Fitness is a really strange concept.
I mean, leaving aside its applicability to the soap stars and the professional footballers of the mid-to-late 1990s, it’s a word you only see used in two completely opposing contexts. We talk about the fitness levels of pro athletes, of course, but beyond that it’s only even used in a self-deprecating way by people like me. “OMG, I’m soooooooo unfit,” we laugh, clutching our sides after running for the bus and then reaching for another biscuit.
I hadn’t given much thought to my fitness levels before committing myself to this running project. Like, I know I’m overweight, and I knew that I was “unfit” in some sort of medical way, but I hadn’t given any thought to what that meant in practice. I can’t drive, and so I walk reasonable distances most days and at a fairly speedy pace. I’m usually a bit sweaty by the time I get home so although I figured that the Couch to 5k programme would be hard work I didn’t think it would be insurmountable.
If you haven’t heard of Couch to 5k: it’s basically a form of interval training, which is designed to take you from couch bud to being able to run five kilometres – or for 30 minutes – in a matter of weeks. I know there are a multitude of options out there, but I’m using the free NHS England app. It’s voiced by a very nice-sounding, non-judgemental lady; and her prompts fade in and out over whatever music or podcast I’ve chosen to listen to. In your first week, you start out with a five minute brisk walk before alternating 60 seconds running and 90 seconds walking for a total of 20 minutes, then you walk off the rest. Yes, if you’re starting from zero it does sound incredibly intense but at the same time it doesn’t sound impossible. What’s 60 seconds? It’s a verse and a chorus; it’s a setting on the microwave.
It’s a long, living hell.
The very nice-sounding, non-judgemental lady on the app acts as if she has your back. She reminds you to take it slow and steady, so that you won’t get tired and feel defeated – to aim for a light jog. I can’t imagine myself jogging any more lightly – I’m already going slower than my walking pace – but whatever biochemical wizardry marks the difference between a walking gait and a jog I can’t handle it. For the first week, I cannot complete a single one of those 60 second runs. I don’t stop moving – I’ve got that in my favour – but it’s a dispiriting and depressing experience.
And a pretty scary one, too. In typical Lis-style, I start to overthink: what would happen if I was attacked? If I can’t run for even as little as 60 seconds then I am left with no option but to dislocate a testicle just like Neil-bear taught me, and what if he’s wearing really tight jeans? The friends I share this with tell me not to be ridiculous, that the adrenalin – that primitive fight-or-flight response – will kick in, but I’m not so sure. Sixty. Seconds. It’s not long, and if adrenaline was that effective a substance surely they’d be dealing it somewhere?
The Clubhouse – the virtual running club that forms part of The Fat Girls’ Guide to Running – is an incredible place, one where women share their hopes, fears and experiences even more often than they share their PBs. Even there though, everybody seems more advanced than me – and yet, when the breakthrough does come, they’re the first people I want to tell. I manage that first 60 second run, and then my second; albeit at opposite ends of the podcast and with a 15-minute brisk walk “rest” period in between during which I struggle to take a deep breath, but at least I keep walking. When my 30 minutes is up I lean against the lamp post nearest my house and take a picture of my face – sweaty, disheveled, as pink as the sunset has painted the bottom of the clouds. I share the picture with a note about my achievement, and a self-deprecating nod to the fact that it was one of the big 5ks the previous weekend. I don’t make it back to the house before the “likes” and the supportive comments start flooding in.
The nice-sounding, non-judgemental podcast lady tells me each time that I should help my body to recover with some water and a snack, like a banana. I don’t particularly like bananas, but I’m so desperate for the approval of this inanimate voice that I’ve taken to buying them on the way home on nights I know I’ll be out. I may not be able to run 60 seconds, but I can have a banana.
It’s the best banana I have ever had.
Psst: you can get 10% off snazzy kit, training sessions and indeed anything that isn’t a Clubhouse membership in the Fat Girls’ Guide to Running shop using the discount code BLOG15.