Saturday, 6 March 2021

Couch to 5k: A diary of how it uplifted one VavaViolet's writer's mental health and self-belief

"You’re going for a run?", laughed my super sporty little brother as I told my Mum on Facetime that I was starting the couch to 5k program by the NHS, "Good luck with that one!"

As many of you know from my last article (You say 'from Duff to Buff', we say sometimes losing 8 stone is not what it seems: Chronic Illness Awareness), any interest in health and fitness before Ulcerative Colitis was NOT my thing. 

The closest I would get to "going for a run" would be watching the marathon on the TV with a bag of crisps.

However, after getting into a bad downward spiral with my mental health I was willing to try anything to make myself feel a little bit better. 

Reading lots about how to boost my mental health, one thing that kept popping up was exercise. Great, I thought, how on Earth is getting out of breath and making a fool out of myself all whilst not overdoing it going to help me at all?

The fitness one in the family is my Dad, he walks at least 10 miles a day with his dog Lola and lost over 10 stone a few years back, so I often spoke to him about my changing body due to the illness and how to come to terms with the changes. 

He said that it is a complete lifestyle change and usually it is something you do for yourself, through a balanced and healthy diet intertwined with fitness. 

Of course, in my case, the element of control of how and when I lost weight had been completely taken away. Due to the illness, I felt like I needed to do something positive to get the control back. 

I began speaking to him about how he made the transition from someone who did not work out to completing his first half marathon in 2017. He explained that it had all started with the couch to 5k program a few years earlier and then he built it up and up from there. 

So I bit the bullet why not just give it a go what’s the worst that could happen, I’d get completely out of breath and resemble a sweaty tomato but I would have done it.

The aim of "Couch to 5K" is to get you gradually up to running 5km in nine weeks. It is a running plan that is easy to follow and can be found on the NHS website or you can download the app for free. 

The plan is for anyone, reassuring as I was an absolute beginner, it takes around 30 mins of your time three times a week with a day’s rest in between each run, great if like me you have a busy schedule. 

For me, the biggest challenge like most people is that I had absolutely no idea where to start when it came to running and I did not want to feel defeated before I had even started as this would have just added to my already fragile mental health - something MANY of us experience when starting fitness!

I downloaded the app and chose my coach, there were a few to choose from but I chose Sarah Millican, the Geordie comedian who is no stranger to a cake or two and is happy to admit it in many of her comedy sketches. 

She felt the most relatable to me, I did not need some fit bod shouting at me to push harder I would have just given up, but somehow her motivation and talking me through it on the podcast made me feel so much better about myself. 

With Couch to 5k, it seems to be working for me as it starts with a mixture of walking (something which I am quite good at) and running to gradually build up your stamina. 

There are so many benefits from running for not only your physical health but also your mental health. 

Running improves the health of your heart and lungs and cardio exercise can help you to lose weight if it is combined with a healthy balanced diet. 

This is all great, but I was doing this for my mental health, I have found that it has boosted my self-belief, as you prove to yourself that you can set yourself a target and achieve a goal. 

It is also proven that running regularly can help to relieve stress as well as help to combat depression. The other great thing is that it does not require a lot of equipment and it is something you can do by yourself pretty much anywhere, all you need is a good pair of trainers (these don’t have to be expensive, mine were a tenner!) and if you want, then some headphones and a phone for listening to the app or some music.

Writing this article, I have just completed week 1 and I can honestly say I am so proud of myself! 

Below is my diary of how I got on and I will keep you all updated in a few weeks with how I am progressing. I have also dragged my boyfriend along for the journey, so I will chuck some of how he is feeling in too.

Week 1 consists of the below 3 times:

- 5 min warm-up walk 

- After this, you alternate 60 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking or a total of 20 minutes 

- 5 min cooldown walk

Weather: It was freezing cold… all I could think was, "do we really have to do this, oh god it is snowing!"

Who I ran with: My boyfriend Stephen

Where we ran: The local park and woods to hide from people getting their daily exercise

How was my mental health was feeling at the start of the week: Positively shit, a solid 2/10! Feeling completely unfocused and out of control as was waiting for new medication

How was my IBD: 4/10 – a fair amount of pain but awaiting new medication which will help

How did we feel about this before starting: We thought "Meh, we are not going to be able to do this". Also, why did we think this was a good idea in the snow!?

How Jess felt after this week: Proud, I did it, I can barely breath and I look like a sweaty mess but girl you did it!

Stephen felt: Great, actually quite proud of me to be honest.

The funniest thought I had while running this week: "If this sports bra breaks again, I am going to have the worst black eye… how am I going to explain that to my nurses when I go to the hospital".

Stephen's was: I need to google how many calories does sex burn because surely it’s the same as this, more fun for both of us and fucking warmer!

How was my mental health feeling at the end of the week: 5/10. I was starting to feel a bit better – Couch to 5k was giving me something to focus on that I could control, and I was determined to make a success out of it and push myself, plus I had my new medication which is controlling my IBD.

The overall experience of week one: 6/10 due to the weather mostly, it was freezing! We completed run 2 and 3 in snow, which made it hard underfoot and I was so scared of slipping over. 

Just a quick health and safety announcement - Traffic and headphones do not mix – it’s all well and good screaming Gloria Gaynor I will survive to get you through the run but take care near traffic. 


- Read the instructions. No one likes their GP (well I don’t) but if you are in any doubt consult your GP before starting

 - Be aware of your surroundings especially when running alone. Make sure you are visible by wearing some reflective clothing/ flashing lights, also if feeling nervous make someone aware of where you have gone.

- Lastly small children, prams, grannies walking at 2mph and wildlife – don’t make great hurdles just be courteous of your surroundings and try not to trip.

Written by VavaViolet's writer, Jessica Murray



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