My Couch to 5K Journey
This is actually my iPhone wallpaper.
This morning, after just 7 and a half weeks training, I ran my first 5K. I didn't stop, I didn't walk, and I came in just under my goal time.
Now, that may not sound like a big deal to a lot of people, so let's give this story some context.
At my school, we had two fit tests a year- the 800m run and the bleep test. I dreaded them. I hated PE in general. I was one of those typical nerdy kids who loved school but hated PE. I loved English, loved Maths, but PE was not my forte. Anyway, we had these tests every year. They were always sprung on us as we got into the changing rooms, so there was no telling your Mum you didn't feel well that day. It was always a shock. And the sporty girls would get all excited about a chance to show off. And I would feel sick. To make things worse, the bleep test was done alongside the boys too. It was the only PE session we would have with them, and it was always the worst. But at least with the bleep test everyone finished at the same time. Less the case with the 800m.
You know at school every class had that one fat kid who was always the last to finish any kind of race? Who had to suffer the absolute humiliation of not only being the last to finish, but also being pity-cheered by everyone else in the class? Well, that was me. I was one of the stragglers. Always in at least the last three. And it wasn't as though I was wildly unfit (I've danced 4 times a week since I was 2), I just hated running. And running hated me.
Fast-forward a few years. I'm no longer the fat, nerdy, teacher's pet kid, but I still hate running. Like I said, I continued to dance all through university, five times a week in my final year, and I did actually give Couch to 5K a go on my year abroad while taking advantage of the free gym membership, but got to week 4 and gave it up in favour of a monotonous experience on the elliptical. I completed multiple high-intensity Jillian Michaels DVDs. But I still hated running.
Then, as you'll know if you've read this post, I watched my friend Eve complete the 10K in Manchester, she herself having once been one of the last 800m finishers like me, and it completely inspired me to give it a go.
Most of what I learned I talked about in my Beginners Guide to Running post but even then I was nowhere near ready for a 5K, and I didn't think just 3 weeks later I'd be doing it. I've learned so much even since then. I still can't believe I've done my first 5K when 7 weeks ago I found the "run 45 seconds" part of Couch to 5K hard.
But the most important thing I've learned is that you have to push yourself. I remember how terrified I was when I was about to do my first 20 minute run. I didn't know if I could do it. But I knew how much I wanted to be able to do it, and because of that, I knew I could. Even on Thursday when I did my first 30 minute run, I still didn't feel ready to do a 5K (I did about 2.3 miles on Thursday). I was ready to wait until next week, when I'd had a few more runs to practice, but instead I signed up and decided to just do it.
Another point to reiterate- routine is really important. I've actually changed my workout schedule since this post. My runs got too intense for me to do a workout DVD straight after, and then I decided to start running in the morning. I now get up between 5.15am and 5.30am to get my workouts in before work (I have a post on this coming up soon!). My plan is to run 3 times a week Monday to Friday, do a workout DVD twice a week and then do Parkrun on a Saturday morning. As a total Type A personality, I love routine and this is what works for me. By having a routine throughout Couch to 5K it ensured I got my three (plus) runs a week in and could progress more quickly. The programme I followed (by Felt Tip Inc) was actually 9 weeks, but with a few extra runs a week (despite a few repeated days) I completed it in 7 and a half weeks.
So what did I learn from my first 5K (and my first Parkrun)?
1. You don't have to be 100% ready
My furthest run up until that point was 2.3 miles. The longest I'd run for was 30 minutes. But I knew I was ready enough. If you've done the Couch to 5K programme and done the final 30 minute run, you're ready.
2. Take it easy the day before
My original plan had been to do my 28 minute run on Thursday and a final 30 minute run on Friday before the 5K today, but when I ran on Thursday my legs were really sore from the previous few days of running, so I decided to skip the 28 minute run and jump straight to the 30 minute run so I could rest yesterday. I did a lot of walking on Thursday to stretch my legs out, and Friday I didn't do anything more than my walk to and from work from the train station. I definitely felt ready this morning and nowhere near as stiff as previously in the week.
3. Park run is a great place to start!
It's a fun run, so it doesn't really matter too much how you do. It's not a real race, it's just for fun. That took a lot of the pressure off for me. Plus the volunteers clap and cheer for you as you go past and they're really helpful, especially if you're new. They had a little pep talk for people who were doing the route for the first time. Plus it's also a great way to start your weekend! You can find out more here.
4. Set a goal
I had two goals- to complete the race without walking, and to do it in under 40 minutes. I wasn't overly bothered about the time, but it was great when I hit my first mile in less than 13 minutes because I knew I could hit my goal.
5. Don't start too near the back
Obviously don't start right at the front or you'll end up racing to keep up and wreck your pacing, but I started way too near the back and because I wanted to pace myself, I ended up right at the back, which didn't do much for my self-esteem. Which leads me to...
6. Don't worry if you're one of the last
Honest truth? I was one of the absolute last. I don't know if I was the last but I was pretty close. This was a bit devastating, especially as I was pretty happy with my speed, but to be honest, does it really matter? I did the race, I finished, I didn't have to walk and I legged it those last 200m! Just find a pace you're comfortable at and keep going. My particular course is very hilly, which made it much harder, but also more of an achievement! Plus being one of the last on my first run means I can only get better and keep improving my personal best.
7. Just go for it!
Like I said, I dithered over waiting another week to do this, but in the end I just decided to do it. If you've done the Couch to 5K programme you know how far you've come and how capable you didn't know you were. Sign up for your local park run (it's free!) and just give it a go!
8. Be proud of youself!
I am absolutely over the moon at my achievement. I know 5K isn't that far (hell, I've got a 10K to do next year!), but I was so far away from this 7 weeks ago and now I've done it. I've really focused, really pushed myself and I did it much more quickly than I expected (my goal was a 5K by the end of September). Now I can't wait to get back running next week and to see if I can beat my time next week. If you've ever wanted to give running a go, seriously, try the Couch to 5K programme. I can't express to you enough how bad I was at running, how much I hated it and the extent to which I never thought I could run a 5K. But I've just done it. And my 10K is next!
Please don't hesitate to ask me anything about my Couch to 5K experience that I haven't already mentioned! You guys have been so supportive over the last few weeks and every person who has commented that I have inspired them, well that's just awesome.
Just give it a go, seriously. Just think, in 8 weeks you could be feeling as proud as I do now!
edit: I got my official time through this afternoon. I did it in 38 minutes 39 seconds. Yay! And I didn't come last!