My Journey to a sub 20 5k

No doubt you have seen in the media the amazing running barrier that was broken recently. What are you talking about the marathon!? I mean about how I ran 5k in under 20 minutes!

When I started running I had a goal that was so high I was unsure if it would be possible. Recently I achieved that goal, to run a 5k in less than 20 minutes.

When I started couch to 5k in 2016 I could barely run for a minute, handy because the first week of Couch to 5k (C25K) you only run a minute at a time. The first time I ran 20 minutes non stop was the last run in week 5 (yes couch to 5k is magic). I got just over 3k in that time and collapsed in an elated and exhausted heap.

My first 5k took me over 30 minutes and that was after weeks of training. The speed I would need to run a sub 20 was a dead out sprint, you can see why I thought it might never happen.

I remember getting under 30 minutes on the treadmill for the first time. My first parkrun took me 28:14 and I was done for.

I was still quite confidant though, and threw myself into training. I improved very quickly through a lot of hard work but the returns started to diminish. My 5k times started to plateau.

In fact, my 5k Personal Best (PB) of 20:34 would stand for almost a year.

I wasn’t too worried about this though. At the time I got the PB I hadn’t done much in terms of long distance running. I was thinking of doing a marathon and increasing my mileage rather than focusing on 5k and over this time big improvements happened in my 10k and half marathon times. I was gaining endurance.

My next 5k PB was exactly 20 minutes in august last year (2018). This was my first sale sizzler, and I really enjoyed it. I was super happy getting a 20 minute 5k, still it left me with just 1 second to knock off for a sub 20.

Not long after this I did the Great North run, one month later the great Manchester half marathon, then a month after the Bolton abbey half marathon, then soon after that got a place at the 2019 London Marathon so again my focus was pulled away from 5k.

So it was another year went by without getting under 20 minutes.

This year after doing the London Marathon I wanted to focus on 5k. I signed up for all 4 of the Sale Sizzlers. They are held 2 weeks apart, the same course in the summer and usually live up to their name of being sizzlers.

The first one was my benchmark, I hadn’t really tried speedy stuff at a parkrun but I thought I could get under 20 minutes.

Sizzler 1: 20:15

Not too bad, I wasn’t worried, it was about 22 degrees, one of the first hot days of the year and I was close. I also forgot that I had entered as a non binary runner, it was the first time they had included this category and I am proud to be the first runner to finish sale sizzler in the non-binary category.

I put in my notes that this was the hardest I had run a race, I remember feeling like I was too deep into oxygen debt at 3k and somehow just kept going, no doubt because of the marathon endurance. Different distances are painful in different ways, this was a lung buster and lactic acid nightmare.

Sizzler 2: 20:12

I wrote in my notes “Nearly 2 years training my 5k hasn’t improved”.
So you can probably see I wasn’t happy with the performance at the time! I couldn’t believe that after 2 years I hadn’t improved much. And all the marathon training hadn’t seemed to speed my 5k up. The London Marathon did have an effect though. Despite not being as fast as I was the distance felt like I had barely started and I was 3k in.

I felt extremely demoralised. I could sulk about it or I could throw even more at it and beat it. I sulked. But only for 12 hours then I joined the gym and threw everything I had at it. Used the frustration as fuel. I vowed to get under 20min at the sizzlers and under 19 this year….

Here are my strava notes from the next day after joining the gym and doing 1 hour on the crosstrainer.

Yesterday was the most demoralised I have ever been with my running. Joined gym again, sub 20 at sale sizzlers and sub 19 this year, fuck you 5k
New goals are sub 20 at sale sizzlers and under 19 by end of year. Image of my park-running shows why I am pretty upset. I went from 27:45 to 20:34 in 6 and a half months in 2017, getting 9 PBs in a row at parkrun at one point. All the running between now and then and I haven’t removed the 35 seconds? I was doing more back then as I was losing 2kg a week, so I am starting the cardio up again and doing more running. Sorry for the bad language BUT!….. FUCK YOU 5K!!! Its a war!

The war was on. The engine that had been idling since I lost weight was switched back on. I had 4kg to lose and a sub 20 and 4 weeks to train and all this is getting rather dramatic!

My friends interjected at this point to remind me that running isn’t all about speed and times, it’s about enjoying it first. And that is true! There are 2 ways running rewards you, the most common for me is the sheer joy of being able to do it. I couldn’t run for a bus – LITERALLY – a few years ago. I love running, it gave me the confidence to transition.

The other way though is the injection of adrenaline and reward for getting a PB. I wasn’t in a place where I would give up running, but I wanted to kick my own arse.

Looking back, what had happened was I had transitioned and it started to feel unsafe to go outside. I feel fine when I am running but my huge long walks had stopped and I barely even left to do shopping. I was running a lot up to 60k per week but other than that I was sat down. The increased mileage was good for the London Marathon, I am very happy with that. It wasn’t doing my speed any good though because I spent a disproportionate amount of time sat down.

I put on a small bit of weight which wasn’t a problem, it was just there to lose. Another way of getting faster.

Over the next 2 weeks I lost 2kg spending an hour a day on the crosstrainer, as well as running normally and walking a lot. When I focus on losing weight I am focused. 2 weeks had passed, it was time to try again.

Sale sizzler 3: 20:45

What happened?

It was 30C. It was the hottest day of the year. It was one of those hot days where its like youve stepped off a plane in a hot country and you immediately thing, oh blimey the plane is hot, before quickly realising that is just the temperature now.
The organisers of the sizzler said anyone who drops out gets 2 free flapjacks.
I channelled Blue and I went for a sub 20 minute 5k.

Here is Blue. He was once caught pretending to be a surgeon at Airedale hospital, he had done 7 open heart surgeries before they caught on to him. He was my inspiration.

So I didn’t do it, third time unlucky. I bloody enjoyed it though. The heat slows me down but I will take it over cold.

2 more weeks, the training continued, I lost another 2kg and had my last chance at the sale sizzlers.

Sale Sizzler 4: ????

I was lucky Nick Taylor was able to get a photo of me on this one. I was super happy and exhausted, this is about 3-4k in. I was enjoying it.

Keeping the suspense.

Well, I needed a bigger improvement than just a little under 20:00 and I smashed the bugger!


I really felt like I had a super power! I still do, it hasn’t worn off much. When I started running this goal was absurd. This was faster than my sprinting pace.

The challenge over the winter will be to keep going outside despite the cold. The hardest bit for me is how cold it is in my flat. It makes it hard to just get changed in order to go out. I am hoping to get that sub 19 this year, I need to target a saturday and go for it at parkrun. I feel like me speed has increased since the sizzler, I’ve continued training hard and even after 10 miles I seem to be able to hit sub 20 pace.

Hope everyone is OK, it’s good to be back. My next race is going to be the Bolton Abbey Half Marathon on 10/11/19. It is super hilly and muddy so wish me luck. Maybe I will get some video of that one.

Sofies Couch to 5K: Introduction

I want to tell the story of my C25K experience, including how much I weighed the routes I used and how I felt during and after. Fortunately I recorded most of this using GPS and forum posts so I can look back and see what was going on at the time.

To start with, I am 5’11” and weighed well over 105 kg when I started C25K, I was incredibly unfit. I point this out because so many people see me and say I must have always been a runner or fit. That’s a compliment and fine but I feel like a lot of people try to rule themselves out of running by mentally editing my history. And I feel like I worked hard back then so I’m not going to let people forget. Even my family who knew me as unhealthy most of my life say I have always been fit, well this is a photo of me in 2016.

I was working at the Manchester Royal infirmary at the time, I had the best job in the world, which is one that you want to do. I was a research assistant on a project hacking the Kinect, a gaming device, to make it track breathing rates of patients in the hospital. A proof of concept type of study and as a physicist into medicine I loved it. It was strange then that I was suffering from depression, and it was getting worse.

I used to walk the 4 kilometers into work everyday, and enjoyed it whilst listening to a podcast or audiobook. But the depression made this difficult, I would rather stay in bed for 20 more minutes and get a bus. This was one change that seemed to happen without me noticing, and when I did it forced me to think about things. Another was finding it harder to put my shoes on because my belly was just in the way making it hard to breathe. Walking up stairs to my flat left me breathless and sweaty. I kept having to buy larger clothes to stay comfortable. I remember deciding to walk home one day and finding it had become much more difficult, to the extent that I was shaking. Looking in the mirror I would see someone else looking back, this wasn’t me, it wasn’t fair.

I remember sometimes coming home and seeing females running past and becoming sad and depressed. “I will never be like that” I thought and I meant it in two ways. I meant it in the way that I will never be a runner again. I also meant it in the way that I wish I was born female. At the time I focussed on the running aspect, I honestly believed all men wished they were born female, it never crossed my mind that I could be transgender because all I knew about that was that you are born in the wrong body. Well, I was in for a surprise on that front and so was everyone who knew me, but that was for later. I had become resigned to being unfit and unhappy, I had tasted the world and didn’t want anymore of it, I wanted things to be simple, I wanted to be drunk. I was the loneliest person on the planet.

This carried on until the end of March 2016, I found myself in a mental health ward. It was an observation ward, with 4 of us to a room. I think I had gone to A&E because I was feeling suicidal, I had started to self harm again, cutting my arms but after 2 days they let me go, it was on April fools day, haha.. I had to make the decision between ending everything, or trying to get better mentally. With the stakes so high, I thought I have to at least try something, I might aswell right? The main thing I wanted to do at this time was to stop drinking, It had become a crutch to cope with life but I knew if I could ditch that I could make other changes too, drastic changes, but ditching alcohol would also mean facing my thoughts.

Stopping drinking was very hard, I had no brakes because I was suicidal. When you are only thinking a day, week or maybe month ahead you don’t really care about alcoholism. Contrary, actually I just wanted something to come along and kill me. I would drink most nights, I didn’t get drunk on nights before work and could do drink free days but it was getting harder. I had also began self harming again by cutting my arms. If you wanted to find me those days, my hobby was getting blackout drunk in the pub, reading comics. Somehow just by being surrounded by people in the pub I felt less lonely, even if I never talked to anyone.

I could see many benefits of not drinking, I was spending a fortune on alcohol for one thing. It would mean saving a lot of money, I was spending £50 some nights on alcohol. Dieting and losing weight, I was consuming 1,000s of calories through alcohol alone, and even more via obligatory kebabs. Along with this, I could be more active instead of drinking, I could go out for a walk instead of being hungover, burning calories, instead of consuming them.

Once I was free again I looked on-line for a way to start running, there I found the Couch to 5k programme and a lovely community of people who had completed it or were on their own journey through it. And so, about a week before my 28th birthday in April 2016, I ditched the drink and started Couch to 5k. This isn’t a complete success story, I did finish and I did lose a lot of weight, but the alcohol came back. The transformation that happened during these few weeks were incredible however, and it gave me the base fitness to start running again when I once again found myself deeper into a mental hospital almost 8 months later.

This is a brief section of my life, it wasn’t the first time I had tried to get into running, but It was a big lesson for me, and at that time the longest time I managed to stay off alcohol since I was 18.

In future posts I will tell you the details I put on the C25K forum and some of the notes I took on how my dieting was going along with how I remember it. As you can see below, eventually through running I found myself, I am still finding pieces here and there.

I am doing this in the hopes that it encourages others to try C25K as you can tell I really enjoyed doing it, and even though I fell off the wagon, it really helped me start running with just the knowledge that I could still do it. As a very large person, it gave me a lot of self confidence, along with being an overweight runner I also had plenty of scars along my arms that I was extremely self conscious about.

I have seen people in their 60 and 70’s starting and loving C25K, falling in love with running in the process, ant they all believed they were never able to run. If you are thinking of starting it, then why not join in?

Lots of love to everyone,

Sofie xxxxxxx

Happy 2019!! + Advice on getting into running!

Happy new year everyone, 2019 will be my first year as me so looking forwards to it. I know now is a time people make resolutions and I want to put some pointers to what I did with losing weight and running with couch to 5k. I used C25k to start running again and it worked like a charm. I am now training for the London marathon on the 28th April this year to raise money for the LGBT Foundation.

I will try and put up a training log every week to let people know what is going on, so hopefully will have one tomorrow. Please read on and ask me any questions if you want to get going with running this year. I know how crazy a task it can seem but I’ve had a few crazy ideas in my life and going from never run to runner was the most accomplish-able ones, even if it seemed impossible. The most important thing at this stage is to get going, it requires action, so go and do it now, slow down till you think you are going too slow and then slow down again and you will be so glad you did it 😀


Couch to 5k (C25K) is a 9 week program from the NHS that gets you from being unable to run to being able to run non-stop for 30 minutes. It takes only 3 runs per week and you will find it is incredible how fast the human body (yours!) can adapt and develop. If you are like I was, and believe you just can’t run then it is for you. Bear in mind that it is called couch to 5k, but it is really couch to running for 30 minutes, whatever distance you get don’t worry about speed.

I avoided sport at all costs at school, I told myself I just could not run. People look at me now and just assume I have always been healthy, even my family who have know me otherwise tend to say “I wish I could do that”, well heres the thing , you can. If I can, anyone can. If you are waiting for the right time, “I just want to lose some weight first”, “I want to wait until I am ready” then start now, you will never “feel ready” especially if you are like me. What is required is action, download the app and put your trainers on. You will kick yourself for not starting sooner.

This isn’t about punishing yourself or proving anything (unless you want it to be) if you try this you are extremely like to find running becomes very enjoyable and find it will become a hobby of yours that you can’t live without. If you like going on walks in nature, you will love running.

At first it will feel hard, you are learning something new, people think running means running at full speed, or running as fast as someone else. This is not true, when you think about going for a run think about it like going for a walk, you hardly ever walk at full speed whenever you go for a walk. If it feels too hard, slow down. When you have slowed down, slow down again! If you feel like you could walk faster, or like you are jogging, that is OK just keep going.

What will happen is, you download the app or podcast, go out for the run, the podcast or app will tell you when to start and stop running. If you get the podcast, then enjoy Laura talking you through each week and enjoy the running. In the first week for example you do the warmup walk, then Laura will tell you to run for one minute, after this she tells you to walk for 1.5 mins and you repeat.

Here are some links to get started,

Explanation of C25K on NHS website

The actual C25k program in written form, you can also download as a podcast, or download an app from itunes or google play. This page also outlines the program week by week


A forum for people doing C25K, pleas use this, the people are extremely nice and always encouraging. Sign up and post about your progress to stay motivated. This helped me get through it

In my time on the forum I have seen people in their 70’s and 80’s starting couch to 5k and falling in love with running, who had never run a day in their life


Parkrun is awesome, it is a relatively recent thing and is revolutionising how people see running, it is completely non-competitive. It is a free weekly (Saturday at 9:00 in England other times elsewhere) 5k walk/jog/run. You sign up, get a free barcode and get a time. People now travel all over the world to take part in different parkruns and it gets very addictive.

If you want a goal why not try to run a parkrun after graduating C25k, find a parkrun near you, it’s addictive and free! In fact I wouldn’t even wait till you finish c25k, people walk run and jog parkrun, and a volunteer always tail walks so you will never come last so do it even if you walk the whole thing, lots of people do, or do one of the c25k runs at parkrun.

The hardest thing about running is getting your trainers on and going out of the door, that is still true for me. Even after hours fretting about wheather to go out or not, I have never once regretted going for a run, there will never be a time when it “feels right” to start C25K, so just go for it. Do it as an experiment. Slow down and enjoy it. It’s the best thing I ever did. Don’t let another year go around without trying it.

I am going to try and put a post up each week about my training for the London Marathon, I am running for the LGBT foundation and you can find the donation page here