Survival of the Fittest

A couple of weeks ago I completed the Inverness 5k Fun Run in 30 minutes (and 22 seconds, to be precise!) yet six months ago I would have been out of breath running for a bus. I heard about the NHS running programme Couch to 5k a couple of years ago but it took a while to find the motivation to tackle it. I had a pretty active 2015. Highlights included kayaking and canoeing, climbing Goatfell, cycling around the Isle of Arran in a day and acquiring a Fitbit Charge HR which motivates me to monitor my weight and aim for daily exercise goals. As the dark autumn evenings descended last October, I knew I was going to have to make a special effort to stay active over the winter months.

Out of the blue, my partner bought me a second hand treadmill and set it up in our outbuilding (a former horse stable in our driveway). Suddenly the prospect of tackling Couch to 5k seemed very appealing. I could run whenever it suited me without having to plan a trip to the gym into my day and without having to deal with unforgiving tarmac or soggy or bumpy ground conditions in the outdoors during the hours of darkness. I could also run in private. I could push through the embarrassing, sweaty, red-faced stage in the privacy of my own shed then skulk across the driveway, dash into the house and jump in the shower. Easy.

The start line at the Inverness 5k Fun Run
The start line at the Inverness 5k Fun Run

Couch to 5k is designed to draw people away from the TV and get them running 5km within the space of 9 weeks. I was no couch potato back in October but the prospect of running this distance seemed like a massive challenge. Thankfully the podcasts (which are free to download here) are designed to give you short-term goals so that you don’t feel overwhelmed when you begin the programme. The first week involves 60 second blasts of running interspersed with 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Over the weeks, the runs increase in length to 90 seconds, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 8 minutes and so on until you’re running for a full 30 minutes. Each session also begins and ends with a brisk 5 minute walk. The programme requires you to run three times a week so there are a total of 27 sessions. It sounds confusing but all you have to do is download the podcasts and listen to the instructions and music.

I kept my expectations low every time I put on my running shoes so that any failures weren’t too disappointing and each success was all the more satisfying. I was surprised by how quickly I progressed through the programme. I followed it to the letter, never skipping a session or cutting short a warm-up or warm-down walk. Running soon became natural but I hit an obstacle around Week 7 when I started to struggle with stitch. I abandoned a few training sessions, then forced myself to complete them successfully before moving on to the next week. I began paying more attention to what I ate and drank before a run and I also focused more on regular breathing to overcome my battle with stitch.  Finally, a week or two into 2016, I embarked on my final run of Couch to 5k. As always, I didn’t get my hopes up and I aimed for 10 minutes of running, then 15, 20 and so on. Suddenly, with 25 minutes under my belt and no sign of a stitch, I knew that I would step off the treadmill as a Couch to 5k ‘graduate’! Sure enough, it was a very satisfying moment and worthy of an air punch!

Running alongside the River Ness
Running alongside the River Ness

As I neared the end of Couch to 5k, I signed up for the Inverness 5k Fun Run which was held on 13th March, on the same day as the Inverness Half Marathon. In the weeks beforehand, I’d been flat out with evening sessions at Inverness Camera Club, Gaelic classes and kayaking practice in the swimming pool. That, combined with landscape photography and work and social commitments, meant that I was spending less and less time on the treadmill with the pressure of the 5k run looming on the horizon. I’d planned to complete at least a couple of 30 minute runs in the outdoors before the big day but, for one reason or another, it didn’t happen.

Before I knew it, I was queuing at the start line at Bught Park on the banks of the River Ness, sporting my new running gear and my trusty Fitbit. 5km. 3 miles. Well, I knew I could walk that in an hour. I set myself a target time of 40 minutes and joined the hundreds of other people jogging towards the centre of Inverness. When I was using the treadmill, I never really got a sense of the distance I was covering. It was so rewarding to run in the outdoors for the first time and in familiar surroundings and capture that sense of progress.

Approaching 4km
Approaching 4km

The first kilometre took me past Eden Court threatre and on to Inverness Cathedral. I was there in no time and felt as fresh as a daisy. The route then crossed the River Ness in the centre of town with Inverness Castle dominating the skyline above. I turned south along Castle Road and Ness Bank and onwards to Ness Islands where my energy suddenly dipped 3km into the race. With no spectators around, I reluctantly dropped to a brisk walking pace for half a minute before picking up speed again. Back on the west side of the Ness I passed my partner wielding my wee bridge camera and cheering me on! I pressed ahead with Inverness Leisure Centre (the finish line) in sight but I had to drop the pace yet again.

Sprinting for the finish line!
Sprinting for the finish line!

I walked to the rear of the sports stadium trying summon up a bit more energy then jogged into the arena towards a cluster of spectators lining the last 200m. Over the sound of the pipe band and commentary on the race from Radio Scotland’s Bryan Burnett, I could hear ELO’s ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ starting to play through my earphones. Feeling instantly re-energised, I picked up speed and, like I’d done on the treadmill so many times previously, I sprinted for the finish line but this time to the sound of cheering! With a medal around my neck and various freebies in my arms, it was time for a few final photographs before the walk back across town to the car and the promise of a tasty lunch at Simpson’s Garden Centre!

As I crossed Bught Park after the race, I reflected on my Couch to 5k journey as well as some less happy memories of PE (Physical Education) at school. As a victim of bullying for many years, I can safely say that my school days definitely weren’t the best days of my life. PE was something of a nightmare. Despite never being overweight or particularly bad at exercise, I was always the last girl in my class to be picked for team sports. I can recall being hounded off the playing field by a group of boys and, on a separate occasion, having the shower door kicked in on me in the changing rooms. Thankfully I haven’t encountered any of these people again during adulthood and I’ve learned to live with the legacy of my school days. That said, I still give team sports a wide berth, preferring to compete with myself when I’m on the treadmill, in the swimming pool or out on my bike, aiming to improve my time, stamina and endurance without the pressure of pleasing other people.

The end of the race
Showing off my medal at the end of the race!

Turning 30 loomed over me during the last few years of my twenties but it hasn’t been at all traumatic! I have a few laughter lines forming on my face and I don’t get asked for ID at the supermarket so often, but I’m still young… or so I keep telling myself. In fact, I love my age and, more so than ever before, I feel like I know who I am as an individual. Time passes very quickly and I’m now closer to my 31st birthday than my 30th (but only by a few weeks!), yet I’m making a concerted effort to make the most of that time. I live in a beautiful part of the world; I fill my days with interesting things; I’ve formed the friendships and found the confidence that I didn’t have in my younger days; and I’m looking after my physical and mental health by eating well (although I still satisfy my sweet tooth!), getting regular high intensity exercise and doing my best to avoid and better manage stress. I’m sure that I’ll continue to evolve as I grow older but, in the meantime, I can safely say that these are the best days of my life. Right now.

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29 thoughts

  1. Congrats on completing the Inverness fun run and beating your target time!!It’s a brilliant achievement given that 6 months prior you would have been out of breath! The NHS couch to 5k Scheme seems like a great scheme to get people into running, but taking it step by step ( no pun intended) and at a sensible pace. Your partner sounds like he was very supportive of you too and I think that always helps to keep you motivated. That’s great that you are embracing your thirties with enthusiasm and trying new and interesting things. Age is just a number and I always think we should try and live life to the full no matter our age! I used to love running but I’m unable to do it any more due to one of my health conditions. However, just this year, after a long absence, I have taken it up again and loving it. My health and fear of hurting myself further stopped me from doing something I used to enjoy, but after everything last year I decided to go for it! Have you plans to do any more 5 k’s or build up to a 10k or half marathon. My hubby and friends do the Mull of Kintyre half marathon every year ( some do the 10k) and love it. Such beautiful scenery and the people there are lovely and encouraging too. Although your run through inverness took you past some wonderful sights too, the castle, the river ness, the cathedral. I love Inverness. Congrats again xx

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    1. Thanks very much! When I started Couch to 5k I never imagined that I would end up doing something like this! I’m always surprised by how much I enjoy running. It can be hard-going at times but the sense of achievement always makes it worthwhile. Like you say, my partner was really supportive and I appreciate him listening to all my Couch to 5k chat over the winter months! I feel fit enough that I could work towards a 10k race without too much trouble but I haven’t committed to anything yet! Kintyre is a lovely part of the world (as is Inverness), so I’m sure that the half marathon or 10k there would be a great event to take part in. Well done for taking up running again and I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying it! Providing you don’t over-do it, I’m sure the exercise must be really good for you. You’re absolutely right – age is just a number and it’s important to live life to the full at every point in your life (30 felt like a big milestone though!). Thanks again 🙂 xx

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  2. I’m chuffed for you, and interested in the incremental build up. Mind you, I haven’t broken into a run for many years, but you give me hope.

    (As an aside, I’m wondering if you’ve read Nan Shepherd’s “The living mountain” about her relationship with the Cairngorms, or Robert Macfarlane’s “Landmarks” which includes glossaries of landscape terminology including a lot from Gaelic. His collecting of wordlists started seriously on the island of Lewis.

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    1. Thank you! I think the incremental build-ups are crucial for anyone who isn’t used to running. I can’t recommend Couch to 5k highly enough, if you fancy giving it a go!

      It’s funny that you mention Nan Shepherd and Robert Macfarlane. I bought a copy of ‘The Living Mountain’ last year. I got sidetracked so have yet to finish reading it but I enjoyed what I read, including the introduction by Robert Macfarlane! Off the back of this, I was given a copy of Nan Shepherd’s ‘The Grampian Quartet’ for Christmas and I made a mental note to buy one of Robert Macfarlane’s books. I love the relationship between words and landscapes so will definitely get a copy of ‘Landmarks’. Thanks for the recommendation! It seems that we have similar tastes!

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      1. I’d be happy to manage couch to 1km! Although I still wouldn’t keep up with the twins on their bikes.

        “The living mountain” is one of my favourite books: she writes so beautifully about one particular place. I have a bit of fellow feeling because I’m beginning to know Potato Point in that profound way. I haven’t read anything else of hers, so I’ll follow up on “Th Grampian quartet.”

        My taste for heavy duty hiking is purely vicarious, but I love reading people who write the natural world well.

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        1. Haha! I would have struggled with 1km too to begin with. 🙂

          That’s quite a recommendation. I’ll get back to reading ‘The Living Mountain’ again soon. It’s lying on my desk now as a reminder! ‘The Grampian Quartet’ is the collection of Nan Shepherd’s four novels. The first three, which preceded ‘The Living Mountain’ are works of fiction (‘The Quarry Wood’, ‘The Weatherhouse’ and ‘A Pass in the Grampians’). In time I hope to get to know the Black Isle in the way that you know Potato Point and Nan Shepherd knew the Cairngorms. If I’m lucky, this might inspire one or two blog posts along the way!

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    1. Thank you! You’re absolutely right. I’ve just finished 40 minutes on the treadmill and, it sounds silly, but it was one of the highlights of my week! I love the sense of achievement and instead of feeling tired afterwards, I feel full of energy.

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