Running from couch to 5k
This is not my normal kind of post, where I would describe a project I’m working on. The weather has been too nice, and my summer too filled with social engagements, to spend much time working on projects. It has certainly been way too hot and sunny to lock myself away in a windowless garage.
Instead I thought I’d write about my recent attempt to get a little healthier. I hate diets, and generally consider them a form of slow torture. So I was not at all interested in losing weight by kidding myself I’m going to get into a healthy eating habit. I’m writing this having just consumed a rather good English breakfast. I know I won’t give up the food I like for any protracted period.
So that leaves exercise, I have variously gotten into fairly good routines of one form or another, though they are devilishly easy to fall out of. For a while I played badminton a few times a week. When I switched jobs I was working just a couple of minutes walk from a pretty decent gym which I went to a couple of times a week. However then my role got moved into central London and I did not find an alternative option. I wound up spending about a year doing no exercise, but continuing to eat and drink all the things I wanted. This basically has an inevitable effect, I wound up rather more rotund than I’m comfortable with.
About 3 months ago I decided to give running a go. I have in the past tried running, I did a charity 10k. However for that I pushed far to fast from no running experience, and wound up hurting my knee in ‘training’ and basically being in no real shape for the day. I did it anyway, and struggled around on an injured knee, which caused me to limp for a few weeks afterwards. Obviously this put me off. However I came around to the idea that I should be perfectly capable of running, if taken sensibly.
Running has a couple of important characteristics.
1) It’s basically free. In the last 3 months I did buy myself a rather expensive pair of trainers, but even that amounted to less than 2 months gym membership. there has been an increased requirement to wash kit to keep up, but over the longterm I’d consider running ostensibly a zero cost activity
2) There is very little time overhead. With a gym you have to get there and back, with badminton you have to arrange courts and times etc. With running you just get changed, step outside your front door and start warming up. Timed right you finish your cooldown walk just outside your house. A quick shower and you’re done. a given 45 minutes allows for 5 minutes warm up, 30 minutes activity, 5 minutes cool down and a shower.
Of those, 2 is probably the most important to me in terms of making it a habit. I’m often not home from work until about 7.30, if I plan on the train to run, then a significant part is knowing I can be done before 8.30.
To make sure I didn’t repeat my previous mistake of overdoing it too early, I found the NHS couch to 5K podcast series. This is a set of podcasts which you listen to as you run. There is a different one for each week (and later for each run in a week). They tell you when to walk and when to run. It starts from just 1 minute bursts of running intersperced with walking. 9 weeks later, and you do 30 minutes continuous running.
If you’re thinking of running, I can really recommend the nhs podcast series as a way to get started.
I found this to be a great way to get into running. I was certainly in no shape to even consider 30 minutes running when I started out. Yesterday I did my second 30 minute run of the week.
Within the first week or two I did have trouble with my knees, and I actually stopped for a week to let them rest. I did some research and realised I was probably taking too long of a stride. So when I returned to it I shortened my stride length and made sure my foot landed directly beneath my knee. This seemed to do the trick and I’ve had no real problems since.
I was also ill for a week which knocked me out of running, but I returned to it as soon as I felt better, and part of that was a desire to continue with the progression through the 9 week program. Having started it, I was keen to see it through.
I tracked every session with a MapMyRun app for my phone. Starting the tracking from the start of my warmup walk, to the end of the cool down. Over the course of the 9 weeks I spent about 14 hours running and covered about 130km.
Now I’m covering about 20km per week. I’ve started just tracking the running section, and ignoring the warmup/cool down sections. This was it is easier to track my time for certain distances.
Thus far my time for 5km is about 26 minutes. Not earth shattering in speed, but so far the only thing I’ve focused on is going for the amount of time required. Now I’m considering working on pace, as well as thinking about working myself up to 10km.
One thing I didn’t track, was my weight, or any other vital statistic. I didn’t really want to obsess about some number. The important thing is that I feel like I’m undoing the damage of 12 months doing no exercise. Whilst I’d love to have some awesome chiselled physique, complete with 6 pack, washboard stomach etc. I don’t really want it enough to actually give up the things I enjoy. So I’ll settle for merely staying in reasonably ok shape.
If you’re thinking about running as a way to get fit, I highly recommend the nhs couch to 5k plan.