When I wrote my last post, I had just completed by 27th and final run of the Couch to 5k running programme and hadn’t yet had chance to reflect on it. Now that I have, what do I think about the 35-40 minutes I’ve spent, three times a week since Easter, learning how to run non-stop for half an hour?
On the plus side, I had a good feeling of accomplishment every time I came home after a session, particularly after my first non-stop run of over 10 minutes at the end of Week 5. In fact, that third run in Week 5 was 20 minutes non-stop, a big leap from the previous 8 minutes. For me, 10 minutes has always been the barrier. Even when I was younger and used to go to the gym regularly, an aerobic warm-up of 10 minutes on a treadmill at 6mph was the limit of my capability. And I found no pleasure in it whatsoever. But I do feel a certain pleasure in having proved to myself that I can run for 30 minutes if I put my mind to it, although I’m not moving at anything like 6mph.
My sense of achievement is all the greater for having completed the programme in the recommended 9 weeks, despite hating the process. Mostly, I was cold and miserable on my runs. I have battled sleet, hail, rain and strong, cold winds. My final “graduation” run was one of the few when the sun shone and I was able to go out without a fleece or a waterproof on. Even so, I can’t say I enjoyed it. I find running slow, boring and pointless. If I feel the need for exercise, I generally get my bike out and pedal off to the Post Office, DIY store, library or wherever – anywhere as long as the trip is useful. I think this comes down to my need to multi-task, because it feels idle to listen to the radio or watch TV without knitting or sewing in the same way that it seems indulgent merely to exercise for the sake of it. In the gym, I used to listen to current affairs programmes or documentaries on my MP3 player while lifting weights, but I find I can’t concentrate properly while I’m running. I’m too busy deciding which way is the flattest, wondering whether I’m at the right speed, am I going to turn an ankle on this rough ground, is that dog thinking about chasing me and what can I throw at it if it attacks, how can I time things so that I end up back at home and not a mile away because I’ve got a conference call in half an hour, should I worry that my knee is starting to hurt, etc, etc.
If I had experienced any health benefits, it would be easier to find the motivation to continue running. I haven’t lost any weight or inches, nor have I gained weight (which might indicate that some fat had been replaced by muscle). My blood pressure is the same as it was at the outset, which is to say at the high end of the normal range. I feel no different, except that my knees now creak alarmingly when I climb stairs. I’m hoping they will eventually go back to normal now I have stopped. I’m sure I must be fitter – how could anyone not be fitter after more than two months of thrice-weekly vigorous exercise? – but it’s not obvious. When I cycle into town it takes me as long as it always did, and I find it just as much of a struggle getting up the steep hill on the way back. I shouldn’t think I’ll be able to do it for many more years without getting off and pushing.
Speed-wise, my running is super slow, no faster than my usual brisk walking pace. I used a tracking app on my phone for the last run, which shows that I covered just 3.24 km (almost exactly 2 miles) in 30 minutes, ie an average of 4mph. Hardly impressive, but frankly I doubt that many fifty-something, female, non-athletes are going to achieve 5km in half an hour within a couple of months of starting running, or ever.
One thing that I have enjoyed over the last 9 weeks is watching Spring unfold in the lanes, parks, woods and gardens on my running routes. Trees that were just starting to bud in early April are now in full leaf and covered in blossom like the hawthorns, or already beyond flowering like the horse chestnuts. The bluebells have come and gone, and the smell of wild garlic in the woods too. I’ve watched people tending their gardens to bring them, now June is here, to a riot of colour. Normally, when I’m whizzing past on my bike, such details pass in a blur.
So what do I think? Having completed the C25k programme, I am more convinced than ever that running isn’t for me and I don’t intend to do any more of it. In particular, I don’t think it does my knees much good. Nevertheless, if you want to give running a go and you have no idea how to start, the C25k programme is excellent and idiot-proof. If someone like me can complete it, anyone can. It is challenging, but not so much so that it seems unachievable.