Work It On Out: Couch-To-5K

Homer Simpson running
Homer wouldn't be so miserable if he had stepped up using C25K

This is the first in a series I will be doing about fitness and exercise.  First, the obligatory disclaimer: I am in no way a doctor, dietitian, personal trainer or what have you. Just a lazy woman with a gym membership.  So, you know, consult a real doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough for exercise.

Today’s topic is Couch-to-5K, here on out known as C25K, or “couch potato” as my mom calls it.  If you’re not familiar with it, C25K is a program intended to get people into running who otherwise don’t run.  It’s a 9-week program which steps up your running every week.  You’re supposed to run three times per week and by the end the intention is that you can run a 5K in 30 minutes, about a 10-minute mile.

If you want to look at the whole Couch to 5K program, you can look at the link here. It starts off where you are alternating 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of walking, for 20 minutes, so you’re jogging for a total of 8 minutes.  By week 5 you’re alternating 3 5-minute runs with 3-minute walks, so you’re running for a total of 15 minutes.  And then by week 9 you’re running for 30 minutes straight with no walks.

Some of my tips here come from my own personal experience.  I have done Couch-to-5K several times and I have actually never run a straight 5K in 30 minutes.  I have run 5K on the treadmill many times, but I have always had to walk for at least part of it.

Part of what makes the C25K program great is that it’s flexible.  Can’t run for 60 seconds straight when you start? No problem! Walk for a few seconds or walk through one of the runs and keep at it until you can do the whole thing! But, this is where a big caveat comes in, and something I wish I’d learned when I first started: Don’t get stuck at one level because you think you can’t push yourself to the next one.  Week 3 is two sets of a 90-second run followed by a 90-second walk and a 3-minute run followed by a 3-minute walk.  Week 4 is a big step up: Two sets of a 3-minute run and a 90-second walk and a 5-minute run and a 2.5-minute walk.  I stayed on Week 3 for WEEKS, afraid that I couldn’t make that step up to running for 5 minutes straight.  The consequence was that my body was used to running for 90 seconds and then 3 minutes.  So 90 seconds into the first 3 minute run of week 4 and I was ready to be done.  The same goes for 3 minutes into the 5 minute run of week 4.  My body had fallen into a running routine and it created yet another mental barrier for myself. Right now I am in the process of actually pushing myself to complete each week as it comes up.  I’m letting myself slow down for a bit if I can’t get through a whole run – usually the last one – but I’m not stopping and I’m not allowing myself to drop down a week just because the last one was too hard.

Comic strip image of two people running.  Vultures sit in a tree saying: Hey you! Yeah you! Give it up! Just collapse right there and quit!
If only we could run right past the self-doubt voices

I learned looking at the C25K website that I don’t think I’m usually going fast enough.  I need to step it up!  That kind of goes hand in hand with not staying at a low level.  Your body can go faster than you think it can.  The more I am exercising, the more I am learning that so much of it is mental.  I like C25K for helping me get over those mental barriers.  When I want to stop it’s helpful to say, “This is only 90 seconds more than I did last week. 90 seconds is nothing. And then you get to walk. You just have to make it 90 more seconds.”  Obviously if you’re experiencing pain you should probably stop, but for me most of what I think I can’t do is all in my head, including speed and distance.

It’s so fun to see your progress!  I love getting a personal best or remembering the time when even jogging for 60 seconds was tough.

There are a number of C25K podcasts which I really recommend.  They provide a structure to your run, which I find helpful.  I am much more likely to stop if I am just listening to my regular music.  But if I know I’m listening for the cue when to walk, or an announcement of a halfway point then I feel more motivated. I listen to Robert Ullrey’s C25K podcasts, which you can find here or on iTunes.  The bonus is that I’ve listened to them so much that I pretty much have a Pavlovian response to run when I hear the music.  His music selection tends towards electronica, if you’re not a fan of that you can also check out Suz’s Couch to 5K podcasts which feature dancy/’90s/’80s and hip hop selections.  She altered her voice so it sounds like she inhaled helium and that can be distracting but the music is fun.

My last recommendation is to stretch and make sure to do the warm up and cool down walks.  You’re never going to enjoy running if you’re sore all the time.  Next week I am going to write about star charts as a way to keep up your motivation!

4 replies on “Work It On Out: Couch-To-5K”

I have an app for my iphone, and I love it. I listen to my own music, but I still get the cues that tell me when to walk and run. The first time I did c25k, I would run an extra day each week. For example, on Week 1, I ran the same pattern 4 times instead of the three. I felt this gave me the confidence to move on to the next week.

I’m still slow! One of my fitness goals is to run a 5K in 30 minutes, which I’m still working on. I can run 5k without stopping, though.

This program sometimes makes me jealous because after 6+ years of recreational running I ran a 5k in 30 minutes. What was I doing wrong all this time?

But I think I was “getting stuck on one level” for like, my whole running life. They don’t warn you that improving will be so hard!

I realize I’m late to this party, but I just wanted to say I’m having the same problem (and same pace!). According to some running sites and to some of my more experienced running buds, you have to thrown in some sprint training during the week. I haven’t tried it for myself yet, but I will once I’m over this blasted cold.

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