Couch to 5K lives up to the hype

Here’s an entire post about the Couch to 5K running training program. You’ve been warned! If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s the short version:

I was just about ready to lie down and die, but now I feel much better, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and you can, too.

How it works: We downloaded the free app onto our phones. You go out three times a week, and it tells you exactly what to do, on the screen and out loud. Like: “Begin warm-up! Walk for five minutes.” “*BONG!*Start running now!” “You are half way!” “*BONG!*Start walking now.” And so on. It begins and ends with a five-minute walk, and alternates walking and running for varying lengths of time, increasing the total running time week by week. By the time you get through the whole program, you can run five kilometers, which is just over three miles.

You can upgrade the app to play music, keep track of calories, and other stuff, but the free version is fine.

Why we started: As with the beginning of so many great things, I was sitting on the bed crying because I’m disgusting and nothing will ever change and it’s just all so horrible. So my husband goes, “Let’s do that Couch to 5K thing.” And I sniffled, “Okay,” because it sounded better than sitting on the bed crying. I probably would have agreed to go away to Organic Rollercoaster Engineer school at that point.

We both used to run many, many years ago, but now we are both 42.  I have done various kinds of workouts over the years, but it’s been harder and harder to do anything consistently. We were both feeling very much like it was the beginning of the end, and like every aspect of our lives would just get harder and cruddier and more pathetic, steadily and inexorably, until we were dead. So, this was our way to fight back and see if we could do something else, instead.

In the beginning, I was terrified. I was so sure that I was going to embarrass myself, let my husband down, and just be pathetic and gross in some way, and end up feeling even worse because I had failed one more thing. This is not commensurate with reality. I’m actually fairly accomplished in a lot of different areas, and have done all kinds of difficult and frightening things, and am surrounded by supportive, appreciative people. But my stupid rat brain was pretty persuasive about me being a repulsive loser blob.

How it’s going:  It’s going great! It has been hard every week; it has gotten easier every week. Every week, we’ve been very conscious of getting stronger, which is incredibly encouraging and motivating.

We repeated a few days when we felt like we just barely got through them. One week, we peeked ahead and freaked out at how hard the next week looked, so we repeated the same week until we got a little stronger and more confident.

And that is fine. We intend to run a 5K eventually, but we’re not in a huge rush. As long as we don’t lose ground, it’s fine.

So now, six weeks later, we’re starting week four, which is a 31-minute workout. It’s a brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog for three minutes, walk for ninety seconds, jog for five minutes, walk for 2.5 minutes, jog three minutes, walk ninety seconds, and jog five minutes, and then walk another five minutes to cool down. We talk and laugh while we jog.

There is no way I could have done this a month ago. Nooooooo way. I would have thrown up and collapsed and spent the rest of the day laughing at that that alien species of people who waste their lives moving their limbs around like idiots, rather than enjoying life like I was *sob*.

But I’ve gotten stronger, my stamina is much better, and most of all, I have more confidence. I woke up this morning feeling awful, with a sinus headache, a stuffy nose, and a heavy, congested chest. But rather than looking for a reason to skip, I decided that I would at least try and see what I could do. Nobody pushed me into it; I just decided on my own to try.

This . . . is kind of a big deal for me. I find that I’m spending less time looking for excuses not to do things, and more time looking for reasons to make things possible, or at least to give it a shot. Not just running, but all kinds of things. All kinds of things just seem more possible. I feel more capable. I’m looking forward to the future.

This is kind of a big deal for me.

Physical changes: I don’t own a scale, so I’m not sure if I’m losing weight. When I’m getting regular exercise, I find it much easier to eat reasonably, both in what and how much I eat. I’m focusing on just eating when I’m hungry no more than five times a day, stopping when I’m no longer hungry, and trying to get plants and protein and avoid sugar; so I know I’m healthier than I was six weeks ago. My days are less centered around hunting and gathering. The gin, however, stays in the picture.

I feel a lot less shame about my body. Even when I look in the mirror and see a body I’m not happy with, I see it as a working body, a trying body, and not the body of a loser. It’s not that fat people are losers, or that women who look like they’ve borne children are losers. But my body was, objectively, the body of someone who had given up. I had stopped trying to feel better, and that was no good, no matter how I looked to outsiders.

I’m definitely getting more toned. My belly is a little flatter, my hips are less blobby, and my legs and arms have more definition. I’m still fat. I will probably always be fat. This does not seem terrible to me (or to my husband, which helps a lot!).

And I’m sleeping better.
And I have more energy during the day.
I can be active longer without strain, and I can stay awake and alert for longer in the day.
And I’m setting a good example for the kids, who are thinking of doing the program themselves when school lets out.
Any my back doesn’t hurt all the time.
I think maybe my skin is clearer?
My mood is better, especially on running days.
And my posture is better. It’s easier, and it feels more natural, to sit up straight.
I’m looking forward to the summer, thinking about hiking and swimming and running around with the kids, rather than dreading feeling guilty about wasting the warm weather but feeling so draaaaaaained all the time.

I no longer look at running as some kind of alien, unreachable thing that people who are very, very different from me do. The program is really well designed, not pushing too hard or too fast, so you not only get your body in shape, but you gradually come around mentally, too, and start to think of running differently. I really admire the way it’s set up, with a good understanding of human psychology.

Things that help: We drive a little distance and then run in a secluded country road, where there is almost no traffic and it’s mostly level. This pic is from April 5. There’s less snow today!

We use the treadmill when the weather makes outdoor running actually dangerous (like when the road is covered with a sheet of wet ice), but the treadmill adds a whole level of difficulty and unpleasantness. Fresh air, room to move, and something to look at make a huge difference.

It would be harder to stick with this on my own. My husband and I encourage and motivate each other, and keep each other on track. Talking and laughing while we run also makes the time go by so much faster.

Music and distractions like Facebook help a ton on the treadmill. I prefer talking to my husband and listening to the birds and streams when we’re outside, but it helps a lot to have a song in my head, to keep to the beat.

General running tips that I remember from long ago. Correct me if I’m wrong about these!: keep your movements as smooth and gliding as possible; use your whole body, rather than just trotting with your legs; roll from heel to the ball of your foot when you step; try to extend each stride, rather than running faster; tip your chin up to keep your chest up and shoulders back, so you can get more air in your lungs; keep your hands low and your fingers and arms loose, rather than tightening them up around your chest like a fricking dinosaur; breathe in through your nose and out through your pursed lips, to keep the oxygen in your body as long as possible. Don’t forget to stretch before and after. Drink water!

My friends, I was circling the drain, but I’m fighting back! If I can do it, you can, too. (It doesn’t have to be Couch to 5K. It could be any firm decision to get moving and keep it up indefinitely.) I’m not special. I’m not radically reorganizing my life. I’m just ready to stop feeling terrible about everything all the time.


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29 thoughts on “Couch to 5K lives up to the hype”

  1. You should try running a 5 K. I did a couple a few years ago & it really helped encourage me . They are not expensive – usually $25 or so & usually benefit a good charity. Both times I did it my goal was just to finish , and there were several other people in my ability range. Many also have free kid runs at the event, so it gave my kids something to do too. Your post inspires me to get back to it!

  2. I will echo what other commenters said about the heel strike: it is generally not recommended anymore as it is thought to increase the jarring on your joints, specifically your knees.

  3. I love the c25k program too! I just finished week 1, my third time through the program, now that my youngest is 9 months old. I used it following the births of my first two children and discovered, much to my surprise, that I can actually run, and it makes me feel great! (Most runs do, at least; everyone has some off days.) I just need the days to get a little longer so I can go running after I get the baby to bed for the night…

    Thanks for your writing, Simcha, and your vulnerability in describing your thought life. You are a blessing to me.

  4. Congratulations!!, I’m very happy for you. And while aerobic activity is awesome, I think you’ll find that cutting out sugar has more beneficial effects on your weight and overall health than the exercise does. And keep in mind the food pyramid is a lie, and try to kick the bread too.

  5. Hi! I’m Carleigh’s daughter and I am a registered Kinesiotherapist with a degree in Kinesiology. I am really glad you are enjoying the C25K program. At the end of the post you described what y’all are doing and asked if it sounded right. Everything you described sounded about right, except you may consider adjusting how y’all perform stretching. In the post you do not specify if y’all are performing static or dynamic stretching, however I will share the information on them anyway. In general based on the current body of evidence it is recommended that no static stretching be performed before exercise because it decreases the force production potential of muscles, increases fatigue, and increases risk of injury (contrary to popular belief). Also, it is recommended that unless you are participating in a sport where excessive range of motion is necessary (dance, gymnastics, cheer) that all stretching performed should be of the dynamic type. Even dynamic stretching should be primarily performed after the workout. If you really enjoy stretching before your workout, be sure you only perform stretches after a minimum 5 minute warm up to decrease the risk of muscular injury, and, even at that, I would recommend only dynamic stretching as it has been proven to be safer and more effective than static stretching.

  6. Good for you. The paragraph that Reboot thinks is amusing is pretty much me right now, but this makes me almost think I could do it. My poor husband made the mistake of asking me about my hopes/dreams in March in Minnesota. My answer was pretty much, I’m old and just waiting to die.
    Anyway, could you do a post on the nitty gritty details, like were you able to find a sports bra that keeps you from getting a black eye during your run? How do you run holding a phone? Where do you find sports clothes that aren’t humiliating for a 40-year old to wear in public? It’s been so long since I exercised, I’m overwhelmed at even the thought of figuring out the proper gear.

    1. Oh, great questions. I am a 40DDD, so … yeah. I wear a sports bra with a soft (non underwire) bra under it, and that does the trick. I wear lycra athletic leggings, or whatever they’re called, and a very long T-shirt. I just hold onto the phone tightly while running. I guess we might get one of those arm strap things at some point.
      Also, we chose our running spot because it is secluded, and we just hardly see anyone. I feel a tiny bit self conscious when we start out, but the running is distracting and I don’t think about it after that.

      1. A good running bra makes all the difference! (Of course, good running bras for YOU are much more spendy than for me, with my smaller chest. Sorry!) But if you can budget for it, it’s a huge help.

        I started wearing a running belt a couple of years ago, and I picked up my first one at Walmart, then found one for only $20 on Amazon that has been the bomb! (It’s a little bulky, but has a clip for my keys and a couple of little pockets for my chapstick and a place to put my license or some beer money for the pub run days.)

      2. Could you also tell us how you carved time out to do this? I know from reading your blog you have more to juggle than I do. I need this on multiple levels but am racking my brain on how to fit it into the day.

    2. I am so horribly chatty on this. Sorry, Simcha!

      I get most of my running clothes from Walmart. They carry things into plus sizes. I’ve found that the performance leggings/capris are best. Last summer during my run streak, I went on a tear through their cheap ($4) running tanks. I used to wear shorts over my running tights, but eventually stopped because it was just to dang hot.

      Also, if Old Navy is having a half-off sale, their running gear is great. If it’s not half-off, I consider it too expensive for my budget.

    3. You know , DCH, the great thing about running is that you don’t NEED a lot of stuff. A good pair of running shoes will get you started. The first time I did c25k, I just wore my normal plantar fasciitis friendly sneaks. I’m small chested, so my normal bra was fine. I wore a pair of yoga pants that I often wore for errands. I used to wear my husbands tee shirts, which covered my behind. These days I’m swimming in his shirts and I train hard enough that cotton can sometimes get uncomfortable, so I do have some dedicated work out clothes. Don’t let clothing stop you from exercising. The beginning of c25k is as much walking as anything. My guess is that you’ve got stuff lying around your house, and a good pair of sneaks and maybe a sports bra is more than enough to get you started. Go to the track at your local high school – you’ll see folks of all different sizes in all kinds of getups. And many of them will be older. (The young uns are out on trails because they’re not as afraid of twisted ankles).

  7. I find that as soon as I get the motivation and energy to start eating better and exercising consistently…..I end up pregnant. Even at the ripe old age of 41. So, I’m looking forward to the announcement for sweet Fisher #11 😉 Keep up the good work!!!

  8. Good for you! Couch to 5K is awesome – got me back into running after #9. One tip: not heel to toe. You should be hitting the ground mid-foot and rolling forward. Check out youtube videos on Good Form Running. They talk about cadence, lean, midfoot strike, and posture. I’ve only been able to hit the cadence goal on the treadmill, but I can’t tell you how much better it made my run; I’ve always considered it a goal to work towards.

  9. So glad you tried it and it is working for you! I used to joke that I only ran to the bathroom and to answer the phone, but now I’ve finished four half-marathons and I’m currently on day 53 of a run streak! I started with C25K too. I love that you can repeat days/weeks as needed and it takes all the guesswork on timing away from you. One thing I would note, especially if you encounter knee or shin pain, is to try running more on the front of your feet, rather than your heels. I changed my stride a few years ago and I rarely encounter pain, other than tightness in my calves. Keep up the good work!

  10. Wow, that was inspiring! You sound so upbeat too. I’m going to download the app. I heard that getting sunlight before noon also does something to your body that makes it burn calories better…
    Sometimes I literally have to force myself to get off my butt and go down to our beach, but once I get down there I feel like I must be crazy not to go everyday. The color of the sky, the water, and the level of the tides and what they reveal is different every single day. Getting out in nature has such power to alleviate stress and shifting moods. When you have been a mother for a substantial amount of time, I think it does something to your brain that makes you reticent, because leaving the house with a baby or a toddler simply makes everything more complicated. I have to constantly tell myself that it’s not hard anymore, but I think a Mom literally has to get over years of conditioning to be guarded and worried.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  11. Oh, bravo! Doing it both of you together was a stroke of genius: two birds with one stone, if I may put it that way, without thereby implying that you are a brace of stoned avians. Time together is another thing that’s hard to get to at 42 with a large family. Thanks for the pep talk.

  12. This makes me so happy!!! Good for you, seriously. I started exercising consistently after a Couch to 5k as well, and the effect on my mental health has been amazing. It’s something that I can accomplish even when I’m morbidly depressed and it makes a huge difference.

  13. Good for you! I know I feel much, much better when I exercise (mainly walk and bike) a good amount. A few days off and I feel lousy. Sadly, all the exercise I get doesn’t seem to make me any thinner – the good effects are mainly on digestion and mood.

  14. I am so happy for you! Good job, both of you.

    And I apologize for laughing at the part where you are 42 (oh no! So OLD) “42 … it was the beginning of the end, and like every aspect of our lives would just get harder and cruddier and more pathetic, steadily and inexorably, until we were dead.” Yeah, you know nothing, John Snow.

    You still have so much failure in front of you, from which you will have to rebound and recover! Decades of screwing up and forgiving and being forgiven and disappointing yourself and surprising yourself at how you can heal and recover and learn.

    You do not, at 42, get to just stumble ever more weakly to the finish line.

    Come on, week 5. 🙂

  15. I’ve wanted to try this for so long, but my anxious brain has talked me into thinking I have exercised induced asthma. The pulmonologist is not convinced (‘maybe it’s a stamina thing), but my brain is…so I always think I may die if I exercise. But I will probably die earlier if I don’t, right? So I need to muster up the courage just to try. Thank you so much for this posting. It has made me feel so much braver…

  16. I am SOOOO proud of you! I did C25K three years ago (started May 31), did it again last year, then moved to 5 to 10K. I was NEVER a runner, never an athlete (don’t listen to my dad on this, he’s biased and a little crazy), and I am still not fast. But I’m faster than I used to be, and I feel SO much better. I did a run streak last summer that lasted almost 70 days.

    When I started C25K 3 years ago, I couldn’t run the last 1 minute on W1D1. My “run” was somewhere between 13:30 and 14:00 per mile. My husband, who had run a marathon the previous fall, trotted alongside me, God bless him.

    To say C25K changes you is an understatement. I actually LIKE to run now. I’m pushing both of my kids to do it this summer with me (again), and I’m planning another run streak.

    I say it again: I didn’t run until I was 44 years old. I had bad knees, a sore back, stress, and anxiety (not the kind I needed therapy for, but just a bunch of anxieties). Like you, even though my body doesn’t look like I really want it to, I am in better shape now at 155 pounds than I was at 125 before babies.

    I rave and rave and babble on and on about C25K, but I can’t say it enough: anyone can be a runner.

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