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How to become a runner with Couch to 5k


Not a runner? Sure there's 'no way you could run that distance'? Or maybe you've been getting your 10,000 steps a day in but want to improve your general fitness? There may be more to running than meets the eye (both physically and mentally) and plenty of weight loss benefits to boot. So why not go from from non-runner to light-footed enthusiast with the Couch to 5k scheme?

What is the Couch to 5k programme?

Couch to 5k is a running plan that does exactly what it says on the tin - enabling you to progress from an absolute beginner, to a runner capable of completing a five kilometre track without stopping. Endorsed by the NHS, the programme is broken down into nine separate weeks, with three days of running per week (with rest days in between), and with each week progressing in difficulty. However, the mix of walking and running allows for a gradual build-up of skill that makes the whole thing that bit easier!

Couch to 5k schedule:

Week 1

  • Five minute walk to warm up
  • 60 seconds running, 90 seconds walking, for 20 minutes

Week 2

  • Five minute walk to warm up
  • 90 seconds walking, two minutes running, for 20 minutes

Week 3

  • Five minute walk to warm up
  • 90 seconds running, 90 seconds walking, three minutes running, three minutes walking (x2)

Week 4

  • Five minute walk to warm up
  • Three minutes running, 90 seconds walking, five minutes running, two and a half minutes walking, three minutes running, 90 seconds walking, five minutes running

Week 5

  • Run 1: five minute walk to warm up, five minutes running, three minutes walking, five minutes running, three minutes walking, five minutes running
  • Run 2: five minute walk to warm up, eight minutes running, five minutes walking, eight minutes running
  • Run 3: five minute walk to warm up, 20 minutes running, with no walking

Week 6

  • Run 1: five minute walk to warm up, five minutes running, three minutes walking, eight minutes running, three minutes walking, five minutes running
  • Run 2: five minute walk to warm up, 10 minutes running, three minutes walking, 10 minutes running
  • Run 3: five minute walk to warm up, 25 minutes with no walking

Week 7

  • After week 7, the plan includes running for long periods of time, uninterrupted by walking
  • Five minute walk to warm up, 25 minutes of running

Week 8

  • Five minute walk to warm up
  • 28 minutes of running

Week 9

  • Five minute walk to warm up
  • 30 minutes of running

See? Not so hard...

Couch to 5k: weight loss benefits

The health benefits of running are multitudinous, to say the least. With little equipment needed except a good pair of shoes, running is free, easily accessible and a very simple way to improve your physical health. With benefits ranging from an increasingly efficient cardiovascular system, strengthened bones, joints and muscles, a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, and improved mood, running is also a fantastic way to shed some of those pesky pounds.

However, whilst it's one of the most efficient methods of burning calories, beating other forms of exercise such as swimming and cycling, running's weight loss benefits are accentuated by a proper diet regime, and plenty of rest. So make sure to catch some z's, and arrange your diet to be high in nutrition whilst low in caloric intake. Of course, make sure to check with your GP before doing anything too drastic.

One runner's journey...

Senior woman jogging

One gransnetter, Sharon Parry, describes her journey from non-runner to 5k enthusiast. Think you can't run? Think again. Here's how to get there - and don't forget, it's all about the journey, not the destination...

"I have spent almost fifty years envying runners because my body had no 'running mode' at all. I couldn't even run for a bus. Run a 5k? Don't make me laugh!

And I didn't laugh a lot last winter. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and a soup of shifting hormones left me feeling tired all the time with chronic aches and pains. My zest for life had pretty much disappeared when a friend suggested that I started the NHS Couch to 5k running programme. This was the most ridiculous thing that I had ever heard. Or was it?

Getting started

As a scientist, I already knew about endorphins which are chemicals that can cause a happy feeling. They were in my body somewhere, I just had to get them mobilised and exercise could do this. Out of curiosity, I downloaded the Couch to 5k running app onto my phone (the plan takes you from non-runner to running 5k in nine weeks) and decided to give it a go.

On my first session the brisk five minute warm up walk went well enough but then I had to run for 60 seconds. Yes, a full 60 seconds! I told myself that I could stop after 30, perhaps 20 and, worst case scenario, after 10 seconds.

Hitting the wall

Sure enough, within 20 seconds my throat was dry and I could actually hear my pulse in my ears! But because I could see the seconds counting down I coped. I kept telling myself to do just 10 more and I made it to the 60 seconds. After 90 seconds of 'recovery walking' I was off running again.

Then I learned my first lesson - you cannot run if you don't breathe. I took some big gulps. Then I got a stitch, my Achilles tendon started pulling and my right knee felt as if it was going to give way. Shall I go on?

Making progress...

But I didn't stop and that is when those little endorphins started to work their magic. I walked back in through my front door like I was crossing the finishing line of the London Marathon and have not looked back since.

On week three (which I reached after four months) I finally learned to run. I felt that my legs had started to know what they were doing and I could get into that elusive rhythm.

It's hard but I'm not giving up because I really like these little chaps, the endorphins. I like what I become when they are around and, for me, running is what it takes to make them stay."

Running tips for beginners

exercise 3

  1. Don't stretch too hard before walking or running - your muscles are cold and putting undue stress on them before they're warmed up could cause injury. Instead, try a 10 minute gentle cardio warm up. There are plenty on Youtube to choose from, and whatever you choose should include movement. Save the long stretches for after your walk (or run, depending on how far you've come!)
  2. Don't expect results right away - it can take weeks to see a difference in your performance, but you will get there. It's not an overnight process and you need to give your body time to become accustomed to the new activity. Keep going - you will get there! Help improve your results by doing other exercises, that will help strengthen your muscles and improve your performance over the long-term.
  3. Choose comfortable clothes - if you're walking or running down the road pulling at uncomfortable clothing or wondering if people are looking at various parts of your anatomy in Lycra (they're not) you won't be concentrating on the task at hand. Choose clothing that you're comfortable in, even if it's a relic from the back of the wardrobe!
    Running in the months between October and March will mean exposure to colder weather and darker nights, so make sure to wear easily applicable/removable thin layers, such as breathable synthetic fabrics, fleeces and raincoats. As the longer nights mean you'll most likely be running in the dark, make sure to wear reflective gear, and stay in well-lit areas that you feel safe in.
  4. Get the right trainers - do not, we repeat, do not attempt a 5k run, or even part of a 5k run in inadequate shoes. What you save on buying a pair of suitable kicks, you'll pay for in spades when your body says 'no thanks' to running in tennis shoes that were never meant to run off the courts. A sales assistant in any sports shop can help you choose a pair that will meet your needs, and they certainly don't need to be expensive ones.
  5. Rest - your muscles, joints and cardiovasular system need time to get used to the new strain that you're putting them under, so even if you're feeling confident with your running capabilities, don't overdo it! As highlighted in the Couch to 5k plan, make sure that you rest every other day between exercises.
  6. It takes guts to try - if you're new to running, or even exercise in general, and are feeling self conscious, just remember: you're lapping everybody on the couch! You should be congratulating yourself for giving it a try.

For more from Sharon, visit her blog www.aftertheplayground.com.










Images: Shutterstock