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Running Commentary: Getting started from the couch – and then hooked

Running Commentary: Getting started from the couch – and then hooked

August 21, 2014

From couch potato to marathon man. Andy Mahony caught the running bug a couple of years ago. He works with the council’s public health team. In Running Commentary, he shares his favourite running routes and parks, as well as tips he has picked up while being overtaken by a speeding Santa and nipped at by geese. And then there are all the other weird and wonderful things he encounters along the way.

Let me be clear, I’m no athlete and no running guru. And I’m not one of these ‘my body is a temple’ types either – you simply can’t seriously claim that with a pint of beer in your hand. And it was not that long ago that I got off the couch to start running.

I don’t consume energy drinks and protein bars – water, fruit and veg seem to do me fine. And I don’t constantly measure my carbohydrate intake. I’m not entirely sure I’d know how to. But I do know that people who do regular activities, like running, have a lower risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers. That’ll do for now…

Starting easy

The slow but steady expansion of the stomach is a plight familiar to many a man who awakens one morning to find himself progressed well into the disquieting epoch that is his mid- forties. There is the dawning realisation that no longer being in your thirties comes at a price. That price being worse hangovers, mysterious random twinges and the ever-expanding midriff.

Actually, the old belly wasn’t too bad. That’s probably down to a reasonable diet, lots of walking and a tendency to take the stairs rather than the lift. It was less likely due to the intermittent gym attendance that I’d paid too much for over the previous ten years.

The gym never really worked for me, so as far as exercise was concerned I needed some inspiration. I needed to start something new and that ‘something’ had to meet a few stringent requirements:

  • No expensive monthly fees
  • No travelling and lugging kit around
  • Minimal initial outlay
  • Easy to get started
  • Not take up half my evening after work
  • Reasonably quick progress that’s easy to gauge
  • Be reasonably enjoyable
  • Easy to get the right advice
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Halt and ideally reverse any stomach expansion.

This ruled out almost everything from step aerobics to Zumba classes; two things I’m sure are great forms of exercise, but just not for me.

I thought back to how active we seemed to be as children, and wondered if there was inspiration to be had there. Finding new partners for hide and seek or hopscotch now seemed doubtful. And a renewed interest in kiss-chase would likely result in legal action. But it did occur to me how much running around we did as children. Perhaps running was the answer.

The wonders of the digital age meant it didn’t take long to get some information and advice about running and jogging. There’s a wealth of information online, and if your stick to reputable sites like NHS Choices you can be confident the advice you’re getting is good.

Getting off the couch

A good starting point seemed to be the ‘couch to 5K’ plan. A nine week beginner’s plan that starts with a mixture of running and walking three times a week. As the weeks progress you gradually do more running and less walking. There’s a great couch to 5K plan on the NHS Choices website. There are also some handy ‘couch to 5K’ apps for your smartphone. You simply put your headphones in and a friendly voice tells you when to run, when to slow down and walk, and when to run again. So there’s no need to check your timing on your watch.

I completed my couch to 5K just under two years ago. Since then I’ve moved up to 10K and further. I’m now training for the Ealing Half Marathon in September 2014. This will be my first half-marathon and I’ll be running for Team Ealing and raising money for Cancer Research, one of the Ealing Mayor’s charities.

I’ve definitely caught ‘the running bug’ and now run about three or four times a week. I quite enjoy it and it seems to have its benefits; a recent free NHS Health Check confirmed I was fighting fit. If you’re aged between 40 and 75, and have not had a free NHS Health Check in the last five years, you should book yourself one. Check out the NHS Health Check website.