James Baker explains why guys who decide to respond to this challenge could end up having the last laugh AT the turn of this year, a small band of shivering and (slightly) apprehensive men stood silently with arms folded at the entrance to Page Park awaiting the start of their Couch to 5k running journey. “How and why am I standing here in the cold, with the frost biting my cheeks at some ungodly hour when I could be sat indoors by a (post Christmas) roaring fire?” most of them were probably thinking. The truth is, they had decided to make a change to their lives. A positive change which would make them healthier and happier. These gentleman had answered the call. Whether it was on social media or word of mouth, they had heard that South Gloucestershire Council was offering people the opportunity of free sporting activities via the SportsPound initiative. One of the activities on offer was a male only Couch to 5k eight week running course. Matthew Mundy and I, from the Downend running group the Stanbridge Fliers, were asked by the council to lead the group. Matthew said: “There are various Couch to 5k groups out there, most of which are mixed gender or female only. The male only group idea is another option. This year we had rugby players, ex footballers, businessmen and students join up, all with their own personal reasons for doing so. They graduated at a local parkrun with flying colours and many now run with running groups in the area and have completed 10k and half marathons.” One of the men in the 2017 group was Mark Welsford. He was cajoled into signing up by a friend who had completed a similar course the previous summer. He said: “At the time I didn’t give it any thought about it being a single sex group. Personally I’m not sure it mattered. I joined to improve my basic level of fitness and help stop age-related illnesses.” Health benefits aside, Mark found that the opportunity gave him something else he never thought he’d hear himself saying. “Unbelievably, it gave me a love of running! A massive sense of achievement! A positive attitude to staying fit, a supportive circle of friends and…baggy trousers!” The course is free to anyone who is over 14, lives or works in South Glos and is currently doing 30 mins or less of exercise a week (which doesn’t include walking or commuting by bike). The majority of the funding comes from Sport England via the National Lottery. Ian Browne, another graduate, has nothing but praise for the programme. “Having, like most people, paid regular gym fees for places I didn’t go to often or enjoy at all, I thought this was a good way of being taught how to run properly and I liked the idea of achieving a goal in seven weeks. Perhaps one advantage of a men’s group is you realise you’re not alone. I half expected to find a group of semi pro athletes vying to outdo each other but it’s just ordinary local blokes knowing they need to take care of themselves.” If you would like to participate in a male only Couch to 5k, there will be another starting on January 18 at 7.15pm on Mangotsfield School running track. Access the SportsPound website and ask for your free vouchers. Please don’t worry about taking part. “Turning up the first time is probably the most difficult thing,” Mark Welsford explained, “but everybody is at a similar level, so you will improve together and you support and encourage each other. There is no downside to this.’”