Couch to 5K: Just done it!

It’s fair to say I was a little underwhelmed after finishing the couch to 5K podcast, as I hadn’t achieved a distance of 5K. Well, on my next run and the first with the Nike+ Android app, I put that right. I am now a 5K runner – and here’s the proof!

First 5K

Signing up with Nike+ was a simple process, although trying to fiddle with your phone as you start running isn’t ideal. I also had some GPS issues, meaning one false start and a phone reboot, but once I was up and running (ahem) it worked fine.

Of course I missed Laura’s encouragement from the Cto5K podcast, but Nike+ gives you a handy little update at each 1K marker that is useful rather than comforting; giving your total time so far, average for the last 1K and average so far in the run. It was really nice to know that my time was consistent throughout, which was obviously missing from the podcast – it makes you feel more like a ‘proper’ runner!

Unfortunately, as you’ll see in the image above, the actual splits didn’t translate from phone to online and I can’t seem to get them back from the app now, which is frustrating. The app is very icon heavy and pretty crappy to navigate once your run is over, but as long as it’s telling me the right total time and distance that’s good enough for now.

So what’s the plan, running man?

Right now I’m happy with the distance I’m running. It’s still pretty painful though, and slow, so I’m going to try and get my time down a little over the next few weeks and stick with 5K, see how things change (if at all). I’ll reassess things at the end of April.

I’m going to keep running 5K twice per week and, if I’m feeling confident, I’ll do a park run at the end of April. Currently I’m still running at night as I’m very self conscious about it. A park run would be with many other people, in the daytime, so I need to get my confidence up big time!

Spring’s arrival will force my hand a bit, as it gets dark later and later, but I also want to try running off of nice comfy pavements too. We’re pretty blessed in St Ives with some fantastic walking/cycling paths that are very easy on the feet – but its time to go off piste. I just hope my next post isn’t about a strain, rip of break of some sort…

But even if it is, right now I’m chuffed. All I’d say to anyone doing – or contemplating – Couch to 5K is GO FOR IT. If I can do it, as lardy and unfit as I am, so can you. And when you do that first 5K run, it feels absolutely brilliant. Good luck! And it would be great to hear any stories in the comments below.

Couch to 5K podcast: week 9 (AKA Couch to 4.3K: week 11)

Last Sunday, when I did my last 28-minute run, at least five of my friends did the Cambridge half marathon; while I struggle to reach 5K, they were running more than 20K.

The slowest competitors finished in just over three hours, but the big guns were done in a few minutes over one hour. The winner was through 5.8 miles, just under 10K, in 28 minutes – what I did less than 4K in last week. He was going twice as fast as I do!

There’s no comparison of course. I’m totally unfit, totally overweight and I have no interest in competing at that level. But it did make me think about where I take this next. Do I work on speed, distance, more difficult terrain – or a combination of the three? Or maybe just go back to biscuits. But before that decision, there was…

Week 9: Anticli- to the -max

Completing my first 30-minute run wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped. I think after the first 20-minute run I knew, barring injury, I was going to make it. The feeling of running that first 20 minutes was a real buzz and this simply didn’t match it.

Secondly, I’m not running 5K – nor have I been running three times a week, and nor have I completed the task in nine weeks. So, for something that’s called ‘Couch to 5K’ that you’re meant to complete in nine weeks, I’ve been a bit of a failure.

This isn’t to say I’m not proud of what I’ve achieved. If forced to take sides I may well have bet against myself, so to get this far feels great. However it does feel as if I’m not quite there yet. Sure, it helped me run for 30 minutes – so why not call it couch to 30 minutes!

And no, I’m not now thinking ‘marathon!’, ‘iron man!’ etc. But am thinking, ‘I want to be running 5K because that’s what I set out to do. I don’t care if it takes me 45 minutes for now – that was my target and I’m not there yet. So…

What’s next?

Running friend Matt recommended the Nike+ app, so I’ve downloaded that and will move onto it – and more importantly, my own tunes – this weekend. I’ll try to stick to running 30+ minutes every Thursday and Sunday with the plan being to get up to 35 minutes, as this should actually be 5K at my pace. When I can run 5K, I’ll check back in.

It just remains to say thanks to all those who encouraged me, mostly through Facebook – it has really helped. Cheers!

One final note: I haven’t lost a single pound in weight. I’d have thought that if I didn’t eat and drink more I’d see some positive improvement. I guess there may have been some displacement but not that I can notice! Perhaps I’ll try to eat one less pie per week…

Couch to 5K podcast: weeks seven and eight

Not much preamble this time: I’m still in the same trainers I bought for week one, the same old running bottoms, plus the cheapo jacket and running top I bought from Sports Direct. If it ain’t broke…

I want to to give a shout out (is that what the kids say nowadays?) to my friend Lydgia who has also now started the Couch to 5K, as well as her own blog to go with her exploits – She’s Big Boned. Certainly a more feminine look at things than my posts, as you might expect, and a thoroughly entertaining (and funny) read.

Week 7: Running on a full stomach (burp)

In week seven it’s back to simple – three 25-minute runs. My first attempt I logged the run at about 3.7K, with the walking sections about 1.2K, meaning I was very close to a 5K total in 35 minutes (five minute warm up walk, 25 minute run, 5 minute warm down walk). This is very gratifying indeed.

The second run two days later was a real struggle. I’ve had some nagging toe trouble, and it was worse today, while I ate a big meal a bit too close to going out. It felt so good to make it round, but I did less distance than a few days earlier and felt I was struggling as early in as five minutes – there were a few big burps that came close to something more!

After that I left it a few more days before doing the final run of the week, which paid dividends. I did a reverse of my route, which I think makes it a little tougher, but still did about the same distance. I felt a slight improvement in pacing, if not distance, but how come every time I realise I’m in a good rhythm I panic and immediately lose it? Hopefully that will come with time.

Week 8: The drought is over

At last! My 28 minutes of running plus 10 minutes of warm up/down walking pushed me past 5K for the session. This felt great, as I’d seen some times from 5K park runs that were over 40 minutes, so knowing I’m already under the slowest of the slow is a small confidence booster. I’m not worried about winning, but I don’t want to come last…

And yes, it rained on me. The winds howled, I got blown about, but I made it. And better still, at the end, I think I had a bit left. I think I could’ve done those extra two minutes I’ve got to look forward to next week. Toe news: dumping a pair of uncomfortable old shoes for some new comfy ones seems to be helping; I don’t think it was a running injury.

Illness put my second and third runs of the week in jeopardy but I forced myself out the door. I still managed to go a little further than the first run of the week too, which certainly gives me confidence going into the final week! Now I just have to work out what the hell to do after that…

Quick links

Couch to 5K podcast: weeks five and six

It’s probably fair to say that I’m at least as surprised as anyone – but here I am, two thirds of the way through the nine-week ‘Couch to 5K’ NHS podcast plan. This is my third post about this adventure; there are easy links to the first two parts at the bottom of this post.

In terms of gear, preparation etc, nothing has changed since my last post. One plus note is I’m not getting as much pain in my shins, although I’m not sure why. it could be taking more two-day breaks between runs, trying to change to the mid-foot strike, or my shins just manning-up as they get used to running – or a combination of all three! Whatever it is, it has certainly given me more confidence.

One thing I did do at week five was change my route. I’m still covering about the same distance each session (about 4K), and doing roughly a figure of eight street course, but I changed the direction of most of it. This made a real difference; it’s amazing how something as simple as running on the other side of the road, or reversing hill sections, can refresh your run in a very simple way.

Week 5: You expect me to do WHAT?

In week five you see a break from the ‘three identical runs per week’ routine of the first four weeks. There are three different runs to download instead, which is a bit of a pain in the arse, but once you see them you understand why: things are ramping up, big time.

The first two podcasts are relatively straightforward and I did them confidently without any problems. The first is three five-minute runs, the second two eight-minute runs – similar progressions to the previous week and about what I expected.

But the final run of week five is the big one – a straight 20-minute jog with no walking breaks. So not only is it four minutes more in total than any run so far, but its more than double any single run up to this point – which seems like a really big step!

Thankfully this isn’t lost on podcast voice-over girl Laura. She reassuringly recalls how worried she was when she first did this, but that if you’ve done all the runs up until now then your physical side should be up to it; it’s more a psychological test. Hearing this certainly made me feel better and away I tentatively went…

…To success! It was certainly a thrill to make it the full 20 minutes, even if the last few were pretty damn slow. And when I slowed down to a walk at the end, boy did my calves ache. For a minute I thought I was going to cramp up, but I kept walking and it calmed down. I’d done it! Twenty bloody minutes! And five weeks without injury, or even a stitch – another big surprise. And unbelievably still no rain, despite the whole area being flooded.

The close of week five’s last podcast was also the first mention of failure. this is clearly a place where some may stumble, as you’re encouraged to repeat the entire week if you couldn’t quite make the whole 20 minutes. As I had made it, this of course added to that sense of achievement; I’d succeeded where others may have failed – or maybe they just put that in deliberately to make you feel better!

Week 6: The light at the end of the tunnel

I gave myself three days off before week six, then headed out for the first of the week’s three runs. Week six is essentially week five but with slightly longer runs; the first being a five, an eight, and another five-minute runs.

I went into this a little overconfidently, having achieved so much the week before, and went out on the first five minutes a little quicker than usual. This proved a big mistake, as despite the rest the 20-minute run was definitely still in my legs. I really needed the recover time at the end of it and took the middle eight-minute run much easier. This made the five-minute run at the end to be much simpler, which helped restore my confidence a little.

Learning my lesson I eased into the first 10-minute run of the second week podcast. Despite doing a long uphill stretch I finished confidently and after a three-minute walking break did the second 10 minutes running with very little effort. It felt great to be able to do this, but the joy was tempered by a closing comment from Laura: from now until the end of the nine-week Couch to 5K podcasts, there would be no more mid-run walking breaks!

Oddly, in this last break, she also mentioned drinking water mid-run for the first time. I’d had some dry mouth moments already and have seen some people running with water, but simply hadn’t considered it. It just seems like something else to carry, which can’t be a good thing – and surely I’m not really going far enough to actually need a drink? I shall have to look into it.

The final run of the week was 25 minutes straight – another milestone. But with the 20 under my belt, I was now more confident I could do it. It went without a hitch and I felt I had a bit left at the end, which hopefully bodes well for week seven; three more runs of the same. At the end of this run our Laura announces that, in her opinion, you’re now a ‘runner’. Go me! But still no wet runs – my luck is holding.

I mapped the 25-minute run section as 3.57km, or 2,21 miles. This was a little disappointing, as it means I’m still quite a way from running 5k; a 30-minute run would be just over 4k at my current pace, while running 5k would take me 35 minutes (maths, ladies and gentlemen – and with no safety net) . Hopefully the next couple of weeks will see me work on my speed a little.

Quick links

  • Weeks 1&2 – including links to map and shoe sites
  • Weeks 3&4 – including links to technique sites
  • Couch to 5K – the NHS page with the podcast links

Couch to 5K podcast: weeks three and four

This is a follow up to a post I did in January talking about my first few weeks, which largely talked about what the Couch to 5K podcast didn’t tell you. Having now completed weeks three and four (go me!), I felt it was time for an update.

I stand by my previous claim that the only thing you need to get going is a pair of ‘proper’ running shoes. However, since then I have spent a few quid on a running jacket and top. There wasn’t really an excuse for the top – it was crazy cheap in Sports Direct, a nice colour, and a ‘proper’ running T-shirt. There’s certainly something to the ritual of getting ready to go out, and however surface and ridiculous it may be having the top makes the whole thing feel a bit more real.

The jacket was more important, as I’d started running at night (in the dark) and had been in all black – so I didn’t exactly stand out. So I went from being the wheezing assassin to the glowing gasper in one easy move, thanks to a super light yellow high-vis jacket. I’m sure I look fabulous as I lurch past worried dog walkers.

Week 3: NOW they give me advice

I was more surprised than anyone when I completed weeks one and two without any real problems. Sure I’m going pretty slow, but my heart was causing me less problems than my shins (and my ego), while I was happy with my recovery time – there has been no stopping and wheezing or having a stitch.

I think a history of doing a lot of walking got me through those weeks, as the runs were so short, but week three did feel like a significant step up. The longer runs go up to three minutes – double those of week two – and I found the final one in each session pretty tough. Tough yes, but also doable.

What was a little galling was getting some running and breathing tips – oh you know, the kind of advice that probably would’ve been useful in week one! They were useful tips (make sure you’r landing on the heel of your foot***; try not to ‘bob’ too much; try and take deep breaths) – but why now?

Alongside the advice were some comforting words – things like, “You’re jogging, not running”; “Go at your own pace and don’t worry if you have to slow right down – just keep going”. This was gold, but it was just as needed in the first two weeks. Even now, doing eight-minute runs in week five, nothing has been harder than those first few runs in the opening two weeks. I’d loved to have heard this stuff then.

Fatigue also started to take its toll. Sadly my other half Zoe had to stop also attempting Couch to 5K as her knees gave out; she’s now doing strengthening exercises in the hope of coming back to it soon. I’d been a little worried about my shins but as they only really hurt a bit during the runs, not after, I just kept going. I did start to stretch my weeks out, so I could leave two rest days between most sessions to give my legs a break.

Week 4: No pain, no rain

This was an even bigger step up on paper, but proved surprisingly manageable. Each session includes 16 minutes of running and after re-plotting my route on Running Map I found I was doing 4K throughout the 35-minute sessions (more than half of which is still walking, of course).

Seeing as we’ve had the wettest January on record, I’ve also managed to run in the dry (with relatively low wind) every time so far – and that’s pure luck; I haven’t put any runs off because of the weather. I guess I’ve got all that to look forward to…

Again my heart was proving up to the task, but my shins didn’t seem to be strengthening as I’d hoped. To the internet! There are millions of runners out there – surely I can find some sage advice on what others with the same problem have learnt from their fellow ‘athletes’? Here’s what I found (abridged… from memory).

Random person’s question: “Hi! My shins hurt after I run. Any advice?

  • Pointless serial poster: Hi! Welcome to the forum. We’re all really friendly here! I’m sure someone can help you with your problem. It’s not something that has happened to me personally though blah blah blah
  • Boot camp asshole: Get back out there you pussy! Just run through it! You’ll never be like ME if you don’t dedicate yourself to the PAIN.
  • The detail fetishist: How far did you run? Was it in the mud? What altitude? Uphill? Were you sweating? Do you wear tight shorts? I like tight shorts. Mmmm.
  • THE answerer: Oh, that’s definitely hansdereptographic hipnotiac disorder. You’d better go straight to the hospital before you die.
  • The trolllololol: Haha no it isn’t you idiot you dont know anything bout runnig haha what an idiot lol.
  • Serial mom: On no! That’s really awful hun. HUGS. You should have a cookie. Can I make you some tea? Take a few weeks off. That’s so awful. I totally feel your pain.

I’m not sure why I thought running forums would be different from any other forums. So, ignoring them all, I just continued spreading my three weekly runs into eight or nine-day weeks, which seems to be doing the trick. It’s not as if I’m in a desperate rush to finish the podcasts; I’ve set myself an initial target of running 5K – if that takes three months or six months, I don’t care.

I’m now into week five and things are getting serious. My next run is meant to be for a solid 20 minutes. TWENTY MINUTES! All at once! I get a feeling I might be on week five for a while…

***NOTE: Running friends have pointed out that since the podcasts were made (back in 2011), the opinion on this has changed. It is now suggested – even on the NHS website – that to avoid injury you’re better off landing with a ‘midfoot strike’, not heel striking. It’s woeful that the NHS has admitted this, but still hasn’t updated its podcasts!

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 Runningmap.com. 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 Runners World, 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