Spotlight: Nicole Parker – “I walk down the street and I feel like a new woman. I feel amazing!”

nicole-baI went travelling to Australia in 2001/2002 and in January 2010, my Aussie friend who I’d kept in contact with, emailed me to say she was getting married and I really wanted to go to the wedding in December 2010.

I’ve smoked pretty much since I was 16 and I thought that the only way I’m going to be able to afford to go is if I quit smoking and use that money to really save hard for the trip. I was also about to turn 30 so I thought it was really time for me to start growing up and start thinking about my body, especially if I was going to possibly be having kids in the future.

Having a goal to work towards was going to help keep me on the straight and narrow as well! I signed up to the 5km Race for Life in Stanmer Park, Brighton, that July. I’d done it before in the same location, but from what I remember, it was a bit of a disaster; coughing and spluttering the whole way round!

I knew I really wanted to run the whole thing this time. So on the 1st February 2010, I drew a line and stopped smoking. I gave it a month for my lungs to recover and took that time to get running advice from friends – you know, “little and often, build it up, build it up, build it up” – and started training in March. I worked all the way up to July and when race day came, I managed it in around 36-37 minutes. I remember it was still pretty hard, because Stanmer Park is quite hilly, but I did it!

After that was over, I was still trying to carry on running; my boss at my then workplace was the chair of trustees for a charity and one day he said he would be running the marathon in April and asked if anyone else wanted to do it. I said, “OK then!”, not really thinking about how hard training for a marathon was going to be! I was just, like, “Yeah, alright then!”, and that was that. I was committed!

I started reading more and more about running and got more and more advice from people. I also knew I had, by this time, booked to go to Australia and New Zealand in December for the wedding and needed to look into incorporating my running into my schedule out there, which I was kind of excited about! I got really quite fit before I went to Australia, but in Australia and New Zealand it was quite difficult to find places to run as we were on a schedule and it was hard to fit long runs in; especially in New Zealand when we were in a camper van.

There was one point, a couple of days before we came home, where we were staying near a place called Nine Mile Beach and I decided that I was going to run it and back again. I ran about seven miles (in my bikini and a T-Shirt!) and then back again and I’ll never forget it. It was an amazing experience running barefoot on the sand along the New South Wales shore line.

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When I got back in January, I only had a few months until the Brighton Marathon so really started putting my foot down. At one point, I ran 17 miles from Telscombe Cliffs to Worthing on a Sunday! It was a great run and I never thought that I would have been able to run that!

In preparation, I did the Brighton Half Marathon in February 2011. It was a proper race experience for me as it was another disaster! I had eaten far too much breakfast, I’d started off way too fast and got a really bad stitch about eight miles in.

I crossed the finish line and saw my training partner; I burst into tears on the spot saying, “How the hell am I going to do a full marathon?!” But I learned from it, started to experiment with different energy gels and learnt to pace myself to get me through the full 26 miles coming up. I also learnt not to eat too much on race morning!

When it came to the marathon, it was a really, really hot day. I remember I got to about mile 15 and I couldn’t take the heat any more, even though my legs could have carried on. Eventually, I ended up stopping and walking-running-walking-running the next several miles. I got to the last three miles as you come back from Shoreham Power Station, when you can finally see the pier and I thought, “I’ve really got to do this now”, and ran the last stretch to cross the finish line in about 6½ hours.

The experience was really amazing and people say I’m one of the, something like, 4% of the population who have run a marathon and not many people can say they’ve done that!

But all the time I was running, even though I was following advice regarding what I thought I should be eating, despite clocking up so many miles, I still didn’t seem to be losing any weight at all.

The training had been so hard for the marathon and I had stayed in so much and been good with not drinking that after I finished the marathon, I fell off the wagon. I didn’t go out running for about three months; I went out drinking quite a lot and ended up smoking a little bit more again. But then I stopped myself again because I knew I didn’t want to lose the fitness that I’d gained.

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My boyfriend at the time also mentioned to me I’d put on a bit of weight, which as a woman, and having it come from the person closest to you, was really hard to hear. However, ironically, he actually did me a big favour because it made me think, “Right, OK, I need to do something about this and make him fancy me again!” and if he hadn’t done that, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.

I started a new job in Worthing after leaving my previous job in Hove. I’d seen the PW Body-Transformation programme advertised and knew I’d be able to make it there in the morning now, before work. I signed up for that and started about a week after I had started my new job.

It’s always very hard in the beginning to drag yourself out of bed, especially if you’re not used to the early starts however, the moment you start seeing results, it just stops being a chore! You know you’re going to start the day having laughed for 45 minutes and it’s such a fun group, that the exercise is like something that happens in the background. You get to the end and think, “Oh yeah, I’ve just worked out!”. And seeing the results just spurs me on to keep going.

I went into Debenhams the other day and bought three dresses in a size 10 and one in a size 8; I never thought, ever, that I’d be able to get into a size like that. I need to go shopping for a whole new wardrobe now because none of my old clothes fit me any more!

nicole-1I love the people at Bootcamp. The encouragement you get from everybody is priceless! The atmosphere is amazing. Everybody new who starts is welcomed into the group like they’ve been friends for years. They get some friendly ribbing on the first day but you soon make that connection with people and we really have such a laugh, that it makes you want to get up and go! I don’t know how many extra calories we burn just laughing, but it must at least make a difference to my stomach muscles!

I look at my “before” photos now and I never, ever want to get like that again. I don’t think I ever will either because my whole mindset has changed – how I think about exercise and food and my relationship with it. For example, I’ve always eaten when I’m bored. I always need to be on the go and, when I stop, I used to start eating to fill the time; particularly at my old workplace. I was bored a lot of the time in that job and it was the kind of workplace where people brought in cakes all the time. I think in just the year I worked there I probably gained a stone of fat! It’s no wonder my ex stopped fancying me!

My life change has been incredible. I walk down the street and I feel like a new woman. I feel amazing! It’s really hard to put it into words because I feel like I’m just gushing about it all the time to other people! I just feel so happy; the happiest I’ve ever been and so super-duper confident. I’ve never really felt like this before and it’s addictive!

It’s weird when you walk down the street and you notice people are staring! Just the other day, three random men said good morning to me on my walk to work! I just have this new lease of life and if someone had told me at 22, “Nicole – in ten years time you’ll be a size 8-10 and you’d have already run two half marathons and a full marathon”, I would have said, “Yeah, right!”, and lit up another cigarette!

(Originally published in Power Living Magazine – Photos by Laura Brennan at Cherry Red Photography, Make-up by Sonia Martin at La Belle the Beauty Boutique, and styling by Gay Richardson at Style Me Confident)