If your new year’s resolution is to get fit without forking out for expensive gym membership, running might seem the obvious choice. In theory, it costs nothing — you slap on a pair of trainers, open your front door and off you go.
Or so I thought when I began the NHS Couch to 5k programme last autumn. It’s a free podcast you can download at iTunes, which promises to teach complete beginners such as me to run 5km in nine weeks.
In the first week, for example, the aim is to jog lightly for one minute at a time. It gradually becomes more difficult, but throughout the programme the voice in your earphones tells you what to do and it’s all interspersed with music at different beats. It’s efficient too, and not too time-consuming; you can start exercising as soon as you step out of your door and be back 30 minutes later. However, the costs for a complete beginner quickly mount up.
It took just one week for me to realise I needed a sports bra (£15). A week later, I bought breathable running socks to stop my feet becoming uncomfortably sweaty (£10 for three pairs) and an iPhone armband (£9) to replace a stitch-inducing bumbag.
In week five, experienced runner friends advised me to go to a sports shop to have my running gait analysed. The shop assistant filmed me running on a treadmill and revealed that, because of an old knee injury, I overpronate (run with my toes pointing out to the side).
To avoid further injury, she recommended a corrective pair of running trainers (£95) with specially moulded soles (£45) to support my severely flat feet. On camera, the improvement was immediately obvious. I paid up.
As the weather grew colder, a winter running top (£55) and running leggings (£45) proved to be two other luxuries I couldn’t resist. These are made from special breathable material that blocks out the cold when I step outside but “wicks” the sweat away as I warm up. In total, I have spent £274 over the four months I’ve been running. Still, compared with paying £82 a month (£328 for four months) for gym membership near my north London home, it was money well spent.
Some of my expenses would have been incurred with any new sport and most won’t need to be repeated for ages. I could have spent less if I’d bought my kit second-hand and my knees had been in better shape.
It’s crazy to think that, back in September, I could barely run for a bus. Now I’ve joined parkrun (parkrun.org.uk), a free running club that holds timed 5km runs at 9am on Saturdays across the UK, and I run 5km twice a week. I’m the fittest I’ve been — and that’s worth every penny.