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This Ex-Pro Used the Most Ridiculous Bet to Lose 45 Pounds and Get Back in Shape

And he did it to save himself from the dumbest tattoo ever.

Colin McCourt
Emily Macinnes

In February 2017, retired elite runner Colin McCourt went for his first run in five years: a challenging 20-minute shuffle, at a pace just over 12-minutes per mile, through the London streets near his home. The former 14-minute 5K finisher had spent his post-competition years sitting behind a desk, eating fast food, and drinking a few too many pints in the evening. Looking in the mirror, he saw a too-old, too-heavy man. He barely recognized himself.

Emily Macinnes
Emily Macinnes

Back from that first run, he posted on Instagram about how humbling, painful, and frustrating it was. “My legs rubbed and I needed a sports bra.” To his horror, his ex-training partners started a group chat to harass him about how out of shape he’d become. The texts flew for a solid five hours. The group made a bet: McCourt had to run a sub-16-minute 5K by the end of 2017 or have all 17 of his friends’ names tattooed on him in Times New Roman. If he did break 16 minutes, they would each pay him £100 (about $128).

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He giddily agreed to their terms. What kind of fool would turn down $2,200? Then he spent the night in a cold sweat thinking about what he had just agreed to. “My body was aching and now I had less than a year to lose about 45 pounds in order to run sub-16,” he says.

Emily Macinnes
Emily Macinnes

McCourt spent the next 10 months running six days a week and forgoing all fast food and beer. Meanwhile, his friends had pizza delivered to his house in an attempt to sabotage him. They celebrated every time he complained of a niggle or injury.

After a few casual 5Ks in the 17-minute range, McCourt arrived at the Podium 5K in Preston, England on November 18, 2017. He didn’t invite any of his friends to watch, or even let them know he was doing it, for fear they would get in his head. Lining up, McCourt wondered if he could finish in time even without their interference. But once he took off, his nerves settled, and he set a blistering pace to cross the finish line in 15:38.

He texted his friends his bank details and said, “That’s for the money boys!” He didn’t stop smiling for about a month. His candid, frequently hilarious, account of his own transformation gained a 14,100-strong Instagram following. He now uses the platform to encourage others in their running journeys. He’s also focused on 5Ks and 10Ks, continues to set personal goals and, of course, takes on “wee competitions” with his friends.

Emily Macinnes

Colin’s Tips for Coming Back to Running After Taking Years Off

Take your time: I started by walking combined with slow jogging. It’s a months-long process, and you have to meet your fitness where it is, one day at a time.

Just do something: We overcomplicate running. Even if you just shuffle around the track for 20 minutes that’s better than just thinking about it. [Runner’s World 10-Minute Cross-Training, gives you five muscle-building routines that take just 10 minutes to get you stronger.]

Mix it up: Work on gaining your overall fitness back through high-intensity cross-training at least once a week (rowing, cycling, swimming) so you aren’t as focused on the numbers of your run times.

Sneak it in: I work full-time, so about three times a week I would take a short, but hard, run at lunch (a “runch”), with intervals like 4x3-minute race-pace efforts with one-minute breaks.

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