Program turns couch potatoes into runners in nine weeks

couchto5k2Credit: Paul DavidGrowing up I was always involved in sports, but running was never my forte.

I appreciate those who could run and those who enjoyed the sport, but never felt I'd be able to do it. I had often gone out for a jog, but never sustained any development as a runner. I'd get turned off by shin splints after a short jaunt or be too busy to engage in any physical activity.

During an Internet search, I came across the Couch-to-5K (C25K) Running Plan by Cool Running. 
The plan is simple and structured, yet with flexibility, and it works. In nine weeks, I went from "I can't" as a runner to completing a 5K (3.1-mile) road race in less than 30 minutes. Furthermore, I continue to run today. I no longer dread running.

At first glance, the nine-week Couch-to-5K features a surprising amount of walking. The first six weeks include intervals of walking and jogging to help build up stamina and also encourage participants. Each week begins with a brisk five-minute walk before getting into the jogging.

In the nine-week plan, Couch-to-5K participants run three days out of the week. This helps to develop stamina, but also prevent injuries with time to recover factored in on the rest days.

Participants can approach Couch-to-5K workouts by measuring the jog by distance or by time. I liked to use time as my measuring stick because possibly I could go a little further than the listed distance. Cool Running suggests that participants don't over exert themselves past the workout's suggested time or distance. Cool Running experts also offer that participants shouldn't stress themselves if they are unable to complete a workout. There's nothing wrong with delaying advancement to the next week if the participant can not finish a workout.

As mentioned before, each workout begins with a five-minute walk at an arm-swinging pace. The week-by-week breakdown is as follows:
Week one
Walk followed by alternating sessions of 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.
Week two 
Walk followed by alternating sessions of 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.
Week three
Walk followed by two repetitions of jog 200 yards/90 seconds, walk 200 yards/90 seconds, jog 400 yards/three minutes, walk 400 yards/three minutes.
Week four
Walk followed by jog a quarter-mile/three minutes, walk an eighth of a mile/90 seconds, jog half mile/five minutes, walk a quarter-mile/two-and-a-half minutes, jog a quarter-mile/three minutes, walk an eighth of a mile/90 seconds and jog half mile/five minutes.
Week five
Walk followed by jog a half mile/five minutes, walk a quarter of a mile/three minutes, jog half mile/five minutes, walk a quarter-mile/three minutes and jog half mile/five minutes.
Week six
Walk followed by jog a half mile/five minutes, walk a quarter of a mile/three minutes, jog three-quarters mile/eight minutes, walk a quarter-mile/three minutes and jog half mile/five minutes.
Week seven
Walk followed by jog 2.5 miles/25 minutes.
Week eight
Walk followed by jog 2.75 miles/28 minutes.
Week nine
Walk followed by jog three miles/30 minutes.

When I completed the Couch-to-5K program, I felt such a sense of accomplishment. As I typed out the week-by-week breakdown, I remembered how much I feared week seven, but the program helps build your conditioning up to the point that 2.5 miles is the distance you are ready for.

I ran in my first road race the week after I finished the Couch-to-5K. It was a 5K event winding through residential neighborhoods. I felt a competitive fire that I hadn't felt since high school as I toured the course and pleased to see a time under 27 minutes as I passed the finish line!

There are incredible benefits to your life in running, such as improved health, physical fitness and a fantastic stress reducer.

Today, I run an average of 20-25 miles a week and I have never felt better in my life. I am continually amazed that I am running regularly and enjoying it.

If you want to start running, but don't know where to begin, check out the Couch-to-5K Running Plan. The program helped me get up to speed with the sport of running.
 couchto5k1Credit: Ed Yourdon