I’ve been using the NHS Couch to 5K app to see if it can help me increase my stamina and get me running.
So far, I’ve gone from not being particularly happy dashing for a bus to jogging for several minutes without my lungs giving out or my knees giving in. I’m pretty surprised and a tiny bit proud.
The NHS Couch to 5K app guides you through a 9 week programme, starting with ridiculously short but can-do 1 min runs. During each of the 9 weeks, you do 3 runs before moving up a level. If you’re interested in how this works in the first weeks, you can read the first instalment here:
So how does the app progress?
My previous blog took me to week 4, where I left off with the realisation this running thing is psychological. This is my new mantra, which I’ll be repeating under my breath as I embark on Week 5. Why? I’ve looked ahead on my phone and my first 20 minute non-stop run is on the agenda. I need to believe it’s all in my mind, because at the moment I have a niggling fear it may be more about the body.
Just do it!
So why the leap from 8 to 20 min, Laura? (Laura is the friendly voice on the NHS Couch to 5K app – she gets a lot of questions fired at her as I run, especially if she reminds me how long I still have to go when I’m struggling to get my breath).
Here’s the strange thing: it isn’t such a big leap to go from 8 to 20, and I’m not sure why. Now, once I’m running, I don’t mind running on… and on.
Surprise no 1: if you can run for 5 min you can probably run for 20. Just don’t attempt it if you’ve never jogged before – work up to it. Unlike my spurt-on-ahead husband, whose left achilles tendon and right hamstring are still pestering him. Ladies, need I say more.
This is also the week my breathing technique finally falls into place. Breathing efficiently has been the hardest thing for me. I’m tempted to take quick, shallow breaths when I feel puffed but, of course, slower, deeper breaths are important to improve stamina and keep you from having to lie down in the road suddenly.
At last, it’s starting to feel natural to breathe in for 4 steps, out for 4, as Laura recommended at the start. And I don’t feel too tired.
Surprise no 2: you can train your body to get more puff. Even if it’s a laborious process.
Getting my running mojo
Week 6 is strange. It’s back to the walking intervals and a laughable 8 min run (c’mon, Laura, you know I can do better than that!). I feel almost cheated. But as I slow to a walk, I get Laura’s game. She’s attempting to making me feel confident in my own abilities. It’s working!
Next up, it’s 2 x 10 min runs, and towards the end of the 2nd one, something new happens – I start to speed up, ever so slightly. This is the first time I’ve felt sure I’ll make it home, if I’m honest.
Surprise no 3: it’s all about confidence. This is what the app has done for me: I now KNOW I can do it.
On the 3rd run of the week I’m asked to do a straight 25 minutes. Didn’t see that coming.
The home stretch: weeks 7 to 9
After this, it gets simpler. And harder.
No more walking after your 5 min warm-up walk. It’s now runs of 25, then 28, building up to the glorious 30 in week 9.
In week 7, I go on holiday to the south of France and I’m worried it’ll be too hot to run – but I’m hooked enough not to want a week off. So I drag myself out of bed at 8am and run through the vineyards before breakfast. It’s already baking, the insects are buzzing around my head, sweat is pooling in unlikely places, I think about hitching a ride on a tractor… But the route is stunningly beautiful and I decide to do it twice more during the holiday. I love the way it makes me feel afterwards.
Surprise no 4: doing exercise at the beginning of the day makes you feel energised for the rest of the day.
Back home, I have a new concern: will I get bored running non-stop without anything to break up the monotony? I decide to listen to radio podcasts instead of the app (sorry, Laura – but it was lovely while it lasted). I play the running app at home instead to hear any tips for these weeks. But while I’m out in the fresh air it’s great to be so absorbed in music or comedy as you run home from work you suddenly realise you’ve arrived outside your front door.
Can I call myself a runner now?
I’m going to say yes – and not such a reluctant one, at that. Still slow, of course (when am I going to speed up, asks achilles-challenged husband. ‘Not until I’m ready!’ I reply, secretly worried the real answer is ‘Never’).
But I’m going to continue my 30 min runs 3 times a week, if my body stays strong. It can be tiring, tough, relentless – but it makes me feel exhilarated. I love arriving home from work on a high. If I’ve been sitting at my desk all day, I start to crave it.
I may even set myself some goals. I can guarantee that doesn’t mean entering a half-marathon. For me it’s about keeping my heart healthy and my waistline a little trimmer and being outside.
For now, I’m focusing on running home from work. Wave if you see me passing by – I’m the tortoise trying to catch up with the hare two streets ahead.
Surprise no 5: my PE teacher was wrong. I can move my lazy bones when I want to.
If you need a little bit of encouragement to get into your fitness stride, we have lots of ideas in our Get Active section.