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Photograph: Shutterstock/Time Out
Photograph: Shutterstock/Time Out

The rumours are true... Running actually is quite good?

One previously jog-phobic writer sings the praises of Couch To 5K


Welcome to our new series, One Good Thing to Do Today. It’s a guide to little things you can actually do in lockdown London that will provide bits of light in these dark times. Today, Katie McCabe on learning to run. 

Before lockdown, my relationship with running was similar to the one you might have with your most unpredictable ‘big night-out’ friend from the 2010s. We didn’t see each other often, but when we did, the sessions would go on for hours, and I’d arrive home in a messy heap. Every six months or so, I’d get a blast of energy, take myself out on a 5k loop, and spend the next week wincing from muscle cramps, confused that my ‘progress’ never seemed to stick. I was a binge runner.

People had suggested the running app Couch to 5K to me in the past, but I’d just nod and think ‘a MACHINE telling me HOW and WHEN to run? No thank you sir, I have seen ‘I Robot’, I know how that ends.’ I figured those apps were exclusively for people who wanted to post their running distance on Instagram while they ‘trained for the marathon’, and I wanted no part of that noise. Then, March 2020 arrived, and ‘one hour of daily exercise’ became the only means of outdoor escape. At first, I continued to obliterate myself with heavy blasts of running. By April, I realised I was woefully unfit, and downloaded Couch to 5k to try and build up my ‘endurance’. I warmed to it instantly. I loved the unthreatening fonts, the simple graphics and the fact you get to pick your own ‘coach’, Jo Whiley, Sarah Millican and actor Sanjeev Kohli are all options, but I went for Michael Johnson because the man has won four Olympic gold medals in sprinting so he probably knows his stuff.

‘Completing’ Couch to 5K has become a lockdown cliche, but for those who haven’t tried it: the app takes you through a nine week course of running. You start small, splitting five minute walks with 60 second bursts of running, and build yourself up, incrementally, to a full 30 minutes (5K) without stopping. At first, I was overwhelmed with confidence, but things got crunchy around week six and seven, when I started to break through the 20-minute run mark. The only way to push through and reach the full 5K is to repeat the earlier runs until you’ve completed the session with no breaks.

You get just the right amount of input from the ‘coach’ – mostly, you can just listen to your own music, but Michael J will chime in with a little line of encouragement or to let you know you’re half way. It was such a lonely time that I would find myself saying ‘thanks Michael!’ out loud while pounding through the empty streets of Walthamstow.

I never quite kicked my bad habits. Even with the app, I’d leave long gaps in between sessions (it took me 16 weeks, not nine) but I have a much healthier relationship with running now. I still have no interest in ever training for the London Marathon, but I can complete a 5K run without stopping, without vomiting, and without feeling like I’m about to die. And you can too. 

Read more from our One Good Thing to Do Today series

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