Apart from at university, I don’t think I’ve ever lived more than a 10 minute walk from a rapeseed field. One of the UK’s most grown crops, rapeseed is absolutely everywhere. I remember walking through countless rapeseed fields on walks as a child. On the brightest days, the colours in a rapeseed field are almost surreal, and I was almost blinded by the bright yellow I was running my hands through.
In 2020, rather than walking, I’ve been running through rapeseed fields – just the dusty ground beneath my feet and blue sky above me, interrupted by a speckled strip of yellow. It’s a relief to escape the main roads I could run down instead. Before, I was pounding down tarmac roads, eyes low, getting on with it, constantly bothered by the cars and the people I had to run around. It’s a relief to escape the eyes that, as a woman in shorts, clung to me – or the car horns that emphasised them, as if I hadn’t noticed already.
Escaping to these rapeseed fields marks a change in my quest to be ‘unquantifiably healthier‘. Now, I take sleepy residential roads and a short trip through the woods before arriving at my open-space destination – where the real running begins. I’m calmer, running along trodden paths, slipping between fields of the brightest yellow, left absolutely alone but for the path, the clouds, the crops. (As it’s getting warmer, this is also coming to include bugs. So many bugs.)
Sometimes I see a dog walker; we smile as I skip past. The landscapes are never flat, constantly sloped – as I approach a steep incline, I laugh to myself and focus on my steps, the solitude leaving no space for pressure to be quicker.
When I started my journey from couch to 5k (using the NHS’s app), I was looking for a lockdown activity to pass the time. I went in with wild aspirations of a toned body by summer, ready to emerge from lockdown a sunkissed goddess. But running has become so much more to me than a means to an end (a way to both look and be physically fitter): I crave the solitude of it, the moments to pause and be left alone with my thoughts; I like the routine of it; I love to push myself, to see how long I can run.
The Couch to 5k programme isn’t easy. There have been so many days where I didn’t think I could do it. In 9 weeks, though, I only stopped one run before I was done – and I completed it the next day instead. As you run, there’s a commentator who talks to you about things like pace, breathing and cramps. You’re told when you’re halfway through. Sometimes, someone shouts ‘WELL DONE’ into your ears, and it feels really good.
Couch to 5k is interval training, and you alternate between walking and running until you can run continuously for 30 minutes (which should be about 5 kilometres, but the aim is 30 minutes). Every run is bracketed by a 5 minute walk to warm the muscles up or cool them down. The first few weeks, you’re actually walking more than you’re running, and you’re eased in really effectively until the struggles of Week 1 are a distant dream. The final few weeks – when you realise how long you’re running for, and what a world away you are from the first week – are increasingly satisfying and motivating as you go. By the final week, I was so excited to run for 30 minutes continuously and to finish the programme.
It’s not about speed. It’s not about distance. For once, for me, it’s not even about calories. For the first time in my life, when exercising, I have absolutely no idea what I’m burning. I run, and I enjoy the recent sun, and I get lost in my thoughts. Sometimes the halfway bell makes me jump, knocking me out of my daydreams. I listen to some good music. I go home and shower and eat.
Here is an artistic rendition of my running views. This was very satisfying and stress-relieving to make, especially when watching the UK’s daily briefings.