Catherine Lawson

Are you one of those people who has gone through life believing that you’re not a runner? Thinking that you couldn’t run the length of yourself? You’re not alone. It turns out that if you can run a 5k you’re amongst the top 10% of the population – that means there’s a whole lot of people out there who can’t, won’t or don’t run, for whatever reason.

Personally, my self-doubt on the sport front stemmed from my experience being the last one picked for the netball team at school. Let’s be honest – it’s never not crushing to a self-conscious teenager. I hated PE at school because unless you were a star performer you were invisible at best, ridiculed at worst. I grew up believing that I just wasn’t sporty and I was frequently reminded of that by my peers and the adults around me. Those messages did little to promote the growth mindset we need to try new things in life. Isn’t it wonderful, though, when you finally break free of those shackles and show yourself that you can in fact enjoy success?

When I left school things started to change on the fitness front. I discovered yoga in my late teens and realised that I had the kind of flexibility that lent itself to warrior woman poses. In my late 20s I discovered Traditional Shotokan Karate and raced through the gradings to get that first black belt, motivated by the consistent successes the grading system offered and the sheer joy of training. Turns out it wasn’t that I wasn’t sporty – I just needed to find the sports that were right for me.

Deciding to start the couch to 5k was a whole new kind of challenge, though. Of all the things I’ve ever done outside my comfort zone running that first 5k was the thing which surprised me about myself the most. Despite having found that there were sports I could do, running was always one of those things that I believed was reserved for the elite sportsmen and women out there and the die-hard gym goers. Another unhelpful belief. Starting the couch to 5k is, in fact, one of the few things even those with the lowest levels of fitness can do to start experiencing the numerous health benefits of exercise.* As soon as I started my couch to 5k programme my internal narrative changed from ‘I’m not a runner’ to ‘I’m a runner!’ and let me tell you, that feels good!

What feels even better, though, is the running itself. All those benefits I’d imagined were true. The runner’s high is real. The boost to mental health which comes from being out in nature is incredible. The satisfaction of showing up for yourself each time you put on your running shoes and complete another session is second to none. Perhaps more importantly, though, you see tangible results quickly with your lung capacity and fitness noticeably improving within just a few sessions. I can’t recommend it enough. So if you fancy giving it a go and surprising yourself, here are my six top tips:

  • Follow a couch to 5k programme to the letter – they’re designed to ensure success.
  • Make sure you do lots of flexibility exercises and stretching before and after to avoid injury.
  • Invest in a good pair of running shoes.
  • Find your place and your time – for me it’s the beach at dawn.
  • Get the headphones out and listen to music or podcasts which inspire you while you run.
  • Keep showing up for yourself, come rain or shine.

*If you have any health issues check in with your doctor before starting a new exercise programme.