Couch to 5k: Running in Barnet

I’ve always been a bit of a slouch, but since completing the Couch to 5k programme last autumn I’ve become a running convert. What’s more, Barnet with its views, varied streets and proximity to countryside is ideal for it.

If you want to get more active (and who doesn’t in the New Year?) I can’t recommend this approach enough. Couch to 5k uses your phone, tablet or computer to guide you through a nine-week training programme. Other than dreading cross-country at school, I’d never run before and now I’ve completed the Oakhill Parkrun and try to run at least a couple of times a week.

I downloaded the app on my phone from the NHS website and selected Michael Johnson as my “coach”. Gradually, with three sessions a week you build strength and stamina by alternating running and walking from 60-second bursts to running continuously for 30 minutes. Each session begins and ends with a brisk five-minute walk and, if you follow the encouraging and reassuring commentary, you progress rapidly. You can always repeat sessions or weeks if you choose and it is structured so you are unlikely to do yourself any damage. I didn’t even get stitch while doing it.

As Barnet is hilly, rather than make it more difficult for myself, I timed it so that my opening walk took me to where I could continue on the flat. This was usually Wood Street or the High Street beyond the church and continuing along scenic routes as I progressed. The roads around Ravenscroft Park and round the back of The Spires work well – especially in the evening – but for daytime runs, Hadley Green, Monken Hadley and Hadley Wood would be my top choice, looping past the station and back along Camlet Way if I’m feeling keen. Another great run is through Hadley Highstone to the entrance to Wrotham Park and back. It’s a beautifully simple route directly into the countryside (and almost 5k there and back from St John the Baptist Church).

Going to the gym has never suited me, so being outside like this and treating it like a walk but faster has so far been an effective approach. What’s more, you have the freedom to do it on your own terms. You don’t need much kit – just some suitable running shoes – and you simply get on with it. What has made it more interesting and is worth the investment is a sports watch to track your heart-rate and GPS location. At the end of each run you upload the details and see exactly what you’ve achieved (check map below). It becomes tangible this way and you can follow your progress.

Once you are up and running, there are a few Saturday morning parkruns to choose from around Barnet. I’ve done the Oak Hill Parkrun, but there are also Grovelands in Winchmore Hill, Aldenham, Cannons Park and Ally Pally. Once you have registered online and have a barcode, you can run in any of the parkruns. They are friendly and encouraging (but try not to arrive too early like I did as you end up standing around and cooling down). Shortly after your run you receive a comprehensive breakdown of your results by email. It was fun. You can engage as much or as little as you like with other runners and many stay for coffee and cake afterwards. Oak Hill usually attracts about 300 people and the numbers are increasing. You could also consider the Trent Park Running Club which welcomes new members of all abilities. The club meets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on Saturday and Sunday mornings and is also strong socially. If you’d prefer to continue training alone, there’s a series of Couch to 5k+ podcasts working on speed and stamina and the website has other useful suggestions and links.

To conclude, it’s not surprising how many people – and especially older people – are taking up running. You start seeing the physical effects quickly as your thighs and belly firm up (it’s working the core as well as the legs) and you shed pounds. As running is a high-impact exercise, it significantly improves bone density which is particularly useful for women and anyone else at risk of osteoporosis. It also helps improve brain function. What’s more, I’m also enjoying my yoga classes in a new way and can feel the complementary effect of the positions and stretches.

Why not give it a go? Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and fit 2019.

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