Laura Watts - Am I A Runner? I Suppose So...

I often ask myself, am I a runner? I suppose so, I run ... but, in actual fact what I am is much more than that. I am a thirty two year old mother of two. I am a wife. I am a student, training to become a secondary school teacher. I am a sister, a friend, a daughter. I am that girl who drags herself out of bed before 6am to smash out a few miles. I am a person living with rheumatoid arthritis in all of my joints. I am that girl who manages an eating disorder. I am Laura and I am taking part in the Virtual USA Challenge...

Let's go back, back to where exercise became more of a 'thing' for me. My eldest is now five and a half, and although I have fond memories of my early days of her, what I remember more is thinking could I achieve more than 20,000 steps every day. My life began consumed with walking, before her I had never run a step... when she turned five months old and my return to work was looming I realised I wouldn't have the time to walk miles and miles everyday, I had to find another way. I entered the Bristol Half Marathon, no one could believe it. Everyone knew I walked as a way of managing my health both physical and mental but no one saw this coming. What was I going to do? How was I going to run with arthritis? Didn't the doctors tell you it was no good for the knees... well guess what!? Not only did I do it, I did it solo.. I got myself round all 13.1 miles and haven't looked back since.

Since then, I have entered lots of 10ks, half marathons, ran until I was 35 weeks pregnant with my second and even completed the Virtual London Marathon last year, but the Virtual USA Challenge is my first "long term" challenge. Getting involved was suggested by my sister (Holly) and her partner (Sarah) after following Ben and the 401 team since his first unimaginable challenge in 2015. Having worked in a school for the past seven years I have seen first hand the impact that bullying can have on young people. I, myself remember the sniggering that took place after lunchtime when I was at school, my eating disorder had become common knowledge... I never felt bullied, but it was a difficult time, how is it that a sixteen year old has arthritis and then she's 'weird' about food. I like to think it was naivety on the part of those who discussed my struggles but for some time I felt alone. Ben and the 401 team raising money for anti bullying charities just 'sat right' with us, and since 2015 myself, Holly and Sarah have supported what Ben and the team have and continue to achieve, and when the Virtual USA Challenge came up, well .. it was a no brainer!!

Now, the great thing about this challenge... especially for my arthritic joints is that it doesn't just focus on running!! I am aware that so far my running journey sounds a bed of roses but don't be fooled, having arthritis means you have flare ups.. one day I am out smashing ten miles, the next my husband is lifting me from the sofa. And, that is exactly why this challenge is the perfect challenge for me and so many others out there. All runs successful or not count, which is great but as do the other thousands of steps that I take chasing my young children, hoovering my house, taking twelve laps around the supermarket because I don't follow the list... each and every one of them gets me across the USA. I am fortunate to be doing it as part of a team with Holly and Sarah, we even have our 401 WhatsApp group where quite often I hear a 'ping' and it's a screenshot of the street view of where ever we might be in the USA, or a jealousy provoking photo that one of us has received our next medal and t shirt (which by the way are a firm favourite for all three of us!). Being able to track other teams is great for a bit of friendly competition, without the pressure of being face to face at a start line. This can't be written without the mention of the pandemic and of course many events have been cancelled.. but not this Virtual Mission. We have all continued to work together, to have a goal and keep adding those steps. It kept us connected, it kept us focused.. it's kept me from obsessing about calories.

Anyone thinking about getting involved... do it. This challenge is the 'easiest' challenge in terms of being involved in a great cause, you don't have to be a top athlete or take part in races, you just need to move. I find dancing around the kitchen to 90s hits is the real winner in getting me across those states!!

If you want to join Laura and take part in one of our Virtual USA Challenge missions, you can register HERE, where will your adventure take you?

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