Feeling inspired by the London marathon? We caught up with Laura Hamzic, who created the original NHS Couch to 5k podcast series, to talk about motivation and self belief; the two key ingredients you need to start running!
School sport? I hated it. It wasn’t just a boring afternoon in my timetable, I felt anxious and sick about it from the night before. It came loaded with judgement, shame and a fear of failure and I hated it so much that in the sixth form, I vowed never to exercise again. And I’m not alone: Sport England research has shown that millions of women and girls are afraid to exercise because of fear of judgement and their research spawned the brilliant This Girl Can movement.
The turning point came in my mid-twenties when my boyfriend persuaded me to join him on a hike on holiday. I was dreading it. He’d run the London Marathon and climbed Kilimanjaro a year before so I felt sure I’d be too unfit to keep up. To my complete surprise, not only did I keep up but I left him for dust! I also saw some incredible sights that I wouldn’t have without getting out there and breaking a sweat. All this time I’d misjudged what I was capable of and used it as an excuse to avoid physical activity. And what’s more, it seemed I’d been missing out on new experiences.
This was the incentive I needed to up my activity levels. I decided to give running a go as it felt low maintenance, I didn’t need to sign up to a gym or commit to classes, I could just do it when it suited me. I found a 9 week plan called Couch to 5k which had been developed by a guy who wanted to get his mum off the couch and into running. Week 1 required just a minute of running at a time and I felt sure that even I could manage that.
9 weeks later, I finished the plan and was elated. I could not believe that my body was capable of running for 30 minutes. But what those 9 weeks really taught me is the vital role my mind played in all this; it hadn’t been my physical fitness that’d held me back, it was a lack of belief in myself. 9 weeks had left me stronger not just physically but mentally too. If I could conquer this, what else could I do?
Emboldened by my achievement, I decided to pitch the idea of a Couch to 5k podcast series, to my boss. I worked at NHS.uk at the time and felt it could be a great way to make running accessible and to get ordinary people like me off the couch and getting healthier. Nearly 10 years and millions of downloads later, the podcasts are still riding high in iTunes. A spin-off app has also been launched by Public Health England and the BBC. There are even communities dedicated to the series, including Healthunlocked which has over 40k members. And much like the original creator of the plan, I’m proud to say that the NHS podcast series also got my mum and dad into running too.
Sometimes, all we need is a little nudge off the metaphorical (or literal) couch - and great things can follow. If you’re lacking some inspiration to take on a new challenge, you don’t have to commit to something as major as running a marathon, you could start small and make 5k your goal.
So if you’re feeling inspired, here are my top tips:
1. Download the app
Like having a personal trainer in your ear, the app takes all the hassle out of training. Your choice of 5 trainers will tell you when to run and when to walk and give you some gentle encouragement along the way.
2. Get the right kit
Invest in a good pair of trainers to avoid injuries. For me, another key piece of kit is a pair of leggings with a pocket. I love the ESC Limitless Legging. Not only do they make me feel amazing but I can safely tuck my phone into the waistband pocket.
3. Book a time
A behaviour change expert once told me that if you really want to boost your willpower, you need to plan exactly when you’ll do something. For example, think about what’s realistic and book a time with yourself eg ‘Thursday at 7am’.
4. Think about where
If you have access to a gym, and don’t mind the treadmill then you’re all set. Personally I love running outside. I clock-watch on a treadmill but outside my mind can really wander. And don’t let weather be an excuse. You have to shower anyway so embrace the rain!
5. Buddy up
Whether it’s your best mate or a virtual community, it can be so helpful to train with people who you can share the ups and downs with. You’re also less likely to flake if you’ve told someone you’re going for a run or have a goal in mind.
Thank you for reading, I hope this helps inspire you to start running!
Follow me on Instagram @couch_to_5k_laura
Download the NHS Couch to 5k podcasts here
Join the Couch to 5k community here