Friday, February 12, 2010

Couch to 5k: does it work?

Does the Couch to 5k program work?

Short answer: Yes.

Slightly longer answer: Well, more or less. It depends.

Much longer answer: In my opinion, the main problem with the Couch-to-5k (C25k) program is the name. The name makes people think any couch potato can run a 5k in 9 weeks, and that is not the case. Some people can, others ... no.

The program is set up so that you can follow a schedule that tells you how far or how long to run each day. You can run for a specified distance or for a specified amount of time. For example: the cool runnings site shows this for Day 1 Week 4:
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or 2-1/2 minutes)
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)

When you finish the C25k you will be able to run a 5k (3.1 miles) or run for 30 minutes without a break. Not necessarily both. If you choose to run for time, you might not be up to a 5k in 9 weeks. Especially if you've been sitting on the couch for a good while.

The program can work for you, regardless of how fit you aren't, if you either concentrate on following it for distance (no matter how long it takes you to do the mileage) or running it for time (no matter how short a distance you cover).

There are people who have been couching it for so long that they can't run even for a minute. The Cool running site has a thread devoted to people who are plus-sized and trying the C25k. (Warning: it's a long thread.) Some of these people start the first week several times before they make it through. Then they keep going, which is really cool.

Obligatory note: as you suspected, I am not a doctor, nor do I know anyone who plays a doctor on TV. All I can give you is my experience and my opinion. Take them with a grain of salt and a shot of tequila. If you're really sedentary or overweight, you might have to start slow: walking or repeating the first few weeks of the C25k, whatever it takes. Read the thread above and see your doctor.

My experience with the C25k

Last year, I tried the couch to 5k program. Very slowly. I was convinced that these joints and these legs could not stand the impact of running, or even jogging. And I did have odd pains, shooting pains in the ankles, twinges in the knee. These were things that I had never felt before, so I didn't know -- were they serious? Should I stop and ice? Should I keep going?
I kept going. I just went slower if something hurt.

Usually, the pains didn't last until the next day. At the next running session, something else would hurt instead.

When I first looked at the program and saw that I was expected to jog for 20 minutes at a time in only 5 weeks, I thought they were nuts. Couldn't believe that anyone would expect a body this large to even attempt that in so short a time. Maybe some people could do it, but not me.

The thing about these programs -- the couch to 5k, Richards' schedule for cycling a century, the 100 push up challenge -- is that I always think I can't do what they're going to be asking me to do later on in the schedule.

And it's true, I probably couldn't have done the run for week 5 when I started. But I could make my sluggish body do the schedule for each particular day. I learned not to look ahead, because that would depress/intimidate/scare me.

When it came to actually jogging for 20 minutes at a time, the hardest part was nerving myself up to do it. Seriously, the problems weren't in the legs or the lungs. The brain kept saying "are you sure you want to do this?" I had to learn to switch off my brain's little voice. The best way I found to do that was music. Put on something with a good beat and I can do anything.

After I did the 20 minute jog, something fundamental changed. I saw myself differently. I'd never jogged that long in my life. All these years, I'd been underestimating what my body was capable of. Now I started to wonder what else it could accomplish if I asked.

Last year, I did the C25k very, very slowly. Like barely lifting my feet off the ground. It was jogging ... technically... but my actual forward speed was not very great.

When I reached the end of the program I could jog (trudge) for 30 minutes, but I knew that wasn't enough to get me through a 5k. I wasn't sure what to do next, so I slacked off. I spent the spring and summer walking everywhere I could.

This winter, I tried again. This time I wanted to run, actually run during the running intervals. I did pretty well with the speed until I got to the longer runs, then I had to slow it down a bit. Still, I was much faster than I had been the year before. Plus, I wasn't having all the problems with asthma that I'd been plagued with earlier. Since the asthma seems to be mostly exercise-induced, I'm guessing that the mere fact that I'd done enough exercise to build up my fitness level a bit helped me do the running. I'm still not running at the 10-minute pace, but I am actually jogging rather than shuffling my feet centimeters above the sidewalk.

Because I was so out of shape, I did the c25k for time rather than distance. Once I got up to jogging for 30 minutes at a time, I switched plans and started concentrating on distance. It took me a couple weeks, gradually increasing the length of the run each time, but I can now jog for 3 miles without stopping. Woo! I'm ready for a 5k!

The funny thing is, my joints hurt a whole lot less now than when I first started trudging last winter. I needed to do the program at slug-pace so that my body could adjust to what I was asking. Once it had gotten used to the idea, everything went much more smoothly.

One issue I still haven't been able to overcome is the dread of jogging in daylight. I can walk outside when it's light out and people can see me, but jogging? With this body? The thought makes me want to go hide in the closet. I had to find places that I could safely jog in the evening. If there was no other way to do the run, I would jog indoors. Around and around, which looks silly but is doable.

Now that I'm going to run a whole/entire/actual/real 5k, I suppose I'll have to face my fear of jogging in public around other people. I'll find a way somehow.

So if you're at a 5k race and see a woman jogging along with a bag over her head, just say "hi Merry" and pass by. I'll meet you at the finish line.

Exercise du jour: Jog 3.5 miles
Done. Nothing like getting soaked to the skin to ruin the mood. But even a bad run is better than none, so long as it's done.


WaistingTime said...

Good for you! I might just be inspired enough to try more "running." I haven't done impact exercise in years after hurting my feet with step aerobics. But the other day I tried some jogging intervals on DH's treadmill and my quads were sore for days! I guess I need to do it more often.

Kelly the Happy Texan said...

This is really amazing. I had every single emotion doing this program. I'm also doing it for time, no speed, right now but plan to switch to speed after I get the time part going.

I also look ahead and get discouraged! Last week I looked at week 4 and thought, "no way I'll be able to do this!" But I did it! At week 1 I was looking at week 3 thinkig "no way!" My mind i my worst enemy, not my body. Each week prepares you for the next.

I have been literally amazed at the progress. Yeah, I'm afraid of the first 20 minute run. I really am. I think that will be a tipping point for me if I can complete it.

Good for you making it through the program!!! It's very helpful to me to see that others have been able to complete it.

Don't worry about size and running a 5K. You never know who you may inspire on the sidelines to start running. :)

Kyle said...

Awesome and timely post. I just did W5D3 this very morning and was dreading it, but I did it. I keep surprising myself.

I am a FIRM believer in the C25K program and that it will really work for anyone, anyone. Anyone, though, who is willing to keep pushing themselves that extra minute or step and whose only goal is to get through each day without worrying about 9 weeks, 3.1 miles, or 30 minutes.

I wasn't sure until this morning what my capabilities were, now I do.

I'm going to keep getting better and better.

Getting Better and Better

Amy - the gazelle said...

congratulations on being able to run a whole 5K! That is such an awesome milestone.

Are you going to do the Shamrock 5K?

Anonymous said...

I have had the c25k for awhile. I am trying to actually go through the whole thing, not stop after week 2..... This was a great post. Thanks for sharing!

Tricia said...

I'll admit that sometimes I feel the same way about running outside, in the daylight. And then I pass another runner and they give me the "hey whats up fellow runner" nod and I realize that I DONT CARE what I look like running. I'M RUNNING! :)

Lu said...

That's it. I'm doing it. I love your viewpoint on this. I have the same "brain talk". I can't wrap my head around running. Period. 5K here I come.

Stephany Benbow said...

It is so hard to overcome the fear of what people will think when they see you jogging. But chances are far more people will think "way to go!" than anything discouraging. Plus you've got the backing of all us other chunky guys and gals getting out there are making a go of it. What other people might think isn't nearly as important, right?

SoupDragon said...

It's good to hear other people saying similar things. I did a similar plan about 3 years and was rather depressed not to progress as fast as the book I was following suggested I 'ought' to. I'm now focusing on running for X minutes, not running X KM.

Shelley said...

Love this post, Merry - you could be writing my story, I swear. From the trudging-like jogging with the super slow start to the embarrassment at running outdoors in daylight...we really could be twins. And if I see you in a 5K, I won't be passing you by, believe me! Thanks for posting this - you are such a great inspiration and the picture of what a person can do with a little determination and a lot of perseverance.

messymimi said...

Hold your head high -- you are adapting the program to fit your needs and you are killing it!

VRaz60 said...

Bravo!! It's all about making the journey personal, and you've done that in a wonderful way. Good for you.

AM! said...

Hi, I found your blog via workout mom. I was drawn to the couch to 5k topic. I've heard so many women loving this program.
also, I'm a big scheduler/and goal setter myself and love your push up goal. those are a doosey!

Crabby McSlacker said...

Love the way you approached the whole program with determination but also with flexibility, and learned so much in the process! Congrats for making a success of it.

Good luck on the daylight running thing. I know it doesn't help to hear this, but I think the reaction most people have when they see runners, of whatever size, is "God, I should be doing that myself; wish I weren't so lazy."

tara said...

Holy crap are you my twin sister from a different mother? I'm on week 3 and today was my first attempt at running for 3 minutes. I was up half the night thinking how impossible it would be. This fat girl is gonna do what for three minutes? I went down to the waterfront early in the morning. I thought for sure its too early for other people...wrong. So many runners. Damn them. But they all just smiled and gave me the runner's wave (I liken it to the motorcycle wave) and I'll be damn if I didn't run the three minutes not only once but twice. I had a good cry during the walking segment in between because I couldn't believe what I had just done. I got back to my car and took a picture of my sweaty self. Hair all messed up. Face red. But you know what else is in that picture? The biggest grin a girl could have. I can't wait until I get to the end and say I just ran a 5k

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I have tried jogging in the past and at one time actually was just about at the 5K level, but then my health decided to screw me around for several years and I lost all motivation. Dabble a bit and then stop.

I have just registered for a Mud Hero event and bribed my son and hubbie to do it with me. It has been great motivation - I am now on Week 4, and just finished Day 2. Jogging for 5 minutes, as required was scary and I didn't think I could do it. But I did! I havn't even looked at next week, cos this week already freaked me out, lol!

I too, hate jogging in daylight, can't stand jogging in the evening, so depending on when I start work, I am sometimes out the door at 4:45 am. I see dog-walkers and other joggers, and always wear my sunglasses. It's silly, I know. I do tell myself, "you know what - you are up, you are out, and you are doing it! So be proud!

Once I can do 5k, following the time guidelines, I will begin to work on speed. And also, hopefully, won't be as shy about running around a park in public! L_

Anonymous said...

I appreciate that this is a few years on but I just wanted to say thank you all for the positive comments. I did Week 3, day 1 this morning and I don't know how I am going to do the next one. My knees hurt a little, as did my calfs. It is so encouraging to hear your stories.

Ruthie said...

Hey I'm totally with you. I started the program and the first day something would hurt and then the next day something else would hurt. But I just keep pushing through and eventually the pain does go away. I just have kept going with the program but my pace is pretty slow. I get on the treadmill and do the walking at a 3.5 and jogging at a 4.7 but I'm reaching my endurance when I do. I figure that when I get to the end, I might have a slower pace. BUT I can't run which is something I've never been able to do either. And then after that I dunno. I was thinking about trying the 10k or running the 5k but trying to up my speed on the treadmill. I'm not sure what I'll do and that's what I've been looking for. Thanks for your blog. Good info and what I was looking for.