Guest Post · running

Starting my feminist fitness journey: Early days of couch to 5K (Guest post)

A photo of Cheryl, a white woman with a lime green scarf and a dark sweater and short spiky hair.

Hello fellow feminist fitness folks, this is my first guest post and I’m feeling a bit nervous about it but also excited to share my thoughts and experiences in this space as I embark on my own feminist fitness journey.

I stopped going to the gym gradually over the last year (not that I was going very much at all) for a combination of reasons – boredom on the treadmill when the TV system in the gym was changed to one that I could rarely make work, anxiety about sharing the space and machines with other people, and the fact the my running shoes had developed a hole in the lining that hurt my foot. But perhaps the biggest reason was that I found myself feeling a lot of self-imposed guilt and shame when I didn’t go, which was pretty much all the time, and this was making me miserable. So I decided to let the gym go. This was a relief and definitely good for my mental health, but I found myself wondering “now what?”

I was not and am not in great physical shape, and after quitting the gym I was struggling with how to change this without getting into a repeat of the obligation/guilt/shame cycle. I also thought a lot about the “why” behind my interest in getting fit. How much was coming from a desire to change my body to be thinner and more conventionally attractive? Could it ever be possible for me to want to get fit without some of this internalized stuff coming up? After reading Sam and Tracy’s excellent book this summer I had more tools to approach fitness in a new way and since then I’ve been trying to focus on reasons for getting fit that feel good to me as a feminist (more on this in a future post).

Here’s how I got started: I posted on Facebook about reading Fit at Mid-Life, and my friend Tanya messaged to ask if I ever went running. I told her that I’d run occasionally in the past, but had worked up a lot of internal barriers to it over the years (Anxiety! I will be slow and awkward and people will look at me! Where will I put my keys and water?!). She’d recently started running again using a couch to 5k program and invited me to join her for after work runs. So I decided to give it a try.

Here’s a brief story of my first few weeks, as it involved a lot more than I thought it would “ie. just go outside and start running.”

The first thing I knew I needed to do was buy new running shoes. I’d been feeling annoyed about doing this because it seemed like they wore out much sooner than they should have, given my relative inactivity, and I’d been putting it off because I resented having to spent the money.  But running with shoes that hurt wasn’t going to work, so I went out and got new shoes.

For my first run I had the new shoes, but no place to carry my phone to use the training app as my running clothes don’t have appropriate pockets for this. So I just estimated the times for alternating the 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking that the app instructed.

I definitely started from the couch on this one –I was surprisingly sore the next day. I felt proud of having worked hard enough to feel it, but I also noticed some negative self-talk about how out of shape I must be to feel so sore.

Next I had to solve the problem of how to carry my phone while running. I did some research and bought a money belt/fanny pack sort of thing which has been working well for me so far.

I’ve been running at a local park and in the university area near my home, and also with Tanya at a running track in the east end of Toronto. I think that having some variety is helpful for me in terms of not getting bored.

After a couple more runs I noticed that my breasts were hurting because my old sports bra was not providing enough support.  Shopping for any kind of bra can make me feel like my body is not normal, because I have a really hard time finding bras that have long enough straps over the shoulders. Two stores and about eight types of sports bras later I found one that fit and it’s made running a lot more comfortable.

In the in the first 2 weeks I completed 5 of the 6 sessions from the training program, did a lot of troubleshooting, and spent over $300. I’ve been reflecting on the things that have I have access to that make running easier – money to buy gear, safe outdoor areas to run, and a washer/dryer in my apartment for washing stinky clothes.

I took a break for a week for a family visit in August, and then started up again right after that. It’s feeling good, and on my most recent run in particular I had all the gear I needed, had figured out how to use the music player successfully in the training app, and so was finally able to just get out there and run. At this stage it’s still actually alternating between walking and running, but by the end of week 8 I’m hoping that I’ll be able to run 5K. Stay tuned for more on my progress towards this goal over the next 6 weeks!


About me: Feminist, bisexual, LGBTQ health researcher, book lover, drummer, introvert.

12 thoughts on “Starting my feminist fitness journey: Early days of couch to 5K (Guest post)

  1. Go you! And welcome to the feminist fitness crowd 😀 Glad to hear you’re enjoying your new routine so far. I am a fairly recent convert to regular running (it’s been about a year and a half now) and have come to love that satisfactory feeling of “just going for a run” once you have all your stuff figured out.

    But I hear you on the gear front. In theory, running is supposed to be a really accessible sport – hey, all you need is a pair of trainers, shorts and a t-shirt (and for most women, a bra) – but I do sometimes wonder if it’s not just made bearable for most runners by our expensive gear. And not everyone can have that. So I think running may be less “easily accessible” than people like to claim – when you think about it, it’s much harder if you don’t have the money to invest in the “right” gear.

    Sorry, that turned into a bit of a rant…

    1. Thanks for the warm welcome! That’s great that you’re enjoying regular running – I’m starting to get to that now that I feel like I have all the stuff figured out. It’s definitely been interesting to notice how running isn’t as accessible as I thought, or at least how much better my running experience is due to having resources to upgrade shoes, bra etc. If I had to use the old running shoes and bra I don’t think I would have kept going.

  2. This is so great to read. I share your anxieties and frustrations, especially the whole sports bra nightmare! I am currently firmly on the couch, but will follow your progress and hopefully get out the door soon! X

    1. Thanks for sharing 🙂 Anxieties and frustrations can make a lot of things in life difficult, and for me it’s particularly pronounced in anything physical as my confidence is pretty low there to begin with.

  3. Bravo and good luck with your feminist fitness journey! As a long time runner I can wholeheartedly agree that the sad fact is that having decent kit is important–both to prevent injury (shoes and socks and bra) and to keep the morale high (everything else!). Some days are good and some are less so and hot, muggy summer days are usually on the less so end, so you are starting in a tough season and hopefully will experience a boost when the cooler fall days come (not to mention leaves changing color and adding some eye candy to the whole endeavor). Bon courage!

    1. Thank you! You’re quite right that the weather is a challenge too. I’ve been trying to run early in the day (not my best time of day) or late in the evening, when possible. I think that fall runs when it’s a bit cooler will be fantastic.

  4. HI Cheryl and thanks for the post. It’s great that you broke down the steps that a real person goes through in the process of starting up and maintaining a particular fitness program. Things like “where to put my phone?” can stymie people, and it’s important to develop a routine that is easy to access, to complete, and that works for you. For cycling, there are lots of details to attend to before I can roll out; I’ve got it down, but it took a long time to develop it. Showing our readers how that can go is a big help; thanks!

    1. You’re most welcome 🙂 I thought that breaking down the steps might be helpful for folks, and I’m glad you think so too! I was surprised by how many little things needed to be figured out before I could really get comfortable and feel like I had everything I needed in place.

  5. Thank you so much for this. I love reading about early days of running. And you’re right, there are expenses! Enjoy and thanks for your story!

  6. Congrats on beginning your running journey!

    I have to snort-laugh a little any time I read something about how “Running is the cheapest sport!” and “All you need is a pair of running shoes!” and you can just “Get up and go!” In truth there is a bit more to it than that and a fair bit of privilege involved in being able to engage in the sport of recreational running consistently. I feel like people not recognizing this has become a barrier to a lot of people or caused them to think that they were the problem. It’s nice to see that recognized.

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