I’ve been absent from this site a little too much for my own liking lately. It started with work getting crazy again and all the exhaustion that comes with that. On top of work, I’ve also been pushing my body harder than I’m used to and it has been wearing me down. On the plus side, it’s also been building me up. Confused? I’m talking about the Couch to 5K Program. Also known as C25K, it’s a program to ease couch potatoes into runners. I was an active kid, even making the alternative team for state swimming back in the day, but I’ve never run even a mile straight through. I could do kick-boxing, bike, even yoga but running killed me and for some reason I always hated being beat by something that seemed as simple as running.
A lot of my friends and family have seen me talking about the program and are a little confused on the details so I wanted to share how exactly the program works, some helpful tips, and how it’s been affecting me and the family. I’m obviously not a running pro but I’m loving this program, minus the fact that I started it in Missouri’s worst heat wave.
The program lasts 9 weeks and you gradually build yourself up, running longer distances and times. You run 3 times a week on alternating days and you start each day with a 5-minute warm-up walk and end each day with a 5-minute cool-down walk. Weeks 1-4 you repeat the same thing all 3 days you run so it’s fairly straightforward. Week 5 is where you start to increase your running time quickly and you run for 20 minutes straight for the first time. I just completed Week 6 Day 2 (W6D2) so I won’t be doing any more walking other than warming up or cooling down. Here’s a chart that shows visually when you run/walk.
My husband is doing the program with me and so is my dog. My husband is just a touch behind me since I started a bit ahead of him but he just ran right through Week 4 so he’s right on my toes. Week 4 is one of the hardest weeks of the program in my opinion. Week 1 is hard because you’re just getting started but week 4 is when you increase your runs from a total of 9 minutes to a total of 16 minutes. It’s a huge jump so be prepared to be exhausted that week. The best part about having my husband as a running partner is that he holds me accountable. He wants to run so I run with him and we each keep encouraging the other. Even my dog keeps me accountable. If I don’t take her running on her running days then she gets crabby and no one wants to see her crabby side.
Running with my dog is also a challenge. I wouldn’t suggest running the C25K with a small dog because they might not be able to keep up. My dog has had advanced leash training which makes running with her so much easier. Some commands I’ve found helpful are “heel” so she’ll stay close to me when cars or people are near, “leave it” when a person with an animal is near, and “turn” for when we’re at a split in the road and I use the leash to guide her. My dog Nova loves the runs though and she cruises right along with me each week. I also used snapping or an “easy” command to help her increase or decrease her speeds as we shift between running and walking.
Helpful C25K Tips
Have all the tools you need. Buy proper running shoes from the start so you don’t get injured. I also find having good workout clothes (including socks and underwear) to be a must as well as having a hat and sunglasses.
This isn’t a race. When you finish the program you might be ready for a race but until then keep your pace slower than what you might think. If you are a couch potato running too fast might lead to injury. You should be going slow enough to be able to talk while running. I test this by giving commands or praising my dog mid-run.
Be realistic with your goals. I hope to sign up for a 5K when I finish this program but I know I might not actually end up running a full 5K by the end of Week 9. I’ve included extra time before race season starts to allow for rest days, building up my running distance, and even time in case of injuries. I do have some knee problems that led me to repeat a day once but I still have plenty of time to reach my goals. Now that I’m about 2/3 of the way through the program, I have 2 races in mind to test my skills on a course depending on how ready I feel.
Find a program that works for you. Maybe you need to go inside on a treadmill to run in this heat or maybe you need to do some Week 0 exercises to build up the strength for a full program. My friend Janelle is doing a 12-week C25K program that is working great for her and her husband.
To help follow the intervals I use podcasts with my runs. They tell me when to start walking, start running, and have music to help me keep my pace during the runs. My current favorite podcasts can be found over at C25kplaylists.com. I like the robotic voice prompts, the cues for being halfway and near the end they often let me know I have just a few minutes left. Each week has between 4 and 8 different music options. Other great choices include Chubby Jones (a very encouraging voice pushes you while you run to music), Podrunner Intervals (DJ Beatsmith uses beats per minute in songs to keep you at a steady pace), and Robert Ullrey (a man running this program with you to the beat of techno songs).