I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve begun running. It’s probably up to five or six by now.
At least once a year I dash for a tram or bus, end up out of breath, and think “I should really be able to run”. It seems like the kind of thing that someone in their mid thirties should be able to do. So I begin, again.
The gold standard of beginning running is the “couch to 5K programme”, affectionately known to many as C25K. It trains you, over eight weeks or so, to run five kilometres in about thirty minutes. You start with little runs of about thirty seconds alternating with walks of about a minute, and every time you run a bit more and walk a bit less, until you find yourself magically running 5K without even thinking of it.
At least that’s the theory. In practice, I’ve found that I usually ”take a pause” about week four due to leg pain and never start again. It’s easy to continue something, but hard to restart once you’ve stopped.
This time though, things have been a bit different. I changed things up in three crucial ways that have allowed me to reach the beginning of the final week of the programme - where I’m running for 28 minutes at a time, without walk breaks.
The first thing was that I found a great playlist. It’s my top five Girls Aloud songs playlist, which contains twenty songs, all of which are in the top five. It’s ridiculous and brilliant and heartfelt and fun and I mouth along with the words the whole time. It totally distracts me from the boredom of running, and I listen loud enough that I can’t hear that I’m out of breath. Which fools me into thinking I’m not out of breath.
The second thing was that I deliberately slowed myself way down right from the beginning. I’ve never been great at pacing myself in sports, but it’s never too late to learn something new, and I’ve managed to learn to go at the slowest pace possible and - more importantly - keep myself at that pace when I’m not actively thinking about it. “Endurance first, speed later” is advice that other runners have given me, and it seems to be good advice because I’ve not ended up with any injuries that would cause me to take a break.
The final thing is that I have signed up for a race. Eek. It’s a 6.5km race through the centre of Gothenburg in September. It’ll be fun because the route goes through a bunch of shops and things. I’ve paid money to enter, so now I’ve got a vested interest in actually doing it.
These three little tweaks - distraction, pacing, and a goal - have been enough to get me almost all of the way through to the end of the programme. And in recent weeks I’ve finally begun to understand why people like running. At the end of a run I get a burst of endorphins that last a few hours. I feel accomplished. I feel proud of myself. It’s all the stuff that people say is great about running, but I was never able to reach before.
The end of the programme is looming. But I know I’ll need to keep running after that to maintain my fitness for this race. I’m not sure what’ll happen after the race is behind me, but I like to think I might continue. There’s a 5K to 10K programme that you can follow it up with. Maybe that’s the next step?
Either way, what I’ve learnt in this process is the value of small tweaks - the right playlist, taking things slowly, and a vague goal. Those are the things that turned running from something that was impossible to something that was suddenly possible.
What small tweaks have you discovered that allowed you to accomplish previously-impossible things? Hit reply and let me know. Oh, and wish me luck for this race. It’s on 15 September. I’ll let you know in the next instalment whether I made it.