The Angry Jogger: Matt Waterworth from Carrickfergus on his hit memoir
Matt Waterworth's tome is a huge hit. He talks to Una Brankin about success and turning his back on Northern Ireland
Matt Waterworth is as frank and funny in person as he is in his self-published memoir Angry Jogger, currently ahead of the autobiographies of Jimmy White and Brian O'Driscoll in Amazon's Top Ten sports books chart.
Based on a potty-mouthed running blog he started in 2012, it's the remarkable story of how the unconventional Carrickfergus man went from 20 stone down to 14 stone through running - fuelled on a fast-food diet and alcohol.
The Angryjogger.com blog has so far attracted over one million visitors and, along with the book, features some of the most honest and rip-roaring writing I've ever read.
"It's different from all other fitness books as I'm not especially healthy," admits the author. "I ran the 2013 Las Vegas Marathon drunk. I tripped over a lot and it took me four hours and 44 minutes but I got there eventually. I don't eat healthily either; I'm sitting here now eating fried chicken wings."
Speaking at his £450 a month rental home in Tottenham, where he moved in February on a whim, fed up with political in-fighting and sectarianism here. Now working as a software contractor, the single, 6ft 3ins IT graduate booked a one-way ticket and lived in hostels for the first few weeks, but told his widowed mother Georgie that he was off to a wine festival in Bordeaux.
"She was sullen when I left but she knew I wasn't happy," he recalls. "As I say in the book, Northern Ireland was becoming increasingly polarised and I felt lost. I wanted to get on with my life but everyone was talking about the past rather than the future. Heritage instead of character; culture over individuality; tradition over decency; blind patriotism over an actual argument. No one seemed to be willing to admit that they didn't have a f*****g clue who they really were. The people who grasped on most violently to ideas of Irishness or Britishness were those who could most easily waive their humanity in favour of the only cause they'd ever know through accident of birth, and use it as an excuse for brutality.
"Every time I switched on the television I'd see the faces of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness or the First Minister Peter Robinson and felt the need to be violently ill."
The youngest of three, Matt (30) lost his father Ken, a labourer, to lung cancer in March 2011, two weeks before his first race, the Larne Half Marathon. The terminal diagnosis, in 2010, became part of a wake-up call to the by-then obese web developer, who had become a recluse. A couple of years previously he had lost 40lbs but had put it all back on again.
"I was drinking and eating far too much and felt out of control," he says. "My worst ever night was at the work Christmas party in 2009 - I got very drunk on wine and made a fool of myself at the bar. I put my leg up on the table and farted like an exhibitionist after a disagreement and this almost got us thrown out.
"I'd become so much of a mess that my own form of protest or resistance in life was to 'gas' the customers of a Belfast pub."
It took a year, however, for Matt to go on a mission to lose weight, after standing on the scales for the first time and hitting 280lbs - "terrifying and sobering".
He started off running on the treadmill for 30 minutes at his local gym in the autumn of 2010. The half-hour sessions became an hour and by December he was running for short bursts.
The Angry Jogger moniker arose from his first few months of outdoor running.
"I felt so self-conscious that I thought everyone was looking at me," he recalls. "I got paranoid that drivers were deliberately going out of their way to sabotage my runs, and would even throw them 'the bird' for no reason.
"I'm nowhere near as bad these days and I try to be pleasant to people. For a while I was having recurring nightmares where I was outside jogging and would then get arrested for pushing over old ladies.
"I still have those 'what if' moments. These thoughts kill me. I'd never do it, but my brain likes to entertain itself."
Boosted by his gradual weight loss, Matt trained for and completed the 2011 Belfast Marathon and ran three half marathons. The following year he did the Belfast Marathon again and ran seven half marathons. His achieved his longest ever distance, he reckons, the day after his father died.
"I just didn't know what to do at the time, so I lived up to the Forrest Gump stereotype and just went out and ran as far as I could. I managed 14 miles and the run ended with a group of kids hitting the back of my legs with sticks. I was really angry with them but I also felt tired and numb. Two weeks after that I ran my first half marathon. I was still in shock."
Since then he has run in Paris, Dublin and Las Vegas and has clocked up more than 10 half marathons.
The idea for his website and running blog emerged when his friends voiced their boredom over all his running talk.
As there are thousands of sports websites in existence, Matt decided to make his different by targeting overweight beginners who wanted to lose pounds but weren't interested in getting super-fit.
Since he started the blog in January 2012, interest in the site increased rapidly despite the fact there was no publicity surrounding it. Incredibly, visitor numbers have grown from 100,000 visitors in March 2013 to its current one million followers.
"I want to convince as many overweight people to take up running as possible," says Matt. "It can really change your life. My aim was to create a website that would have convinced myself at my fattest to start running.
"I think people tend to over-complicate running and that puts beginners off. The key to getting more people to run is to lower the entry bar and encourage newbies rather than discourage them. The main idea behind the site and the book is for me to tell you that if I can do it, you can too."
Now down to 13st 5lb, the University of Ulster graduate keeps himself motivated by regularly entering races in the UK and Ireland, often for charities, including the NI Hospice. His father was cared for at the Somerton Road centre before he died.
"It's not just about running anymore; it's become part of my lifestyle to spend weekends away in new places. Besides, it's easier to continue with the running than it is to stop and start all over again. Running tomorrow will always be easier than running some time next week.
"Once you build some momentum with it, then it becomes less of a challenge."
For details on Matt's Angry Jogger blog, visit www.angryjogger.com
Angry Jogger... in his own words
"I moved back into my parents' house in Carrickfergus after years as a clumsy goth and hitting rock bottom, went on a weight loss journey with Weight Watchers, had a drunken epiphany in Prague, and vowing to run the Belfast Marathon, and losing weight."
"I had to cope with the loss of my father during training for the 2011 Belfast Marathon, and struggled to cope with grief after the race. I went through something of an identity crisis wherein I dyed my hair and started listening to dance music to escape myself. I missed a half marathon in Birmingham due to drunkenness, and decided to go sober forever after being robbed in Magaluf and having to deal with a £1,200 phone bill."
"I started to drink again, on holiday a week before the marathon, and ended up hallucinating wildly in Barcelona airport and having to put myself into the care of Spanish police for an hour. On another holiday in Stockholm, I tried to start flag wars with pedestrians. Then I went to Copenhagen and acknowledged my grief for the first time. That was when I saw the light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in a while."
"I went to Amsterdam before the Paris Marathon. There, I changed jobs and went to Las Vegas and found that life's worth living."
"On my return to Northern Ireland, I had a panic attack and left my job. Started an Indiegogo campaign to fund my book. Tried to make a full-time living off the Angry Jogger blog. It didn't work out and I didn't know what to do with myself."
"I moved to London with 14 hours notice and no job. Trained for a 100k run by drinking in the West End and eating lamb samosas. Ran around Greenwich, Tottenham, Brixton and Sydenham. Nearly went broke until I found work as a software contractor with a group of chocolatiers."
"Ran the Brighton 2 London 100k challenge. Took 26 hours. Nearly gave up at 75k. Relieved that I finished it at all. Life started to get better."
"Registered my first ever Did Not Finish in Munich. Absolutely devastated to have failed in my mission to go under four hours but realise within myself that times aren't everything, and that finishing and taking part is more important than anything else."