If you not already aware Couch to 5K (C25K) is an exercise program to take you from lounging on the couch to running 5K in 9 weeks. Sounds like madness. The program involves running 3 days a week, ideally with a rest day between each one. The first 6 weeks is made up of mostly interval runs, running interspersed with precious recovery walks. You start by running 8 mins in 30 minutes and each week it increases until you are running for the full 30 minutes. Yup definitely madness.
Not many people do their first 5k within 30 minutes. I’m certainly expecting to have to do extra work at the end of the program before I can truly deliver a 5K. But let’s be honest C25K will get me much closer to 5K than just continuing to sit on the couch.
My motivation for doing C25K is no different to many other stories I’ve read. I was (and still am) overweight, years of working in the City and doing no form of exercise has taken it’s toll. The final straw was being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, something of a pre-disposition in the family and a national epedemic. At my heaviest weight I was more than 20 stone (300lb) at which point I was starting to find walking even modest distances a challenge.
For several reasons I ended up quitting my long standing full-time job in the City and switched to contracting which proved far more varied and more importantly far more flexible. This gave me time to start sorting out a number of things that had been on the back burner, chief amongst them my lifestyle and fitness.
So I started walking. Initially I’d struggle to walk more than a few kilometres, by the end of 6 months I was walking 20km 2-3 times a week and really enjoying it. I enjoyed the simple pleasure of being out in the fresh air, the way only someone who’s been stuck in an office for two decades (or doing jail time) can really enjoy.
The only problem with walking was it was becoming a massive time sink, something I now had plenty of but even so, it also wasn’t doing much for my fitness. I was burning calories but I wasn’t really getting any fitter, I might be sweating but I rarely got out of breath. In fact it was just becoming an exercise in chafing & blister management, something I got pretty good at.
The obvious next step for me was to to start running. I have never been a great distance runner, I was a cracking sprinter at school (a long time ago) but I have never liked distance running even back then. I don’t think I have the build for it, looking more like a rugby forward than a Kenyan elite runner. I blame the Welsh miner genes and terrible diet.
I did consider hitting the gym but I’m not a fan of walking/running on a treadmill I find it utterly mind numbing. Walking/running outside in fresh air (in the sun or in the rain) I find much more engaging, probably because it is different every time. That and it has the added bonus of being free.
The NHS in the UK had been pushing the Couch to 5k (c25k) program via various channels and it got me thinking that I might just be able to undo a lifetime of negativity about running. What I found particularly motivational was the countless vlogs of people recording their journey through the program. Even more encouraging many of these people were average Joe’s (& Jills), people who really were getting off the couch, truly unfit people like myself.
The final straw was the BBC’s coverage of the Manchester 5k. One of the short films had a very large lady who had done the program and gone on to run 10k and beyond. In the film she was in a running group with a bunch of typical fit twenty somethings that routinely turn up in these segments, extruding health and fitness. Needless to say they were running significantly faster than the lady the film was actually about, but like the tortoise and the hare, she just kept on plodding away. That was my “if she can do it” moment and I got out and started the program the next day.
I downloaded the OneYou C25K app from the NHS, there’s loads of apps for C25K with all kinds of advanced features, but I went with this one because it was simple and free.