Couch to Five K: Gertie Grit and Getting Fit.

One fateful day in the vineyards at the end of January, I decided to prove to myself that I was fit. I was on a roll – after 31 days of abstinence, I had successfully put an end to my equivalent of the Pavlovian reflex, which involved salivating and grabbing a large wine glass and a bowl of peanuts as soon as I heard the cork pop on a bottle of rosé. I’d walked 145 km over the month. It would be a piece of cake. I checked that nobody was looking, and set off. The result was pathetic to say the least – 30 seconds later, I was hugging the nearest tree, consumed by burning lungs, nausea and a stitch as Mrs Playmo tutted and smelly dog looked on in bemusement. I was not fit. The image of myself puffing along out of breath behind a possible future grandchild on a trike (think Damien in “the Omen”) made my mind up. I had to get fit. And to do so, I needed grit.

Grit was the stuff that I brushed out of stinging grazes when I fell off my bike as a child, and also the stuff I needed to get back on the saddle and try again and again until I finally got to the end of the garden path without kissing the tarmac. Gertie Grit had disappeared off the radar as HMS MM entered the murky waters of middle age, and was found gagged and bound on a chair in a corner in the dark side of my mind. She had been taken hostage by my inner bitch, who took a swig of rosé, scratched her navel and informed me that I was far too old and set in my ways to change anything now. That was a red rag to a bull.

So  I downloaded the C25K programme from the NHS website – a nine week programme with three half-hour outings a week that gradually take you from short running and walking intervals to running for 30 minutes non-stop. This is done with the help of a cheerful young lady called Laura, who talks you through what initially feels like a 30-minute survival course for trainee GI’s, apparently impervious to the fact that you are inches from keeling over. Yet believe it or not, seven months later MM has gone from gasping for breath to gasping for a run. So for anyone who has downloaded the app and is tempted to give it a whirl, here is MM’s guide to C25K.

Gladys proudly showed the girls the gravity-defying plastic bra she had stolen from the NASA test lab. It would be ideal for running C25K. Picture from (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gladys proudly showed the girls the gravity-defying plastic bra she had stolen from the NASA test lab. It would be ideal for running C25K. .
Picture from (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Get kitted out.

Running requires very little financial investment (that sinks your first excuse). Girls should acquire the appropriate female scaffolding to restrain the lesser spotted boobs, which already have a natural tendency to migrate southwards. Without control, you’ll either knock yourself out on your first run or they’ll stretch so far that you’ll be able to wrap them around your neck to keep your ears warm by Christmas. You’ll also need trainers – and forget the ones you’ve had in the cupboard since that aborted new year’s resolution you made back in 1984. Embrace new footwear technology – your body will thank you for it. As for the rest, a t-shirt and a pair of leggings will do fine.

  1. Be safe.

This does not mean kitting yourself out with a flick knife, or running with a baseball bat stuck under your knicker elastic. In the unlikely event of being attacked, the smell of a runner’s armpits after 4 kilometers is probably sufficient to put any assailant off. What ‘being safe’ means is simply doing what you expect your teenagers to do – tell someone where you are going, what time you are leaving, and when you will be back. You are more likely to go arse over tit into a hedge than you are to get abducted by aliens, but if you do have a problem then someone should know where you are.

MM tried out her skills at smashing an aggressor's teeth with a baseball bat, before establishing that it was too big to fit in the waistband of her shorts. Picture credit: Par Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions ou Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

MM tried out her skills at smashing an aggressor’s teeth with a baseball bat, before establishing that it was too big to fit in the waistband of her shorts. Picture credit: Par Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions ou Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Get an iPod, phone or MP3 player.

An absolute must, if only to follow the programme and avoid hearing yourself gasping for breath on the way around the run (I scared myself when my headphones fell out – it sounded like I was being chased by a rabid black bear). If you follow the C25K programme, the lovely Laura will chat all the way around and tell you when to run, when to walk, and congratulate you on your achievements. If you are anything like me, you will give up on her when you get bored with the dismal music (I’m sure that Laura didn’t choose it) and are fed up with her not inviting you around for a cuppa and a Hobnob after your run. There are plenty of alternative apps available that let you run the programme using your own music playlist, so go for it – Laura has so many fans that she won’t notice you’ve shelved her. Just one word of warning: for safety, make sure that the volume is low enough to hear cars coming up behind you. Not to mention other runners if you stop for a wee behind a hedge.

  1. Get support and be accountable to somebody.

If, like me, your family reacted to your announcement that you were taking up sport by falling off their chairs laughing, fear not. Sign up to the C25K community on Health Unlocked, a forum full of real people just like you who get beetroot red faces, sweat buckets, fall victim to self-doubt and know how to deal with the gremlins telling you that today’s run can wait until tomorrow. They will give you answers to the things you need to know and don’t dare to ask, like whether you should run in granny pants or G-strings or even go commando under your lycra. They will boot you out of that door with a grin on your face when you were determined you were never going to run again. If you could harness all the positivity generated by this forum, the planet would have a whole new source of energy. So sign up, and get to know people who are all on a quest for better health.


This is definitely right. But we all look the same, and nobody else really notices. You’re just another nutter wearing trainers. No idea who the pic belongs to but it’s all over cyber space.

  1. Believe.

Believe in yourself. Running is as much about mindset as it is about physical fitness. Cheer yourself on, and do so shamelessly. Don’t compare your achievements to anyone else’s, only to your own expectations. There will be bad runs. But however long it takes you to run that mile, it is still a mile. And however little or however slow you run, you are still running laps around the previous you, who is still sat glumly on the couch holding a glass of wine in one hand and pinching a roll of belly flab with the other.

  1. Forget self-consciousness, and embrace your bloody-mindedness.

Other people will see you, but don’t imagine that they are judging you – to passers-by, you’re just another nutter wearing trainers, and most offer a smile and a supporting comment and not the jeer or insult you were expecting. And the others? Who cares. You don’t know them, and you’ll probably never see them again.

If running isn’t sweaty and messy, you’re not doing it right. You will be bright red. You will scream insults at your iPod because you suspect that Laura has deliberately added thirty seconds to that minute she asked you to run. You will want to give up, but Gertie Grit won’t let you, because if you do, you’ll feel like a failure. Within very little time, you are going to yell at yourself, immune to the stares of OAP’s walking their dogs as you tell yourself you’re an effing wimp and you’re going to bloody well make it to that tree, end of story. And when you finish each run and tick another box, you are going to find yourself whooping, screeching, punching the air and dancing. And you won’t care who is watching. Because you’ve found your grit again. And that’s worth its weight in gold.

58 thoughts on “Couch to Five K: Gertie Grit and Getting Fit.

  1. Wow! Quite an achievement that you’re now feeling confident enough to outline the basics to others along with a good dose of support! Most impressive and very, very glad for you!

    • Thank you 🙂 I’m sure that there are runners out there who can give good technical advice- I’m still on a steep learning curve – the vocal can be surprising. I always thought that “PB” was Paddington Bear’s initials, but in a runner’s vocabulary it’s a Personal Best.

  2. Evening! I do believe the only thing you forgot to mention is that very quickly your washing line resembles a sale in a sports shop & you quickly become very used to baring never before seen parts of ones body in public without thought (steady. I meant legs. What were you thinking??) & as for the wearing of skin tight lycra…………

    • Hey up, Noaky! Welcome to the fray. There are midget gems in the corner and there’s wine in the fridge -help yourself 😀 You are right about the clothing – I actually hesitate more about what I’m going to wear running than when I get dressed for the day:) I had a dilemma today because the washing machine was nearly full, and I still had to put P.F’s work shirts and my running gear in there. The running gear won.

      • Make it fruit gums & I’ll be there in a shot!!
        Of course the running gear won. Everytime!!! ☺
        Now where’s that vino?

      • Ok, fruit gums. But I get the black ones. The wine’s in the fridge – serve up a glass for PN too, I hope he’ll be along later. Wine is a staple part of his new diet.

      • Yes! Come along for a run with us. you can run behind me, I’ll have the wine and midget gems in my backpack, and Naoky can prod you with a sharp stick if you slow down.

      • I like the idea of using midget gems and wine for the carrot and stick approach, but I think Naoky and the sharp stick will be more effective

    • Hi, Andra! Hope you’re well. I think of you and your gutsy determination on the Natchez Trail often when I run. Igor the ipod often comes up trust with “Rednecks, white socks and lue ribbon beer” as I charge around the French countryside. Magic. Yesterday a blister popped under my toe – and hey presto, another Andra thought popped into my mind. Hugs xx

    • Helen! How are you? Love the idea of a snood. I’ll be able to do a Withering Heights, lady-in-the-mist-style run when Autumn sets in. Ah, the ipod – many people “run naked”, a term that got me worried at first that means running without music. I just can’t do it – the sound of my breathing drowns out the bird song. I use an ancient iPod, baptized Igor, that appears to have been designed to last (not sure it was done deliberately in this day and age). Most teenagers run salivating to Apple store to renew their material every time the technology industry rings the bell, so there’s plenty on the second-hand market waiting to be adopted. 😀

    • I’m proud of myself – the last time I did any sport was 28 years ago. My kids are finding it difficult to find things to complain about now – all they have left is my eccentricity. That won’t be leaving the building.

      • I was a keen runner before I went to Italy but was plagued with knee and ankle injuries so I go at a more leisurely pace now. ps I forgot to say that it’s lovely to have you back 🙂

      • Oh, dear. How far/often did you run? (MM looks suspiciously at her trainers). When I say I run, we’re not talking Usain Bolt, here. I manage 5 k in under 29 minutes this morning according to Kermit the Garmin, which is respectable but won’t get me running for Britain any time yet 🙂
        I’m glad to be back too. My brain is bubbling over with post ideas. Happy days 😀

  3. I’m impressed !

    don’t think I’ll follow your example, though – sounds too much like hard work

    I get all the exercise I need, carrying those cases of wine from the car into the house 😆

    • Duncan! How are you? Glad to see you’re keeping up the exercise carrying the wine boxes -I presume they’re not all for you, huh. I haven’t carried any wine (inside or out) for eight months now. PF thinks I belong to some kind of weird sect.

  4. Wish I looked as GOOD as that Bassett when I’m running …. that said, my inner bluddy mind has conquered the evils of self consciousness and I have got back on that old running trail with a passion over the past month. To call it running is a stretch – a more accurate word is ‘struggling’ round my circuit but I get better every day and am now psyching myself to join the skinny runner bean I married to make myself look really foolish 😀

    • 😀 Bassets are cute. I hope you don’t trail your ears along the ground though, could be muddy business.
      GO YOU! The first person in the comments who runs too! Woot woot! Of course you run. We all run differently. I stomp quickly, with lots of swearing at myself. I overcame self consciousness when I realised that I look too scary for people to laugh at me – I equated the vision recently to King Kong on cocaine.

  5. Nice one MM! Can’t stand jogging myself, but I do enjoy other forms of exercise. I’ve even been for late afternoon swims in the sea this summer with F who made the good point of using local resources while we can. 🙂

    • I remember you saying that you don’t enjoy running. I never did either (spot the new addict – would you like me to ring your doorbell and give you a copy of ‘runners weekly’? 🙂 ).
      Late afternoon swims are the best, if I have to choose (I’m not a big water fan. Maybe because PF always dunks my head under water and tries to untie my bikini).

  6. Congratulations on the running and on the no-wine. I doubt there’s any chance of my taking up running at my age, but I do try to walk briskly and I’ve recently discovered that my taste for alcohol is gradually disappearing for no particular reason. 🙂

    • If you have a look at that forum, you may just change your mind about that, Miss P – plenty of retired people run on a regular basis there. (I’m even meeting up with one of them in couple of weeks as she’ll be in the region. Internet is a fantastic tool.)
      Power walking is definitely good for you – it’s what I did with Mrs Playmo in January (I did all the hard work) and we covered a good distance. Walking quickly is as good for you as running, you just don’t run (ha ha) the risk of twisting your ankle.
      I never thought I’d end up losing interest in alcohol, but it appears to have happened. I’m hoping that my next visit to my GP will come up trumps with improved bloodwork results. 🙂

    • I just found your message – it didn’t show up in my notifications! 😀 I have experience of those kinds of runs too – never again will I eat fruit off wild trees whilst camping in France. Running across campsites to the loo during storms in the Cévennes is an unforgettable experience.

  7. MM, I’m so incredibly impressed. It seems that we have managed to keep the universe balanced because while you’ve been running and getting fit … I haven’t.
    Now I’m so inspired to strap on a pair of running shoes (note to self … will need to buy a new pair first) and get back out there!

      • I had taken a hiatus from running since last November and with the smell of autumn in the air already, I’m getting the urge to start running again. Your post was one more nudge!

  8. I need to find my grit again! I bought what I need to functionally do it… now I just need to do it. I’m getting chunky, but mostly I’m worried because I’m getting… slow. Rarasaurs need to zoom! 🙂

    Loved the post.
    (Missed you.)

    • Rara ❤ I missed you too, and I'm so glad to see you back 😀 You are one if the many people with grit I admire – Yours is omnipresent, girl. Dino girls are leaders of the grit pack. 😀 Just put those trainers on your feet and step out of the door – strangely enough, the first step is the hardest one to make, but once you've done it, you'll be flying. Oh, wow, a flying dinosaur. That's cool!

  9. I LOVE this post!
    But does Laure have a geriatric sister for people whose joints have chosen early retirement, whose intestine is frozen in indecision and whose sweat glands have risen to the occasion by working overtime to make up for all the body’s other shortcomings?

  10. However did this post get by me? Oh, that’s right, I was incommunicado on a three-week cruise of the Baltics getting sloshed and stuffing my face while you were setting a good example for your readers! LOL!
    Seriously awesome, awesome, awesome! You go!!!! And I’m right with you on the middle age fitness drive. My piriformis won’t let me run anymore, but pilates, swimming, walking and healthy eating are keeping me motivated these days. Unfortunately the glass of rosé still calls out to me on the first night of every weekend! Keep on inspiring me!

    • What are piriformis ? Must ask Mr Google. I’m trying to be careful and not go overboard, but I ran 10k on Tuesday and really enjoyed it, so I’m going to have to be careful with my old creaky joints 🙂
      Sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate with all that sport – good on you! If it’s just one glass of rosé, then enjoy it girl.Big hugs to you xxx

  11. I love the picture of the dog running, that would be me too. I am concerned with running 145 km in a month, first I think it would kill me and second We live in the hills and it is either up hill or down hill, besides who looks after PF and Smelly Dog while you are off jogging across France for a month?

  12. Somewhere along the way I stopped running because I felt like I had to and started running in order to keep my sanity! I think it was somewhere between the 3rd and 4th international move.

    Well done!

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