I was one of those kids with a permanent note to get out of PE, and the thought of willingly subjecting my body to exercise horrified me. Lessons that I couldn’t escape from usually involved me evading as much action as I could – being the goalkeeper in netball, making sure I was caught out immediately in rounders, or doing such painfully slow laps of the field that I got away with two when everybody else had to do three.
If you’d have fast-forwarded to my mid-twenties and told me that not only would I be choosing to do exercise without being held at gunpoint, but I’d actually be enjoying it, I’d have laughed and told you not to be so stupid. But secretly hoped it was true.
Last autumn, after a depressing visit to a doctor who told me I was overweight, I decided that instead of dieting – which sucks, let’s face it – I’d start running. It was something that didn’t cost anything, and that I could do on my own whenever it suited me.
The next day, I trundled along to Sports Direct and bought some cheap running leggings, a top and an armband for my phone. I did splash out on some rather expensive trainers from Sweatshop, but I’d been told that I’d do myself an injury if I didn’t have good shoes. And I’m never one to argue with the importance of shoes.
I thought it’d be best to ease myself in gently, so I downloaded the Get Running app for my iPhone. A brilliant way to get started and keep motivated, it’s definitely worth the £1.99. Following the tried and tested Couch to 5k training programme, the aim is to be able to run 5km without stopping after eight weeks.
Breaking training down into manageable chunks, week one sees you alternating 60 seconds of running with 90 minutes of walking. Easy, right? No. I had drastically underestimated not only how long a minute actually is, but my own level of fitness. Despite ten years of absolutely zero exercise, I set off at a sprint. Within ten seconds my body was screaming, within twenty I couldn’t breathe, and after a minute I felt like crying. And I had to do this SEVEN MORE TIMES? Oh God…
After a couple of weeks of intense sweating, turning beetroot purple, being unable to breathe and feeling like I was going to throw up, it started to get easier. I could feel my body becoming stronger, I bought some pumping music to run to and I wasn’t getting out of breath anymore. Within five weeks, I could run for 20 minutes solid.
My stumbling block was Christmas. Having reached 30 minutes of continuous running in November, along came December with its parties, mince pies, cakes and mulled wine. It was wet, it was cold, and it was frosty. I made up plenty of imaginary notes for PE. Old habits die hard.
Come February, I decided that I needed to get off my lazy bum and get running again. I began by testing myself to see how far I could do, starting off with ten minutes of running, five minutes of walking and ten minutes of running again. After a couple of weeks I was back up to 20 minutes – it’s astounding how fast your fitness improves.
Keeping motivated is hard when you’re running by yourself – especially when it’s dark, or rainy, or you’re hungover, or all of the above. When I’d got myself back up to running 5k in roughly half an hour, I joined FitBitch Running Club in Brighton on a training plan to get my distance up to 10k.
Despite the fact that my body feels wrecked after every training session – these ladies are seriously tough – I’m enjoying running with a group far more than doing it solo. The main difference is that when you feel like you want to die, there’s always someone that looks just as exhausted as you do and somebody else spurring you on.
Getting guidance from a running coach has also taught me how to look after my body better and prevent injury. After some serious jip with my shins and paranoia that I’d somehow shattered my bones beyond repair, it turned out that I just wasn’t stretching my calves out properly. Oops.
I’m signed up to the Brooks Brighton 10k in November – so there’s no going back now – and I’m thinking about doing the Brighton Half Marathon. I’m fairly sure that I still go bright purple when I run – drawing sympathetic yet encouraging looks from passers-by – but I don’t care. My stress levels are lower than they’ve ever been and I’ve shed an entire dress size. And I’m still drinking just as much wine as ever. Result.