Six years ago I decided to become an acrobat. Not in a ‘run away and join the circus’ kind of way but in a ‘I’m going to try something new’ kind of way. My first lesson in aerial hoop was pretty grounding. In fact, I didn’t actually make it off the floor. The second session was slightly more successful and I managed to hang off the hoop – think daddy long legs spider clinging onto the side of a bathtub, flapping it’s limbs desperately to avoid falling. In the third session, the instructor kindly/impatiently pushed me into the hoop.
While hanging a meter or so in the air, I discovered something new about myself and acrophobia – small heights can be terrifying too. Despite this, I persisted. After many lessons I eventually managed to pull my entire self up into the hoop without flouncing about too unsteadily (much to the relief of my instructor). However, after each session, the bruising and muscle pain was extreme – I got into the habit of soaking my acing body in a bath of Epsom salts for mild relief afterwards. Many months into my aerial hoop experience I realised that it was time to retire as an acrobat and find something that fit my body and my fears, more comfortably.
While I’m not an advocate for quitting things because they’re hard – I do understand that some things are hard because they’re just not right. At the time, getting active was an important goal for me (and still is) as I focussed on improving my overall health and wellbeing. My initial thinking, rightly, had been to find something fun that I knew I’d actually enjoy as I’d be more likely to remain committed. While hanging in the air, I realised that though I was headed in the right direction (not literally – gravity was not on my side), I hadn’t found the right activity.
Adamant to keep going I signed up for a floor-based dance class that was more enjoyable and less painful but not very cardio-based – it was useful in that it helped me feel more comfy in my skin again. Around this time, I noticed a colleague was looking suspiciously trim and glowy. I asked her what she’s been up to and she shared that she’d just finished her first Couch to 5K programme and was thrilled. “I hate running” I told her, “I’m also awful at it” I continued. “Me too,” she said “but somehow I’ve changed.” After weeks of hearing her proudly chat to our other colleagues about her running adventures, I started to think about trying it myself.
After much encouragement, I dug out and dusted off my running shoes. I’d bought them many years earlier, had been for a handful of short runs and soon pushed them into the shadows of my cupboard with the intention of leaving them there forever. I laced them up, thinking that I’d probably never get to 5K, but that I’d go into the plan with the same enthusiasm I’d given to aerial hoop. I had nothing to lose other than my lifelong hatred towards endurance running.
I downloaded One You’s free Couch to 5K and chose Michael Johnson as my instructor. While he’s better known for sprinting than endurance running, I knew he’d be give me his best coaching. The first week was really easy, which was encouraging. The second week was slightly tougher with 90 second intervals of running broken up with walking. At the end of week five I ran for twenty full minutes! It was hard but it wasn’t impossible – and most surprisingly, I enjoyed it. The slow progression helped my body adjust to the exercise and gave me so much confidence. I kept going well after the plan and today, on a good day, I can run up to 10K.
As the chill sets in, in the Northern Hemisphere during this tricky time, I know exercise will form an important part of my wellbeing. I know loads of people are far more evolved than me in this area! But to those who need a little encouragement, know this… it doesn’t matter what form of exercise you choose, how far you go, or how long you go for. It only matters that you find something that works for you and you keep going (progress will happen). I know someone who did week one of the Couch to 5K for three weeks before moving on to week two which they did for four weeks, and so on – until they got to the end. Though their progress was slower, it was faster than the progress they’d have made sitting on the sofa.
All these years pounding pavements and I still feel reluctant to call myself a runner because it’s not something I’m naturally good at. I experience all sorts of ups and downs depending on how much time I can put into it, where my mind is and how healthy my body is feeling. While it’s always hard, it’s always rewarding. After every run I feel proud of myself and I always feel better (especially mentally). Always. Wherever you are in your movement space, I'd like to encourage you to keep going, or get going again. If I can do it, anyone can!