2011 was one of the worst years of my life. I’ve had two years in my life that stand out for me as the absolute worst. One of them marred by tragedy, one of them due to my own self loathing.

I had my fourth child in 2011 and fell into what I now realise was the darkest pit of post natal depression I’d ever seen. Everything seemed impossible and I hated myself with all of my being.


Growing up I had never had a weight problem but with each of my four pregnancies I gained around 25-30kg and with each pregnancy I kept some of it on. So by the time I’d had my last I was hovering around the 90kg mark. The mixture of PND and accompanying self loathing was the catalyst for what I’d now classify as a significant mental breakdown.

So obviously my solution to that was to drink hideous amounts of alcohol and eat enough food to satisfy several adults.

Come January 2012 I had an epiphany. I know you read people talk of these moments where something shifts in your psych and generally you think it’s all bullshit, but this really did happen to me.

I realised that change doesn’t happen without change and although I hated myself and hated my life – it wasn’t going to get any better doing what I was doing. Although I was terrified of change I knew it had to happen.

I sought help through therapy and I stopped drinking. That was the 4th January 2012 and I have not touched a drop of alcohol since, nor have I ever looked back.

Alcohol was the depressant I didn’t need on top of my existing fragility and taking that out was the best decision I have ever made in my entire life. I’d even put it ahead of the birth of my children, that in itself speaks volumes of the darkness I was in.

In February 2012 I started walking near our home in London. I found over the weeks I could get around the river loop I was doing faster and faster and then one day I decided to run.

I started counting lamp posts. In those early days I could only run the distance between two of them. The next week it was three, then four ….

The weight started to fall off, my confidence slowly returned and I became determined to be able to run the distance between two of the Thames Bridges which is about 2.5km.

That first milestone was the hardest one for me to achieve. It took me a few months, but I did it. My next challenge was getting to 5km.

A friend of mine suggested I run ParkRun with her and although I went very unwillingly, that 5km run was my most satisfying achievement to date. Although I now run distances far in excess of that, nothing I have done has ever come close to that first accomplishment.

My next goal was a 10k race and I did that in November 2012. Full of adrenaline and that amazing sense of achievement, I came home from that race and signed up for my first half marathon. I had absolutely no idea how I was going to do it but I figured in January that same year if you’d told me I would be able to run 10k I’d have died laughing.

It was around this time that Operation Move entered my life. Although I was living in London, I found my tribe amongst a group of women scattered all over Australia who shared my love for running and who I sourced all my encouragement from.

The team spirit and group encouragement even in a solo sport like running is invaluable. At times when I didn’t want to get out of bed, or when my race goals seemed too far away – it was Operation Move that kept me going and I am so proud to call some of these women my best friends in the world.

When we moved back to Sydney from London in 2013, it was my team that made the transition an easy one – knowing I had this wonderful support network waiting for me when I got back to Australia.

With their encouragement, in May 2013 I ran my first half marathon.

Since then I have run several more half marathons, many 10k races and other distance events and I try to do all the charity races around Sydney.

In addition to that, in April this year I finally reached my ultimate goal and ran the London Marathon. I finished it in 4 hours 27 minutes and am so proud of that medal it’s ridiculous!

Zero to 42.2km in just over two years.

In that time I have lost 35kg. My fitness is excellent and I am the healthiest I’ve been my entire adult life. My confidence is back and my life is the happiest it has ever been.

I’m a better mother, wife, friend and person. The novelty of the happiness my running has given me is something I cherish and nurture every single day.

My running has taken me to places I’d never imagined possible. I’m not talking about global locations, but places on a happiness scale. It has taken me to an inner peace I never thought possible and it all started with a couple of lamp posts.

Operation Move is the best thing that has happened to my life in a very long time.



The Operation Move Learn to Run course is now open for registration. 

Zoey Dowling

Written by: operationmove

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  1. Thank you for sharing your story Steph. You are an amazing source of inspiration <3 <3

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks, Dee. I hardly slept a wink last night knowing it was being published today. But I'm proud of it and the response we've received has been overwhelming. So proud to be part of Operation Move.

  2. Steph - putting this out there takes so much courage and I'm teary with pride. You have achieved so much, an incredible story not just with the weight loss but the improvement in quality of life. Love you so much - so proud of you gorgeous xxx

    • Zoey Dowling

      The weight loss was the bi-product. It was the mental hell I was in I wanted exit from and what it's done to my body is the added bonus. Plus, I got you out of it. mwah xxx

  3. I've said it a few times, you are a major inspiration for me. To see how far you've come makes me think that maybe... just maybe, I can do it too. Thank you xx

    • Zoey Dowling

      You can, hun. I've been watching your progress and it's absolutely wonderful to see - just stick with it, the rewards are endless x

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Such an inspiration. I am only a new follower of yours, and I have been in awe, but thought *I* could never do that. I had no idea what your beginning was. Maybe I can after all.

    • Zoey Dowling

      I have to pinch myself sometimes too. I have hated exercise my entire life and never stuck to any sort of gym membership for more than about 3 weeks. Nobody is more surprised than me and honestly if I can do it then anyone can. Promise.

  5. Wow Steph. Wouldn't it be fabulous if personal trainers used excercise to improve well being rather than as a punishment. Alcohol and inactivity are really ticking time bombs. Thanks for sharing.

    • Zoey Dowling

      I'm of the belief you have to work from the inside out. It was the happiness I was after and the body change happened because of that. Alcohol for me is just poison and I am so glad my kids will never see me guzzling like I used to and have them growing up thinking that is what adults do. It's extremely empowering to be a non drinker (it just sucks when you go to weddings sober, hahaha) x

  6. You truly are amazing Steph xoxo

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thank you my darling friend. I really value your kind words xxxx

  7. What an amazing story and journey. I now think you are even more awesome than I already did. Cant wait to watch you continue that journey and see what else you achieve - but the most important thing is that it all makes you so happy. x Beth

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks, Beth. It's funny isn't it .. I guess in a way I didn't want anyone to think that was the old me but then realised there is no shame in admitting your past. Mine is wild and rocky and not one I'd want for my children - but it's mine and it's in the past. Onwards and upwards x

  8. You are nothing short of amazing. Thank you for sharing this, I know that it was really hard to do. There were many runs over the last 5 months where I wanted to give up and I'd remember that you wouldn't give up, so I didn't either. Thank you for that. xx

    • Zoey Dowling

      What a lovely thing to say. My motive for writing this is purely for others to see it's possible. I have so much faith and belief in Operation Move and want to scream it from the rooftops. What we have is very special and I haven't seen anyone else have what we have. So proud to be part of it x

  9. I really really need to get back to it don't I? Your story is amazing!

    • Zoey Dowling

      Yep. Anything is possible with a bit of perseverance .. I never imagined my little 1km jogs would end up with me running the London Marathon.

  10. Zoey Dowling

    Thank you so much for sharing Steph. I hope you and Zoey realise that telling your stories and sharing your photos has been absolutely worth any worry you have. I had no idea where your beginning was. It's almost unbelievable to me, I 'met' you when you were already this amazing running superstar! I see the difference in your eyes in these photos and your passion for life. Congratulations on your journey so far xo

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks, Jo. Zoey and I have been thinking about it for a while and at first I was almost like "OH MY GOODNESS, NO WAY CAN I SHARE THAT". But despite the anxiety and worries about whether people would judge me badly for it - we posted it anyway. There is no room in my life for judgemental people and seeing the good come out of this has been nothing short of heart warming. All worth it!

  11. Wow! What a truly amazing story. It gave me goosebumps. I don't know you Steph but I'm so proud of you & the great role model that you are to your children :)

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks, Neets. I love the influence it has had on my kids. They all wear my medals proudly and my older kids are both passionate about running too. It has been a huge lesson in how much influence we have over our children at this age.

  12. Absolutely love your story Steph. I read your post after the London Marathon. Such an inspiration. Thank you.

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks, Mandy. What a ride it has been. So much hard work but oh so worth it.

  13. Such an inspirational story - congratulations on committing to change - love it!

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks! so grateful for your lovely response. Thanks for reading!

  14. You look amazing Steph, and I'm so impressed by your willpower and determination! xx

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks hun. Nobody is more surprised at it than me! I'm amazed by how much I really love running.

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thank you .. the response has been so wonderful. Really appreciate your lovely comment.

  15. I want this to be my story!! I'm at the two lamp post stage right now - and looking forward to making it three :) T

    • Zoey Dowling

      Keep going, I promise it just gets better and better. You will never regret sticking with it!

  16. You have me in tears x But now a confession. When I first met you through OpMove on Facebook I took the impression that you were a superstar longtime, fitness freak runner. I had no idea how short your journey was, how tough your struggle, or how hard you'd fought. The confidence & encouragement you exuded through SM inspired me to give it a go, because I wanted to be like Steph. You're a gorgeous woman. I'm so glad you thought yourself worthy enough to climb back up

    • Zoey Dowling

      Hi Taz, you are so so so so lovely. I wish I was a superstar long time, fitness freak runner but I like to do things the hard way .. it's an old habit of mine! ha ha. Am so grateful to have you wonderful ladies inspiring me every single day .. and I promise to get back on my bike very very soon! (I might have forgotten how to use the gears). xx

  17. this is a great story to read. Hard work and a lot of determination goes a long way doesn't it.

    • Zoey Dowling

      Sure does. It was worth all the hard work, early mornings and painful long runs - especially when I crossed the finish line of the London Marathon. Best feeling ever.

  18. You are so amazing. I can't believe the difference between the two photos. I am not talking about the weight but in your eyes and face. You are beaming and look so happy in the recent one. Operation Move is doing fantastic things of all these people & you Steph are an inspiration. Well done xx

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks, Lisa. The photos make me sad. I remember how miserable I was and thankfully now it's so far away from where I am now. Never want to go back there.

  19. Zoey Dowling

    Thankyou so much for sharing this Steph. Your friendship is one of the greatest gifts OpMove has given me, and you know there have been many. Love you too pieces, and I could not be prouder to call you my friend.

    • Zoey Dowling

      And you my beautiful friend. Cannot imagine my life without you in it, or without Operation Move either. Your little baby has turned into something so very special and I'm so honoured to be a part of it. Love you xx

  20. I remember you calling yourself a whale whilst pregnant with number 4 and thinking you were so harsh on yourself, as I thought you looked so glam. Then I see the before and after photos and think - maybe I just never saw the weight as I just saw you, the great person ? I remember when you first started running and how shocked you were to love it - you really didn't want to I don't think, but there it was and a great love was born. Thank god because it has helped you in innumerable ways and has helped me as you inspire me to know that I too can get physically fit and mentally healthy. You done good woman, you done good.

  21. Zoey Dowling

    It was very easy to hide it from the other side of the world. I don't think I put a photo of anything but my head on Facebook for about a year. Two probably. I look back to when I first started running and imagine what would have happened if I hadn't persevered with it - I would have missed out on all these amazing things I now have in my life. It is so much more than just putting one foot in front of the other. Thanks for your lovely comment xxx

  22. I started reading the post not realising it was you, Stephanie! The one and very same who I followed on IG as she kicked butt in the London Marathon! Amazing! Truly inspirational story x

  23. I had no idea you'd been on such a journey. Wow! X

  24. Wow Stephanie!! You have blown me away. You are such a strong and inspirational woman!!

  25. Steph you're journey has been so inspiring as I've followed you through it! You look so fantastic and I love seeing all your news and photos. I actually said to my husband on Monday evening that I might start running after I've had babe and am recovered from my section. He laughed at me! I'm always having new ideas and not sticking to them! I feel pretty determined to get myself to a place that I feel truly happy and look the best I can! We'll see!! I know I can't do it on my own though!!! You might find me badgering you for support!!!! :-) Lots love XxXx

  26. Can so relate and know where you are coming from as I read your story, so proud of you. You are a true inspiration. The sky is your limit. Look forward to hopefully running a marathon with you someday somewhere. xx

    • Zoey Dowling

      That part of the marathon when you came up behind me and made me burst into tears was one of my highlights. Loved sharing that journey with you and am amazed at your Comrades determination .. let's plan next years marathon, i am in!!!

  27. You are one amazing lady Steph. Strong , courageous and beautiful.

  28. it's so powerful when people share their real stories - thank you . It's official - I am going to try running. Your fault !

  29. Thanks for sharing this Steph and the before/after shots. You know, you've been such an inspiration to me. We don't know each other in real life but sadly we have a connection because we are both members of that terrible club that no one should ever have to join. After I found your website and I read all about you and your running I decided enough was enough and finally in October last year I had my own moment. No more, I said. I am still not great at running but I love it and mostly pound out on the tready (no one to leave the kids with). I have lost 22kgs to date and I have just 1.8kg to lose until I reach goal. You have really been someone I've admired and been spurred on by to shake of my sadness and be the best me (sorry to sound all "oprah" about it). Anyway, just wanted to say well done you and thanks :-)

    • Zoey Dowling

      I am SO proud of you .. what an amazing achievement!!! Keep going with it, nothing keeps the sadness and low troughs away better than running. Touch wood my depression has been a very notable absence in my life for nearly 2 years. Really really loved reading your comment and am so happy for you xx

  30. How fantastic are you? What an absolute inspiration too. Well done in writing this and showing what you looked like only TWO years ago. You've come a long way baby. xx

    • Zoey Dowling

      I look at those pictures now and it's like looking at another person. Seems a lifetime ago now - so much has happened in the past 3 years - all the good stuff I wanted has come along and I love it! x

  31. Wow Steph I hadn't realised all of that. Not sure my back will take the running but you never know till you've tried it! Thanks for sharing your story. lots of love Tinaxx

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks, Tina. Try walking - it does the same thing but just takes longer. Thanks for your ongoing support, xxx

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  33. I love your story and how you triumphed over adversity. I can relate to so much and have experienced a similar journey so I know exactly how good healthy feels. You are such an inspiration and you shine from the inside out. Thank you for sharing your story - I love one with a happy ending! You're unstoppable!

    • Zoey Dowling

      And that is why we are such good friends. So glad our journeys have crossed paths. Love xx

  34. Haven't read all the comments above, but am sure I am repeating so many people. Steph, you are amazing & such an inspiration. I am in awe of you & all you have done to change your outlook. Love you & miss you. xxx

  35. hi I follow your facebook page and think your fabulous with your running and being a busy mum - I find you even more inspirational having just read the above and you have given me renewed hope in getting off my butt and shedding my extra kilos - tomorrow morning out comes the musty gym gear!!

    • Zoey Dowling

      Yay! Get that gym gear out! It's totally possible to shed the extra kilos and enjoy the process too. What I love most about running is that I enjoy the whole thing, the running part, the endorphins and the results .. well done you!

  36. Wow... What an inspirational story. Thank you so much for sharing it and for being so lovely when I messaged you before. Right now I am feeling like you did in your before pic and I can't wait to start the running program on June 1st. Hopefully it will be the beginning of big changes for me too. xx

    • Zoey Dowling

      You won't be sorry. The support you get through Operation Move is wonderful and the friendships you will form are also to be treasured. Can't rave about it enough. Good luck!

  37. Steph, that is an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing it. I'm a fellow mother of 4, and I need to shift my butt. I'll start with the walking, and let's see what happens when I encounter a lamppost ... What a woman :)

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks, Jules. Baby steps - it's all possible as long as you stick with it. I promise the rewards are endless x

  38. Wow Steph, many congratulations on your incredible journey and thank you for sharing it. I started following you on Twitter after you were recommended by another runner. I thought you were a regular marathon runner! I had no idea of the journey you had been on. This post strikes such a chord with me - I've been running about 18 months and have just completed my second 10k. I was considering a half marathon and you have given me the push to do it! You are an amazing lady and mummy too I'm sure x

    • Zoey Dowling

      Hi Kat. Do it! The purpose of writing it was for exactly this reason - to inspire others to take that next step so well done, I really value your comments x

  39. This is so inspiring! Thanks for sharing.

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I am so grateful for everyone's replies.

  40. All the love Steph. You've so courageously told your story so others can be inspired. So proud to know you. xx

  41. I stumbled on your blog through fb and loved it. .. my kind of humor. What I didn't know is that story you just shared. It's amazing how we end up where we are supposed to be isn't it? Let me explain. ...I too suffered PND with my 4th child. .. I've experienced the self loathing. .. I've done the counseling (she is 3 now).... I've even recently cut the alcohol. But something is still missing. It's that time for me. Just me. And I think running may be that thing. Which is weird saying because I HATE running. But hmmmmmm..... You have got me thinking.

    • Zoey Dowling

      I hated it at first too. My first Instagram photos have pictures of me red faced in the middle of a run with hashtags like #stillhaterunning ... it's why so many people give it up, because in the beginning it's really hard and it hurts and you get stitches .. but that goes after a while and it's relaxing and enjoyable. I am so glad I stuck with it, I still don't know why I did given my exercise track record before that, but I did and I can't imagine my life without it. Go for it, Operation Move is always here if you want to join for some motivation..x

  42. Zoey Dowling

    I love this story Steph - I have read it several times and by the end I'm never sure what to say and I get all choked up anyway! Thank you for sharing it with us xo

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks, Rach. I really hope it encourages other people to follow my path and know that no matter how far away happiness seems, that it's totally possible to get there if you want to.

  43. Thanks for this story. I am trying to be a runner and seem stuck on 3km. Can't imagine getting to 10! Did you just do it every day?

    • Zoey Dowling

      No, not every day. I think in the beginning you need to ease yourself into it and keep it simple. Start out twice a week. Walk a bit, run a bit and gradually increase. You an do it!

  44. What a great story Steph - glad I came across it. It is such a testament to your own strength and the momentum of change. I'm sure you'll inspire lots of people to pound the pavement and take back life.

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thanks, Kathy. The response I have had has been completely overwhelming and i really hope it inspires others to make changes should they need to. Running really has changed my life and I've become quite passionate about helping others who find themselves in a similar situation to me.

  45. What a great story Steph - glad I came across it. It is such a testament to your own strength and the momentum of change. I'm sure you'll inspire lots of people to pound the pavement and take back life.

  46. I loved reading your story. I loved that it was real and honest and courageous. Well done you. Enjoy your new found happiness x

  47. Thank you for sharing your journey. Your story has motivated me to get moving so thank you. I look forward to what tomorrow brings.

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  49. What was the distance between those two lamp posts?