When Andy Corrie (RW member 3Legs) moved up from a 32in waist trouser to a 34in, he didn’t dwell on it. The move up to 36in went unmentioned, as did the one to 38in. But when he came home from a shopping trip with a 40in waist pair of jeans, something snapped.
“I thought, enough is enough,” he says. Overnight, Andy revolutionised his eating habits. It started with breakfast the next day: he actually ate something before leaving the house – and vowed to quit eating junk food.
As an area manager for a series of petrol stations, it wasn’t easy. Spending all day in the car, he habitually got by on coffee and chocolate bars during working hours, before going home for a family-sized bag of crisps and a huge plate of dinner. By swapping to unrefined carbohydrates, protein and plenty of fruit and vegetables, Andy went from 16.5 stone to 14.5 stone in four months.
“I was looking and feeling better,” he recalls. “And while I was enjoying my healthier diet, I wanted a healthier lifestyle.”
It was around this time – in the autumn of 2003 – that Andy saw an advertisement for a retained fire-fighter – someone who would be a ‘reservist’ fireman – for his village on the Isle of Man. It was his boyhood dream job – he longed to apply, but knew he would have to be fitter to pass the physical test. In a safe, scenic environment like the Isle of Man, running was the obvious solution. Andy found a 2.5-mile circuit, and set off at a gentle pace. He made it barely a hundred yards before being reduced to a walk. It took an hour to complete the circuit that evening, but he got home unbowed. He set himself his first running target: to build up to being able to complete the circuit without having to walk.
“The first month or two it was tough building the mental and physical strength to continue,” he says. “The key to getting through was having goals to work towards, and seeing my fitness improve and size reducing.”
Having devised a run/walk programme, Andy began combining exercise with healthy eating, and sent off his application to the fire service. He had been running for about a month when he was called to do a physical assessment, including a bleep test. To reach the next part of the selection process, he would need to complete seven steps in the test. He managed five.
It was a hard knock-back. There was no way of knowing when the opportunity would come around again. Luckily for Andy, he had a boss that was not only a keen runner, but knew just how to get him motivated. With the judicious use of the phrase ‘it may be beyond you, but...’ he had Andy signed up to do a 20K race in Brussels with him the next spring.
“I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, I wanted to run the whole way,” says Andy. Armed with a Runner’s World half-marathon training schedule, he set himself a target of 2:30, and promptly modified it to sub-2 when he realised how fit he was getting. On race day, he finished in 1:52, just seven minutes behind his boss.
Almost inevitably, Andy found himself lured into entering the 2005 Flora London Marathon. At a trim 12 stone (he is six foot tall) and in 32in waist running shorts, he completed the 26.2 miles in 3:53 – half an hour quicker than his boss.
“I soundly thrashed him,” chuckles Andy. “I was overjoyed, it was one of the best days of my life, up there with my wedding day and when my kids were born.”
Now that his weight is stable, Andy knows that a pizza on Friday night does no harm, and that it will be burned off on Sunday morning’s long run. He keeps strictly to his regime during the week, and permits himself to indulge over the weekend. He drinks two litres of water every day, to make sure he doesn’t mistake thirst-signals for hunger ones.
Not long after the marathon, the Manx fire service started recruiting once more. Full of running-inspired confidence, Andy applied again. When it got to the bleep test, he sailed through. Since May 9, he has been the retained firefighter for his village. He even won the Dads’ race at his daughter’s school sports day, and is making sure that all three of his children accept exercise and healthy eating as part of normal family life. And, just in case he loses motivation, he’s got two different outfits in his wardrobe to remind him how far he’s come: his firefighting kit, and an unworn pair of 40in waist jeans.
Swapping chocolate and crisps for unrefined carbs, fruit and veg sounds straightforward enough, but if you are stuck in unhealthy habits, it can be difficult to do. Andy conversion from self-confessed slob to marathon runner and fire fighter is a text book example of how sensible diet, a progressive training programme, and a worthwhile goal really work.
“It’s fantastic that Andy has made the life-changing decision to get himself in shape,” says coach Bud Baldaro. “He has already made superb progress.” As Andy has found, making friends in the local running community makes running more enjoyable, and doesn’t have to be competitive. Fellow runners can be a source of inspiration and good advice.
“You can enjoy the camaraderie of group runs, and build up a network of people to talk to and get advice from,” says Baldaro. If and when injury strikes, you will know where to go to get fixed.
Baldaro says that Andy has approached his training and weight-loss in exactly the right manner. “It’s vital to be prepared to progress patiently, and to have a sense of structure and shape to your training. You’ve got to know why and what you are doing in your runs.”
Now that Andy has decided to make running part of his life, not just a short-term aid to weight loss, Baldaro says short- and medium-term goals may help his motivation. “Goals should be both realistic and measurable,” he advises – getting fit enough to pass the bleep test to become a retained fire fighter was one such goal. While future goals might well be centred around races, it’s important not to get too hung up on times and performances in events.
“Don’t forget targets, but learn to listen to your body so you know when you need to back off,” says Baldaro. “Above all, have fun and ensure that running enhances your life and makes you feel good.”
Andy's tale is one of an occasional series of real-life success stories that we will be publishing on the website. If you have a story to share that could inspire others, why not read our guidelines for submission, and get in touch?