- Ask Ira anything on MAN v FAT Talk (@ira-rainey)
- Age: 45
- Height – 6″ (183 cm)
- Software developer and author of Fat Man To Green Man
- Heaviest weight: 245 lbs (111.1 kg)
- Lowest weight: 192 lbs (87.1 kg)
Your book Fat Man To Green Man documents an incredible phase in your life where you lost nearly 50 lbs and took up ultramarathons – have you always had a passion for running?
No, not at all! The thing is inherently I am a very lazy person. I’ve never been interested in sport and was never really into keeping fit or exercising. I first started running in 2000 when I entered the Bristol Half Marathon and I only did that because I thought it looked like fun!
I’d never run before and during training I just plodded a few miles and just about got around the race. Then I threw my trainers back in the cupboard for a few years. I wasn’t a runner, I just saw the half marathon as a challenge and once I completed it I was done with it. Box ticked.
So did you not run again after 2000?
It was only a good few years later when I became aware that I was putting on weight that I decided I had to do something about it and started running a bit more. I never took it very seriously, and still didn’t really change what I was eating so I didn’t lose weight, but I thought I was doing better because I was running. I’m living proof that you can’t just exercise the weight off.
Before you lost the weight what were you eating on an average day?
I would often tend to skip breakfast at home and grab a McDonalds on the way to work, two egg and bacon McMuffins, hash browns and coffee was my standard order. If not McDs then I would buy a few croissants or a sausage and bacon breakfast baguette.
Then I would often buy a baguette from the sandwich lady in the office, which I would often eat before lunch, then at lunchtime I would walk into town and generally buy something else. If there were cakes or biscuits around in the office then I would snack on those all afternoon. If not I would buy a bar of chocolate (or sometimes two) from the vending machine.
Tea at home would generally be healthy if we weren’t having a takeaway, but I would often have a good chunk of beer of an evening. Worst case scenario I would probably average 3 – 5 pints a night for 4 or 5 nights a week. Not even counting the kebabs on the way home from the pub or late night pizza orders when drinking.
What made you decide to change?
Very suddenly a friend of mine who I worked with was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 6-9 months to live. It was such a shock and it was the slap in the face that made me realise that maybe everything won’t always be OK. He was fit and healthy, yet his life was still cut tragically short. It really made me think about my own mortality. When I was younger I’d always thought I was a robot! Then over time I realised that was daft, I wasn’t a robot at all – I was bionic! I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer and I just had this strange sense that I was different and didn’t need to worry about mortality or health. When Remo got ill I suddenly had to think again.
What made it different from the times before?
The shock of what had happened to my friend brought it close to home. It made me realise I wasn’t doing my life any justice. I ran, but not really with any effort. You kind of think that because you’re doing some exercise you’re doing OK, but when you’re cancelling out the benefits with all the crap you’re putting back in it’s a bit of a pointless task.
You’re right. I felt guilty with myself that I wasn’t doing what I should be doing to enable me to live as long and as happy a life as I could. I wasn’t looking after my health and worst of all I wasn’t really living. I thought I was, but when you sit back and look objectively you see you’re really not. Remo paid the ultimate price, despite the fact that he was slim, fit and seemingly healthy. He didn’t smoke, he didn’t really drink, yet he still paid the price. I know that these things strike anyone, but surely the most important thing is to give yourself the very best chance. It was a real wake up call to my own mortality.
So you were running, albeit half-heartedly, what did you do to shift the weight?
I don’t buy into any kind of diet plan. You need to learn to eat properly, not with something labelled or set out for you in points. I’ve seen people on Weight Watchers eating sausage sandwiches for breakfast because the had the points for it. That doesn’t teach you anything. I just cut back on the junk, ran a lot more, and learnt to moderate myself. One of the most important things was stopping drinking for a bit and getting that part of my life back into proportion.
Was it a fairly straight forward or were there problems?
It was fairly straight forward. Once you get your head into it and start to see a benefit then it gets easier. After a little while, once you lose a bit of weight and it starts to slow the danger is that you take your foot off the pedal and things slide back up. It’s important to bear that in mind.When you’re not fit or you’re overweight there is no such thing as an easy run.
For me, because I’d stopped eating so much crap and because I was running so much in training for the Green Man Ultramarathon the weight was coming off quickly. The other thing that kept me focused was the fact that I was raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support and it was difficult to moan about my problems when Remo was going through much worse. The biggest suprise was how much easier running became and how much faster I could run, and how much more I enjoyed it. When you’re not fit or you’re overweight there is no such thing as an easy run. When you’re fitter you can choose to take it easy or not.
What would you eat on a normal day now then?
I always have breakfast at home, either Weetabix with raisins, or poached eggs on toast, or kippers. Then for lunch I often have some soup or noodles, or some leftovers from tea such as chilli and rice. I no longer load up on double lunches or eat the cakes or chocolates spread around the office. For tea, as a family we try to eat together and generally it’s healthier options, such as a low-fat chicken korma, or salmon and jacket potatoes, chilli and rice, homemade pizza, or roast and veggies. That kind of thing. I still enjoy a few beers, but maybe once or twice a week. Nowadays instead of three or four pints I’ll drink smaller bottles. Everything in moderation I think is key.
Not quite! I completed the 46 mile Green Man Ultra on the Saturday, then for some crazy reason we’d decided to do the Bath Half Marathon the following day – which again I finished with no real problems. I decided to take some time off running and then two weeks later I was driving to work and got pins and needles in my arm and leg, which then spread to my face. I rang 111 and they told me to get to hospital as they thought it might be a stroke. In total I spent a week on the acute stroke ward at Bath Royal United Hospital.
Whilst in there I underwent a huge amount of tests, one of which detected I had several blood clots on my left lung, so I was given emergency anti-coagulant drugs. The stroke symptoms passed and the weirdest thing was that the hospital could find no evidence of a stroke. In the end it was deemed either to be a migraine or a TIA (mini-stroke). When I was discharged I was also put on Warfarin for six months because of the clots.By the time I returned to work in July I had lost all my fitness I had gained and a simple 3 mile at lunchtime nearly did me in.
That still wasn’t the end though! The following week when I was recuperating at home I developed a pain in my back which went on to turn into chronic sciatica which stopped me from being able to stand up for more than a few minutes. I couldn’t walk anywhere, let alone run. I was in a serious amount of pain and ended up having MRI scans to determine the problem, which turned out to be caused by spondylolisthesis which is a slippage of the vertebrae causing a pinching of the disc and the sciatic nerve. None of it – the blood clots or the sciatica were connected to running but I ended up being off work for 14 weeks unable to do much for myself, and high as a kite on a serious amount of morphine to manage the pain. I didn’t walk for a couple of weeks, and then slowly with help of the drugs eased back into it.
By the time I returned to work in July I had lost all my fitness I had gained and a simple three mile run at lunchtime nearly did me in. I had to start from scratch getting back up to my previous fitness. I slowly built up enough enabling me to run the Chippenham Half Marathon in September in 1:47 and then continuing to train and completed the 53 mile Highland Fling Ultra in Scotland in April this year. What happened to me just goes to prove that none of us know what is around the corner in life and all we can do is get out there and live while we can. I am now training for TransGrancanaria, which is 77 miles from north to south of Gran Canaria with 28,000 feet of climb in March 2015 and the South Downs Way 100 miles in June. It turns out I’m not bionic but I think it shows that no matter who you are we can all do something with our life.
Our thanks to Ira for sharing his story and if you’ve not read Fat Man To Green Man then it’s highly recommended. Stay tuned this week as you’ll be able to win a copy on MAN v FAT. And don’t forget that you can chat to Ira on MAN v FAT Talk at anytime.