Couch Potato to 10k - by Tillie Mabbutt - PANDAS Foundation UK


A Beginners Guide to Running

Unless I was being chased I didn’t run.  That is until I decided to give the NHS Couch to 5k running app a go.  It’s a programme that teaches complete beginners to run gradually, with the aim being  that in 9 short weeks you can run for 30 minutes (approximately 5k). Each week has different timings of runs and walks, you complete these every other day for 3 days before moving on to the next level.   I enjoyed it so much by week 7 I had signed up to a 10k race, here’s my diary on how it went.


Week 1

Brisk 5 minute warm up walk then run for 60 seconds and then walk for 90 seconds, for a total of 20 minutes

OK, so I’ve got my trainers, some stretchy ‘sports’ leggings (ones I use for painting!) and a loose t-shirt, my phone and I’ve downloaded the Couch to 5k app: I’m raring to go! I turn the app on and Jo Whiley tells me that I’m going to walk for 5 minutes; brilliant, I can definitely do this.  After that nice trundle she says that I have to run my first 60 seconds and its not too bad, I’m enjoying being outside and decide I definitely look like Paula Radcliffe.  I walk for the allotted 90 seconds before running again, this goes on a few times and each time it’s a mix slightly harder and wishing I was at home eating Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food.  By the end I feel really good and I love how gentle it is, I was really capable of doing it if I use the app and take it easy.

Week 2

Brisk 5-minute warm-up walk then alternating 90 seconds of running, with 2 minutes of walking, for a total of 20 minutes.

After my previous three runs I was itching to go a little bit further so I felt surprisingly comfortable with this week.  I really enjoyed the time outside and time to reflect on my day, week, life.  I liked exercising before this (when I had the motivation) because I knew how good it is for my mental health, but since losing a stone last summer and winter coming around I had lost my fitness mojo, so now the days were longer and I could easily fit this into my day, the fitness and running bug had truly bitten me.

The only issue I had this week is that when using the app, because the 3G signal isn’t great in my area, the timer and voice over kept going out of sync so it was really distracting.  Instead I downloaded the Couch to 5K podcasts onto my phone and used those, a lovely lady called Laura talks you through it alongside some pumping tunes*.

(*Slightly generic, cheesy tunes, but they have clearly thought about what tempo you need for each walk or run, so works very well at motivating you.)


Week 3

Brisk 5-minute warm-up walk followed by 2 repetitions of the following; 90 seconds of running, 90 seconds of walking, 3 minutes of running, 3 minutes of walking.

OK so they really ramp it up this week with the durations of the run, but equally plenty of time to get your breath back and get ready to go.  Weather was quite warm this week so its added an extra element to it: the element of stinking by the time I got home!  Still, I once heard that sweat is your fat crying, so I’m going to go with that.

Week 4

Brisk 5-minute warm-up walk then 3 minutes of running, 90 seconds walking, 5 minutes running, 2 ½ minutes walking, 3 minutes running, 90 seconds walking, 5 minutes running

At this point, you’re running more than you’re walking, and boy did I feel that this week.  It was really tough on my first one but mainly because I was going too fast.  Laura (your in ear coach) has a really good description to explain what kind of pace you should be going, which really helped me slow down and be more tortoise than hare. By the third run this week I felt really capable but did say to my husband that I still can’t imagine running for 30 minutes straight.

Week 5

Run 1: Brisk 5-minute warm-up walk then 3 minutes of running, 90 seconds walking, 5 minutes running, 2 ½ minutes walking, 3 minutes running, 90 seconds walking, 5 minutes running.

Laura’s going crazy now, a different routine for each of this weeks 3 runs!  So you’re running a total of 16 minutes in this run.  What a difference from week 1 where I though 60 second runs were ambitious!

Run 2: Brisk five-minute walk, then eight minutes of running, five minutes of walking and eight minutes of running.

8 MINUTES!?!  Crazy talk! Well I didn’t want to let Laura down so I thought I might as well give it a go but I did decided that at the first sign of needing a defibrillator I’m calling it quits.  But once I had gotten a good rhythm I felt really good.  For me, the best thing I can do is let my mind wander onto other things so that I don’t even really realise I’m running. I tend to make lists in my head or make up stories about the scenery. When running at home I run around a housing and industrial estate and when I’m at work I get the joys of running beside an inner city river, so I’ve had some very interesting tales going on in my mind!

Run 3: Brisk five-minute walk, then 20 minutes of running, with no walking.

How the bloody hell can anyone say ‘hey you can run for 8 minutes, so you can definitely run for 20 without stopping’ – Laura, frigging Laura can. I’m really starting not to like her.

But I get on with it and make sure that my pace is steady* (*slow) I look around, make a mental list of my favourite sandwich fillings and invent a story about a pigeon I see on my work day runs.  He’s fed up with being grey so is foraging through Bristol for some brightly covered material he can weave into a new coat.  Sorry, I digress, so each 5 minutes Laura chirps in to tell me how well I’m doing (she can’t see my beetroot face) but I’m determined not to stop, no point getting 5 weeks in and giving up.  I think to myself, ‘This is tough, but nothing compared to PND, you can do this Tillie.’ And I did.


Week 6

Run 1: a brisk five-minute walk, then five minutes of running, three minutes of walking, eight minutes of running, three minutes of walking and five minutes of running. 

Quite a climb down from the 20 minutes, but I was quite pleased as I did feel near to breaking point on the last run, this would give me a chance to build my fitness and confidence a bit more. I’ve started feeling like this is a new habit now rather than something I’m trying.

Run 2: Brisk five-minute walk, then 10 minutes of running, three minutes of walking and 10 minutes of running.

I preferred this run as I’m now itching to just crack on with slightly longer runs, I could get into a real rhythm and sing along to the cheesy music.

Run 3: a brisk five-minute walk, then 25 minutes of running with no walking.

When I said I was ‘itching to crack on with slightly longer runs’ I want to point out I was emphasising the ‘slightly’.  Honestly felt like I might have needed mouth to mouth from Ryan Reynolds, but then again I don’t have to have been running to want that.

There just seems to be one part in a longer run like this that my brain wants to give up way before my body would.  But knowing I would be annoyed with myself if I don’t complete the programme I push through the ‘wall’.


Week 7

Brisk five-minute walk, then 25 minutes running three times this week

I felt a little bit sad that Laura had stopped my walking breaks as I knew that I would be afforded no more here on out.  But I am now a fully fledged runner so I need to crack on.  Physically I felt really good, I’ve got a really good routine with my breathing and I’m happy with my pace, currently running 1 kilometere in about six and a half minutes, which I’m very happy with.  Mentally, I’ve got a love/hate relationships and it can change every minute I’m running.  I understand now that running is definitely more mental fitness than physical.  But as long as I keep positive or distraction thoughts in my head I’m fine.  SIDENOTE: Only bloody gone and signed up to a 10k race with the hubby (he’s being doing the couch to 5k as well) shit, why have I done that? I’ve not even run 5k yet let alone 10!

Week 8

Begin with a brisk five-minute walk, then 28 minutes of running three times this week

OK panic is setting in about the race now. So today I did my 28 minutes, walked for a couple of minutes and then ran for another 5 minutes.  At my current speed it would take me roughly 32 minutes to do 5k so I thought I’d start to get to this time a little sooner so I could convince myself that I will be able to do the race.

We discovered this week that the race is quite a hilly course so were advised to start running parts of it to get used to the different gradients. By the end of the week my left ankle was hurting when flexing it, so I rested for four days before moving on to week nine, I think this was my bodies way of finding the new steep hills hard work. I really hate missing out on training runs but know if I don’t rest I could put myself out of the race altogether and given that I have started getting sponsored for PANDAS, I can’t let them down.

Week 9

Begin with a brisk five-minute walk, then 30 minutes of running three times this week

Week 9 but only 3 weeks until the race.  If I carry on with the Couch to 5k programme the whole way I wouldn’t be doing 5k consistently and would have only 2 weeks to rapidly build up distance, so I still listened to the app and ran for 30 minutes but also carried on for another 5 minutes each time to get my distance to 5k.

OK I did this once, then I went more off piste by going on distance so my 2nd run this week was 6 k and 3rd was 7k.  Probably not the best way to do it, but I know my body and know that I could do it if I didn’t leg it.  My speed per kilometer is now a much slower, steadier pace of 7 minutes which I’m really comfortable at.

Week 10 – 12

So now that the run is getting nearer and I’ve got up to the highest distance I will run before the race (7k) I’m mixing it up and running shorter distances (5k) some times and longer (up to 7k) others.  I’m also doing lots of research on what to eat the week of the race and whether or not to train at all in that last week.  I’m seeing conflicting reports but I would feel like I was losing fitness if I did nothing so I’m going to run 3k in the week of the race finishing 3 days before to allow time for my body to rest and prepare with food, mmmm this running lark aint all bad.

SIDENOTE: This didn’t happen, my last run was a 7k a week before the race.

‘Twas the Night Before the Race

Sleep they say, get some rest they say.  Yeah right, I had to force my carb laden bowl of pasta down with water and electrolytes (that tastes as good as it sounds) as I was feeling so nervous. Sicky nervous.

Then off to bed nice and early and I had one of those nights that all you keep doing is shouting at your brain to go to sleep and it keeps yelling back, ‘But what would win in a fight, a baby rhino or a baby elephant? Why is earwax yellow? What do we even have earwax? If you were a superhero what would your power be? What colour cape would you have? No not red, everyone has red.’

Eventually, a couple of hours before the dawn chorus I got some shut eye.


Race Day

I have never needed the toilet so often in my life than this morning! I am so nervous and anxious about the run I don’t know what to do to calm down!  After having a weetabix, banana and honey breakfast at 8am I got changed into my PANDAS running vest and the rest of my running gear.  Panicked a little bit more and thought about everything that could go wrong: heat exhaustion, pull a muscle, fall over, die….

Then it was 9:15am and time for us to walk to the race village.  The village is held at the local Football Club which is a brisk 8 minute walk from our house, so a perfect opportunity to warm up.

I spent the entire time walking there worrying about that I didn’t have my water bottle (should I go back and get it?!) and the fact that I didn’t have my iPod strapped to my arm like I normally do (Race rules dictate no headphones to be worn.)  Once at the village I grabbed some water and we had a small job around to warm up a bit more, then made our way to the start line.

The horn blew to start the race and I thought I was going to burst into tears.  I don’t know why but I felt so emotional, the adrenaline pumping I guess.  But I needed to snap out of it and put one foot in front of the other.

I had assumed that the first 5k would be fairly easy.  We had trained on that part of the course and had done a lot of 5k runs, but to my surprise I was even finding the first 1k really tough.  It was a very humid day, about 18 degrees and I much prefer running in the rain.  I couldn’t seem to get a proper rhythm.  During the first 1k we passed our road where our son, Fletcher was watching and waving a flag for us with his nanny, auntie and cousin.  it was really nice to see him and spurred me on.

There were people watching the race from their gardens with music, cheering and hose pipes along the way, that was great.  I particularly loved the people with ice cubes, water and hose pipes!

At around the 5k mark I hurt my hip and was having to transfer a lot of weight onto my left hand side to carry on, it was agony so I stopped and walked a few times for about 20 seconds. Every time knowing that I shouldn’t because it made it so much harder to get running again.

Shaun kept encouraging me and telling me I was doing well, suggesting things for me to think about to take my mind off it etc.  But I just couldn’t do it.   I was so used to having my music when running and I get lost in it that to have that taken away all I could hear was my mind saying ‘This is hard, you can’t do this’.  It reminded me of my dark days of PND which subsequently reminded my why I was doing it.

I cracked on, the one downhill there is on the course came as a real tonic, although having to stop your legs from getting carried away is just as hard as a hill!

We hit the biggest hill of them all, this point is during the last 10k.  It was tough.  I had trained on this hill and never stopped, but today the heat and my brain made me stop half way. ‘I think I’m broken’ I said to Shaun. ‘No you’re not, come on, you can do this’ he said.  So I did.  We cracked on and made it up the hill, only about another 900 yards or so to go (up another hill).

With the finish line in sight I thought it might be easier but it just didn’t seem to be getting any closer.  There were a group of teenage girls at the sidelines, seeing I was struggling started shouting encouragement (they reminded me of PE teachers!) I got up to the flat towards the line and saw Fletcher again with our family, that was the bit of motivation I needed.  Shaun grabbed my hand and we sprinted across the line in 1hr 13 minutes.

Then a lady gave me a medal, banana and a mars bar.  I’ve never been so pleased to eat a mars bar in my life.

Shaun is now talking about a marathon.  My reply isn’t suitable before the watershed.


 Tillie and Shaun raised over £400 for PANDAS.  Some of the money will be going to help run the Frome PANDAS Support Group which Tillie runs. The rest to PANDAS Foundation so that they can continue to run the online communities, helpline and the charity as a whole.  PANDAS relies completely on fundraising, if you would like more information on raising money for PANDAS by running or any other means please click here.




Catherine Jones

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