Saturday, 10 August 2013

Why on earth am I doing this?: How I started to run

Aside from those times when my reluctant PE class was bullied around the school playing fields, I managed to completely avoid running until I went to university. Since most nights ended with a cheeseburger, by the second term I eventually figured that I should do something, anything, to try to fight off the 'freshers fifteen'. With visions of loping gracefully across campus like a gazelle, I set off with a couple of other people who lived in my halls. 

It was less gazelle, more gorilla. Within two minutes of starting to run, I already had a stitch and was getting short of breath. By five minutes I already felt like my lungs had been passed through a shredder. I was pretty much convinced that I was going to die. I have no idea how I made it through the 2km run, but when I arrived back at halls pretty sure that I was having a heart attack, I swore I would never run again.

Fast forward to the end of my time at university. I'd never quite manage to shift that cheeseburger weight – if anything the problem had only been added to by my introduction to kebabs by a close friend. I'd tried and failed again and again to become a gym bunny. It wasn't so much the 20 minutes on the cross trainer that I minded, but being surrounded by perfectly toned lacrosse boys as I gradually turned puce with the effort was just too soul destroying. After the final indignity of bumping into someone toe-curlingly embarrassing while desperately struggling to touch my toes, I threw in the towel once again.

I think this pretty much sums up the Cheeseburger Years
It wasn't until I stumbled upon the idea of a 'Couch to 5k' plan that I started to reconsider running. I was most certainly on the couch. With a giant cheese sandwich and large glass of sauvignon blanc. But I was  intrigued and so I started to do some research. The idea of ever being able to run 5k was laughable: the three flights of stairs to the History department were an issue at this point.

I found myself on the NHS website of all places, where they had a whole section dedicated to the C25K plan. Heck, I thought, if it's approved by the National Health Service at least I shouldn't keel over. Well, not straight away anyway.

Finally, somewhat dubiously, I downloaded Week One.

Laura, my new audio personal trainer, told me she was confident that she'd get me running for half an hour (apparently an appropriate time to be able to cover 5k). I wasn't so sure, but thought I'd better humour the poor girl.

Half an hour later, after lots of intervals of jogging and walking, it actually  didn't seem so bad. Maybe this was doable after all.

Over the next few weeks, I stuck with Laura and found myself progressing to longer and longer periods of running. It wasn't pretty and every time I returned to the house looking like a big sweaty baby. But slowly, so very very slowly, I was getting fitter.

After some initial trepidation, I actually started to enjoy the NHS C25K plan

I admit though, this was a bit of a false start. I basically stopped when I moved to London after uni. I just didn't have the motivation, what with starting my Masters and various problems going on at home.

But in around March 2013, I decided I'd have one last go. I promised myself that if I didn't like it this time, I didn't have to do it. I'd just give it one last shot, just to check. And it was a handy way to avoid writing my MA essays.

A few weeks in, it all seemed to be going surprisingly well and in a moment of madness I decided to sign up for a 5k Race For Life. It was time to test Laura's claims and myself. Without a goal, I was pretty sure I'd either keep hovering around week 4 of the C25K plan or just give up altogether.

It was only once my registration pack and race number arrived in the post that I began to wonder what sort of terrible mistake I had made. What the hell was I doing? I was only running for 8 minutes at a time before Laura mercifully allowed me to walk again. I wasn't even sure if I was covering a kilometre, let alone five of them.

I really wasn't sure I was ready to be one of these guys...

But it was too late now, I'd signed up and if my mother has taught me anything, it's that you never ever back down when you've promised to do something.

I'll write about my experience with the Race For Life in another post, but I can safely say that when the day came,  running across that finish line was one of the best feelings ever. Sure it was only 5k. But to run 5k without stopping would have been absolutely unthinkable back in March. Even more so back in university.

So now it's onwards and upwards. My Race For Life was last month and I have continued to improve since then. Okay so I won't be signing up for next year's marathon, but I've already decided that my next target is a 10k and I'm really starting to believe that maybe this running thing is for me after all...

Harris x


  1. C25k was how my wife and I got started last September, parkrun and sweatshop SRC have kept me going and this June I just did a half marathon. Go for it Sarah, you can do it if you want too.

    1. Thanks Stuart, hopefully it's onwards and upwards from here!