First of all I want to talk about: What is the Couch to 5k program? Why consider it? How do I do it? CAN I do it?
For those who don't know a 5k is the name of a race that is 5 kilometers long, which is just a little over 3 miles.
There are many 5ks available to join and many of them are for fundraisers, benefitting certain charities, events that cities put on for the community, or just for fun. These goals in and of themselves are motivation for a lot of people to get involved.
It is perfectly fine to walk 5ks or do walk/jog intervals instead of running the whole thing, so don't get discouraged if your training doesn't go as fast as you planned and you need to walk part of it or do whatever level you are on. It is NOT as scary as it may sound to some at first!
The Couch to 5k program is a plan of gradually starting with walking and short jogs for certain intervals of time, over time making the walk breaks shorter and the jogs longer with the goal of eventually building up the ability to jog the whole thing. If you can jog or even barely trot for one or two minutes at a time then you can start this program!
When I did the Couch to 5k program for my first 5k in 2014 I jogged BARELY faster than my walking pace to start with, but the goal was simply to just jog during the designated times, no matter how slow. Over time my endurance started to build and my speed naturally increased some as I went along, and I learned how to pace myself. Sometimes I got a bit excited and ran a bit too hard and realized I needed to slow it down to less than my full ability until closer to the end of my runs. Just listen to your body and learn your personal abilities and limitations.
Before beginning a Couch to 5k we need to keep a few things in mind:
1. It's NOT too hard to do! We aren't worried about winning the first race we do, we aren't trying to go a certain speed, and we are setting our own pace. Although there is a schedule it's okay to repeat a week, slow down the progression or speed it up. The main goal here is to increase endurance and ease into getting in shape.
2. Don't start too much at once. I am taking the week before I start again to track my food, lean towards better choices without stressing out, getting on the hydration, and mentally preparing. It's also okay to start the running program first and work on food later, just make sure to stay hydrated and have a protein shake with fruit or something to replenish your muscles after a workout.
3. Make a plan. There are a lot of options out there for doing a Couch to 5k. There are different apps out there that tell you when to walk and run, including an official Couch to 5k App that is put out by Active.com. I prefer to use podcasts for my training that play music and have someone chiming in telling when to walk or run. My custom program utilizes these. The majority of these traditional programs follow a 3 days per week training schedule. This is fine for a lot of people, but I prefer to train 5 days per week. It keeps me consistent without too many breaks between workouts that can get me off track or procrastinate. If you decide to use a 3 day per week plan I would suggest going for a walk on two more of the days or doing some other kind of fitness activities to keep your head in the game. I will have separate board posts for each week of my training program, but again, use whatever works for you.
4. Stretch, stretch, stretch! We are going to be using our muscles more than we are used to and stretching with help us prevent injuries, help prevent and alleviate soreness, and keep us limber as well as all the other benefits. The jury is out on whether it is better to stretch before or after working out, but I say do both. Stretching gently before a workout helps warm up the muscles and get them ready to work, while stretching after your muscles are already good and warm helps increase flexibility, prevent soreness later, and the list goes on. Try to remember all those stretches you learned in PE, check out videos and resources on SparkPeople and Active.com, or just Google stretches for runners. Just make sure to keep it simple enough you can remember your routine on the go and cover all the major muscle groups.
5. Pace yourself! As we get through the weeks it can be easy to get excited and want to push too hard, but this can be a recipe for burnout. Just revel in how good it feels to be sticking with the plan and look forward to the end results. Your muscles will thank you, as consistency is the key. On the flip side if you feel good one week but it just feels WAY too hard the next it is okay to just do what you can, take a few extra quick walk breaks and repeat the week until you can achieve it fully. It is nothing to get discouraged about! Listen to your body. Don't try to sprint and don't go so slow that it isn't a challenge at all; target heart rate and keeping a rhythm with your breathing are good things to go by.
6. Rest days are part of the plan! Give your body at least two rest days a week for your muscles to recover, build, and heal. Some people like to run during the week and take the weekend off, but don't take too much time in between to where you aren't making progress. If you follow a 3 day a week training program I would run every other day as opposed to 3 on and 4 off. I personally like to train 5 days a week taking a break in the middle and the end, such as a break Wednesday and Sunday. If I have a lot of soreness I will move my break day around as needed.
7. Soreness is okay; but not TOO much. When I start to get to where I'm really pushing my muscles a 20 minute soak in an epsom salt bath every night did wonders. There were a few times when I started getting into the longer runs that I wound up with really sore, painful calves. Icing them for 20 minutes with crushed ice in a gallon ziploc under them while resting in a recliner as well as Motrin helped with that. That was one of the weeks I had to slow down and repeat. I found that when I did a harder run and I knew I would likely be sore later it was better to use ice before it got to that point as well as stick to Epsom salt soaks. The main point here is PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BODY, treat minor soreness before it becomes pain, and be in communication with your doctor as needed. This goes back to not getting overly excited and pushing too hard.
8. Have fun and be lighthearted! You are taking great steps toward the next level of fitness and reaching your goals! Reach out for guidance as needed. We are in this together!
This blog is a copy of my getting started board post for the new Spark Team I created called the Couch to 5k and Healthy Eating SparkTeam. Come join me here: