I Run

In The Beginning there was Couch to 5K

I started running in 2017. After my first daughter was born, I wanted a way to keep healthy and something to get me outside. I work from home at a desk all day, so my life was particularly sedentary and I wanted to do something about it. Running felt at the time like the simplest, easiest way to get started and make the changes I wanted to.

I’d heard of the Couch to 5K (or C25K) programme, and grabbed the “One You” Couch to 5K app for my phone. It was a nine week programme, starting from complete beginner (definitely me) level, and claimed that by the end I would be running five kilometres in 30 minutes.

I was now out of the house at least three times a week in my white t-shirt, jogging bottoms, and cheap white trainers from Amazon. Granted, the early weeks of Couch to 5K are as much walking as they are running, but I needed that. Running for 60 seconds was hard. Running for 90 seconds was harder. But I was determined and I’d set my mind to seeing the programme through to the end.

In the end, it took me a little longer than nine weeks to get to that full 30 mins of running. Life can get in the way of all sorts of aspirations, and I’d had to put the training on hold for a few days here and there. The important part was that I’d completed it. I had an aerobic base that was capable of sustaining 10km/h for 30 mins, albeit at max pace.

Being a creature habit, I unintentionally repeated that ninth week of the programme for the next 18 months or so, that is to say, I’d go out three times a week and run five kilometres in around half an hour. It got a little easier, but not a lot. My body had settled into the pace and what to expect. I was conditioned to run that and knew how to do it. After all, why do anything else? I’d established that base level of fitness that I’d sought back at the beginning and besides, half an hour is a convenient amount of time to slot into busy days.


I have parkrun to thank for jolting me out of my habit of running the same distance in the same time three times a week, although it was my sister who first introduced me to parkrun, so more correctly, I have her to thank. We both happened to be visiting my mum on the same weekend in Weymouth. My sister wanted to do the parkrun - did I want to come along? Absolutely! I got there far too early, barcode in pocket. We ran together on that first Saturday and so I completed my first “race” 5K in a time of 36:30.

My sister had to go home after the weekend, but I was staying all week. I ran Weymouth again the next Saturday, this time knowing what to expect and what was going on. I wanted to see what I could do and ran it as a race. I finished in 31:49. I was a significant way off the 30 minute mark, which in hindsight isn’t surprising considering how carefully I’d conditioned myself to run one exactly one route in exactly one timeframe. I should’ve learned a lesson from those first parkruns: variety in training is matters.

I am lucky enough to live in a town with a parkrun, and I started attending reasonably regularly, mixing the organised 5K event in with my own sessions. My Basingstoke parkrun page shows that I soon cut a few minutes off that 31:49 time. Buoyed by this improved performance in a tracked, timed event, I started running to 30 minutes on my own, rather than stopping at 5K.

Effort and Plateau

Over the summer of 2018 my pace plateaued. Running had become a habit (good!) but that was all. It wasn’t fun, but just something I did regularly without and true tenacity. This lack of enthusiasm meant there was nothing to prevent me from missing sessions here or there for whatever reason I felt like and it showed in my unwavering pace. I had conditioned my body to the 30 minute 5K workout.

Slave to the treadmill

In November 2018 I joined the local gym and the treadmill became my training partner. This might seem a key moment for the story to change direction, for the sudden change in perspective to spark a new routine. But what did I do? I figured out my typical pace in km/h, programmed it into the treadmill and ran for 30 minutes. And I did this week after week.

Not all hope was lost with these new treadmill sessions, for now I could fixate on the pace, and each session I would slowly edge it up, usually only by 0.2km/h, but that increased load did start having an impact. Into the summer of 2019 my Basingstoke parkrun PR dropped to 23:08. I was getting faster!

Ebb and FlowFlu

As the summer of 2019 gave way to autumn and winter, much of my running volume fell away with it. At the end of 2019, I resolved to run 500 kilometres over the course of the coming year, starting with an early morning run on January 1st. With this in mind, I had one cocktail on New Year’s Eve and got an early night feeling positive for what lay ahead.

On January 1st, I cam down hard with the flu. I was barely fit for crawling out of bed, never mind a 5K run. This was swiftly followed up two weeks later my a subsequent cold, which I ran through on the treadmill, but I was in no mood for parkrun. It wasn’t until February that I completed my first parkrun of the year, and the best I could manage was a 25:52. It felt hard and it was slow. That’s what I remember taking away from it. I mindfully put a positive spin on it though - it gave me the opportunity for plenty of quick gains, and over the next few weeks, I started putting in runs in the 24 minut range, despite the slippery, muddy surface curtesy of the wet weather.

Coronavirus and the Future

Coronavirus soon put an end to my parkrun progress though, as all events were cancelled. Since the gym was also closed, I started running outside. I’ve never looked back. This is the end of the beginning, but the beginning of the rest of my running life.

Running Tom