Kudos to the Couch To 5k Brigade!

Struggling for fitness, I’m appreciating – not patronising – newbie runners

New runners givin’ it bifters. Picture: anthonynolan.org

AS A NON-CLUB RUNNER who trains mainly alone, I’ve never felt we runners were that friendly towards one other.

Maybe it’s just a London thing, and people are different elsewhere…

But city pavement-bashers find it hard to break the habit of always blanking strangers and treating them with suspicion – even when we’re dressed in the same running gear, and united in suffering.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s the suffering that does it? Perhaps we’re not being bad mannered intentionally, it’s just that we’re all in our own little worlds of pain, which even other runners don’t really come into.

A while ago, I read an article that compared runners to a kind of secular priesthood – think the shared sense of vocation and dedication; the urge towards purity and transcendence, even the uniform.

But the piece struck one bum note when it described how runners supposedly greet each other as they pass, by raising an arm like a priest in benediction, and I thought: “I’ve never seen that happen.”

If I think about other runners, I mainly feel competitive or irritated with them”

Insofar as I do think about other runners when I’m running, it’s mainly to feel competitive, or irritated, with them.

Spotting another jogger on the street ahead of me often makes me pick up my pace and try to close the gap: “See if you can overtake him by the traffic lights,” I think.

Alternatively, if we’re going around and around the same park circuit in opposite directions, I mentally create a new section of Hell for the ‘fellow’ runner who grimly holds their line and repeatedly makes me hop aside, instead of taking turns to give way.

But amidst all this disdain, struggle and pique, I can still feel affectionate towards some jogging types, most of whom tend to fall into one of three groups.

First of all, I like to see kids running with their parents. It makes me smile to see a Dad (and it usually is a Dad, in my experience) who’s succeeded in passing their active lifestyle on to their children; partly because it’s so wholesome-looking, and also because it’s something I’ve largely failed to do so far with my own kids.

I want to raise my fist in a Mandela salute and shout ‘RESPECT!'”

The second group, and probably my favourite other runners, are the Pushchair Parents – those invariably Butcher’s Dog-Fit Mums (and sometimes Dads) who manage to run while wheeling a baby in front of them.

I think they’re awesome, because – having often failed to hold it together when looking after my kids as toddlers, and having just about held it together on many occasions while running – the thought of being able to run and be responsible for a small child at the same time completely blows my mind.

Every time I run past one of these superheroes, I want to raise my fist in a Mandela salute and shout “RESPECT!” And sometimes, even though we’re both still squarely in London, I just can’t stop myself…

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking more and more about a third category – the obviously unfit new runner, who’s carrying a bit of timber and suffering and sweating greatly because of it, but is still givin’ it bifters.*

When I was running 10ks and half marathons , my hard city heart went out to these Couch To 5k peeps, because I could see how hard they were working, and wanted to encourage them somehow, even as I left them in the dust.

These days, I’m not in a position to patronise anybody”

But though the words were often on the tip of my tongue, I never did shout “Great work!”, “Nice running!”, or “Keep going!” as I went by – probably because I didn’t want to seem patronising.

These days, however, I’m not in a position to patronise anybody, which somehow makes me appreciate the Couch To 5k guys even more.

When I started running properly in my early 40s, I was still playing football, and so never had an idea of what doing a 5k was like when you’re not fit.

But because I’m older now – with stiff hips and sore knees, and drinking too much and putting on weight – I’ve really lost confidence as a runner, which I think gives me a better sense of what it’s like as a Couch To 5k beginner.

Today – for all the reasons in the above paragraph – I went out for the first time in a fortnight and barely made it past three miles, gasping for breath and feeling every ounce of the weight I’ve put on over the pandemic.  

And so kudos, I say, to the Couch To 5k brigade. And I don’t say that patronisingly, but as one of you…

* A Scouse (Liverpudlian) phrase I’ve just learned and want to share with you, which apparently means: “Trying one’s best”.

3 thoughts on “Kudos to the Couch To 5k Brigade!

  1. Maybe it’s because I live in the South in the United States (which is well known to be full of friendly people) but I’ve always felt like runners are some of the most friendly and supportive people in my community. We always throw a hand up to say hello or at the very least smile, often throwing in a verbal hello as well.

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  2. Must admit that, as one of those ‘Couch to 5k’ runners a year ago – the waves and smiles from proper ‘runners’ really did keep me going. As I never approach the speed that would allow me to overtake anybody, competitiveness has never been a problem for me when running. I also played football into my mid-fifties, but honestly, running was never much of a feature of my game…

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    1. I was a rather statuesque centre half myself and am morphing into a semi-statue as a runner! I’m sure I’d get a lot of support if I joined a club but I really value the alone time that running gives me – the mental and physical space do a lot for me, like getting rid of all the nasty, niggly thoughts I confessed to having in the post itself! Thanks for your support and wisdom, mate! It’s very much appreciated!

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