AFTER Olly Murs revealed his girlfriend whipped him into the best shape of his life, we speak to three couples who say they also sweated their way to happiness.
From getting over grief to reconnecting, this is how working out together transformed their lives.
‘We get up at 5am every day to exercise and reconnect’
Lucy Self, 33, a child physiotherapist and entrepreneur, lives in Oxford with husband Olly, 33, a Formula 1 design engineer, and daughter Lola, three.
“Most parents of young children will tell you that they love an early night. But our 9pm bedtime isn’t because of three-year-old daughter Lola – it’s because of our daily 5.15am workout.
“I met Olly at Brunel University in London in September 2007, when I was studying physiotherapy and he was doing motorsport engineering. Exercise was a huge part of my life – when I wasn’t at the gym, I was helping to run the university snow club, planning skiing and snowboarding events. Olly was also sporty, and we clicked right away.
“After uni, we moved in together in Oxford and got married in June 2014.
“We joined a tennis club to make friends – and discovered how brilliant it was to have a shared physical activity. Soon we added HIIT (high-intensity interval training), running and jive classes to our workouts together. We got so much out of exercising as a couple – it kept us motivated and connected.
“After Lola was born in November 2017, I experienced terrible postnatal anxiety. I stopped exercising and each evening, I descended into complete panic, sure that some disaster would strike. It meant those few precious hours with Olly were lost to my irrational fears. We couldn’t relax, talk or connect at all.
“Thankfully, with medication and counselling, after six months it was mostly under control, but without exercise, I still didn’t feel like myself. Olly was working long hours, too, and we didn’t have the time or energy to do anything together.
“By June 2019, I knew something had to change. That’s when I had a realisation – Olly was waking up at 5am, having some quiet time with a coffee before heading to work at 7.30am.
“Why didn’t I get up with him and do 30 minutes of a Joe Wicks workout before Lola woke up at 6.45am? Olly didn’t think I’d do it. And for the first few days, it took everything I had not to hit snooze. But then those 30 minutes of serious sweating started to feel good.
“By the end of my first week, Olly decided to join me. Once we were exercising every day, it became a huge boost to our relationship. Not only did having a goal make us a team again, but we were having fun together like we used to. And with the calming impact of exercise on my mental health, I could once again talk to Olly and actually listen to his replies.
“The great thing about HIIT is that in between the 45-second bursts of intense exercise is 15 seconds of rest. It doesn’t sound like much, but in that time we were able to share worries about Lola, talk about Save My Knickers – the new product I’d invented to get period stains out of underwear – or just chat.
“By breakfast time each day, we felt like we’d achieved something – not just exercising but also reconnecting with each other – plus it helped me feel like I was able to be a better mum when Lola woke up as I’d had some ‘me-time’. Soon we adjusted our bedtime to 9pm, to make sure we’d be ready to go each morning. While we occasionally miss a day if we’ve been out the night before, we’ve stuck to the schedule since.
“Friends and family think we’re crazy, but it’s been one of the best things we’ve ever done. We may not have the time for jiving or tennis, but there’s always 5am and Joe Wicks. For now, that’s enough.”
‘We ran through the pain of losing our niece’
Janine Brown, 40, a bank manager, lives in South Shields with husband John, 48, who works for a Covid mobile-testing unit, and daughter Nancy, six.
“As I waited for the starting gun to go off,
“I thought about my niece Melodie. She should have been there to cheer us on. Sadness washed over me, but I glanced at my husband John beside me and smiled. Together we were running in her memory.
“Our relationship certainly didn’t start with fitness in mind. I was 21 in March 2003 when I met John in a kebab shop after a night out. We got married in December 2009 and, over the years, we loved spending time with my niece Melodie and her dad, my brother Anthony, now 42.
“Melodie was born in 2005 and I adored her – she was so funny, one day getting furious that her nana in Newcastle didn’t actually live in a castle and always tormenting her bald grandad by saying his hair was stuck up a tree.
“As they lived 350 miles away in Dover, I didn’t see Melodie as much as I’d like, but I loved watching her grow into an intelligent, strong-minded teenager. She was artistic and unique. Our daughter Nancy, who was born in 2014, reminded me so much of her.
“The last time I saw Melodie was in August 2019. John, Nancy and I were on holiday in Kent, when she and Andrew came to visit. We had a barbecue and, watching her play with Nancy, I never imagined it would be the last time I’d see her.
“On January 4, 2020, I was at home when the phone rang. It was Anthony’s partner Lynda, who told me that Melodie had taken her own life. She was just 14. I heard a wailing noise, and realised it was me.
“Over the coming weeks, John and I tried to support Andrew as much as possible and attended Melodie’s funeral, which was devastating. John was amazing, but in our shock, neither of us knew what to say. The grief hit me in waves. It made no sense that this incredible girl was gone.
“In the past, if I was stressed or anxious I’d found exercise helped. So I made myself leave the house every day for an hour-long run. That’s when I started thinking about doing the 13.1-mile Great North Run. I knew I couldn’t change what had happened to Melodie, but I could honour her life and raise money for Papyrus, a charity that works to prevent suicide among young people.
“Then, in February 2021, John also lost his friend Keith to suicide. As he grieved, he suggested we run together in both their memories. We created a mini gym at home during lockdown, and we’d run six miles together every week.
“We didn’t talk about Melodie or Keith as we ran, but just by being there together we were supporting each other. I could think about her as my feet pounded the pavement, and having John there made me feel less powerless. We even developed a kind of telepathy, knowing when the other wanted to slow down or change direction – that’s how much it bonded us.
“The race itself in September 2021 was so hard. But as we approached the finish line, John grabbed my hand and I felt such relief. We’d done it.
“I raised £3,400 for Papyrus, but it was about more than the money. Training had given John and me a focus and purpose when we could have been swept away by our loss. Together, we found moments of peace – and honoured a young girl gone far too soon.”
‘I’ve saved my marriage by losing 5st with my husband’
Hayley Pandolfo, 44, lives in Merthyr Tydfil with husband Chris, 39, a personal security officer, and their daughters Connie, 10, and Olivia, nine.
“It was a boiling day and we were heading to the beach, but I sat in size-26 jeans and a baggy T-shirt. It was July 2020, and at 19 1/2st, I was crying with shame inside.
“I’d grown up having a terrible relationship with food. My parents struggled for money and everything we ate was cheap and unhealthy. By my 20s, I was 15st and tried one unsuccessful diet after the next. By the time I met Chris in Manchester in May 2008, aged 31, I was 16 1/2st and felt worthless.
“I couldn’t believe it when he asked me out, but he convinced me to give us a chance and we got married in September 2009I lost 1st to fit into a size-20 wedding dress, but then it was back to pizzas and Chinese takeaways for tea. Chris wasn’t slim, though he was strong and would go to the gym, but we never talked about my weight – he knew it would just upset me.
“Then, in December 2010, Chris had an accident at work. He developed complex regional pain syndrome in his left arm and found moving around a challenge. That same month, our daughter Connie was born, and I developed postnatal depression.
“The next few years were difficult. Olivia was born in October 2012, and my PND didn’t ease. Chris, too, was depressed, and with money worries and him working night shifts as a security officer, when we did see each other, we argued. Food became the only thing that cheered us up and we both piled on weight. I worried we’d end up in a loveless marriage and that the kids would follow in our unhealthy footsteps.
“In May 2017, Chris reached 29st and said he wanted to join an online platform called Beachbody, which offered a range of workouts and peer support. I was furious.
“How could he spend £100 a year that we didn’t have on something he’d never stick to? But he was determined, and suddenly there were fruit and vegetables in the house, and Chris was doing online workouts in the living room. His weight dropped and he became happier, while I kept getting heavier – as well as angrier.
“I knew I should have been thrilled to see Chris lose 12st over the next two years, but I couldn’t even feel joy when he won£73,000 as the Beachbody Challenge winner in July 2019. We paid off debts, bought a car and did up the house, but I couldn’t shake my resentment. Then Covid hit.
“At 191/2st, I was in the high-risk category – and scared. What would my girls do if I died? So after the trip to the beach in July 2020, I decided enough was enough. When I told Chris I wanted to make a change, he was thrilled.
“He’d put on a stone since his win, and said working out together would help us both. Out went junk food and in came more fruit and veg. Every evening after the girls went to bed, we did cardio, as well as going for walks and swimming with the girls.
“By September, I was down to 17 1/2st, and in February 2021, I weighed 15st. The impact on our relationship was huge. I started to feel happier, so when Chris told me how well I was doing, I accepted his praise, and I told him how proud I was of him. We enjoyed spending time together so much that we decided Chris would reduce his hours and switch to day shifts.
“I’m currently 13st 9lb and choose to wear a loose size 20, but my goal isn’t a number on the scales – it’s strength, health and happiness. By exercising together, Chris and I have changed our lives – I only wish I’d joined him sooner.”
- Visit Save-my-knickers.com, Papyrus-uk.org, Beachbodyondemand.com
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