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How I Trained To Run 5K: The Start To My Life-Changing Running Journey

by | 7 Sep 2020 | My running journey, New runners, Older runners

In the beginning things were simple, or so I thought. I had a pair of trainers, shorts and a top. And lots of enthusiasm. I wanted to run 5K as quickly as possible, get fit – stay fit and enjoy myself.

Except, I didn’t have a faintest idea how to do it.

No plan. And you do need a plan when you are about to embark on a running journey and train for 5K. Given that I didn’t, a knee injury right at the beginning reminded me that it would be quite nice if I had one.

After some careful online search I fixed the knee through a great osteopath, got proper running shoes and came across a plan that everyone was talking about. From Couch to 5K, or C25K.

What is the C25K program, and how fast does it get you to run 5k?

It’s a training plan for total beginners, developed by Josh Clark, himself a novice, in order to help his mum off the couch and into running. You simply run 3 times per week with rest days in between and while distances and times slowly progress, in 9 weeks just about everyone will complete the program and be able to run for 30 minutes.

Simple.

The only slight confusion is in the title because there is no guarantee that you’d run 5km in 9 weeks. The program’s main aim is to enable you to run for half an hour in one go and as such it would give you a great platform from where you could reach a 5km (3.1 mile) target.

So how simple is C25K?

Very simple. I downloaded the C25K app, plugged in a pair of headphones and listened to mentor’s instructions. There was a choice of mentors and I picked Michael Johnson, one of the all time running greats.

I then put some music playlists together and by some tech miracle music would play and pause when Michael had something to tell me. Ace stuff.

The program is designed so that you run-walk-run very short distances and you don’t have to obsess with ‘speed’, a natural obsession of every novice runner and a sure ticket to an injury show.

That sounds very simple, C25K must be so easy!

Well, easy…..yes it is…..but I was so incredibly unfit that those first runs felt like torture. I was 52, a former smoker, and that first minute of ‘running’ confirmed that I had hardly any oxygen in my lungs and even less in my underdeveloped leg muscles. If there was any moment of doubt, that was it.

I saw sprinters and marathon runners on TV and there I was in the park, unable to run for 60 seconds for fear of fainting. Great. Just great.

I had to research the program online again just to make sure I was doing what I was meant to be doing and, sadly, I was doing the right thing and like so many others I had some real homework ahead of me.

Ok, is C25K training easy or hard?

Its structure is perfectly logical and easy to follow, week in-week out, not a problem. It’s designed so that someone completely new to running and irrespective of age and body shape can follow and complete it.

That’s what’s easy.

What wasn’t easy for me was the revelation that physical exercise entails a life change as well.

No point in eating a big meal and then attempting to run. Diet will have to be balanced and healthy, which in itself is a greatly positive thing but it’s a change nevertheless.

I came to discover previously unknown words such as ‘discipline’, ‘determination’, ‘structure’, ‘proper hydration, DEhydration and electrolytes’, ‘rest day’, ‘cross-training’, ‘quality of sleep’ and ‘strength work’. In fairness, you can avoid and ignore all of them but then, what’s the point of the new healthier lifestyle if you do?

How did my training go?

I simply went for it and went with it word-by-word. The essence of correct training is to follow the structure and training through C25K is no different.

The choice was to run outside as I disliked the idea of gyms and treadmills. I quickly learned that there were reasons why some people skip outside training courtesy of bad weather and with me starting in autumn, there was plenty of such evidence.

However, I could not be swayed. I ran in the rain as well as freezing pre-dawn conditions. I ran after work when I was tired and never skipped a single run. Some were fun, some were pain but I was determined to see it through.

The main reason for such determination was my motivation to get fit and there was no stopping me. The way the program is structured, the running time is constantly being extended and I felt pushed and challenged each time I went out.

And that’s exactly how it should be – the road to uninterrupted 30 minutes of running needs to have some serious bumps in there.

sweaty runner at risk of dehydration loss of electrolytes

Did I do any extra work outside running?

You bet. I started working on those long forgotten muscle groups at home by using raw weight. I discovered pushups, planks and squats. I drank a few litres of water daily to avoid what people called ‘heavy legs’ and dehydration.

I had always eaten healthy but at that stage I became even more aware of what healthy eating meant.

Also, if I could walk rather than take the bus, I walked.

Slowly but surely, as the program went on, my lifestyle was changing accordingly. From that agonising and embarrassing first minute to more or less trouble free 5 or 8 minute runs there were only a few weeks difference.

C25K worked, my lifestyle changes worked, enthusiasm and confidence grew.

I joined an online forum where I could pick up great tips from experienced runners. It’s important  that you do. It saves you loads of headaches when it comes to more technical stuff in terms of running technique, gear and accessories.

All those things were a complete novelty to me but once you realise that a correct posture can lead to injury free runs, you are bound to sit down and listen. I certainly did.

At that stage I didn’t even dream of such crazy things like running 5km under 30 minutes, let alone eyeing up uncharted territories like 10km or, God forbid, long distance running. All I wanted was to complete C25K in 9 weeks and see how I’d feel afterwards.

How did I finish?

On the high! As I grew into the program, when l ran uninterrupted 20 minutes without having my lungs exploding in a puff of smoke, I knew I would finish it easily. Although I never intended to put pressure on myself  and sprint the distance, the muscles and cardio became stronger and as I ran with less effort I also managed to run faster. Into the last week where I was running three 30 minute sessions. I covered 5km each time.

Technically speaking, I did the full Couch to 5K run in 30 minutes over 9 weeks.

Not sure how one feels when receiving an important medal but I think I was close to that feeling – not only did the program manage to move me off the couch where I spent a considerable time doing not much, it also filled me with confidence and new-found optimism. I realised I got stronger and my lungs had more capacity. My shins got bulkier and my skinny thighs wider and rounder. I could think clearer and sleep better. In just 9 weeks!

What next?

The first thing I decided to do when I completed C25K was to repeat the entire program. All of it from scratch.

At that time I didn’t know that would become my trademark move where I would repeat any new training steps twice, from 10km to half marathon and further. And why not? I wasn’t in any competition, it felt good to go through something familiar again and with far less, if any pain, and simply work on other bits that I missed the first time round. ‘Tweaking it’, is what I call that approach.

The way I see C25K is that it’s a perfect starting platform for every new runner. If you follow the program carefully and run sensibly you will gain benefits in muscular and cardio strength. You will gain the important running confidence by continuously moving and achieving targets.

That psychological aspect is even more important should you decide to expand your running and explore longer distances. You have already completed the groundwork by becoming stronger and the new belief will help you reach new targets.

Unburdened by professional competitions and targets you can simply relax, enjoy your running and test your limits in your own time. As such, C25K has all ingredients needed in your early running development.

Important Tips to Remember When Starting Couch to 5k running plan

Buy proper shoes first! Good shoes mean comfort, bad shoes can lead you to injuries.

Follow the program! There are runs which you may question, but everything in that brilliant program is there for a reason. If you stick with it, you will run for 30 minutes in one go in 9 weeks.

Don’t rush! No need for sprints just yet. Slow down, get comfortable and stay comfortable. If you run and cannot hold a conversation, you are going too fast. In the beginning fast can hurt you. Go slow.

Take rest days between running! Your muscles are waking up, you need to rest them. Regardless of how easy the run may be, regardless how good you are feeling, rest up between the runs. Take a day off or two. If you are persistent the moment will come when you will be able to run consecutive days but that moment is not there yet during this training.

Learn to stretch! Find out about dynamic stretching before the runs, and static stretching afterwards. It’s easy, it’s simple, it’s beneficial. Just stretch.

Enjoy yourself! Learn how to find your comfortable zone and relax!

C25K opens up different avenues, perspectives and ideas. 4 years ago during that arduous 60 second first run ordeal I wouldn’t even hallucinate about completing a marathon, let alone an ultra marathon but 4 years later I did, and I did both. And if you put your mind and body to it, so can you!

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