A weight loss programme, a personal trainer and a marriage proposal spurred Claire on to get into shape . . .
AS CLAIRE Smith waited for the rollercoaster ride to start, she was bursting with excitement.
The theme park trip was a highlight of her Florida holiday with boyfriend Greig. But as the safety harnesses came down over their heads Claire realised, with excruciating embarrassment, that hers wouldn't snap shut – she was too fat.
She recalls: "I got in and Greig pulled his down and it just went 'click'. I was just starting to panic as I thought the ride would take off and I'd fall out. The guy came round and pushed it down really hard and it clicked. I thought if I'd been even marginally bigger, he would have had to say 'I'm sorry you need to get off', and then the alarm bells started going off in my head."
Claire had first worried about her weight after the previous year's holiday in Australia, thanks to that old foe, the holiday photo.
The 34-year-old from Granton says: "When I came back we loaded them all up and I was getting Greig to print them off and there was one where I was wearing a blue top and there was this piece of bare skin because my top didn't cover me. And we went to King's Canyon, but I couldn't do the hike because I didn't have the fitness. So I was starting to realise being that size was limiting me."
She had stepped onto the scales to find, to her horror, that at just 5'2" she weighed more than 16 stone. Although always an active, healthy child, her weight had crept up gradually ever since she first left home and got into bad eating habits.
She made a few attempts to lose weight, but it was only after her return from Florida in April 2007 that she decided weight loss had become urgent, not just for her figure, but for her health. She bumped into a friend who had joined Scottish Slimmers and decided to go along to the next meeting.
She remembers her first session: "When I got on the scale and she said I was 15 stone 11, I was absolutely horrified and when she said my target weight was having six stone to lose, I thought 'I can't even think about that, it's too much'."
But she took home the group's positive eating plan (known to aficionados as the PEP), bought a week's healthy shopping, and stuck to her guns. Just a week later, she went back to find she had dropped 5lbs – and was inspired.
"Within two weeks I'd lost half a stone and I thought 'Don't think about the end, think about each half a stone, and reward yourself every half'. I think if I hadn't focussed on that I would have given up."
In October 2007, she found an extra source of motivation when Greig proposed to her. Although she was not losing weight purely for the wedding, she admits that the prospect of walking down the aisle gave her an extra boost. She started visiting Bannatyne's Gym in Queen Street and remembers how tough it was to set foot inside for the first time: "I didn't feel comfortable when I first went in, I had the same hang-ups that everyone has – you think everyone's looking at you, but they're not. Now it's like my home from home, I miss it if I'm not there."
For months she worked out regularly under her own steam, stopping only when she trapped a nerve in her back. But once recovered, she was even more determined to keep working out.
"I kept hearing this quote that 'If you don't look after your body, you'll have nowhere to live,' and that started to ring really true with me.
"I'd lost about four and a half stone and I didn't think I would get to my target weight by the wedding, but I thought I'd like to get another stone off".
So she booked 10 sessions with a personal trainer to give her an extra boost. She was so impressed she kept going after her 10 weeks were up, and still trains with him every week.
By the time she and Greig were married at Dunstane House Hotel in West Coates on August 31 last year, she was exactly 10 stone – and just 1lb over her target weight.
She recalls: "On my wedding day I just felt a million dollars. I thought 'It wasn't about this, but what an added bonus'. When I was getting ready I thought 'For years to come I'm going to look back on my pictures and just think, Wow.'
"There's a picture of me when I've just got out of the car and I've got my dress over my arm and every time I look at it I feel like I'm in Hello magazine, or like I'm a movie star."
She hit her target the following month, and still attends Scottish Slimmers meetings regularly to keep her weight steady.
With the encouragement of her personal trainer she began running, and last June completed the 5km Race for Life in 33 minutes. She was so thrilled that she decided to keep on running. She has already completed the Bupa Great Winter Run, Meadows Marathon 5K and the 10K Great Ireland Run.
Next on the list is the 10K Bupa Great Edinburgh Run on 2 May. On 23 May she plans to complete the half marathon which is organised alongside the Edinburgh Marathon, and will run the 26km Scottish Kilomathon in October.
And that's not an end to her ambition, she says: "This morning I told my trainer that I've been denying that there's a marathon in me, and now I'm thinking maybe there is, so I'm thinking next year – maybe."
Claire admits that her friends and family would describe her as determined, and it certainly shows.
Her weight loss campaign has not just changed the number on the scales. She credits it with clearing up several lingering health problems, and is also raising money for charity.
She began by putting a pound in a piggy bank for every pound in weight she lost to donate to children's cancer charity CCLASP, and is now raising sponsorship for the group with each of her runs, hoping to hit a target of 1,000.
It might have been a long road, but she insists that the weight loss journey is worth taking, and urges others to take the first step: "It's that old cliche that you're sleeping better, your skin looks better," she says, "Until you've done it, you can't imagine how good it feels."
• Support Claire at www.justgiving.com/Claire-Smith1, and follow her progress at her blog, www.fudgeyrun.blogspot.com. Find out more about the Bupa Great Edinburgh Run at www.greatrun.org.