Getting back into running with Couch to 5k
Just after I completed my first run of the programme, I was struck with Covid-19. After that, finding the time to do it while juggling work and bringing up a toddler has been frankly next to impossible.
I found a routine where I was able to do two runs a week. However the Couch to 5k programme calls for three runs a week. So I was making steady but slow progress.
Planning to meet the milestone
A week ago I completed week 5 of the programme, which contains the first big run of 20 minutes. Then, I saw that the first-ever Holyrood parkrun was taking place this weekend.
I noticed that this coincided with the one-year anniversary of me breaking my ankle. I couldn’t resist the challenge of meeting this milestone: completing my first 5k within a year of breaking my ankle.
So I slightly modified the Couch to 5k plan. I did a less intense run on Monday, a 25 minute run on Wednesday, and another less intense run on Friday. By squeezing in that extra 25 minute run, I enabled myself to gradually build up to the 5k distance rather than leap there straight from the 20 minute run.
It also meant doing four runs this week instead of my usual two.
It was important for me to build myself up properly. Because of all the struggles I had with my recovery, I have been quite conservative with my running. I don’t want to push myself too far and risk further injury.
The Holyrood course is hilly, which carries further risk with the impacts of the steep downhill section.
Edinburgh’s first central parkrun
The existence of the Holyrood parkrun is a big deal.
Up to now, Edinburgh has had three parkruns, but none of them near the city centre. One is in Cramond, at the far north-west extreme of the city. Another is in Portobello, to the north-east of the city. A third is at the Oriam centre, at the Heriot-Watt University campus to the far south-west. Each of them is about a 30 minute cycle from where I live in Morningside.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, the roads around Holyrood Park have been closed to cars at weekends. This seems to have opened up the possibility of holding a parkrun there, filling the gap in the centre of Edinburgh.
Even so, I was surprised to see just how many people turned up to the first event yesterday. More than 500 people completed the parkrun.
I was joined by my wife and daughter who spent time with the swans at the loch while I was away; and by my friends Lauren and John who took part with me.
The Holyrood course
It’s a hilly course that loops around Arthur’s Seat. The circuit is just over 5km long, making it perfect for events like this. I’ve already done a couple of races there in the past — MoRun in 2018, and the Edinburgh Winter Run in 2020.
Although the first 1½km of the course are relentlessly uphill, the next 1½km are relatively flat, with another slight incline before a steep 1½km downhill section. Then it’s a short, flat run to the finish at the bottom of the hill.
I’ve always enjoyed running around this loop. Although the uphill start is tough, the views are incredible, and it is such a great feeling to gain so much speed going downhill. I see it as “controlled falling”.
But I was worried about how my ankle would cope with all those downhill impacts. The slow uphill is often balanced by the fast downhill, but I wondered if I’d need to take it easy going downhill.
Setting a target
Ahead of the race, I declared that a finish time of 27:30 would make me happy. That’s an average of 5½ minutes per kilometre. I viewed it as a stretch goal. Until yesterday, the fastest I’d perambulated 5km since breaking my ankle had been exactly 30 minutes — and that was on a much flatter route.
Completing the parkrun
At the start, I got caught up in a bit of a bottleneck on the narrow road uphill. This isn’t necessarily unusual for a parkrun, but I really wasn’t expecting so many people to turn up to the first one at Holyrood Park!
The bottleneck slowed me down a little during the first kilometre. Eventually I had enough of being held up, and dashed across the grass verge onto the pavement, which had more space. As the field spread out and the road opened out in front of me, I rejoined the main road.
My first two kilometres were both almost 6 minutes long. At that point I really wasn’t sure if I’d reach my informal target. But as things transpired, the flatter 3rd kilometre took me just over 5 minutes to run, then the downhill 4th kilometre took me just 4 minutes. Kilometre 5 took me just over 4½ minutes.
In the end, I smashed my target, completing the 5k course in an official time of 26:24. Not bad at all, especially considering the bottleneck at the start. According to Strava, I even got some personal records on a few segments towards the end of the course.
Now I can’t help hoping for more. Although I’m delighted with the time I achieved, it is still by some margin the slowest parkrun I’ve ever done, apart from the one where I got lost.
My ankle is still a bit swollen, and stiffer than my left ankle. So I’m not sure if I’ll ever be as fast as I was before I broke my ankle. But I’d love to be doing 5ks in the 23 minute range again.
Thankfully, I have felt no major issues with my ankle despite pushing myself hard in the past week and despite all the hilly running. This makes me optimistic for the future!