Recently I posted about the completion of my first 5k, the Atlanta Monster Dash this last Saturday. After reading a post from another blog combined with my recent milestone, I began to think about how I achieved my success and the progression from couch potato to runner and athlete. While I provided the will power and goal setting attitude, my desire to do a 5k and eventually a triathlon only played a small part. I could not have done it as easily without the plan laid out in the Couch to 5k (c25k) program, a program whose aim is to take you to non-runner to running a 5k in 9 weeks. Of course, I think 9 weeks is only truly doable dependent on the persons level of fitness starting out, it took me much longer than 9 weeks to achieve success. Eventually I obtained success though using the program and stretching it out longer than prescribed time limit.
The program simply breaks the goals down to either completing a 5k distance race or to being able to run 30 minutes. When I started running 30 seconds proved an extreme challenge, so of course I opted for time. Unless you have a base of fitness to start I would recommend the time option for various reasons. Firstly the time option helps the runner to adapt to the act of running and breathing. Over time intervals and time running changes gradually. These changes help to allow the body and mind to adapt to increasing stress. By the finish of the program, the body breathes easier and recovers faster, assisting later running efforts when complexity and distance increases.
The couch to 5k implements variable time intervals that change every week. It is often advised to run as slow as possible and requires a strict three workouts per week. I never missed either of these goals, but found that my body does not do well running on treadmills, as it caused some knee pain that alleviated as soon as I started running outside. I found the true trick was knowing when to move to the next week. Just because it is laid out for nine weeks does not mean one could not do it slower. I found that I would do the current weeks prescribed run/walk interval sets as laid out. Then when I started the next weeks prescribed work out I would try it in the first work out day of the new week. If I could not finish it, I simply finished the last 2 days of the workout week doing the previous weeks workouts. I would continue this til I could move on. Often I would progress a week or two later.
By the end of the program thirty minutes of slow non-stop running should be possible. But, I realized the problem existed that while I now could painfully drag my but to run 30 minutes, it was well shy of 3 miles and at that time was barely 2 miles if that. Here is where I implemented a different strategy, and it worked for me. I decided to add a 4th day to the mix, but 3 still works. I found that what really needed to be done was running. I set up my runs to where the first of the week was an easy or no pressure run, second was a speed run often done as 6 30 second interval sets with 1-1/2 rest in between and the third set was my long run. Since I could barely do 2 miles, I set a mile for most of the distances I covered for easy run days. For the long run days I took the base distance I had and started each week trying to add a quarter more mileage If I needed to walk, I walked. But that was only after I was certain the legs would collapse if I did not. Important thing was to keep adding distance and in effect adding time. As my distance went up I gradually increased the length of the easy run. If I was running 21/2 miles then my easy run days would be 2 miles. I
I consistently did this four days a week, tossing in an extra easy run day. By October I had ran my first 5k distance in 55 minutes. Slow as molasses but I had increased to running for a total of an hour to an hour and a half (this was faster than indicated because from May I missed two weeks due to a knee injury and rehabbed for several weeks and then was forced to take September off. so I got up to running 5k distances in roughly 4-5 months not including medical issues). After two weeks of running that distance, I did my first 5k in 44-45 minutes. Now I do 3 miles as the base for all my running, and I mix Fartleks and Temp runs into my regiment.
The C25k program works wonderfully if you adjust it for your pace. By focusing on time, if you do not currently run, then it will help to get the body conditioned for running and the stresses related to it. I find my recovery is very fast, breathing is deeper and better regulated and heart rate does not escalate as high. Also, from the start, the program subtly helps to push past mental blocks that our bodies are used to throwing when something gets difficult and uncomfortable. The break up of workouts assist new runners to recognizing these points and push past them. If you want to get to a point where you can enter a 5k, anybody can do it. It is not going to be blazing fast, but heck, you will be able to run for a longer period of time than you thought possible and will be able to enjoy fun running events. If you do not currently run or thought you would never be able to run in a 5k event, try this program. Til next time.