Week 1 - Couch To 5K

Couch To 5K is a nine-week plan to take someone, as the name suggests, from the couch to being able to run 5 kilometres. Simple, right?

As podcast listeners will already know, I have several problems with “beginner” training plans and courses. I wish I could find the ‘beginner’s guide to running a marathon’ article that suggested beginners ought be able to run 6 miles, but it was a dog-eared article in our staff room that I was happy to put down and ignore once that assertion had been made.

It does, however, neatly encapsulate the problem: just what is a beginner? To the author of a running or fitness magazine or blog, a beginner may well be someone who can only run 6 miles or still uses weight machines rather than free weights. The beginner for whom 60 metres and the gym doorway are currently daunting prospects, however, demands a different definition.

So, last Summer I embarked upon a Couch To 5K programme. Created in 1996 by Josh Clark, the idea is to gently take someone of very limited fitness to the point of being able to run a pretty significant distance… in nine weeks. As I’m sure you’ll agree, this is no mean feat, and so it proved when, two weeks in I was sat in my GP’s office lamenting the intense pain in my shins.

A cursory amount of research was corroborated by my GP: the cause of shin splints is unknown. I read explanations that covered everything from minute fractures in the shin bone to muscle tearing away from the shin bone. Either way, rest, pain killers and caution were prescribed.

I was confident the programme wasn’t at fault. In the first couple of weeks the running (jogging) is kept to no more than 90 seconds at a time. Part of the issue, in my estimation, was that I was carrying a lot of weight (note: weight itself isn’t the issue), which increases the impact force of my footfalls. Having been relatively inactive for quite some time (note: this is the issue!), it was clear that I lacked the strength in stabilising muscles around my lower legs to cope with the force of my footfalls. So yes, I was too heavy, but only by reference to the amount I had been using, strengthening and conditioning my muscles. This, I feel, is an important distinction to make.

As I started the Couch To 5K programme again, last week, what hope did I have that I wouldn’t encounter the same problems? Well, and this is theoretical at this point, but I have been doing a lot of walking in the interim period. Not just a regular afternoon stroll, though that is plenty worthwhile, but long walks keeping up a pretty decent pace. The rule of thumb for a brisk walk is that you should struggle (but not find it impossible) to hold a conversation, such should be your rate of respiration. Walking this way should keep your heart rate high enough to convey cardiovascular benefit.

We’ll have to see whether or not my expectations are correct. After all, my weight isn’t massively different than this time last year (again, weight isn’t the issue). I hope that in several weeks time I’ll be reporting the minor, but significant success of having run 5km for the first time since I wouldn’t have bothered to take note of the distance.

The first runs went as well as could be expected. As well as runs plagued by multiple app crashes can go; Zen Labs C25K app is, needless to say, no longer going to be accompanying me on my runs. I’ve now switched the the NHS podcasts, for trouble-free runs. I can definitely feel the after effects in my quad muscles today, but a long walk after each run has helped alleviate some of the DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness).

Of course, I’ll post progress here, and (if I’m successful) I’ll even post the tweaked version of the programme I’m using to try and be ready for 5km in less than the nine-week window. Hopefully, until then, you can understand why a stupid person wouldn’t want to detail the stupid thing they’re about to try and do until they know just how stupid they’ve been.