A running engagement

Latest figures show that almost a million people in the UK have downloaded the Couch to 5k running app during lockdown – that’s more than double the downloads for the same period last year.

If you’re one of those people AND you completed the challenge, then well done! You should feel really great about your achievement. Perhaps you are now wondering ‘that next’? Or, if this isn’t you, it may well be that you are thinking of giving it a go – especially with lockdown restrictions now easing. Whichever camp you fall into, hopefully this will help.

I’m a real champion of running, it’s a great way to stay active, it’s fantastic at keeping your heart healthy and strong, and the whole family can do it together. All you need is a pair of trainers and comfy clothing – no gym memberships or specialist equipment required!
So, whether you’re new to running or looking to extend your challenge beyond the 5k, here are a few tips to make or keep running a regular part of your routine.

Couch to 5k

So, for those who are new to the concept, here’s a quick overview of what all the fuss is about.

The Couch to 5k is a running app for your mobile phone which aims to steadily increase your stamina with the end goal being to run for 30 minutes without stopping.

It sounds quite daunting, but each coaching session – divided into three sessions a week – steadily takes you from a mixture of walking and running, to running for longer periods until you can jog along for 30 minutes.

There are a few variations of the app so you can choose what appeals most to you. With the NHS version you can choose whose voice you hear as your mentor, from the calming tones of Sarah Millican encouraging you to keep going, to the no-nonsense encouragement and running tips from Michael Johnson.

The lockdown has been a great opportunity for people to take on the app while they are not doing their usual commutes etc. but it is available all year round – so it’s never too late to try!

Of course, you don’t have to use the app, there are plenty of running plans you can follow on line which you can complete it as a family or group – you just need someone keeping an eye on the time so you know how long you are running/walking for.

5k and beyond…

A common goal that follows the Couch to 5k is would be to join a running club or sign up for a fun run which the whole family can take part in without pressure.

But with mass gatherings and events banned for the foreseeable future, this is where you might need to be a little creative.

Why not map out a 5, 8 or 10k run in a location you haven’t run before? Mapping out a new route will make the run more interesting. A good starting point is to find a circular path that surrounds a field or lake so that you don’t have to worry about following directions. And if you are running with family members or with friends (maintaining social distancing) who are quicker/slower, you don’t have to worry about everyone staying together.

The advantage of a new route will also mean you are challenged in a different way. If you’ve stuck to road running why not find an alternative with some different terrain, or introduce some hills to your route which will also improve form, increase strength and boost your speed.

Go back to the beginning

The couch to 5k is great way to get you running and you can definitely call yourself a runner by the end. But if you want to continue to get fitter, then increasing your pace and distance will help.

If you have a smart phone that tracks your distance, you may even find that your 30 minute run doesn’t quite equate to 5k – or anywhere near! This is nothing to worry about, it all depends on your pace and even your leg length!

If you’ve never run before it’s likely you will have been concentrating on getting around without stopping without thinking about how fast you are going. Now you know you can do it you can look at refining your style and speed, and the simplest way of doing this is by resetting the app and using the intervals to switch between running speeds rather than walking and jogging. This way you can continue to increase your stamina and get faster.

Take inspiration!

The great thing about the Couch to 5k is that it’s accessible to everyone and designed for the beginner. Crucially, it’s also a great way of demonstrating how people can go from being a complete novice to achieving more than they might expect in quite a short time.

Which is why even if you try running and it isn’t for you…it isn’t for everyone…you can still take inspiration from the concept of starting small and building up. Why not set your own plan for you and the family to follow? This can be applied to walking, cycling, scooting or even playing a game of football with the kids.

You can increase time spent, or number of steps, repetitions etc. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are building up gradually to healthy habits that you’ll really benefit from today, tomorrow and well into the future.

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