Time To Pay Up

By Mario Fraioli

He’s done it. Colin McCourt—the former world-class 1500m runner turned overweight couch potato turned athlete again—ran 15:38 for 5K two weekends ago, winning a bet he was forced into earlier this year by 17 of his friends: break 16 minutes for 5K  by December, or tattoo each of their names to his body. McCourt will take home £1,700 for winning the bet—£100 from each of his friends. 

“In eight months I’ve gone from a 24-minute 5K runner to a 15:38 5K runner,” McCourt, who weighed over 200 pounds at the start of the year, told Athletics Weekly. “It has been a mental year. It just shows that if you can just run and do little sessions and tempos, you can take it to the next level if you want to. It’s just believing in yourself and doing it.

This has been one of the best running stories—pun totally intended—to follow in 2017. McCourt, through his blog on Athletics Weekly and daily posts on Instagram, has connected with more runners through his weight-loss journey and return to running (and racing) than he ever did when he was trying to make Great Britain’s Olympic team five years ago. After letting himself go for a few years, he took charge of his health and literally transformed himself into an athlete again. The comments and interaction on his Instagram feed are super cool to read and serve as evidence of how being relatable, open, vulnerable, and accessible goes a long way toward inspiring others and developing a supportive fanbase.

“I’ll tell you, some elite athletes don’t want to talk to anybody,” McCourt told me back in March. “They want to hide behind what they do. They want to hide behind what their process is because they don’t want anybody else to think that they’re doing something better than the rest, and I was guilty of that as well…I just expected a kit and stuff off them and did no real work for them. It’s the same with training. They don’t want to tell you anything. They don’t really want you in their lives, they just want to run. Now I feel like I’m happy to share everything with everybody. They are now such a big part of me getting up every morning and getting out.”

A version of this post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, writing, media and other topics that interest me. Sign up here to get it sent to your inbox first thing every Tuesday morning.