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How to become a runner with Couch to 5k

Senior woman jogging

Not a runner? Sure there's 'no way you could run that distance'? Or maybe you've been getting your 10,000 steps a day in but want to improve your general fitness? There may be more to running than meets the eye (both physically and mentally) and plenty of health pay offs to boot. Gransnet Cardiff Editor, Sharon Parry, describes her journey from non-runner to 5k enthusiast. Think you can't run? Think again. Here's how to get there - and don't forget, it's all about the journey, not the destination...

"I have spent almost fifty years envying runners because my body had no 'running mode' at all. I couldn't even run for a bus. Run a 5k? Don't make me laugh!

"And I didn't laugh a lot last winter. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and a soup of shifting hormones left me feeling tired all the time with chronic aches and pains. My zest for life had pretty much disappeared when a friend suggested that I started the NHS Couch to 5k running programme. This was the most ridiculous thing that I had ever heard. Or was it?

"As a scientist, I already knew about endorphins which are chemicals that can cause a happy feeling. They were in my body somewhere, I just had to get them mobilised and exercise could do this. Out of curiosity, I downloaded the Couch to 5k running app onto my phone (the plan takes you from non-runner to running 5k in 9 weeks) and decided to give it a go.

"On my first session the brisk five minute warm up walk went well enough but then I had to run for 60 seconds. Yes, a full 60 seconds! I told myself that I could stop after thirty, perhaps 20 and, worst case scenario, after 10 seconds. Sure enough, within 20 seconds my throat was dry and I could actually hear my pulse in my ears! But because I could see the seconds counting down I coped. I kept telling myself to do just 10 more and I made it to the 60 seconds. After 90 seconds of 'recovery walking' I was off running again. Then I learned my first lesson - you cannot run if you don't breathe. I took some big gulps. Then I got a stitch, my Achilles' tendon started pulling and my right knee felt as if it was going to give way. Shall I go on?

"But I didn't stop and that is when those little endorphins started to work their magic. I walked back in through my front door like I was crossing the finishing line of the London Marathon and have not looked back since.

"On week three (which I reached after four months) I finally learned to run. I felt that my legs had started to know what they were doing and I could get into that elusive rhythm.

"It's hard but I'm not giving up because I really like these little chaps, the endorphins. I like what I become when they are around and, for me, running is what it takes to make them stay."


Top running tips

Don't stretch too hard before walking or running - your muscles are cold and putting undue stress on them before they're warmed up could cause injury. Instead, try a 10 minute gentle cardio warm up. There are plenty on Youtube to choose from, and whatever you choose should include movement. Save the long stretches for after your walk (or run, depending on how far you've come!)

Don't expect results right away - it can take weeks to see a difference in your performance, but you will get there. It's not an overnight process and you need to give your body time to become accustomed to the new activity. Keep going - you will get there!

Choose comfortable clothes - if you're walking or running down the road pulling at uncomfortable clothing or wondering if people are looking at various parts of your anatomy in Lycra (they're not) you won't be concentrating on the task at hand. Choose clothing that you're comfortable in, even if it's a relic from the back of the wardrobe!

Get the right trainers - do not, we repeat, do not attempt a 5k run, or even part of a 5k run in inadequate shoes. What you save on buying a pair of suitable kicks, you'll pay for in spades when your body says 'no thanks' to running in tennis shoes that were never meant to run off the courts. A sales assistant in any sports shop can help you choose a pair that will meet your needs, and they certainly don't need to be super duper expensive ones.

It takes guts to try - if you're new to running, or even exercise in general, and are feeling self conscious, just remember: you're lapping everybody on the couch! You should be congratulating yourself for giving it a try.

For more from Sharon, visit her blog www.aftertheplayground.com or, if you live in the Cardiff area, check out Gransnet Cardiff.










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