My attitude to exercise has changed a lot in the past couple of years. Growing up, I never enjoyed sports (apart from a brief love affair with cheerleading at university), and anything I did get into was usually with the aim of losing weight/staying slim. Letâ€™s be real: Iâ€™m still interested in staying slim, but Iâ€™ve slowly realised that exercise is really important for my general wellbeing, too. Now, Iâ€™m mostly interested in forming exercise habits that will last me a lifetime. I want to be fit and active when Iâ€™m 50, 60, 70 and beyond – and I know I definitely do not want to be traipsing to the gym for the next 30 plus years! Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™ve started focusing on exercise that I really enjoy and can see myself enjoying for a long time, like yoga and cycling.
Iâ€™d always secretly yearned to add running to the list. As an activity it seems so liberating and carefree – the idea of being able to just put on your trainers and get going. The thing is, I’d tried running a couple of times in the past but had never managed to get past the feeling-like-I-was-going-to-die phase. Thatâ€™s why when I heard about the Couch to 5k series – basically eight weeks of podcasts guaranteed to get even couch potatoes running 5k – it immediately appealed to me. I like to think that Iâ€™m slightly fitter than a couch potato, so I fancied my chances and I made running 5k my one resolution last New Year.
And you know, it really worked. The series is very gentle, with lots of walking at the start – in fact, in the first podcast you only run in one-minute bursts. But before you know it, youâ€™re running* for 20 minutes at a time, and without feeling like you might keel over at any time! Having Laura (the podcast voice lady) there to talk me through each run meant I didnâ€™t really have to think about what I was doing; I just had to put in my headphones and set off. I also liked that each run/podcast only lasts about 30 minutes, so they are really easy to fit into daily life.
Even though it was the depth of winter, I managed to drag myself out of bed at 6.30am a couple of mornings a week to go running before work, or if I really couldnâ€™t face it first thing, I would take my gear to work to run during my lunch hour. Iâ€™m not sure where exactly this enthusiasm came from, but I think having a tangible end goal really helped me – I kept thinking how proud I’d feel when I actually completed my first 5k. (A little disclaimer here: youâ€™re supposed to do each podcast three times in a week before moving on to the next – I aimed for this, but realistically, I usually did each one two times a week and it still worked for me.)
I planned to do a Park Run as my first proper 5k. In case youâ€™ve not heard of them before, theyâ€™re free, 5k timed runs that take place weekly in parks all over the UK. Theyâ€™re open to everyone – seriously, I’ve seenÂ everyone, from small kids to little old ladies, getting involved. Thereâ€™s something really nice about running with a big group of people: it pushes me to go a little bit faster and thereâ€™s such a sense of accomplishment at the finish line. I normally donâ€™t get too fussed about distances and times when I run, but itâ€™s nice to use Park Runs as a benchmark to see whetherÂ my time is slowly improving.
Now onto the fun bit: gear! In theory, running is very low cost, but it does involve some initial outlay. Essentials include a decent sports bra (I always get fitted at Bravissimo) and proper trainers. I went to a running shop and had my gait analysed to make sure the money I was spendingÂ wasnâ€™t going to be wasted. I bought the cheapest shoes I could and they were still ÂŁ80(!), but I’ve felt nary a twinge since I started running in them – in fact, the only injury Iâ€™ve sustained while runningÂ was before I got someÂ decent shoes. I also bought a few niceÂ bits to wear, as I find having decentÂ clothes actually makes me want to go out running – plus, theyâ€™re designed to wick away sweat and stuff. I canÂ highly recommend H&M for good quality, stylish sportswear thatâ€™s not crazy expensive.
Itâ€™s a year later and I suppose the question is, am I still running? Well, yes, sort of. The cold weather and Christmas haveÂ seen the running dwindle to nothing, but Iâ€™m not beating myself up about it; Iâ€™ll start again soon. And itâ€™s true: thereâ€™s nothing quite like the freedom of being able to run wherever you are, nor its mind-clearing, meditative quality.
In the grand scheme of things, mineÂ is a small achievement really – for many of my friends, running 5k is absolutely nothing. But for me, it felt really good. Thereâ€™s something incredibly cool about feeling positive about your body and what it can achieve instead of always wishing it was different. Next on the list – and my aim for this yearÂ – is a 10k run. After that, who knows – a marathon?! Iâ€™ll keep you postedÂ – for now, I’m just taking it one year at a timeâ€¦
(*jogging really slowly)
Have you triedÂ Couch to 5k? What did you think?