29 March 2022

From Couch to 5km

By Michael Abrahams

Last year, as we entered the second main lockdown, I took the decision that if I was ever going to find the time to do exercise, now would be the time, even if I was 46 years old.

I had joined a gym, 10 years ago, but gave up after a few months as I hate exercise, found it incredibly boring, and didn’t have the time. But with lockdown I knew I could find 30 minutes a day to get some exercise rather than commuting. I had heard about Couch to 5K (C25K), an app designed for complete beginners to build up their stamina and run for 5km (3 miles) non-stop. That was exactly what I needed. I have always been a reasonable runner (in my opinion), but only for about 30 seconds, after that I collapse in a heap, so slowing down and improving my stamina was what it was all about.

The free C25K app has been developed by the NHS and the BBC and is a nine-week program of running 3 times a week. It starts with plenty of time to recover, with 60 or 90 second runs, and builds up to running non-stop for 30 minutes. The app gives you encouragement and you know that if you can complete the last run, then you are capable of achieving the next run with just a little more effort.

I stuck with the program, taking each week as it came, and trying not to look at what I was expected to accomplish next week as it would only put me off. The hardest part was finding flat places to run in Forest Hill. For my first run I made the mistake of thinking the Horniman Gardens would be suitable − but even the slightest hill caused me difficulty, the paths are too uneven and there are too many other people just enjoying the park − so I learned my first lesson, plan your route. And the second lesson was − buy a decent pair of running shoes − your feet deserve it.

I found the east side of the railway much more suitable − starting from Perry Vale and running towards Mayow Park. As the weeks went by, I tested out a few alternatives including one run that is almost all downhill − starting from the roundabout at the top of Kirkdale/Sydenham Hill, I ran towards Wells Park and gradually descended to Kirkdale and Sydenham Park Road.

By the end of ten weeks, I was able to keep going for 30 minutes without stopping and covered about 4km. In the last week I pushed myself to keep going for 38 minutes and was able to complete my first 5km.

After completing the 5km, I wasn’t sure what to do next and without the app I lost motivation. This was cured by joining Strava, a free app that allows you to see your friends and for them to see you, and to give each other ‘kudos’. Now I had an audience and an app measuring me, I regained some motivation. Investing in some wireless headphones and running shorts helped to make the run more comfortable.

I’ve learned that planning a route is important, especially when you live on a hill. There is a simple 5km route along Wood Vale, Brenchley Gardens, Eddystone Road bridge, and back down Grierson and Garthorne Roads to Stanstead Road. The advantage of this route is that it is mostly flat and has very few roads to cross as it follows two railway lines (one of which no longer exists). I’ve pushed myself to run to the Thames (4 miles or 6.4km to the Deptford Creek) it is hard work, but all downhill! And I’ve also taken to running along the railway and getting the train home − from Norwood Junction, New Cross Gate, or Surrey Quays.

Another enjoyable route is Bell Green to Ladywell Fields and back along the river, or you can just run the roads between Stanstead Road and Woolstone Road which are generally flat and straight.

After a year running, I try to go out at least once a week and cover 5km. I’m not very fast and I might not go far, but it is still a good routine for somebody who hates exercise.

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