Monday, October 11, 2010

Couch-to-5K Running Plan for beginning runners

Couch to 5K Running PlanFor no very good reason, I would like to review the The Couch-to-5K® Running Plan at Cool Running. It's something I'm doing (I'm about halfway through), and it's free, and they don't know I exist, so I'm receiving no compensation or product in exchange for blogging about it. I just think it's the bomb.

Because, see, I am not a runner. I was the person in gym class who befuddled the gym teacher by scoring lower than the chart offered on the speed tests. We were in sixth grade, and the chart started at what the producers thought the slowest fourth-grader could run. I was off the charts, but not in the good way. And I had been trying my hardest. I was also the person in gym class who would wheeze my way through any laps we were forced to run, and classmates would come up to me in concern, offering asthma inhalers and noting my red face, apparently worried I might stroke out then and there.

True story: When Sam and I were just beginning to get to know and like each other, we attended a baseball game together. It was chilly, so Sam proposed running around the stadium to get warm. I agreed without thinking very hard, because I was trying to impress him. Yeah, I didn't make it very far. Later on, he told me he'd had no idea why he'd suggested running since he, too, hates to run. Silly boy.

Other true story: I seriously considered joining the Army for the scholarships. Running was the thing that stopped me in my tracks. (Literally.) Good thing, I guess, since now I'm a pacifist…

Anyway! So, I think I've established: I am not a runner. I suck big time at running.

I saw some of my bloggy friends tweeting about Couch-to-5K and thought, My, how ambitious. Not for me. And went about my merry way.

But then I was seized by a fitness bug (those and cleaning bugs are ones I try always to give into, since they last only so long) and I started looking for local classes I could take to inspire me to continue working out. One was 5 Weeks to a 5K, and it ended with an actual 5K race that you had to raise money for. Well, I was nervous about signing up, because I figured I'd be doing it as only a challenge: Ha ha, Teacher, I dare you to get me running a 5K in 5 weeks!

But the class didn't start for a few weeks, and in the meantime I kept second guessing the wisdom of a 5-week running regimen, in the company of others around whom I might look foolish. And running an actual 5K? Well, I just kind of wanted to learn to run (and anytime I say "run" in this post, you can substitute "jog in a shuffling manner"). I didn't actually want to race.

So I looked at that Couch-to-5K plan I'd heard tell about, and I realized, Hey, it was nine weeks long. That was four extra weeks! Surely I could at least begin with the Couch-to-5K plan to get a head start and then switch over to the class if I needed the extra accountability.

So I'm halfway through Week 5 of the 9-week plan, and I love it! I seriously feel great. Dare I say it? I feel like … no, seriously, little old me … a runner.

A 5K distance is about 3 miles, or about 30 minutes. I'm assuming this is if you run faster than a waddling tortoise. I am measuring my runs by time, not distance (it's your choice), so I imagine I will be running far less than a 5K by the end, but that's OK by me.

Says the program:
"In fact, the beginners' program we outline here is less of a running regimen than a walking and jogging program. The idea is to transform you from couch potato to runner, getting you running three miles (or 5K) on a regular basis in just two months."

Each run takes about half an hour total. It begins with a warm-up walk, and then does a mix of walking and jogging (at first), gradually increasing the length of the jogs and decreasing the length of the walks, until by the end you're jogging straight for longer distances (or times).

As an example, here's the first day's plan:
"Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes."

Note that it requires math to figure out how many repetitions to do (I know now it's 8), and laugh with me that I did the math wrong and did only half the time I was supposed to!

Now laugh at me that I almost had a coronary completing half the first day's run. I was simultaneously annoyed and justified. See, I wasn't a runner after all! I nearly heaved out a lung running a measly 60 seconds four times, with walking in between!

I almost gave up right there, especially when my math mistake occurred to me on the cool-down walk. (I wasn't doing another half right then, no way!)

But I went online and Googled "Couch to 5K too hard" (no, seriously), and I got my blessed answer, which I will pass on to you as wisdom from on high:

No, really. Very, very slowly. Go as slowly as you have to to be able to carry on a conversation during the run (= shuffling jog) portions of the training. Make it look like a running step, but go even more slowly than your walking, if you want.

Just do it where no one can see, because you'll feel like a doofus. Trust me. There are a lot of runners along the beach path near my house, as I discovered when trying to avoid them all. I'd never noticed them before! I started running after dark or on back roads after that — once, I took Mikko in the stroller (not a jogging stroller; what need had I of such pretension?) and he kept asking me the whole time, "Where we going, Mama?" very concerned and a little put out that I had obviously lost my way to be cycling aimlessly through quiet residential streets where no one could point and laugh at the woman moving at the speed of a slug with gout.

But here's the thing. As I've continued along the training regimen, I've gotten faster, and I can breathe more easily even so. When I looked ahead at the weeks to come (hint: Don't do this), I kept getting scared, e.g., "Oh, noes! In two weeks they expect me to run EIGHT minutes at a time! I can't!!! Aaaa!!!" But by that stage — I was ready.

So, as I said, I'm only halfway through at this point, but I'm feeling good. I think (hope) I can keep it up till the end, and then we'll see where that leads me. I had some qualms when I discovered I was pregnant after only a couple weeks on the plan, but I don't think an every-other-day, half-hour, moderate (ok, slow) jog is against the rules for pregnancy fitness. And I really do want to go into the next trimesters as fit as possible, considering how much back and hip pain I had last time — I anticipate having to slow way down on my jogging, walking, and ballet, and probably do just swimming toward the end. So it's nice to take advantage of the fresh air and beach views for now.

Running turns out to be very Zen. I can focus on anything but the running itself and just enjoy myself. My favorite place to run is a concrete stretch right by the waves, where I can hear and see their joyful, peaceful, constant crashing. If not too many people are around, I just run in (long) circles right there.

My one product recommendation, but it's a freebie, is, if you have a smart phone, to download the free C25K Lite app. It times your runs for you, chiming a little bell when it's time to switch from warm-up to jog to walk to cool-down. No messing up the math! I really like that I don't have to be glued to a timer or stopwatch or keep a mental tally of how many repetitions I've done. There's a Pro version for only $1.99 that can run in the background if you want to play music while you run. The Lite version must be in the foreground, or it pauses, so no checking email while you walk. (Ask me how I figured this out…) I really like the software, and for just a 9-week program didn't see the need to upgrade to Pro; then again, I don't listen to music when I run. I don't know if this is dorky, but I also get a thrill from seeing the green bar activate next to that day's plan when I've finished a run. I was considering printing out the training plan just to mark some old-school black Xes on each completed day, but this is just as good, and eco-friendly to boot!

So, here are my tips, in conclusion:

  1. If you are not a runner, jog slowly. Then even more slowly.
  2. Get some decent running shoes.
  3. Stretch during and/or after. (My calves in particular get really tight, a ballet-related complaint as well.)
  4. Feel free to take a day off or repeat a week if you need to, and leave at least one day of rest in between each running day. There's no prize for finishing early.
  5. Get the C25K app for your phone so it will track your running for you.

So there you are! Couch-to-5K, from a non-runner's perspective who's catching on to the runner's high (which I used to make so much fun of for being the result of hyperventilation!).

If you're interested, go check out our new site connecting natural parents, the Natural Parents Network, for my post relating my running experience to letting birth play out without a lot of checking on progress. And feel free to submit your own posts to NPN or consider volunteering!

Disclosure: No links are affiliate links.
I know — what in the world?
And I received no compensation for this review.
I'll do better next time.
See my full disclosure policy here.


TopHat said...

I'm doing the C25K program to get into shape postpartum. I figured a 6 week babymoon counts as couch potato. I am definitely NOT a runner. I quit cross country in seventh grade just a few weeks after it started. I hate running.

I agree with you that it helps to run where people aren't. I go to the local rose garden which is hidden away from roads. It takes about 5 minutes to walk there, so that's my warm up. I run in the mornings before my husband goes to work so he can watch the kids if they wake up. One two of the days (Tues and Sat- I'm doing T, Th, Sat) I put a load of clothes in the washer and do my 30 minutes of running while our clothes clean and then I put them in the dryer when I get back since a wash is half an hour. It's like multi-tasking!

I'm starting week 4 tomorrow. It looks murderous. 5 minutes of running before a walking break? No thanks! But I've found that each week I look at the schedule and think it's too hard, except once I do it I'm surprised to find that it's not that bad. I hope this week proves to be "not that bad" as well. Let's hope.

Rachel R. said...

Hi, I'm a new follower! I got about halfway through couch to 5k and did very well, but fell off track once it got too hot. This reminds me that I should try it out again.

Please consider following me back at my new blog and entering my cloth diaper and Starbucks giveaways!

Unknown said...

How awesome! I just recently started the c25k myself. As in, last week. I have been working out twice a week doing Zumba, and decided to add this in it. I am the FARTHEST thing from an athlete or a runner, but since my HBAC I started reveling in the newfound love for my body. These sessions, 30 minutes on a treadmill at my apartment fitness center, are a quick spree out of my house to focus on me. I'm glad to know there is someone else out there.

Lauren Wayne said...

TopHat: I'm really impressed at the multi-tasking, I must say! :) I'd heard week 4 was the worst and was bracing myself for it. But I really did get through just fine, going as slowly as I needed. I was scared yesterday with day 2 of week 5: 2 8-minute running segments. But, once again, I just took it as slowly as I needed to and was fine! There is hope! Yea!

Thanks, Rachel! Sounds great.

RealMommy: Isn't it funny how you can go from non-runner to loving it? I do feel so powerful and athletic running, more so than with my usual walking routine. I actually have to keep myself from running every day, so I don't wear myself out this early, and I never thought I'd say that!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for good stuff

Anonymous said...

Hi all. Congrats on your progress! I am also not a "runner" but a weight person. I have had two knee surgeries (ACL) since Jan 2010. How do your knees feel with this program?

I appreciate any comments you might have as I don't want to undergo the knife again. :(