I’d seen the Couch to 5k program recommended a few times while working on improving my diet, and got as far as downloading the app (iOS/ Android) more than once. It took a couple of weeks to actually try it, and I have to admit, the first week or two were gruelling. It really seemed impossible that I would ever be able to run 5k, given how I felt after the 60 second runs of the first session, but the voice coach in the app was reassuring enough for me to keep at it. Here’s a quick summary of how it went for me and perhaps can give someone confidence to try it too!
The basic premise is that by following a series of 30 minute sessions, guided by a motivating and reassuring “celebrity” coach, a complete beginner can go from sitting on the couch to being able to run 5k in as little as 9 weeks.
The first session is as simple as run for 60 seconds, walk for 90 seconds then repeat that 8 times.
I say “simple”, but I can remember that first few times I was literally gasping for breath, even after just 60 seconds, but it was short enough that I could complete the goals.
To re-iterate, this was really hard as I was so unfit, but stick with it! The best thing is the distances are so short, however painful it is, you know you can do it.
The sessions gradually increase in length over the course of several weeks, 90 seconds run, then 2 minutes etc. I do remember looking ahead to a subsequent week where the program was 8 minutes running, 3 minutes walking and being shocked and certain I wouldn’t be able to do it. The app tells you when you’re half way so I simply run in one direction, then turned round and headed home from that point.
Falling Off the Wagon
Somewhere around the middle of the 9 weeks, I skipped a session or two, and that turned into 2 weeks where I was close to giving up. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but I do remember that feeling of disappointment but also kind of defeated. I did manage to get back on track, and started by repeating a previous week’s sessions, and from there on I was able to complete the program!
5k and Where Next?
It really felt like a massive achievement that I managed a 5k run on the last week of the program. But also a bit of an anti-climax. I realised how important that small external push, and routine to follow was in my journey.
I looked at other apps and programs, but in my case, comically, all it took was a friend telling me to try to run 3 times a week, almost challenging me. That was enough for me to decide Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday would be my “running days” and that routine plan was the secret for me.
Since then, I’ve run 100 times and counting, three times a week, and settled on 7k as my regular distance.
Hints, Tips and Lessons Learned
Thought I would list a few tips that worked for me and may give you some ideas if you need any!
- Plan your run: I mapped out a circuit from my house, around an open area call the Downs in Bristol, with a very slight decline on the last section. These tiny mind tricks seem to help me for sure, and having a clear end point in sight really helps.
- Pushing past 5k: For a couple of months I could’t imagine going past the 5k distance. I looked at a few “5k-10k” blog posts and tutorials but they seemed really complicated. In my case, I applied the same logic as #1 above and mapped out how to extend my circuit to 6k, then 7k, then 9k.
- Clothes matter: For me at least, getting some proper running shoes, and light weight tracksuit really made a big difference. Firstly there’s the comfort level obviously, but also that small expense outlay somehow keeps me motivated and that I’m a “runner”.
- Stick to 3 times a week: It often rains where I live and its easy to delay or think “I’ll run tomorrow” but I find it really important to keep to the schedule. I decided on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday as my days, and for the last 6 months I think I’ve only skipped one and only shifted the day once or twice.
- Don’t overdo it: I don’t really have any data on this, but having completed more than 100 runs now, I definitely think spacing out runs is good for me at least. I always have a day off between runs, and those days I try to walk 10,000 steps to keep active but avoid too much pressure on the knees.
- Warm up and cool down: Taking a few minutes before your run to stretch, limber up and get the heart going is important to avoid injury or strains. I mapped it out so after 7K run I have 1K to walk home, and that seems to help me cool down.
- Track all the things: I used the Nike App on my iPhone and really didn’t want an Apple Watch as I wear a mechanical watch. I’d received an Apple Watch as a gift a few years ago and couldn’t see the point. I figured I’d try it again for running and… yes, now I see the point! It’s an exceptional device and the data captured (securely) if incredibly useful over time to post trends and progress.
If you’re reading this and you’re interested to try it, I hope this story has given you some small inspiration, and do feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or suggestions.