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'I took up running after losing a friend'

Article provided by NHS Choices

The death of a close friend from a heart attack was the life-changing event that led father-of-two Aftab Sarwar to reassess his lifestyle.

Overweight and unfit, Aftab, 29 when interviewed, embarked on a structured plan to get fit by going to the gym and watching his calories - losing 20kg (3.1st) in seven months.

He then started the NHS Couch to 5K (C25K) running programme as a way to keep losing weight, and he soon caught the running bug.

He is an active member of his local parkrun - free, weekly 5km timed runs - in Barking, east London, where he has clocked up more than 40 runs and is a regular volunteer.

"C25K got me running, and parkrun keeps me running," says Aftab, who can always be seen proudly sporting his C25K graduate T-shirt while running. 

How active were you before starting C25K?

In October 2012, I weighed 94kg (14.8st) and had been living a sedentary lifestyle for about 10 years. A good friend of mine recently passed away from a heart attack. He was 29. That prompted me to change my lifestyle.

I started to calorie-count to lose weight and began going to the gym two to three times a week. Seven months later, I had lost 20kg, and I took up running to keep losing weight. 

How has C25K changed you?

I began C25K as a way to continue to lose weight and improve my health. I didn't expect to particularly enjoy running because I had never run before apart from cross country at school, and I hated that!

However, I soon got the running bug and began telling everyone I knew about how great C25K is. By the time I graduated, my weight was down to 69kg, and I have maintained that ever since.

I have kept active by running three to four times a week, and running has become a hobby. I have also gone on to do 10km runs and half marathons.

I make sure to wear my C25K graduate shirt at each event to remind myself of what got me running and to promote this great programme.

How did you hear about parkrun?

I found out about parkrun on the HealthUnlocked C25K community while doing C25K, but I didn't feel confident about running 5km at that stage, so I thought I'd wait until I completed the nine-week programme.

I did my first parkrun on June 29 2013, about a month after graduating from C25K.  

How often do you do parkrun?

I do parkrun almost every week, and when I can't - because I'm running in another event the next day, I'm injured or I'm fasting for Ramadan - I volunteer at the runs. So far, I have volunteered seven times. My local parkruns are Barking and Valentines; I have run Barking 41 times and Valentines just the once.

Have your running times improved since starting parkrun?

I ran my first parkrun in 25 minutes and 24 seconds, and that was my fastest 5km at the time.

I have steadily improved my time, and my personal best is now 21:45.   

Do you do parkrun alone?

I run alone the majority of the time; however, I have encouraged many people to do C25K, including my dad and a friend at work. They have both graduated, and they join me at parkrun on occasions.

When they do, I tend to run with them to set the pace, so they can achieve their target time. I helped my dad set a personal best of 31 minutes a few weeks ago. 

Have you made new friends doing parkrun?

Barking parkrun has a great community. The parkrun is organised by members of the Barking Road Runners club, and they are very friendly.

I always try to arrive a bit early to catch up with everyone, and hang around after finishing to cheer everyone on as they finish their 5km.

How does parkrun keep you motivated?

I tell everyone that C25K got me running, and parkrun has kept me running! C25K gave me the structure to build up to 5km, while the parkruns give me something to aim for every week.

I'm motivated by my desire to improve on my time, achieve 50 parkruns and collect points towards the annual points competition.

I was also recently named Barking parkrunner of the month and got a voucher for a free pair of trainers. It was great to get that recognition from the organisers. 

What do you like about parkrun?

Where do I start? The community, people giving up their own time to put on an event for others, the advice that more experienced runners give to help me along, running in a group to help me improve my times and seeing others work hard and keep improving their times.

A junior parkrun has been set up near me, and I have been taking my four-year-old daughter along so parkrun has also allowed me to have some good moments with my daughter.

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