Couch to Ouch, a noob runner’s cautionary tale

Wow, can it really be 6 months since I took the plunge? “Beginner runner” seems ages ago, a journey from non-runner to noob smart arse to injured runner. So far the adventure has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. In this blog I will go through the lessons I’ve learned, the beginner running tips I’ve picked up and hopefully show that, yes, any unfit old bugger can give it a go.

It seems like only yesterday my weekends were spent in quiet contemplation (i.e. doing as close to bugger all as I could manage). Not so now, oh no, now they’re almost all spent jumping in Mabel and heading off somewhere to run silly distances.

I blame Bex.

Be a runner she said,

It’s “fun” she said.

You always remember your first time.

Yeah, I remember it because it was almost my last. Couple of drinks, jeans and Converse shoes, what could possibly go wrong.

Well, everything actually. I live in Scotland’s Highest Village (Don’t believe the advertising, it’s actually Leadhills) and the clue is in the name… Hills. I set off from home and up the nearest road. Not a main road, obviously. I didn’t want anyone I know to see me.

And, well, it went about as well as you would expect. I did an impressive 1.2Km, with the average pace being 7:15 per Km. That doesn’t tell the whole story though… I don’t think I managed more than about 100m at a time.

And I was knackered by half way.

And thought I was going to cough up a lung.

Yep, suffice to say the first attempt was not particularly promising but hey, everyone has to start somewhere. I told Bex that I’d given it a go, but skipped the part where I gave up.. repeatedly.

If I’m going to give this a go, I’m going to have to do it properly.

Spend money, that’s the answer.

That meant a trip to the Nike outlet store. A pair of Zoom Pegasus 32 road shoes were carefully selected based on three important factors.

  1. Coolness : They had a cool reflective effect when you shone light on them.
  2. Suitability : They had “running” written inside them.
  3. Practicality : They were the only ones they had in my size.

That was followed by a trip to Sports Direct for a t-shirt and some long running trousers. No one needs to see my scrawny legs.

Suitably attired a second trial run was attempted at work in Manchester. Still not entirely sure I wanted anyone to see me out running this one took place at 11pm, but given the various lectures I’d received about “pace”, and not setting off too fast, and not wearing jeans to run “you idiot” I dressed up like a budget Allan Wells and hit the streets of Cheadle Hulme. This went a bit better than the first attempt. OK, it was only 2.1Km but at a more respectable 6:10 per KM with only a couple of walk stops.

McDonald’s Couch to 10K

OK, then it got silly.

I’d looked into the Couch to 5K app but as I was clearly a natural (!) I decided that was for old, unfit people (yep, now I get the irony). My next run, the following night, was up t0 4K and I’m sure that pain in my left shin was nothing. Neither was the one in my left ankle. Or the one in my right knee.

Nothing to worry about at all !!

So, the following Saturday, a week after my first run, I set out in Edinburgh to do 5K.

At this point it was important NOT to overdo it. Under any circumstances. DEFINITELY take it easy.

Oh, and aren’t Ibuprofen great.

Anyway, the 5K went a wee bit wrong, and just over an hour later I got back to a worried Bex, who claims she thought I’s got lost. In actual fact I think she maybe thought I’d died somewhere along the way.

So my first 5k became my first 10k, and I’d managed it in just over an hour which was much better than I expected. This running lark was easy, nothing could stop me now.

Well, almost nothing.

Well, apart from my Tibialus Anterior. (Yep, I had to look it up too).

10K done, let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Ouch, Ouch, Ouch.

What tomorrow brought was an inability to walk, a fear of stairs and the beginning of a two month love affair with Ibuprofen. Under the impression that this was normal I kept going, hell stairs are only a problem if you tried to go up them forwards.

I wasn’t the first to overdo things, and I doubt I’ll be the last.

Ibuprofen is a wonderful thing though, and I was making sure I never ran out. Sore legs are normal for runners, remember. A couple of weeks (and a few more practice runs( later I headed to my first park run, on Cramond prom in Edinburgh. This was my first timed event and I really wanted to not be last. Getting less than 30 mins would be awesome, just not last.

As it was I wasn’t last, and I came in in a very respectable (for someone who’d been running for 3 weeks) 28 and a half minutes…

But when I couldn’t walk back up the hill without wincing I was beginning to suspect that maybe THIS much leg pain wasn’t normal after all.

Kiloma-what ??

I plugged on regardless, wondering if the sore legs were caused by the trainers, or the socks, or, well, anything apart from everyone else being right about not overdoing it. I thought I could power through, run it off. I’d need to, because in a moment of what can only be described as insanity I’d signed up for the Kilomathon.. 13.1Km.. More than I’d ever run before.


So, exactly 8 weeks after my first run I lined up at Ocean Terminal for a proper race. Up until the morning of the event I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. This feeling wasn’t helped by a visit to Run4It the day before where I heard the word Overpronation for the first time. AHH, the holy grail, a reason for the leg-stuff that didn’t involve me being a stubborn old twat.

No, I overpronate, that’s the reason !!!

So, double Ibuprofen and I was set for the Kilomathon. As Bex shoved me into the starting pen with a cheery “shut up and just do it” I was frankly sh*tting myself. I am definitely too old for this shit. You can read the review here, but suffice to say it wasn’t the most edifying experience of my life. OK, I finished it and was quicker than I could have hoped for but, well, ouch.

New shoes, new shoes were what I needed. Stability Shoes. They’d solve my problems.

They’d have to, I’d bloody signed up for the 10K and Trail Race at RunBalmoral.

RunBalmoral, and how finishing for Matt almost finished me.

I ran a couple of times a week in the run up to RunBalmoral. My esteemed GinRunning colleague was off in London for the Marathon (supporting, not running) so a trip to the queen’s hoose would fill the weekend.

And boost Ibuprofen sales. The Tesco Lysene ones were in favour by this point.

Are you SURE this is normal? REALLY sure??

RunBalmoral was a lot of fun, I did better than expected in both my races so from that point of view I was happy enough but the general pain situation was getting slowly worse. It came to a head a few days later when Bex and I headed down to the seaside to “finish for Matt”, and I almost couldn’t. OK, I’ve whined a lot about the sore legs thing, but this was different, there’s nothing normal about tears of pain as you hobble along the prom.

Not a great look.

Back to the start.

The 29th of April was almost the end of my running career, so if you’ve ever thought of giving up I feel your pain. I still tried to run but was getting more and more frustrated until I decided to say F**k it and give it up for a couple of weeks. It took me a week and a bit to be able to walk more or less normally but by the end of my self-imposed running hiatus my legs were feeling fine for the first time in almost 3 months.

So, after being WAAAAY too fast for the Couch to 5k rubbish, I went back and started all over again, this time trying to take it easy. The most important thing I’d learnt is “just run it off” is bollocks. If something is hurting, it’s hurting for a reason. All “running it off” achieves is to make things worse. All Ibuprofen achieves is to mask the fact you’re making things worse.

There ya go, public service announcement. Learn from my mistakes !!

So that was my first three months as a runner (a title I’m still reluctant to give myself). I’d gone under 30 mins for 5k, under an hour (just) for 10K and managed the 13.1K of the Kilomathon in 1:16. Almost all the problems I’d encountered had been entirely self inflicted but things were back on track now.

And they’d have to be, the GinRunners were going Half Marathon-ing. Lots of Half Marathon-ing.