First person: 'I went from slob to marathon man'

Rory Coleman, 46

I was always a happy-go-lucky-character. I grew up on a farm and never wanted for anything. Everything was pretty perfect, until I left home. After A-levels, I went to study photography at university in nearby Derby. It was a shock living on my own, and I started to grow out of control. I'd picked the wrong course, and rather than facing up to that, I drank far too much at the uni bar for several months.

I soon dropped out, and met my wife-to-be. I started work in the print business, which meant lots of long, boozy lunches, and my wife and I would then drink a lot in the evenings and on the weekends. In those days there was no such thing as "binge drinking", you just drank beer until you fell over. By the early Nineties, I knew in the back of my mind that my partner and I were unsuited, that we wanted different things. But instead of splitting up, we decided to cement our relationship with children. When they were born, we drank even more, and it hit me in December 1993 that I hadn't been sober for a single day since my son was born that August. I realised I had to make a drastic change.

If the fact that I'd been drunk for the entirety of my son's life wasn't enough motivation, a glance in the mirror was. I had been a chain-smoker for years and looked old and fat and toxic. I didn't like the person I saw. I decided that as of my first day back at work the following year, I'd never smoke a cigarette or have a drink again. And I've stuck to my word.

On 5 January 1994, I swapped several pints and a packet of fags for my first "walk" in years. I was a bit rubbish; I kept my normal clothes on, strolled half-way down my street and ran out of breath. The next day I went for a jog, doubling my distance, and before long was running regularly. I went on a drastic diet of about 600 calories per day (which I wouldn't recommend to anyone) and by 1 February, had dropped from 15 stone to 12 stone. I felt euphoric about the change in myself, physically and mentally.

Since then, I've become a committed marathon runner. It started with a half-marathon in Stratford-upon-Avon, the same race I used to watch from my parents' front lawn, with a cigarette and pint in hand, thinking "You silly buggers". Completing the course felt amazing, and I set my heart on the 1995 London marathon. Once I'd done that, I was unstoppable. The following year I came third in a 145-mile race; in 1999 I competed in 88 events, setting nine records.

My ex-wife and I separated that year, and I met my present wife running John O'Groats to Land's End. I've given up the print business and now make a living setting up marathons in Britain, and have re-trained as a personal trainer with Lifetime (lifetimehf.co.uk). It's amazing to think how I've turned my life around. I feel reborn.

firstperson@independent.co.uk

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