I used to run all the time and I used to really enjoy it. But about 3 years ago it started to be more of a habit than an actual hobby. I was going to the gym to run for 25 minutes, purely so I could say that I had been for a run. My thoughts started to get quite disordered with it too, where I started to think that if I went for a run, I was then allowed to have that chocolate biscuit for dessert. If I didn’t run, I was only allowed x amount of calories, or I was only allowed a ‘healthy’ meal rather than what I actually wanted. My runs started to become a bargaining move, rather than something I did for my health and overall well-being. As someone who has previously struggled with an eating disorder, it started to feel like a very thin line I was walking.
I started running because I wanted something that would improve my health, but also allow me to get out of the house and to just have some me time. I have never really tracked how fast I am, or how far I could run. I would have my routes that I would run, and I would usually decide on the day where I felt like going. When I joined the gym, it was nice to have a constant speed, so I could zone out on everything and just enjoy the movement. I would put my music on and in a way it felt like dancing. It was nice to have a proper break from my racing thoughts and everyday stresses of life, and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other.
Lockdown then hit and any chance of me going to the gym was squashed. I did a few runs during our allocated one hour of outside time, but other than that I tried out some different workouts: HIIT, yoga, barre, dance. It was nice to try movements that were actually fun, and made it seem more like a game than an actual challenge.
But a year later I missed the routine. I missed having that little hour that was just for me to focus on me and what I was doing. So once gyms were allowed to reopen, I signed up and decided to truly commit to an actual training programme. Before, I had always just sort of winged it, making it up as I went along. I have done so many workouts in my lifetime, and know enough about fitness that I know the basics of what you do to work each muscle group. I could make up little routines that would do what I needed them to. But I have never really followed a proper workout plan, so I decided that I shall commit to one and just see how it goes.
Enter Couch to 5k. I used the official app created by the BBC to encourage people to become more active, and I have heard so many say that it was a really good introduction to running. Now I knew that I could run for 30 minutes without stopping (if i really put my mind to it), but I thought I might as well just start as an absolute beginner and see if I can just enjoy the process. The app is really simple, but it does exactly what you need it to. You can also chose from a group of celebrities to be your voice guide as you run – I chose Sarah Millican (an comedian here in England) who has the thickest Geordie accent so was automatically way more entertaining. She also had the cutest little pep talks (I may even calling people flower and pet more often!) and being naturally funny means the runs were a lot more relaxed and more enjoyable.
You start really small – 60 seconds of running, 90 second walking – on repeat for about 20 minutes. Each run also starts with 5 minutes of walking, and ends with 5 minutes of walking to give you a proper warm up and cool down. As you progress each week, these intervals go up until you can run for 30 minutes solidly without any walking breaks. The programme is 9 weeks long, but you are able (and sometimes encouraged) to repeat weeks if you feel you need a bit more practice or are not ready to step it up just yet. Personally, I think I may have been better to repeat weeks 7 or 8 before I finished week 9, as the jump from 60 second walking breaks to none at all for 25 minutes was actually a bit jarring on some days. It is also designed to only be 3 runs a week, and it states that you should try to leave one day of rest between each run. Which is actually really good advice. In most plans I have seen before, they seem to want you to run 4-5 days a week with ‘active rest days’ (a day where you maybe go for a long bike ride or walk, rather than actually resting) which I have always found to be unsustainable in the long run.
If you have ever wondered about running and whether it is for you, I would definitely recommend this app. It starts off very easy, as it is designed for people who have never ran before in their life. It builds slowly, yet allows you to see real progress as you go through. There is also no leader board or competitive aspect to it: you can’t add friends so they see your progress, or compares your times to those of other app users. It is purely for you to run for you. To allow you to see your progress and no one else unless you wish to show them. I found this refreshing, as I have never been a competitive person so being forced to compete just makes me feel inadequate and uncomfortable.
This app also allowed me to enjoy running again. It built up in such a way that even after a 25 minute run, I didn’t feel too gassed and would actually have been happy to run for a bit longer. In the later weeks as well, you do start to recognise what your comfortable pace is and also when you hit that rhythm, you fully understand the elusive ‘runners high’. I did a 5k run as my penultimate run in week 9 and actually beat my goal! I had wanted to see if I could run 5k in under 40 minutes (as I say, I have never been a fast runner so was not expecting anything ground breaking) and I managed it in 39 minutes! It may seem small, but when you start running you realise what a massive difference a few seconds can make to your entire mood. Also for someone who hasn’t run properly in about 2 years, it felt so good to enjoy running again.
That being said, there were definitely days where running felt like death: my legs felt like rubber, my feet felt like cement, I was tired and stressed and couldn’t think of anything worse than going for a run. But I found I genuinely felt 10 times better after I forced myself to go for a run. I felt lighter, and more awake, and I also felt like I had accomplished something that day. Some days I was clearly faster than other days, and some days I definitely needed longer to recover my breath at the end, but I never regretted going for a run. It was also a good kick of extra endorphins to see myself completing a new run, and actually progressing through the programme. Once I hit my rhythm, and fell into the flow of my run, I could actually let my mind wander: sometimes I would plan what I was going to buy with my next paycheck, other days I would plan out whole new story ideas. But sometimes I couldn’t think about anything at all. I would just listen to the music, and let my body move as if on auto pilot, and just watch the people around me whether in the gym or on a run outside.
I know this is a bit of a different post to what I normally do, but I am so bloomin’ proud of myself for completing not only this programme but also my first proper 5k in 2 years! I feel I got myself out of my little funk and I am now actually quite inspired to keep it up. Maybe I will try now to work on my time, to see if I can complete a 5k in under 30 minutes. Maybe I might also sign up to do a charity fun run, where I can push myself that little bit further while also raising money for an important cause.
I thought I would therefore share my experience because I know I can’t be the only one who has found this last year and a half a bit challenging. Here in the UK, we are still not really able to go on holiday (well we are but it comes with so many conditions it feels like it’s more stress than simply staying at home) and many places are still restricting how many people can come in at one time. Making plans is also quite stressful, as everything now comes with the added stress of a potential ‘pinging’, meaning you have to self-isolate and potentially cancel more plans moving forward. Everything is still very uncertain, and while you try to do your best, sometimes you do just wish things could go back to normal. Perhaps I am just feeling a bit emotional (endorphins are so great omg) but this little app genuinely gave me a goal to work towards that depended purely on me: I didn’t have to rely on anyone else to make it all happen, I just had to go outside and run.
There are also a number of Couch to 5k apps available, so it may be worth trying one that suits your goals. I have seen there are a few that actually track your run, so you can see each week what your time and pace is like if that is something you may want. I went with the BBC version purely because it is the most popular here in the UK. Moving forward, I may even repeat some of the weeks as part of an interval training programme. But have a little search around to find one that works best for you.