I did it.
The much anticipated and dreaded Week 5 Run 3 of the NHS Couch to 5 K running programme. Every novice runner’s Everest.
I haven’t written here before because I wasn’t sure how far I would get. Now I can come out of the shadows where I have lurked, reading other people’s stories, and declare that I can now call myself a runner.
I run on beautiful Hampstead Heath – woods, hills, meadows, streams, ponds, big sky and wonderful views – I can’t imagine how anyone gets through this plan on a treadmill with nothing to distract them. The only problem was that this run fell on a Saturday, when the heath is most crowded. Walkers, pram pushers, fishermen, birdwatchers, kite-flyers, couples who only met the night before and are trying to figure out if this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship or just a one-night stand, dog walkers, swimmers, cyclists and, of course, lots and lots of runners (many of them also doing Couch25K, I expect).
I was really anxious last night. I’d done the Week 5 Run 3 twice because I got crippling calf cramp the first time, and hobbled to finish it. (I read later that I shouldn’t have continued – so much for ‘no pain, no gain’.)
I drank lots of water beforehand to prevent stitch. I have two secret weapons: to run really, really slowly, and to run up a gentle hill so that for the second half of the run I can turn around and run slightly downhill - this makes it so much easier when I’m tired.
I followed a path across a meadow (shoes immediately soaked from the wet grass) along a stony, mud track (my favourite running surface) through woods turning gold and amber. I skipped around several dogs, including one carrying half a tree in his mouth which almost tripped me over.
I’m so old that I have no idea who any of these people are on the soundtrack but I listened to that nice young man boast about how many fine woman he has had, and the girl who turns red because she has so much love to give. I’m looking forward to making my own running track but for the time being I really need Laura’s encouragement.
When darling Laura said I was half way, I turned around and the gentle slope just carried me forward. There should have been a real Rocky moment when the London skyline appeared around the side of a hill, but it was so misty all I could see was the Gherkin and the Shard and a few towering skeletons of cranes looming out of the gloom.
And then Laura said it was over, and I really didn’t want it to stop, I could have run on for another 10 minutes. (Very, very slowly of course.)
I nearly cried I was so happy.
Six weeks ago I couldn’t run to the corner of my road (about 50 yards) and when I started this plan I’d thought that I’d be perfectly content if I could run 20 minutes a couple of times a week. Suddenly 30 minutes seems quite possible. I’m almost tempted to cheat and skip the rest day tomorrow but I’m sure Laura would find out and chide me in that stern but kind way of hers.
In a week’s time I’ll be sixty. Completing this run is the best birthday present I could give myself.