2015 called 'Trans Girls Can' – inspired by the This Girl Can campaign – to share the experiences and stories of trans women in sport.
Recently, during lockdown, I've been trying to be more mellow about racing and run times – it's more about the experience. Running first thing in the morning has given me a focus, once I've done that I can carry on with my day knowing I've ticked something off.
Going out and having a little noodle around as well as doing virtual Pilates classes with my teacher Hayley has been supporting my mental health. I drop in with her three times a week which has kept me toned and flexible, plus I get a good sweat on too.
For anyone feeling apprehensive or wondering whether they should reach out to a run club – when clubs can run together again – I would really recommend it. Once you've got the community with you and get into a routine, it helps a lot. Personally, I've found the running community to be incredibly accepting.
Even now running still gives me that confidence – if I'm having a low day or feeling vulnerable, going out for a run reassures me that even if everything else is a bit wobbly – I've got this.
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