Sport for the Uninitiated: Couch to 5K
Print Screen Editor Olivia Garrett details her experience of the Couch to 5K scheme, as someone who has felt the need to exercise out of necessity rather than choice, during the prolonged period of lockdowns.
Full disclosure: I hate running. This article is not written as a sycophant or a convert, but by a self-diagnosed slug who spends more time pulling up her leggings than actually running. But in the midst March 2.0 and under the weight of peer pressure from slimmer housemates, what else is there to do? So rather than stand about in fields waiting for fellow walkers peeing in the nearest bush, I joined the throng of new runners breaking in their brand-new sports bras and hoping that they’d come out of this lockdown as Paula Radcliffe. To do this I decided to start, through many moans and motivational whimpers, with the NHS Couch to 5k.
This step-by-step running plan is a tried and tested method that claims to suit any runner. Three runs a week for nine weeks starting with small alternations of jogging and walking, and ending with a continuous thirty minutes – not too bad right? Well, I’ll admit it, it isn’t at the start. Baby steps is definitely the word for it as you’re eased in with a minute of running and a minute-and-a-half of walking (times twenty). As the weeks go on these combinations become slightly more convoluted as they slowly try to trick your sloth brain into running for, god forbid, five minutes. After that the struggle with willpower really starts to grow: In weeks five and six, the first two runs are small and manageable but for the third one you’re struck violently with a full twenty minutes – imagine! From then on it gets exponentially more difficult as the previous weeks of piece-meal become long runs (especially for those with a short attention span), all leading up to your week nine 5k.
Throughout the course of this build there were a couple, maybe more, of setbacks. As the days of lockdown stretched on, the breathing patterns became dull, and the motivation wound down. I found myself in another Groundhog Day, as getting through week six seemed impossible. In the end, I could say that getting past it was all about pushing through and realising my inner potential, but really it was about finding the right podcast. It was still a slog, and I spent the next week repaying myself with reward cookies. Yet ultimately, I begrudgingly admit that it was an achievement. One I will not be doing again.
A key positive of this laddering system is that it’s done in time rather than distance. There’s no need to keep an eye on a fancy running map or expose yourself to the judgemental world of Strava when it’s just about getting through minute by minute. The app they provide monitors these minutes for you, giving you an update when it’s time to switch from walking to running. However, the side effects of this may include having to listen to the motivations of Jo Wiley or Sarah Millican. Also, it is just half an hour which, though it might feel like it stretches into a sweaty eternity, is a perfect fit for your ‘busy’ schedule.
As the weeks go on these combinations become slightly more convoluted as they slowly try to trick your sloth brain into running for, god forbid, five minutes.
The negatives lie in the outward appearances of the process. To the inherently sporty I know this isn’t a problem, as high vis lycra and colourful headbands come naturally and make up most of the personality. But to the lazy introvert, the idea of jerkily going from walk to run, in some bizarre chicken dance, is difficult to get used to. The best way to avoid the possible looks, and in fact to keep track of timings, would be to use a treadmill. But with the gyms still closed, this kind of accessibility is obviously limited.
All in all, if you have the incentive to get started then that is good enough. Try it, see how you do, or you could just accept that the last year has been hard enough and exercise your way to the fridge. I will always hate running, but that doesn’t mean you will too.