April 16


From Couch to 5k – The Journey of a Beginner Runner

By Conor Graham

April 16, 2016

beginners, beginners running, cardiovascular exercise, Cheltenham, Cheltenham Running, flexibility, half marathon, Injury Prevention, muscle soreness, Progressing your Running, Rehabilitation, Running, running pains, Running Technique, strength, strength for runners, strength training for runners, Tapering

I’m writing this post at week 11 of my first programme with Cheltenham Running Club. I’ve been in the 6kph group following the Couch to 5k programme and last night was my light-bulb moment. For what felt like the first time in my life, I experienced the true joy that running can bring. Everything felt good: my breathing; my legs; even the pouring rain, muddy puddles and lightening couldn’t dampen my spirits.

Our run ended at the Royal Oak pub in Prestbury, after a 5.2 km route around Prestbury and the Racecourse. We ran 20 minutes, walked for 2 minutesPhoto of me and then ran the last 24 minutes, completing the course in 46 minutes. It was the best I’ve ever felt while running. But it hasn’t always been this way…

In the beginning

I’ve never been particularly athletic, I never came first in school sports days and I dabbled in Netball and Hockey but I was never the fastest player on the team. Throughout my teens and into my early twenties, I tried my hand at rock climbing and other adventure sports but nothing seemed to stick apart from swimming. I’ve always swam, but I tend to use it more as a way to relax, it’s never felt like much of a workout and hasn’t really helped to keep me fit.

As I reached my mid-twenties I decided to join a local gym. I tried following the various ‘keep fit’ workouts I found online, I tried some Body Combat and Spin classes, but they just weren’t for me. I always left the gym feeling unfit and unmotivated.

Meeting Conor

It was around this time that I first met Conor. A friend of mine who went to the same gym started doing strength training with him through STS Fitness, she told me about it and I really liked his ethos of not training people just to look good, but about making people stronger. I met with him and we started working together.

He created a fantastic programme for me, I loved that I was using the Olympic bar to deadlift weights and I was doing strength exercises that I never thought possible. Unfortunately, even though I kept up with the programme for a while, life got in the way. My work situation changed, my money situation changed and the gym membership and training had to go.

Running and the Couch to 5kRace for Life July 2013

I’d always envied runners, and longed to be able to ‘just go for a run’ as I saw so many people doing. I found the Couch to 5k programme online and it looked ideal. I starting following the programme myself, but by week 4 or 5, I’d start to feel pains in my legs, my lungs would burn and I stopped being able to run for the amount of time the plan required. Without anyone to turn to for help, I’d quit. I’d try again in a few weeks’ time, but the same problems would just keep happening.

The summer of 2013 was slightly more positive. I started running with a friend who was already an experienced runner. She kept my pace slow and I started to be able to run a bit further. I even managed a couple of the Cheltenham Parkruns and the 5k Race for Life.

You would think that achieving these things would have given me more confidence, but coming in at last place at Parkrun and struggling during Race for Life only confirmed the growing thought in my mind that maybe I just wasn’t meant to run.

Cheltenham Running Club

2016 brought me a new job, and with it the time and money to start thinking about exercise again. I’ll be turning 30 next year (which I’m actually really excited about), but I don’t want to start my 30s unfit and unhealthy. 

At the start of January, I noticed a Facebook event for a beginners running group as part of Conor’s  Cheltenham Running Club. I saw that they would be following the Couch to 5k programme, but that the emphasis would be on pain free running. Pain was always the reason I’d given up in the past, so this appealed to me and I registered for the beginners meet up there and then. 

I was so nervous the first week I went, I had no idea how fit the other people would be and if I’d be the slowest one there. In all honesty, it didn’t matter. We were all in the same boat, we were all beginners, and we were all there to start running. Everyone was really friendly and over the first couple of weeks we found our pace groups.

Going into the 6kph group is what made me realise that all these years that I’ve been trying to run by myself, I’d been going way too fast. I saw the word run, and I ran. No wonder my legs were hurting and I couldn’t keep up the with intervals!

Having Conor planning our routes really took the stress out of getting out there and doing it. We had maps to follow each week, we knew how fast and how long to run for, all we had to focus on was the run. Each group had a GPS watch to keep pace and we stuck to our 6kph walking and running intervals, gradually increasing each time.

Running Club Map

Strength for Runners

The first couple of weeks passed and I was really enjoying it, I was worried though. Knowing that I’d had problems in the past made me worry that it would happen again. Conor recommended that I should join the Strength for Runners group on a Wednesday. Injury prevention is much better than dealing with an injury once you have it, and strength plays a huge part in that.

I’ve learnt that running uses muscles we don’t use in everyday life, especially when you work a desk job like I do. Strengthening these muscles would be necessary if I were to keep running.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you, the strength sessions aren’t easy, but then they’re not meant to be. Conor makes them as fun as possible, we go out to the park rather than being stuck in the gym, we have music and he mixes up the exercises. I’d never want to admit this to Conor but I do really enjoy the sessions, even when they are tough! And if I can do them, you definitely can too!

Strength for Runners in Cheltenham

The end of the first programme

So the first 12 week programme is very nearly up. I remember struggling to run for a even minute that very first week and can hardly believe that last night was my 5k “light-bulb moment” run in the rain – I’ve done it – Couch to 5k!

Joining Cheltenham Running Club has been fantastic, having Conor and the rest of the group there to answer questions and help with those niggling pains we all get while running means you’re not alone. I cannot recommend this running group enough, whether you’re a beginner or experienced runner.

The progress I’ve seen in the last 11 weeks has been amazing, so much so that I’ve decided to do the 10k Cheltenham Challenge in June this year. I’m working with Conor on a more personalised training programme to get me ready for it and I’m feeling really positive. If I can go from couch to 5k to planning a 10k, you can to. And after that who knows…maybe the Cheltenham Half Marathon?!

To be continued…


Conor Graham

About the author

Conor is the Head Coach and Founder of Cheltenham Running and Walking Club.

His experience as a Strength & Conditioning Coach, Triathlete and Personal Trainer ensure members are educated on best practice in regards to training progression while also nurtured through the early stages of fitness development.

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