I’ve always looked out of the window at people running, and wished I could do it. I was a sporty person growing up, and then got out of the habit as I got older. People around me run – for fun – which is not something I could ever get my head around. To me running is something that made my knees hurt, made me realise quite how unfit I am, and was no fun at all.
In the past 10 years, I have probably done about a mile of running, and vowed not to do it again. But as 2021 kicked in, and with multiple weddings to attend this year, I decided to give it another go and try to use it as a way to get fit and lose weight. My ultimate goal, to run 5km, and maybe, just maybe keep running and enjoy it.
Knowing that I would have to start from the beginning, there was only one place to go, and that was the Couch to 5k app and podcast. The NHS website
had the links I needed, so I downloaded the app.
It’s the first week of January, what better time to start. I had decided to go out in the morning, so I had less time to change my mind. I rifled through the wardrobe to find enough layers of fitness clothing that fitted. It’s not high fashion, but it’ll do.
On the Couch to 5k app you pick your guide and motivator through the programme. I picked American athletics legend Michael Johnson. If anyone knows about running, he does. You can also pick comedian Sarah Millican, or DJ Jo Wiley among others. They’ll tell you when to run, or walk, and you can listen to your music in between.
In some ways the hardest part was opening the front door and stepping outside. It would have been very easy to just stay indoors on a cold January morning. But I had told my husband what I was going to do, and I think sharing that goal made it real, and meant I was more likely to start, and hopefully complete the challenge I'd set myself.
The first part of week 1 is a brisk 5 minute walk. I accidentally skipped the first two and a half minutes, but Michael didn’t scold me, he just encouraged me to raise my heart rate. And then I was off, alternating 60 seconds of jogging, and 90 seconds of brisk walking.
During the first minute of running I felt like Wonder Woman. I was doing it! My legs weren’t hurting, my lungs felt fine, I felt like I could keep running. But decided that if I was going to do it, I was going to follow the programme properly. By the third section of running I was pleased I’d stuck to the plan. Was that a twinge in the right knee? Did my throat feel a bit sore from the cold and heavy breathing? Yes and yes. But I also think I'd started off too quickly, and knew I’d need to do a nice slow jog, rather than a bouncy run.
Having the intermittent walking and running really helped. With each running section I felt better, as I used the walks to recover my breathing. I think I might have told Michael to ‘go away’ as he told me it was time to start running again on the sixth section, but once I had started my slow jog, I felt really good.
Did I feel a bit silly, that people would be looking at me and wondering why I kept starting and stopping? Yes a little. But once I got back home, after my last running section, and the 5 minute brisk walk cool down, I felt like Michael Johnson, winning an Olympic gold medal.
After Run 1 I was expecting some soreness, and I wasn’t disappointed. My abs hurt when I laughed, my legs were sore in random places and I needed to rest for a couple of days. But I found myself slightly looking forward to my next run. This time I decided to go out at lunchtime, and as that time grew nearer, I found myself wondering if I'd be able to do it again.
This time I decided to try the podcast version, with a downloadable episode each week. A very nice lady called Laura was ready to guide me along, interspersed with some motivational music.
This time I had the experience of not missing half the warm-up walk, and also knew what sort of pace I should go at. So when Laura told me to run for the first time, I went at a steady pace, not bouncing too much, or striding out.
As I got towards the third section of running I was anxious. I knew that last time it’d hurt. But I got through it. And I got through all of the other running sections too. I didn’t even use any bad language at my guide!
My legs felt a little heavy going into the last running section, but I decided to push myself a little and kept running for another minute. And that didn’t kill me either. So maybe I can do this.
Once I’d got back home, I gave myself a pat on the back, and made sure I did more stretches. Hopefully everything hurts a bit less on the next run – the last of week 1. I’ll find out in the morning.
The good news is that I didn’t ache at all after the second run. I will also admit to not looking forward to run 3 as much. It was 0 degrees outside, and I’d rather foolishly looked at what the runs were like in week 2 onwards. Knowing I’d have to be running my socks off in a few weeks added a little bit of pressure. But one week at a time, so off I went.
The first four running sections were great. Pacing was good, and I felt absolutely fine. By the fifth section, a niggling stitch started to appear. Thankfully the walking sections helped get through it, and I was merrily jogging along. Again I added a little extra minute onto the end of the last running section, knowing that my next run was going to up the ante.
What did I learn from this run? I probably shouldn’t have had a snack 30 minutes before I went out for a run.
So that is week one over with! I did it. On the whole I managed to get through the runs unscathed, and with a sense that I might actually be able to run 5km in the next nine weeks!
A windier day is not the best day to move up to longer runs, but I know it'd be very easy to make an excuse not to go out. And if I don't get used to running in different weathers, there is a distinct possibility in England of not going out until April.
The step up for week 2 is longer runs and longer walks. I'm now up to 90 seconds of running, followed by 2 minute recovery walks.
For the fact it's not a massive jump in time, it was surprisingly harder than last week. The first few running sections had me puffing harder than before. I made sure to start off slow again, and at one point got overtaken. Thankfully the man was running not walking.
I think there were less running sections this week, it is hard to say. I was just concentrating on making sure I got to the end of each 90 second run. But as each 90 second section was over, the next felt a little easier again. I have found that the last run of each day has been by far the easiest, and I'm quite spritely by then.
Once back I had a good stretch out, using the handy guide from the NHS. I've got a slightly sore back after today's run, so will keep stretching that in the coming days before I next venture out.
Top tip: When it is wet outside, don't try and turn while your foot is in a puddle, you could fall over. And I did.
I wasn't looking forward to going out in the rain today, but once I was out I didn't mind it at all. The sore back which has still been niggling me the last couple of days was fine too. It was all looking good.
The first two running sections were their usual tiring selves, but I now know that once I'm through those, I'm ok. And I was. Someone looking out of their window at me today may be forgiven for thinking they were looking at a regular jogger. I had picked up the pace a little and tried to lengthen my stride too.
That was until I got to the bollard which is the point where I have been turning round to head back home. Just as Laura my podcast guide told me to start my fourth run, I put my foot down to turn, it went in the puddle, and I slipped. The slow-mo fall started, and I whacked my leg on the bollard and ended up on the floor. Once the initial scolding of "you stupid woman" wore off, I was back up and finishing that run. It took the wind out of my sails for the next running section, but that soon wore off, and I was back to bouncing home.
I suspect a nice bruise will be coming up later. Hopefully it doesn't affect me going for my last run of the week in a couple of days.
This time I decided to run a different route. I usually find it easier to stick to something if there is some variation. I didn't want to get bored of running past the same houses every time.
I found the third run of the week just as challenging at the start as the others. My legs felt heavier today, which for my third run in five days, isn't surprising.
In the back of my mind I am thinking about next week, as it steps up quite a bit, but week 2 has felt really positive.
Wow - that was a gear change. The usual five minute brisk walk warm-up is still there, but now it's a 90 second run (that's fine, we did that last week), and a 90 second walk. Then the biggie. Three minutes of running and three minutes of walking. And all that gets done twice!
Even after the first 90 seconds I was a bit puffed out still. You can imagine how I was after the first three minute run. The sense of relief as I ended that section was immense. I had slowed right down, my legs felt heavy and so did my breathing. It almost made the next 90 second run a joy - just knowing it wasn't three minutes. As I am finding, the longer into the session I go the better I feel, and the last three minutes weren't all that bad. But it still feels like a big step up.
As the week progressed, the first run didn't become much easier, perhaps I'm not walking quick enough for the warm-up. Something to look at next week.
I can't say that week 3 has been my favourite so far.
Ouch. That is an ouch for my sore knee, an ouch for my sore ankles, and an ouch for my poor lungs. They've taken a battering in week 4.
This week has been hard. It's the warm-up, then a three minute run, a 90 second walk, a five (yes that's five) minute run followed by a 2 and a half minute walk. And then, you've guessed it, the three minute run, the walk and the five minute run all over again.
I decided after last week, that my warm up wasn't intense enough. I was trying to run after a walk, and my heart rate wasn't high enough and my muscles weren't ready. So this week my warm up was on my indoor exercise bike. I still had the podcast on, so I was ready to start running as soon as the time was up. And I have to say that the first three minute run was absolutely astonishing. I felt great. The shorter recovery walk wasn't too bad either.
Then came the first of the five minute runs. I'm not going to lie to you, it hurt. At one point, I thought I'd been running for nearly the five minutes, but then the podcast told me it was only two and a half! By the end I was taking huge gulps of air in, and going so slowly I was barely moving. The urge to stop for a second as I finished that five minutes was immense, but I remembered I had to keep my legs moving.
I took the whole recovery time to get my breath back to normal, and then completed the last two runs, with slightly greater ease. I'm not saying they were easy - they weren't. But as I got to the end of the session, the feeling of relief and elation was amazing. I actually let out a little yelp of delight.
The second time I did this session, wasn't much easier either. I chose a new route and it was hillier than I thought, so that was it for the ankles and lungs. By the day I was due to do my third run, I was ready to just stay in bed. I had no energy and I knew it was going to be hard. But I went anyway. I chose another new route, and it was a revelation. I finished the runs with some ease. I couldn't have been happier when I finished.
Couch to 5K week 5, we meet at last. This week it's ramping up and it is slightly different. Normally you repeat the same run three times, but there are three completely different runs this week.
The first is 5 minute run, three minute walk, five minute run, three minute walk, five minute run.
And as at the end of last week I was doing the 5 minutes, I didn't mind this one at all. I've stuck to my new route. A small incline at the start, but much flatter after that. And I'm wearing newer trainers too, not my comfy old ones. And my ankles are thanking me for it.
The second is eight minute run, five minute walk, eight minute run. I was a bit apprehensive, eight minutes is a big step up again. But it wasn't until about 4 minutes into the last eight minute run that I started to breathe more heavily again.
I think I'll give it a couple of days before I go out again. The last one this week is 20 minutes of running. I am weighing up whether just to go for it and try, or to take it a bit slower, and do the eight minute run another couple of times. Decisions decisions.
Decision made - went for the full 20 minutes. Once I'd got to the 10 minute mark, I knew I had not run this far since cross country at school - and it felt great. I paced myself as much as I could, but once Laura on the podcast told me I had run for 15 minutes, I think my brain went into shock. It was at that time I started to feel that I was breathing heavier and my legs were feeling weightier. But I pushed on for that last five minutes. And at the end, I was absolutely over the moon. I couldn't have imagined even one week ago that I would be able to run 20 minutes non-stop by now.
Week 6 here I come.
Well the snow and ice of the past week or so put a bit of a hurdle in the way of progress. I wasn't willing to go out at -5 degrees, so I took a week off.
Week 6 then started nine days after my triumphant 20 minute run. I was slightly worried that I would have lost all the fitness I'd built up previously. Luckily this week take a step backwards, to consolidate everything we've done before.
Again this week is made up of three different sessions. The first was five minute run, three minute walk, eight minute run, three minute walk, five minute run. And it was quite clear by half way through the eight minute run, that I hadn't stretched enough - my lower calves were seizing up. And boy did they hurt! I managed to go quite slowly and complete the running sections, and scolded myself for not stretching properly. And I also felt it the next morning. My legs and bum were sore, just like after my very first day of the Couch to 5K. Lesson learnt.
This run was the first one I haven't completed, and I am absolutely gutted. I made sure to stretch and warm up as much as I could. But around three minutes into the first 10 minute run, I could feel my energy levels dropping, and breaths becoming heavier. I finished that 10 minutes, did my three minute walk, and got into the second 10 minute run. Six minutes in, I was running on empty, and could hardly pick my legs up to move forward.
Maybe I could've kept on, but at that moment, I just didn't feel like I could do it. I walked home, feeling very dejected, wondering how on earth I am ever going to do 25 minutes.
Run 2 (part 2)
Well I re-ran the second session, and still found the first 10 minutes tough, but I managed to complete the whole thing.
The problem I now have is that I have realised that the timings on the podcast aren't quite right! I decided to wear my sports watch (the kind that measures your steps, running time etc - rhymes with nitwit). And the length of time that my watch recorded, was significantly less than the podcast running time. So when I got home, I did a little experiment, and started the running section of the podcast, and set two stopwatches. One on my phone, the other on my watch. And lo and behold, the 10 minute run I thought I did was not even seven.
The upshot of this, is a) I need to test the app version and see if that's better, and b) I am further behind than I thought I was. Knowing that my 20 minute running achievement a few weeks ago was more like 15 minutes was absolutely gutting.
I think I will have to try and re do week 5 with the app. Gutted.
Week 5 - again
So after last weeks revelation, I decided the sensible thing was to drop back to week 5.
Unsurprisingly it was a slight challenge, but I made it through using the Couch to 5K app.
Back to business.