This really feels like the end of a (very small) era for me. Nine weeks has gone by quickly, but when I look back on the progress I’ve made and the different tasks I’ve undertaken, I can see how much I’ve managed to get through in two months. If you’ve been running with me, I hope you feel as good as I do, if a little sore. This has been a great experience and I’m thrilled that I stuck with it. Hopefully, it’s only the beginning of something that will continue to change my life for the better.
The NHS Couch to 5k programme is a series of free podcasts designed to get even the worst couch potato up and running for thirty full minutes within nine weeks. The instructor in your ear is Laura, who keeps time for you and tells you when to run and walk. Each run must be completed three times a week before moving on to the next week.
For the first six weeks, you run and walk at intervals during the podcast, gradually increasing your running time and learning how to control your movement and breathe correctly. Through the final weeks, the running time increases to twenty, twenty-five, twenty-eight and then thirty minutes, but still with controlled instructions from Laura.
The programme is really designed to help you prove to yourself that you can run, even if you normally get out of breath walking up the stairs. The podcasts endeavour to help you understand that running isn’t about speed, but about distance and discipline, and that it really is possible for anyone to run a little every day and feel much better about themselves.
There are several really important lessons I’ve learnt throughout the programme, that you should know before you consider doing it yourself:
Lesson One: Go into this with a clear head and a clear goal in mind. Before you even start the Couch to 5k, you have to know what you want from it. If you’re looking for a quick weight loss fix then this isn’t going to help you, because this programme is about gradual improving your fitness and seeing results over a longer period of time.
Lesson Two: Be committed to it. Running for half an hour three times a week really isn’t asking a lot, but it can be hard to convince yourself to leave the house. If you’re going to start this, plan it out from the beginning for the whole nine weeks. It will help you stay disciplined.
Lesson Three: Don’t be hard on yourself. If a particular week has been tough don’t beat yourself up over it or if you’ve had to miss a run don’t force yourself to pound the pavements for an extra few days to make up for it. The pace of this programme is what makes it manageable, so just stick with it and believe that you will get there eventually. Running for longer than the podcast says, or running too quickly, isn’t going to help in the long run.
Lesson Four: Do everything that’s asked of you. Whether that’s a style of running or a method of breathing, try everything that the podcast tells you to do, even if you think it looks a bit silly. All the information is useful and practical and you’re not losing out by giving it a go.
Lesson Five: Run for yourself. This programme is designed to get even the most unfit person up and about but you have to want to see it through for it to be worthwhile, otherwise you’ll just feel really fed up for nine weeks. It doesn’t matter if the postman is looking at you funny – just get your head down and run for you, focusing on your movements, your progress and your end goal. The only person whose life this is going to change is yours, so forget everyone else and do it because you really want to.
From Week One to now
When I began this programme nine weeks ago, I considered myself as relatively fit – a badminton player and constantly on my feet at work – but I have found the experience as challenging as anyone who does no exercise would, which surprised (and shamed) me a little. But, if anything, it showed me how important general fitness is, never mind if you play a sport or not. I can see a drastic difference in my fitness levels, from being able to run for longer with no breathing problems or pain, but also in everyday life.
It helps to be constantly reminded in the podcasts that being a runner isn’t about speed, but about distance, and getting as many runs under your belt as possible. Even if they’re slow, each 5k counts towards your progress, and just because you’re taking it at a steady pace doesn’t mean you’re losing the benefits of a good run. In the end, this isn’t about dropping a stone in nine weeks or entering a marathon.
Honestly, it’s not a huge grand life changing experience straight away, but if kept up it will leave you fitter, healthier and happier for the rest of your life. And you’ll always remember the nine weeks you spent learning to run like a pro, which will stay with you forever.
On a technical scale, I’ve lost around 4 inches around my waist and am feeling like I have more energy and motivation to do things. The programme has definitely shown me that I needed to improve my fitness, but also that I managed to do just that in nine weeks. I’d never considered myself as a runner, but this programme has made me realise anyone can run and also enjoy it. I’ll certainly be trying to keep up with my runs 2-3 times a week. There are lots of great apps out there to help you continue running, that let you choose your own music and route.
If you’re looking for something to try and get fit, then definitely consider the Couch to 5k programme. Its steady pace and clear instruction means you won’t feel the pressure of a personal trainer or a big gym full of people. It gives you a clear direction to head in and opens the door to the running world. Just remember to always keep running until the end and never to give up, because the pride of completing a run far outweighs any brief pain you might be feeling during it. You really can do this.