Energize Blog : Treadmills, Pavements and Inflatables: The tale of how I became a runner

By Ben Harper on May 19, 2017 in Blog
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In September 2016 I made a decision that would ultimately turn me into what my couch to 5k online coach would call “A RUNNER”.  This blog will hopefully help you understand the trials and tribulations of becoming a beginner runner, for someone who had nightmares about school cross country, or having to run after a bus…  Needless to say I’m slightly larger than the usual pavement pounder.

Throughout my life I have been quite active; rugby player, American footballer and athlete (hammer thrower). But when injuries started to mount up, and a family life meant no more time for the usual team sports and I slipped into a habit of dodging the gym, doing the bare minimum and generally not being that active became the standard. For me this didn’t feel good. I had put weight on, felt pretty low and hadn’t seen my usual crop of sporty mates for a while.

Something had to change and the solution came in the form of…. An Inflatable 5k! What I hear you say? Well, whilst trawling through Facebook an ad appeared and caught my attention; a bunch of people hurling themselves over inflatables, and clearly loving it. I thought this is for me, it looks great! An obstacle course that I can get a few of my mates involved with.  Then, BOOM, the second part of the video hit me. “They seem to be doing a lot of running as well.”…”It’s a 5 kilometre run with obstacles.” …“I can’t run.” … “I haven’t ever run, I’m 20 stone and have dodgy knees, this isn’t for me.” So I went back to looking at cat videos.

But over the next few days I kept thinking about it and thinking it looked a lot of fun. “But no, it’s 5k running. No chance.”  And then, over a glass or wine or two, I asked my wife what she thought and that was all the encouragement I needed to sign up. I’m not sure if it was the wine or her really strong encouragement and reassurance that ‘it would be fine’, but I signed us both up to it and from then on I was committed. (And so was she. Serves her right for encouraging me!)

The next day I had the overriding feeling I may have been a bit Gung-Ho (which is ironically the name of an inflatable 5k run!) But I’m a man of my word; I have committed to do this so I’m going to have to be able to run 5k. So that day I did a bit of research, found a couch to 5k app and set off to try the bit of kit I had skirted around in the gym for years…the treadmill!
Session 1. The all-important start. It was at that point I met my talisman, the Micky to my Rocky, the Ant to my Dec… I had selected Michael Johnson, former World record 200 and 400 meter runner, as my virtual coach and with his dulcet tones in my ears I set off of the treadmill walking and “running” to the set times that he said. Slowing down to a “brisk” walk and then increasing the treadmill when he said. After 20 minutes I was done and felt incredible.  Knackered, but incredible! I had done the first session.

From there I stuck to the plan, three sessions a week in the treadmill and follow what Michael said, run …. walk …. run … walk, steadily doing more running and less walking. Some weeks I didn’t finish all the workouts so I went back a week and did them again until I felt comfortable. The feeling of hitting some of the milestones was great; 10 minutes solid running, 20 minutes solid running… I was doing it. And then it happened after one of the sessions in week 6. Michael was doing his usual post-run inspiration speech and he said, “You just ran for 20 minutes, you can call yourself a runner!” and it was that bit of encouragement that I needed to try my next run outside.

It was incredibly nerve wracking and I choose a cold and dreary November night to do my first “big” run of 25 min’s outside. But with the thought that in the rain and cold no one would see me running I set off, and what a difference! It was brilliant. With Michael encouraging me along, I did a few laps of my estate and returned home victorious, and then I did something that I hadn’t done yet – I shared a picture of me celebrating my run on Instagram! Before then I wasn’t really telling anyone other than my wife about my running progress. It felt like a big step, publicly putting it out there, but the support that came my way was amazing; friends and family congratulating me and wishing me luck for the rest of the programme.

That public support was what I needed and I even discovered that one of my old team mates from the American football club was on the down-low doing couch to 5k as well, and we committed to finishing it and joining each other for a parkrun in the future, something I hadn’t really thought about as my ultimate goal was the inflatable 5k.

The programme had prepared me to run for those distances and the final two weeks flew by. I felt great and even my knees weren’t troubling me. As I came into the final week of my plan I decided to do the final run – my first full 5k at Telford parkrun.  It was a bit scary running with all those other people but I had heard great things about how supportive it was and targeted Christmas Eve Telford parkrun for the final day. Surrounded by hundreds of people in Santa costumes, and a very supportive wife, I ran my first parkrun and I was hooked. An amazing atmosphere, an incredible welcome and what a feeling at the finish… knackered, physically exhausted but elated!

Since that first parkrun I haven’t looked back, doing Parkrun nearly every week and even doing arguably Shropshire’s best running event Market Drayton 10k, a huge milestone.

I now find myself this weekend at the event that I started this whole mad running journey for, The Inflatable 5k, and I can’t wait! I would never have imagined how having this event to focus on would make me lace up the trainers and start the adventure to make running 5k possible. I wanted to share how I got into this brilliantly friendly and supportive running world to hopefully help people if they are struggling with knowing what’s involved in being a beginner runner. If I survive the Inflatable run look forward to another update. To sign off remember: “You don’t have to be great to start but, you have to start to be great!”

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Ben HarperView all posts by Ben Harper