'Couch to 5K got me off the sofa'

Laura, 27, hadn't done any exercise for 10 years when she came across the Couch to 5K plan.

Here's her story of the nine weeks that took her literally from her living room sofa to running 5km.

If I was to pinpoint one thing that put me off exercise, it was cross country at school. I was never particularly sporty to begin with, but those laps of the school grounds on cold, dark afternoons were enough to leave me avoiding exercise for over 10 years.

After leaving school, I flirted with the gym and absolutely hated it. I didn't really know what I was doing and I felt self-conscious. Within a month, I'd stopped going. At one point, I even bought a bike and cycled to work for a few months, but that fell by the wayside too.

In January 2010, I decided that enough was enough. It was time I conquered my fear and got fit. I knew I didn't want to have to join a gym or pay for exercise classes. I wanted something that I could do on my own, on my own terms, without anyone watching or barking orders. I decided that I'd try running and came across Couch to 5K on the internet.

'Less scary'

When I saw that week one involved running for only a minute at a time, I felt relieved that someone actually understood my limitations, and the inclusion of walking intervals made it feel less scary.

I hadn't owned a pair of trainers since school, so the next step was to go trainer shopping. I spent £30 on a pair of good-quality, dedicated running trainers. Then I cobbled together an outfit, including tracksuit bottoms that had been serving as pyjamas, and a T-shirt, fleece and woolly hat.

The hat was probably the most crucial part of the outfit for me at that stage. I felt embarrassed and wanted to disguise myself a bit. I thought the other runners would see me walking inbetween my runs and think I was cheating or lazy. I realise how stupid that sounds now. I've since learned that runners come in all shapes, sizes, speeds and styles, and no one is really looking at anyone else.

I decided that my running days would be Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Somehow, having designated days made it easier to stick to. I also made the decision to run first thing in the morning, so I couldn't spend the day dreaming up excuses not to go out and run.

I started, and the early weeks went well. I didn't find it easy, but it was much easier than I expected, and that kept me going. I felt a sense of achievement having ticked off each day, and I quickly realised that my body was more than capable of getting me through - it was my mind that was the problem.

'Bumps in the road'

There were a few bumps in the road - a sore knee early on meant I had to take a week off, as well as stitch, which still flares up even now - but otherwise I coped really well. Having the structure of the plan was hugely helpful, and having designated "running days" meant I couldn't make excuses.

There is one point in the plan that is a real test where you go from running for eight minutes at a time to running 20 minutes. But you realise that this is a mental test, not a physical one, and that by the time you have reached this point in the plan, your stamina has been developed sufficiently to carry you through.

I completed the Couch to 5K plan in March and have been running for 30-45 minutes, three times a week, ever since. I now sleep better and I feel more alert and energised, but the biggest change for me has been mental - ironic really, when my mind had been the greatest obstacle to me exercising before.

I feel like I've taken something that I was so afraid of and I've well and truly beaten it, and when I go out and pound the streets, I feel proud and confident. Not only have I conquered a fear, but I've developed a new habit that I know is massively benefiting my health.

Article provided by NHS Choices

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