I first met Liz Gray through Inverness Parkrun and now both her and her friend/running partner Liz Forbes train with me, focusing on building their strength.
Liz Gray juggles a busy home, family and volunteering life with a passion for fitness, especially running. She’s an inspiring example that age and busyness don’t need to be barriers to achieving your health and fitness goals. She is one of the most ethusiastic, energetic and positive people I’ve met and here she shares some of her story.
Hi Liz, Can you tell us a bit more about your life circumstances?
I‘ve been married 43 years, I’ve three children who are now grown up adults – and five grandchildren. I retired from the bank six years ago; I worked there for all of my working life. I’m originally from Caithness and we moved to Inverness for my husband’s work many years ago. I volunteer for the Food Bank and at the Olive Grove Cafe and I look after my baby granddaughter once a week.
How long have you been a runner and – if not too cheeky – can I ask how old you are?
I’m 63 and I’ve been a runner for just over 30 years.
So you were in your early 30s when you started running. How did you get you started?
I started back in 1984. I had been diagnosed with asthma and I was a smoker at the time. I vividly remember climbing up the stairs and noticing how puffed I was. I remember thinking ‘Wow, my mum who is twice my age is fitter than me’. In that moment I decided to stop smoking and to get fit. This was a real turning point for me.
Were you overweight at that time?
No – I’ve pretty much maintained the same weight throughout my adult life. I put on a bit of weight after having my children but I soon lost it as I was very active.
Can you tell us more about how you went from the moment of realising you wanted to change to actually changing?
I bought an old shopper bike and started cycling around town with my toddler son on the back. After that I tried running. At first I couldn’t go more than 200 yards without stopping. Very slowly I built up my endurance and started to run longer distances. When I competed in my first 10km – The Inverness 10 km in July 1985 – I thought that was an enormous distance.
I now run 6 miles several times a week with much a longer one at weekends.
Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in starting running?
I often see new runners doing loads of running all of a sudden and then they sicken themselves of it. For example people start off with the goal to do a marathon yet they aren’t ready. The ones who start slowly usually get on better. Do part run part walk. Over time build to a 5 or 10km and don’t have too grand expectations initially.
I’d also advise people to find someone of their level to run with so you can keep each other going like Liz and I do.
Am I right in understanding that you don’t use running isn’t a means of maintaining your weight or reaching an aesthetic goal? What would you say is your reason for running – is it purely for fitness and health reasons?
Yes. It was my asthma that got me started. I used to have used my inhaler all the time – now I only use it before a run. I don’t need it at any other times anymore.
Running makes me feel good. Not every run is great – I don’t always enjoy it in the moment but afterwards I never regret a run. Sometimes I do regret not going for a run.
My life has revolved round fitness for a long time now. I wasn’t very well back in 1997 with painful joints and was diagnosed with Lupus, with hindsight this was a misdiagnosis. The advice I received from the rheumatologist was to give up running as I would soon be in a wheelchair. I was devastated with this news and spent many a day feeling sorry for myself.
However I didn’t want to have a future without my running and keeping fit so I researched alternative cures. I got in touch with an herbalist and he changed my diet and gave me herbal medication. I soon stopped all medication and the Rheumatology Clinic didn’t need to see me anymore. I haven’t looked back since.
Do you ever find it hard to motivate yourself?
The hardest part of going running can be getting over the door step. That’s why it’s so good to have friend to run with – so we can motivate each other. If I am running with a friend I don’t want to let them down. Just yesterday Liz and I met to go for a run. We were talking about how we prevaricate before a run. We sat in the car looking at the rain lashing down and I said “no way we will run in that”. Then the rain stopped, the wind dropped and off we went. We had one of the best runs we’ve had this year. It was just so beautiful – running along the canal – it was so still and calm – you can see for miles… Then as we ran along at the bottom of Craig Dunain the road side was covered in blue bells. It was a joy to be out.
Inverness is one of the most beautiful towns in the UK. Within five to ten minutes you can be running along by the river, canal, woods or climbing up to the top of Craig Dunain Hill. I love having pure fresh highland air in my lungs and having a great chat with whomever I am running with.
(As Liz talked at this point she became so animated and alive I felt if I hadn’t already experienced the joys of running I’d be rushing out to try…)
What does running mean to you? What would life be like if you couldn’t run?
It is just part of my life. My family run. All my friends run. It’s a big part of my social life. It’s everything.
Has your relationship with your body changed at all and if so in what ways?
I think it keeps me looking younger – people often think that I am younger than I am. On holiday recently someone thought my husband was my father!
What are your biggest running achievements to date?
Having run for such a long time I have several. Finishing that first 10km was unbelievable as I never imagined I could run that far.
Finishing as first Vet (someone over 40) for two years running in the Highland Cross was amazing. I didn’t even go to the prize giving as I never thought I would be the first over 40 year old to finish.
I ran my first Marathon aged 59. I thought I must do one before I am 60. I’ve done five now including London and New York which were fabulous events. Now I’m over 60 I’ve won lots of prizes for my age group. One bonus of still running aged 63 is that there are not that many of us about!
Do you ever feel that people judge or make assumptions about you being an older female runner?
A lot of people think I shouldn’t be doing it. They will make comments, “Oh you will hurt your knees, you are too thin…”
How do you feel and respond to this?
I just tell them it isn’t hurting me and that I’m not too thin. I feel good about how I look and it doesn’t bother me.
People say that running will become harder because you slow down as you age. This makes me more determined and pushes me to go faster.
Do you feel ageing has impacted your health and fitness at all?
Yes, I am slowing down but you have to readjust your goals and still do as well as you can.
You will have gone through the menopause during your training career – has this affect your running at all?
I was very lucky, I didn’t have any problems, maybe the odd flush but that was it.
What inspires and motivates you?
I’m just trying to be as fit and healthy as I can possibly be. I don’t want to lose any strength or speed as I grow older. I am passionate that getting older should not impact on my health and fitness.
Is there anyone who particularly inspires you?
Jane Tomlinson. She had terminal breast cancer and was the mother of three children. During her illness she started taking part in huge running challenges and raised millions of pounds. I thought here is a girl who is really ill and in pain and yet she gets out of her bed and does all of these things. How can she motivate herself to get out of bed after being sick with chemo? I am healthy and yet sometimes I don’t want to train. She really inspires me.
Also Jo Pavey wining gold after having two kids and being her 40s – that’s not easy. As a mother I can related to that.
What would you say to someone who wants to get fitter but is struggling to find the time and motivation?
Time can be very difficult if you have young family and work commitments. I did run when mine were young and I worked at the time. I managed this by getting up early to run at 6am. Once you get fitter you find that you have more energy to zip through household chores etc.
Motivation is more difficult but if you have a target to lose weight or run further or faster it can be easier to get out that door. Reading running magazines and listening to other people’s stories can get you motivated as some people overcome huge difficulties just to run. Joining a club or Jog Scotland or having a friend to run with really helps.
Do you ever feel like giving up?
Yes! But then I run a few miles until I feel like running!
Has running changed your relationship with food?
I am more aware of what I eat. Running makes me more disciplined – I know I need to eat properly to fuel my body.
What is your favourite meal? Do you watch what you eat?
It depends how I feel. I eat a lot of fish especially salmon, halibut, monkfish and scallops. I love breakfast of any sort, I never miss breakfast. If I go out for a morning run I normally run fasted and eat after.
At the moment I’m trying to increase my protein so I’ve started having eggs for breakfast. The best meal for me is one that has been cooked for me, especially if it’s my son as he is an excellent cook. I’ve always been interested in food and cooking from scratch. I never use convenience foods.
How have you found strength training? In what ways has it helped or changed things for you? What is your favourite lift?
I love strength training. It has made me so much stronger and I love to be able to lift heavy (to me) weight. It has helped my running as it keeps me injury free and gets my glutes working! My favourite lift is definitely the deadlift.
I first met you through Parkrun – can you tell people more about Parkrun?
Parkrun is great! It’s a really friendly event – anyone can come. It doesn’t matter if you are fast or slow, everyone is there to encourage you. It’s the slower runners at the back that get the most encouragement as their achievement can be greater than someone who is speedy. It’s free and we meet to run the 5km in Bught Park here in Inverness, every Saturday at 9.30am. I’ve seen people’s lives transformed through it.
One of the things I love about running is that it is a real leveller. You can have people from very different backgrounds – class, gender, education, age etc. running alongside each other and you are sharing this common experience.
Is there anything else you’d like to achieve?
I’d like to do another marathon and I’d like to continue getting stronger. I love swimming so maybe another triathlon?
I have no doubt you will achieve these and more! Thanks so much for sharing some of your story and inspiration with us, Liz.
You can find out more about Parkrun here.