The Journey of Amazing Elaine
By WLR Mentor Trudi Purdy
7 years ago, food was her everything and Elaine Horsey ran out of space on the scales at 23 stone. By that time, she needed help to get off the sofa.
These days you will find the 63-year-old from Wales trekking 170 miles across the Utah and Arizona deserts. Or Walking the Walk on the streets of London in a bra, even battling her way through the Sahara.
The idea of trekking through hostile terrain, accompanied by flash floods and rattlesnakes, would likely bring us normal mortals out in a cold sweat.
But for one of WLR's long-time members it's been an important part of winning the battle with her weight. And I had the absolute honour of talking to her about it all.
The background to Elaine's journey mirrors the stories we hear time and time again from our members. A life-long struggle with weight, yo-yo dieting and extreme diets. Coupled with comfort eating, a bad relationship with food and lots of heartache.
That's why Elaine's latest epic adventure is so inspiring.
The Grand2Grand Adventure
The Grand2Grand is pretty much a marathon a day with a double marathon on one day. From the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, through wild terrain to the summit of the Grand Staircase in Utah. Desert, forests, slot canyons, cactus fields and mountains.
Competitors have no means of communication with the outside world. Nothing to let anyone know if they are in trouble. And they absolutely must reach each checkpoint to be able to continue. If they miss one, that's it, game over.
Elaine heard about the Grand2Grand while on another adventure (more about that one later). A tent mate was talking about taking part in the Grand2Grand in September 2016. Elaine's adventurous spirit was hooked.
So, despite her nearest and dearest thinking she was totally crazy, she decided to make the Grand2Grand her next challenge.
Elaine says she remembers thinking,
“Every year to me is a bonus. I don't know if I'm going to be fit enough to take part in a year's time. I felt like, what's the worst that could happen?”
She went on to say, “Life's too short. It was the day that Victoria Wood died that I decided to do it.She was exactly the same age I was and I was a great fan.”
So, she signed up to take part in a challenge that was going to push her mind, body and determination to the absolute limit.
I asked Elaine about training for the Grand2Grand as it’s not something you can just 'do'.
She told me that she had been training for another extreme event and so was in pretty-good shape. But she knew there would be some serious climbing and the heat and altitude could cause problems.
Elaine signed up for a rock climbing course, worked on building her upper body strength, and spent time in the sauna.
She increased her walking and jogging off road so she could get hardened to bumpy terrain and did more hilly, muddy walks to strengthen her legs and ankles.
She also had a training programme drawn up for her by Ultra Runner Elisabet Barnes who won Marathon des Sables in 2015, to work on her speed and general fitness.
She also arrived in Arizona about a week before the event, to help her acclimatise to the heat and altitude.
“There were some nasty ascents and descents where you really didn’t want to look either side. It was an extremely inhospitable environment. It was 75% sand as well so very tough on the legs.”
I asked Elaine how she prepares mentally for an event like this.
To stop herself from over analysing the dangers, Elaine doesn’t spend too much time thinking about these types of events in advance. She thinks if she did, she wouldn’t even attempt some of the amazing things she has done.
“I don’t think too much about it until just before I go. And then I think, oh God, am I gonna come back?” She says.
“The Grand2Grand was scary in more ways than one. Not just physically demanding but mentally too.”
She says she felt very isolated as there were no forms of communication if anything went wrong. And boy did things go wrong!
“We hit flash flooding and all sorts of things. At one point, I was completely on my own in a very scary thunderstorm in a forest and I could see just floods coming down the hill towards me. I thought, am I going to get out of this?”
“It was just one of those years. They don’t always have rain and flash flooding but we got a hefty share of it that’s for sure.”
Although Elaine walked most of the route, there were times when she had to get a wriggle on and run so she could make the next checkpoint in time. If she missed a checkpoint her adventure was over.
Elaine worked herself into a frenzy about rattlesnakes as she’d been researching the various types on the internet.
“Google sometimes gives information you'd rather not have," she says. "None of them were going to do anything other than kill me!”
In need of a defense strategy, Elaine did some research and found that snakes don’t like cinnamon oil and clove oil. So she made up a spray to take with her.
Reducing pack weight was really important as every gram on your back makes it that much tougher. But Elaine felt this one ‘luxury’ item was worth sacrificing a 30g sesame snack for.
Her homemade snake oil spray stayed in her frontpack with her day snacks throughout. "Making everything taste like Christmas!" she says.
“I didn’t know what type of snakes didn’t like it but I thought that’s the best I could find. It didn’t matter about the extra weight. I just thought, if there’s a snake gonna lunge at me, I’m gonna spray it and pray it works!”
When she arrived, there was even more bad news about rattlesnakes.
“We were warned that because the area had had quite a lot of rain and the temperatures had been cooler than usual, there were a lot of snakes out there trying to get warm!”
To her huge relief, Elaine didn’t come face to face with a rattlesnake - but other people weren’t as lucky. A couple of competitors had run into rattlesnakes but, as far as Elaine is aware, no one got hurt or bitten by them.
Elaine was in awe of everything around her. Every day brought something different and spectacular.
“I was distracted by the beauty of it. But felt a huge pressure to get to the next check point all the time as walking it all left little margin for error, no time to rest etc, so it was very tough mentally worrying about getting to the next one on time.”
Amazing Elaine was the only woman in her age group to make it over the finish line. To massive cheers below an arch of fellow competitors’ arms. She won the 1st place award for women over 60, the oldest woman in the world to complete this year.
“I hadn’t really truly thought I was going to complete more than Day 1 to be honest. I knew it was way tougher than anything I had ever done before. At the beginning, I thought if I could complete Day 1 then I would be really pleased. If I got to Day 2 that would be incredible. Each day that I did complete I was just feeling overjoyed that I was there for yet another day!”
Elaine completed 170 miles, survived flash floods, rock climbing, thunderstorms and rattlesnakes. She had coped for 7 days on minimum calories and maximum effort to cut down the amount of weight she was carrying. But all she could think of was the finisher's pizza and the can of ice cold coke that was awaiting her!
The Weight Loss Journey
Elaine remembers the first overweight pictures of her were when she was around 9 years old but she’s not sure what happened as she was slim before then. All the pictures of her after that showed someone who was overweight.
At school, she got the nickname of ‘Pudding’ which stayed with her throughout her education.
“I absolutely hated it. It was the worst thing that I could possibly hear.” She says.
Through her teens and early twenties, Elaine says her weight just ballooned. She remembers even resorting to only eating ham at one point in a desperate attempt to shift the pounds.
With everything she tried, she would lose a stone or so, and then put loads back on when she started eating ‘normally’ again.
Dealing with the pain from the gallstones she developed were the next problem for her to face. She started eating every two hours to combat the pain. Which only resulted in more weight going on over the years until she had her gallbladder removed.
Then she had children which brought its own set of challenges. Being around food all the time. Thinking about food non-stop with snacks, breakfasts, lunches, dinners that she needed to prepare for her new family.
“That just piled on even more weight, gradually, and before you know it you’re up to 20 stone.” She Says.
Elaine tried Slimming World and Weight Watchers without much success.
In 2003 she decided to try Lighter Life. She shed an amazing 12 stone in 11 months. But the extreme diet took its toll on her body and she became very ill when she started to try and reintroduce real food.
She suffered with heart irregularities and arrhythmias. And a hernia came through her stomach wall because it couldn’t cope with solid food any longer.
“I was really unwell after it.' Says Elaine. 'And all that weight plus another 2 stone went back on in the next 18 months!”
At her heaviest the scales didn’t actually register her weight as she was too heavy.
“I was probably just over 23 stone as I had been keeping an eye on it. When it got to the unregisterable stage, I thought I really can’t be having this now. I’ve got to do something about it.”
Biggest Loser Inspiration
In April 2009, Elaine was off work due to illness. Flicking through the TV channels Elaine came across Biggest Loser – Day 2 Season 3.
“I was just totally emotional when I saw their stories and I just kept thinking that’s me. Every word they were saying I was thinking that’s me!”
She couldn’t believe that people a similar size to her could do the sort of exercise Richard Callender was putting them though. She joined the weight loss site the next day and that was the beginning of her journey to real, sustainable weight loss.
“The WLR Biggest Loser site was brilliant. There was so much support, so much information, so much encouragement. I met people that could really identify with my weight problem.”
She started calorie counting and tackling her weight problem head on. Just like she had seen Kevin, Michaela and all the other people on Biggest Loser do.
She knew that exercise was key from what she saw PT Richard Callender do with the ‘Losers’ on the show.
Elaine used to hide at home and not go out in her village much. Especially after losing 12 stone with Lighter Life, getting ill and putting it back on again.
Her knees hurt, her hips hurt and her back hurt. But she started off slowly with some exercise once the weight started to come off.
She would walk from her door to the first lamp post, which was slightly uphill, and increase the distance each time.
“That was a huge struggle at the time because I couldn’t really get off the sofa without someone helping me up and I couldn’t stand for any length of time.”
This time Elaine was determined to get to a healthier weight. Something had just clicked for her.
“It was time to find me. Everything I had wanted for myself before had to come behind what my kids needed.”
I first met Elaine at Richard Callender’s first ‘Armageddon’ weekend. (Gruelling Variable Intensity Interval Training that feels like it lasts a week!)
After her first one, Elaine could be found at every Armageddon event every couple of months – for each one she wanted to be that much fitter and slimmer.
She joined her local gym, and discovered a passion for Bodycomabt, Boxing and attended Fight Club classes (a workout to music with a punch bag).
“There’s a lot of kicking and a lot of punching and variations with sticks. It’s a fun workout. I just love hitting a punch bag! I really do enjoy a good scream, shout and kick about!”
I’m not sure I want to meet Elaine in a dark alley after hearing that! She hasn't done Fight Club for a while as she has been so busy doing other things and has much bigger fish to fry these days!
Elaine is currently at 11 stone 5lbs and is working towards being around 10 stone but she isn't in any hurry. She knows if she keeps weighing her food, calorie counting and exercising, she will get there.
Elaine attributes her weight loss success to counting calories. She continues to weigh and log everything and stay within her calorie quota.
“After the first couple of months weighing and logging became second nature. I didn't find it too much of a struggle because I was really feeling the benefit of the weight loss and enjoying moving more.” she says.
The results she was getting in the first few months spurred her on and she felt her head was in the right place. Food had been her 'go to' thing. After using WLR for a while Elaine says that food doesn't control her any more.
“Food was my everything. Now, generally I eat healthily even though I do still have a tendency to go big on the portions if I don't keep it in check.”
Exercise became more of a way of life as Elaine became slimmer and fitter. She makes a point of attending the two Fitness Fiestas every year. Fitness Fiesta is a 3-day weekend full of different fitness classes held twice a year.
Then she took up walking with Walk the Walk (Walk the Walk hold events to help raise money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research.)
In 2015, Elaine decided to step it up a notch or two and signed up for the Marathon Des Sables. (156 miles in 6 stages over 7 days through endless dunes, over rocky jebels and across the white hot sand of the Sahara).
Unfortunately, due to sandstorms ahead, just 3km from the end she was stopped as light was fading. She had no time to sit it out and it was deemed too dangerous to continue on to reach the camp. Not one to give up, she decided to do it again in 2016! Sadly it didn’t work out, she got lost several times in the worst sandstorms on record in the 31 yrs the event has been running and 1km from the end was pulled out again as the finish line had closed. But in true Elaine Style she will be trying again next year.
“I hate losing and I hate defeat!” She tells me.
Hopefully it will be third time lucky.
By the sounds of it, it will be a walk in the park after the Grand2Grand.
Good luck Elaine!
Elaine has now completed 41 half marathons, 59 marathons and 49 Ultra Marathons!
Elaine’s Top Three Tips
Don’t aim for perfection.
There will be days when you’re not 100%. I used to think to myself if I could stay within calories 80% of the time that would be great. Any more would be a bonus. This means you won’t set yourself up for feeling like a failure on the days when you really struggle.
Delay Rather Than Deprive
Whenever I get tempted, but have no calories left for the day, I tell myself that I can have whatever it is tomorrow – it’s not out of bounds. This stops you feeling like you’re depriving yourself. You’ll quite often find that when you get to tomorrow you don’t want it anyway!
Distract from A Snack Attack
I would distract myself and keep busy - particularly in the evenings. Take yourself off for a relaxing bath or busy yourself doing something interesting that takes your mind away from food.
If you would like to help support Elaine with her fundraising, check out her Just Giving Page.
Lots of people have achieved their weight loss success using the tools, information and support that WLR has to offer. But don't take our word for it – take a free trial and see for yourself.
* Note: The success stories published on Weight Loss Resources are written by WLR members, past and present, telling their own stories in their own words. As you will see if you read more than one or two of them, everyone's story is different and they have reached their success from a variety of starting points and lost weight at varying rates. Individual results may vary.