Wednesday, 29 May 2013

My couch to 5K experience

I started the 'Couch to 5K' program on the 1st April and recently completed Week 6. Those with good time management skills may realise this doesn't quite add up but I've had two separate weeks off: one when I had a cold (an extremely debilitating condition for me as a top-skilled moaner), and one when I went on holiday for four days and came straight back into a super hectic week at work. Other than that, I've kept going. I haven't repeated any runs and after each time off have jumped straight into the next round.

I remember at the end of 2012 I said on this blog that I was proud of myself as I could just about run for 8 minutes without stopping. I'd done this on the treadmill, earlier that year, the grand total of twice ever (on two separate occasions). This had literally been the longest I had ever run without stopping in my entire life. I'd spent the latter half of these runs gasping for air, literally POURING with sweat (I am grim) and come off the treadmill feeling dizzy and faint. This was also at probably the highest point of fitness in my life until recently (I was going to the gym three times a week or thereabouts.)

Two days ago I ran for 25 minutes without stopping. It wasn't hard. I could have done more. I wasn't even sweating that much. I was breathing normally. This might sound (literally) unbelievable, and to me it is (figuratively) unbelievable, but I will tell you my little story.

Pre-Week 1

I'd be lying if I said I started the Couch to 5K morbidly obese with absolutely no level of fitness whatsoever just because I wanted to make this a better story. Although I've never been 'fit' I've definitely made an effort this year so far and before April on a typical week I'd do about two exercise classes plus walk a lot at weekends. However, I could not run. On my weekly kickboxing class I'd usually cry off the 7 minute run used to warm up or if I ever did do it I'd start walking after two minutes because I hated it so much. Running was not my thing and I did not enjoy. The last time I ran properly before April 2013 was around October 2012.

I tried the Couch to 5k about four times before this one and on none of these tries had I made it as far as week 2 (I think on only one of them did I even make it as far as week 1 run 3). I'll share my reasons why I think this time worked and the others didn't at some other time, but the other times had all mainly been on treadmills in various gym memberships and had been a bit boring.

Week 1
8 x 1 minute runs. In between runs, walk 1.5 minutes.
I know that for some people out there reading this that probably would be really hard, but I did find this pretty easy. As I said, I had done week 1 a few times before and knew what to expect. Towards the 7th or 8th run I was a bit tired, and each time I was definitely glad when it ended, but I could have handled this for longer.
Running was a bit boring in week 1.

Week 2
6 x 1.5 minute runs. In between runs, walk 2 minutes.
AND THE PACE STEPS UP. This was manageable but mainly as I had the two minutes to walk it off - I could never have handled only a 1.5 minute walk break at this point. Again, towards the end of the sessions I got tired and I don't think I could have pushed myself much further than what the lady in my ear was telling me to (more on the lady in my ear later).

Week 3
Run 1.5 minutes, then walk 1.5 minutes. Run 3 minutes, then walk 3 minutes.
Week 3 was difficult. Running three minutes without stopping when you are used to half that is difficult. Although above I have pointed out I was physically capable of running maybe 8 minutes before starting this programme, that was literally just 8 minutes then RUNNING DONE, rather than including walks and other lengths of runs too.
I finished all of these runs shattered and a bit full of self doubt. I was still not particularly enjoying running.

Week 4
Run 3 minutes, then walk 1.5 minutes. Run 5 minutes, then walk 2.5 minutes.
Week 4 is a pretty big step up. I think it was the dramatically shorter recovery time rather than the longer run that cinched it, but I remember returning from the first run of this week wondering if I was ever cut out to be a proper "runner" and if my public transport London Marathon dreams were over (To be fair to week 4 I think it was my first run after suffering and recovering from a cold too).
Week 4 was also kind of when I started to enjoy running. Say back in Week 1, when I was running for one minute and then stopping for walk, I felt that everyone knew I was really unfit and was watching me. However, running for 5 minutes? I would have easily left behind all of the pedestrians that knew I only started running 5 minutes ago! I could have been running for the past 5 hours for all these new pedestrians care! The smugness began to sink in.

Week 5
Run 1: 3 x running 5 minutes. Between runs, walk 3 minutes.
Pretty similar to Week 4. I could handle it.
Run 2: 2 x running 8 minutes. Between runs, walk 5 minutes.
And with this run I'd equalled my previous personal best, and not only that, but done it twice. Also, this time I did not feel on the verge of death, but actually felt pretty good and revitalised. I must say that when running 8 minutes before, both times I genuinely had felt as though I might faint (I am pretty prone to fainting so know all the signs). However, this time I felt tired obviously, but I felt alive and OK. Maybe I could keep going, I think to myself. Then I finish the run and the next scheduled run comes up on my app and.....
Run 3: 1 x running 20 minutes.
So I see the above run length on my app screen.
I even did a bit of googling to check it wasn't a mistake. But no, it seriously wasn't a mistake. This was actually a thing.
So I decided to go for it. And..... I did it.
I cannot even describe the total elation I felt when I completed a 20 minute run without stopping. It was to the extent I thought that I might burst into tears. It took serious restraint to stop myself punching the air like I'd just won a gold medal.
It was after completing this run I knew I'd be able to finish the couch to 5k if I wanted to.
It was after completing this run that I knew that if I tried hard enough, I could really do anything (except possibly pass my driving test).
It was after completing this run that I knew that I was not a weak person and I did not have to make excuses for myself anymore.
It was after completing this run that for the first time in my whole life I felt truly, fully proud of myself. I mean, I went to school, I got a degree, I got good results for it all. But without sounding like a dick, I always deep down KNEW I'd get at least semi-good results for these things as I was committed and it played to my strength. But my whole life I've been crap at sports, been derided by PE teachers, been bullied by sporty 12 year olds, my physical unfitness has been a point of humour amongst friends and relatives. No one I knew in real life really believed I could be a runner, and I had never until that point truly believed I could be a runner, but look. I'd just DONE IT.

Week 6 
Run 1: Run 5 minutes than walk 3 minutes. Run 8 minutes then walk 3 minutes. Run 5 minutes.
Of course this was a piece of cake after 20 minutes.
Run 2: Run 10 minutes then walk 3 minutes. Run 10 minutes.
And this.
Run 3: Run 25 minutes.
What? 5 minutes more? Obviously. What do you even take me for? I'm a RUNNER now. Srsly.

There are 3 weeks left: 3 more 25 minute runs, 3 more 28 minute runs, 3 more 30 minute runs. I am confident I can complete the Couch to 5k; I think I could probably run 5k now if I wanted to, but I want to stick to the training program as I don't want to push myself too hard and give up, and obviously I want the app to record everything properly (lifelong stats geek).

I have so much more to say about running and how it has changed my life and the way I view myself and I am sure I will write about it in future posts. I haven't even lost significant weight since I started running because I have still eaten EVERYTHING, but you know, that's a work in progress. But it's just the success I have had, the barriers I have overcome; they have really showed me that I can do it, and if I trained hard enough there's no reason why one day I couldn't run a marathon. Maybe my public transport fantasy about winning the X Factor with a final duet performance with Lady GaGa won't come true, but my daydream about the marathon actually could come true one day. And that makes me feel dizzy with possibility about everything that one day I could achieve.


  1. Well done you, what a great post! I do the C25K on and off around my other training, so I only do one run a week max. Currently on week 5!

  2. Excellent recap of everything I went through when I did the C25K programme too! I signed up for a 3.75 mile relay in the marathon and didn't give myself long enough to train, so I've had to skip through the weeks and have ended up with running 25 minutes (total elation and smugness) and hoping so much that my relay isn't too hilly and I can last the final 15 minutes or so!

    Runkeeper is now becoming my friend - rather than telling you when to stop and stuff it gives you 5 minute updates on how far you have run and your average time/mile. It's actually equally motivating as the girl on C25K.

  3. I love love LOVE this post. Your early experiences are very similar to mine and you have inspired me to keep at it!

    Thank you


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  5. I'm starting this program tomorrow, and your post was perfect for me. Definitely made me want to try it, especially because I never believed I could run for more than 500 meters... Can't wait to get to these 20 minutes! Loved your post. Good luck!