Couch to 5K podcast: What it doesn’t tell you

I used to think all runners were nuts, but as a few of my friends have really gotten into it I’ve softened on the idea. Other forms of exercise haven’t caught my imagination (I hate cycling, for example – and don’t get me started on the gym…), so why not give it a try?

After some miserable diets, I’ve come to the conclusion a fitness regime is preferable to a foody one. Yes yes, I know that if I want my body to be a temple I need to do both but I have come to the following conclusion. My body is never going to be a temple because:

  • I’m not going to live forever
  • I’m comfortable with that
  • I LOVE food and drink that is bad for me; and not much else
  • I’m determined to have a good time until my body gives up

Running friend Matt showed me the wonderful cartoon The Oatmeal in which he describes why he loves running. It resonated with Matt and also with me – the idea of being good so you can keep being bad; as does the idea of disappearing into my own head for a while (if being an only child taught me anything, it’s being comfortable in my own company).

Into the ‘Couch to 5K’ wilderness

Several people recommended the ‘Couch to 5K’ approach to get me started. For the uninitiated, this is an NHS-backed initiative to get people running via a series of nine audio podcasts – one for each week over nine weeks which should end with you being able to run for 5K (or 30 minutes).

In theory, this sounded perfect – a slow introduction to running that would gently build up my ticker to cope with an extended period of huff-n-puffery. So I downloaded ‘Week 1′ to my iPod (it’s also available as an app for Android, or just as standard audio files) and got ready to slay my New Years’ resolution.

In many aspects it does a really great job and in general I’d highly recommend it. I found myself struggling, but just about succeeding, through week one and in week two I’m already feeling as if I’m making reasonable, but tough, progress. However, it’s a big let down in certain areas and hopefully this will help a few people.

Route planning: Where do I actually go in Week 1?

As an out of shape guy with no running experience I wanted to run around my local area, preferably on quiet streets and with as few roads to cross as possible; I was going out on dark evenings, so parks weren’t appropriate, and I had no intention of initially joining a ‘club’ of any sort – I wanted to give this a go on my own first to see how I got on.

Unfortunately, the podcast itself gives you no idea of how far you might actually get in Week 1. I wanted to plan a route, but didn’t want to end my first run wheezing and spluttering a few miles from home. And how the hell was I going to plan a route anyway?

The Week 1 podcast lasts just over 30 minutes, with a five-minute brisk walk at the start and finish to warm you up/down. The middle 20 minutes sees you run for one minute then brisk walk again for one-and-a-half minutes, which you’ll repeat eight times. Week 2 follows a similar pattern, but with five runs of one-and-a-half minutes followed by two-minute recovery walks after each one.

After employing some Google Fu I came across Map my Run. This fantastic free site uses a modification of Google Maps to allow you to plot routes point-to-point by simply clicking along the whole route you want to take at a micro level. You can switch between miles and kilometres, as well as saving your run routes for future reference and editing, amongst other options.

He’s going the distance: which is…?

In terms of distance, I figured that as 5K was the long term goal, I’d end up doing well short of that in week 1. I decided on plotting a figure-of-eight route around my local streets that stretched 3.5K, figuring wherever I ended up finishing on it I wouldn’t be too far from home.

This didn’t end up being too bad an estimate. So far I’ve covered around 3K over the total of each 30-minute podcast, so I expect most people could expect to go anywhere from 2-4K in total (depending on stride, fitness level etc). Hopefully this knowledge, and the online map, will let you head out for the first time with a bit more confidence.

Finally here, I think it’s really important to stress that the entire point of this is right there in the title – it’s to go from your couch to being able to ‘run’ 5K. The distance is the key here, not the time, and it’s hugely important not to let yourself get demoralised.

The girl on the podcast is encouraging, but don’t get too encouraged; no one is timing you or checking how far you’ve got – all that can be improved over time, if you want to. For now the most important thing to do is get your heart used to the motion and energy required to jog for a sustained period of time. This is a competition between your mind and your body, not you and Mo Farah.

You only need to spend money on ONE thing: shoes

When I first downloaded the Week 1 podcast, I thought I’d give it a go to see if I wanted to continue. So out I headed with an old football shirt, cagoule, tracksuit bottoms and skate shoes. All but one of those I’m still wearing in Week 2 – but if I hadn’t stopped to buy some proper running shoes I’d probably be in wheelchair by now.

It’s certainly advisable to use a decent ‘shoe finder’ such as the one at Sole Review, but this can all seem a bit daunting and the last thing you want is to be put off by the science of running before you’ve gotten off the couch.

As a minimum, get yourself to a sports store and get some proper running shoes. I grabbed the cheapest ones I could find (£30 Nike’s from Sports Direct) but the difference they make thanks to the padding on the soles is absolutely huge.

I don’t feel I lost out by just grabbing the first comfy pair I found for two reasons. Firstly, £30 seemed to strike a nice personal expenditure balance between being a significant amount (that I don’t want to waste), but an affordable amount. Second, if I stick at this they’ll wear out soon enough and if I’m still into it I can take my next purchase a bit more seriously.

Couch to 5K: Week 3 and beyond

So for me, while I wish I’d known the above, it’s a case of so far so good. I’m going to promise here and now that I’ll revisit this topic again (see below!) in the next month and comment on the next few weeks’ podcasts too – if only to know Ill have to publicly shame myself if I screw up and fail to do it.

If you’ve got any pearls of wisdom you think I should add, please put it in the comments below. And of course feel free to ask questions – but as I’m sure you can tell I’m as far from being a running expert as it’s possible to be. So for now, if you’re putting yourself through this as I am – good luck!

EDIT: Weeks three and four

9 thoughts on “Couch to 5K podcast: What it doesn’t tell you

  1. You won’t catch me running unless it’s for a bus, but I definitely agree (from cycling) that being able to eat and drink more as a direct result of exercise is worth the reward.

    And good luck! 5k’s a long way.

  2. When I started jogging, I’d been doing sprint training and weight lifting through football and so, though I was in the best shape of my life, was completely unprepared to have to travel further than 100 yards in one go. Though I did clock 100m in 11.27 seconds, I had to seriously work up to being able to run a half mile in one go without stopping. For me, I found listening to podcasts the best way to lose myself in the running. Not listening to anything made me too aware of my breathing and listening to music made me track time in my head both of which had me pulling up quickly. Podcasts on the other hand allow me to zone out of the time or distance I’ve run, not get bored and plow on. Anyway, that’s what works for me. Good luck with it!

  3. Pingback: Couch to 5K podcast: weeks three and four | Go Play Listen

  4. Pingback: Couch to 5K podcast: weeks five and six | Go Play Listen

  5. Pingback: Couch to 5K podcast: weeks seven and eight | Go Play Listen

  6. If you start doing longer distances a pair of £30 Nike’s won’t cut it for long, expect shin splints, plantar fasciitis as well as possible hip, ankle and knee problems.
    Shoes are like tires on a formula one car, poor choice has ended many a running career.
    Nike are generally piss poor for sport, air is free after all, quality shoes like asics always use gel, which goes hard after 3 years so you will need to replace whether you use them or not.
    Also bear in mind most trainers are designed around a person weighing about 10 stone if you are heavier expect diminished support at a faster rate.
    You will know when you’re trainers are knackered because you will start to pick up injuries. Replace straight away even if they look new still.
    Don’t wear running shoes for anything other than running as it will weaken your bodies natural support making you more prone to injury.
    Zero drop (flat shoes or fashion trainers) are best for general wear as they force your ligaments to stabilise themselves, it’s almost training without training.
    I’ve had all the above injuries and correct shoes basically cured them all.
    Cycling off road is awesome, it gets addictive, roads do generally suck though to be fair. Most rides with groups usually end at a pub believe it or not.

  7. Don’t worry – this is an old post. After a while I got some proper running shoes, after getting my run style videoed etc. And yes, since then I’ve noticed much less aches and pains! I didn’t spend much initially, but once I was sure I was going to stick with it shoes were my first investment.

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