Known online as ‘Fatty’, Julie Creffield isn’t your typical, skinny, runner.
In 2003, weighing almost 20 stone, a work colleague convinced Julie to take part in a 3k fun run, but was unable to complete it, having done no training. She was in her early twenties, unable to run for more than 30 seconds at a time, and had to deal with boys shouting ‘Run Fatty, run’ at her.
Despite all of this, Julie signed up for the London Triathlon, which she completed just three months later in an XL wetsuit for her size 18 body, and has managed to keep at it, having now run two marathons, and is helping other women do the same, no matter what size they are, through her website, The Fat Girls’ Guide to Running.
In May 2013, Julie virtually trained a group of overweight ladies from all over the world in a programme called The Fattymustrun Marathon Challenge, preparing them for a spring marathon. Some of these ladies had NEVER run before, and some were struggling mentally to get past the 5k mark.
Two women, Holley and Laura, went on to run the full 26.2 miles just eight months later, while a further three ladies managed half marathons. As Julie had never met these women in person, she realised she could support and inspire other large ladies to make huge changes and equip them with the tools they needed to start enjoying running, even over the internet.
We got the chance to speak to Julie, as part of Running Week, to find out what her biggest fears of running were, how she motivates herself to keep at it, and the advice she’d give to new runners.
Hi Julie! So, how did you get into running initially?
Some colleagues at work encouraged me to take part in a 3K community fun run. I did no training and just assumed I would be able to get round. 30 seconds in, and I realised how difficult it was going to be as I was hugely overweight and very unfit. It was a terrible experience which was made worse by a young lad who shouted out “Run Fatty Run”. It kind of put me off running for a while, but it did encourage me to start taking my health more seriously and I signed up to a triathlon. I still hated the running part of that though. It took me a few years to come to terms with my desire to become a runner.
That’s amazing that you still kept going though, even if it was just a triathalon! What were your biggest fears at the time?
I thought that EVERYONE was staring at me and laughing, and it took me a long time to realise that that wasn’t the case. I feared I would never get to the point where I would enjoy running.
That’s understandable. Did you have any setbacks and criticism when initially starting out? Do you ever still experience those setbacks now, and how do you deal with them?
I found it hard to be consistent with my running, mainly down to bad lifestyle choice, like drinking too much and eating rubbish. This made it really hard to see much progress in either my weight loss or my running. Yo-Yo dieting added to this struggle with body confidence. I am a lot more knowledgeable now about diet and fuelling my body properly for my training. Joining a running club and being around other runners helps with this.
I still experience the occasional horrible comment or kids (and men in vans) laughing at me, but I now know they’re the ones that have the problem and not me. I also do get some criticism from other running experts that say I am encouraging people to stay fat with my blog.
Why did you set up your website, ‘The Fat Girls’ Guide to Running’?
I set it up in 2010 while my running was still a bit hit and miss, I did it to try and get a bit of accountability, but I never imagined anyone other than my friends and family would read it. I realise now that it’s been successful because there was nothing out there for overweight runners. Yes, there are other blogs about runners losing weight, but not one that was just about running as an overweight person.
What are your favourite parts of the website?
The Get Started section is a great place to start for beginners, but I personally like checking out old blog posts as there are over 300 of them now. Race Reports always bring back great memories and I also love our Runner of the Month area where you can meet other amazing women from this plus-size running community.
What are you most proud of?
I guess I am most proud of #OneBigFatRun which is my FREE virtual 5K which has been taking place on the last Sunday of the month for the past year. It has seen well over 1500 participants from all over the world, many of whom have never run before.
That must be so fulfilling to see the work you’re actually doing. What motivates you to keep at it?
I have found inner peace by being a runner and had so many amazing experiences. By running races, especially marathons, I have realised how incredible my body is. Now I have an audience of other women, I feel really excited about a potential shift in attitudes towards women in sport and get away from the idea that we only ever do exercise for weight loss.
Obviously you’ve done so many runs now, and had a lot of success with your website, but what’s been your greatest achievement to date?
Running my second marathon, without a doubt. Brighton was huge as I did this just 14 months after having my daughter. I am also incredibly proud of completing Tough Mudder, which was the most challenging thing I had ever done both physically and mentally.
What else would you like to achieve? Are you training for anything at the moment?
I do have a couple of half marathons in the diary, but I really want to focus on increasing my speed. I am trying to get under 30 minutes for my 5k. I would also like to try an ultra marathon at some point too.
Do you use any fitness trackers to help you with your running?
I do have a FitbugORB which has been a useful way of reminding me to get off my backside, especially when I first had my daughter.
What songs are on your running playlist? You must need some music to get you running!
I rarely run with music now, actually. I did when I first started out and would listen to either quite housey stuff or cheesy pop. But recently I got into podcasts and audiobooks, simply because I can’t be bothered to keep changing my music and, also, podcasts drowned ou the voices in my head, the ones that tell me “it hurts” or “I can’t do it”.
Why do you think running is seen as a scary thing to start doing a lot of the time?
Because it is physically tough and generally has to be done quite publicly, but I do think it gets a negative press in terms of the impact on your body. Sitting on your arse all day everyday does just as much damage to your health.
What would your advice be to someone trying to get into running?
Sign up to a race. Without committing it is really hard to motivate yourself, but if you know you have a race coming up you make more of an effort to train.