I’ve signed up to a Couch to 5k challenge through an initiative at work. I guess that’s the kind of thing that happens when you work for a health service. A Couch to 5k is a scheme to get people into running and helps them build up their strength over the course of a few weeks to go from walking to running. It’s a great way to get into increased fitness with a group of like-minded (sofa-loving) people.
The group is meeting twice a week so it shouldn’t interfere too much with real life. And although I’m looking forward to it, I can’t help but feel a bit saddened that it has come to this. It was only a couple of years ago that I was celebrating completing a Dubai Desert Warrior challenge, a tough test of strength and endurance in the middle of the desert with a team of fellow pain enthusiasts alongside me. There were obstacles at every turn along the 10k course; monkey bars — which I failed to complete — water slides and ropes as far as the eye could see.
We ran the course bobbing in between the particular challenges that tested our bodies and minds. It was great fun when I think back on it now, but at the time it was extremely difficult, especially when we were given a time slot of 11am — in the desert, at the tail end of the summer months. It was hot, sweaty and hurting.
We had trained for about six weeks beforehand with help from our in-house gym instructor at work, who drilled us like a burpee-loving sergeant major, but had us whipped into some form of shape by the time we approached the starting line. We believed we could do it, more than anything else, and that is what ultimately got us to the finishing line, albeit way longer than the allotted two-hour completion time. We were a team, helping each other through the tough parts and pushing and pulling each other.
It’s funny how things change. Back then I could have sprinted 5k in my sleep, but now I can barely make it to the top of the stairs without heavy breathing. I’ve let myself become a bit soft round the middle and many of my gym clothes haven’t seen the light of day in months. I can feel the effects mentally as well as physically.
The sense of self-confidence one gets from exercising is incomparable. I’ve said it before, but it is one of the greatest feelings one can get without ingesting any mind-altering substances including sugar, coffee or any other drug.
But it’ll all change come next week when the Couch to 5k begins. We’re meeting at one of Derry’s most beautiful parks, which is one of the reasons I joined — I’m not one for running around the streets. The most difficult thing for me will be the fact that I won’t know anyone else in the group, so I’ll have to muster the confident me and go down with an open mind, a bottle of water and a sense of humour.
I’ll tap into my inner warrior and try and ignore the thoughts of how awful I must look in my gym bottoms. I’ll remember the free feeling of running and allow myself the time to get back to the way I was or even better. Hopefully it won’t take that long and I’ll find some balance between enjoying time on the sofa and enjoying the feeling of movement and joy it inspires in me. Wish me luck.
Christina Curran is freelance journalist based in Northern Ireland.