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Couch to 5k - Running All Over Cancer
The ‘5K Runner’
I am not a natural runner. I was briefly in the cross-country team at secondary school (chosen for my height), but they soon realised their mistake. I was probably in my thirties by the time I got on a treadmill and very slowly, very gradually built up to being able to run (or rather jog) for five kilometres. I was never going to do a marathon, or even a half-marathon, but I was quite proud that I could just about run those five kilometres without stopping.
And then I had two children and breast cancer, and all that comes along with that. Chemotherapy and three surgeries. With a baby and a toddler and some serious recovery to do, I didn’t have the time or the energy for anything more strenuous than walks with the pushchair. Some days, even that was beyond me.
The Garage Treadmill
But slowly, things started to get better, and I was keen to raise my level of fitness a bit. I knew that money spent on a gym membership would be wasted. Time was so tight. We decided to buy a treadmill and put it in the garage. Nervously, I started to run again for the first time in about four years. I decided to download the Couch to 5K app, never once believing I’d get back to running five kilometres, but thinking it was a good place to start.
The ‘Couch to 5k’ app
Couch to 5k is a free, NHS app designed to take you from not running at all to running non-stop for half an hour in nine weeks. You can choose your trainer from a range of celebrities. I chose Sarah Millican. Then you just put your music on and your trainer interrupts it to tell you when to walk and when to run. It eases you in nice and slowly, with sixty seconds of running alternated with ninety seconds of walking for the first session. So far, so good. I felt like I was doing something positive.
The Peaks & The Troughs
The programme ended up taking me a lot longer than nine weeks. For various reasons (illness, child illness, sprains) I’d stop using it for a while, and each time I went back, I’d have to set myself back a week or two. It’s amazing how quickly the fitness you build up falls away again. But as I got towards the end of the programme, I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to run for twenty minutes or more without stopping. In the final week, I ran for thirty minutes. I’d completed it.
Except that I hadn’t, because my slow running speed meant that thirty minutes wasn’t quite five kilometres. It was more like four and a half. Getting to five kilometres was a matter of personal pride by then. But suddenly, it was Christmas, and I was eating too much and doing too much to fit in the running. When I got back to it, I was scared. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, but it wasn’t great. I managed twenty-eight minutes on one run, twenty-five on another.
I was a bit frustrated. I didn’t feel like I was getting very far. I’d been hoping that, if I kept running, something would click into place and it would stop feeling quite so hard. And then, just when I’d stopped expecting it, something changed. I like listening to audiobooks when I exercise, but I’d switched to music for the time I’d been using Couch to 5k, because I didn’t want to miss bits of my book when Sarah Millican was encouraging me to keep going. Having finished the programme, I switched back to books, and it seemed to help. This week, I ran five kilometres for the first time since my pre-child, pre-cancer days. And then the next day, to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke, I did it again.
The Valiant Triumph
I still don’t find running easy or enjoyable, by any means. But I love the feeling of having done it. It feels a bit like defying cancer, and what’s not to like about that? Other runners I know have told me that I’ll get the bug, that I’ll go on to longer distances and start entering events. I think that’s unlikely. But whatever happens next, I’ve trained my body to run just as far now as it could before cancer came to get me, and that feels great. I’m not running away from cancer, but I am running all over it.
The Couch to 5K podcasts can be downloaded as an app on iTunes & Google Play. As always, consult your doctor before you start out!
Laura Pearson was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. She lives in Leicestershire, where she blogs, writes novels and flash fiction, and runs around after two small humans.
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