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I have never done a Couch to 5K programme

AND furthermore

I don’t think you have to use a c25k plan at all to run your first 5k

There I have said it.

*silence as I await the backlash*

So what is the meaning of this outburst? I must get a thousand emails a day (ok slight exaggeration) that start something like this

Hi Julie, I’m wondering if you can help me. I have been trying to get into running for ages and every time I get to week (?) of couch to 5k, I just seem to lose motivation.


I don’t know whats wrong with me I can’t seem to get past week (?) of couch to 5k its like my legs just don’t want to do it.

Now I guess before I start slagging off this ever so successful running programme I should simply state why I have never personally done it.

1. When I first started running I had never heard of it

2. By the time I had heard of it, I was already doing 10K races (although walking some of it often)

3. When I had to start running all over again after having my daughter, I had already decided that c25k just really wasn’t for me.

And its not because I am some kind of maverick who knows better than anyone else, it’s because I know myself and how I work better than anyone else. And I am just no good at following anyone elses plan (Ask my parents they’ll tell ya)…because my life is too chaotic to do things systematically, and besides I would rather use a bit of my own common sense to devise my own.

But what about people who can’t devise or follow their own plan?

Well that’s the point really, if you really want to learn to run you just need to get out there and run, and if you want your running to improve, you simply need to run more often, run a little further, or push a little harder.

OK so I am being a bit flippant

In all seriousness my problem with the C25K programme, especially when trying to tackle it alone is that it doesn’t really encourage you to listen to your own body.

You almost have to follow it like a robot…start when it says start, stop when it says stop, run further this week not next, and heaven forbid you go on holiday for a week or have a migraine…then what? Start all over, or just skip a week?

Also, for me, having to take 10 weeks to build up to 5k would have been painfully tedious, having to stick to prescribed run walk sequences, pah…what if a fit guy entered the equation, or an angry dog appeared?

Apologies if this feels like a personal attack to anyone…perhaps you have just started out on your own c25k journey, or perhaps you lead a succesful beginners group…I just thought it was about time I tackled this issue head on…as I never really mention it on here.

At this time of year there will be literally millions of people all over the world starting on week 1 excited at the prospect of becoming a great runner, and I am sure many of them will…but at a guess I also figure that many will give up after the first few weeks, or spend then next few months dancing back and forward with their weeks trying to find some kind of improvement.

I am impatient, I want to see improvement on my terms. I also know my body and know what it is capable of, so if I am on a roll and want to run further I will, and no app is going to convince me otherwise.

What I must say in its favour about the couch25k is that it really has caught the imagination of the inactive, and most people, runners or otherwise know what it is…possibly half the inactive UK  population have an app on their mobile phone, or a plan downloaded to their laptop.

But signing up to it, and completing it are too different things.

So my humble “how to get to 5k without going mad” advice???

  1. Get out to run or walk as regularly as you can
  2. Build up at a pace that suits you and stop if it really hurts
  3. Make your routes interesting or go with friends
  4. Learn to enjoy running, don’t take it all so seriously
  5. Sign up to a race or your local parkrun ASAP and just give it a go

Whats the worst that could happen?

For further info about starting running, check out my getting started section.

  1. January 16, 2015

    After starting many C25K that I never finish, I think I have found a compromise with the application Zombie Run 5K. It’s the only one I was able to follow from beginning to end successfully and with pleasure.

    I liked the story side and I always waited for the next episode, the next training. I love the touching characters who sometimes push me to overtake myself. Yes I ran a hill for the first time to catch up virtually a character who was wrong. (Yes I am a bit in love with Sam Yao, I confess).

    We redo each session three times (only the story changes) which allow you to integrate the difficulties. The workouts are also a progressive C25K but much more varied (sessions with change of paces between slow and fast walking, sometimes active recovery , sometimes with gentle walking, sometimes with passive stretching). And finally throughout the program, there is never obligation to run more than a minute at a time (at the begining, it’s just 15 seconds). The sessions are broken down with a walking time to warm up, drill (for example : walk 1min – Run 30 seconds, 5 times) and freeform run.

    In the freeform run, you can choose to run all the time, walk all the time, or to alternate the two, based on our state of form. I ‘ve never felt guilty for having walked more, I’ve never “failed”. It was the most important, as I finished the session, happy and proud of me. Theses freeform runs built my confidence and pushed me to go where I would not have done without application. I said to myself ok on this 10min freeform run today I will try to run 5min without walking. I stared at my own goals. And sometimes knowing that there was more than 2min extra run or walk, I pushed me to run a little more.

    With this application, I have found the balance I needed between too rigid plan as C25K and my only freedom unstructured. That works for me, and it can be an idea for others.

  2. January 12, 2015

    I completely agree. I started couch to 5k a couple of times and felt useless when I got to whatever week and couldn’t keep up or got bored. So I did it on my own and I feel like I’ve done better. I still don’t run the entire time but I enjoy what I do and feel proud of how far I’ve come. I think it’s an ok program in that it gives you structure but I agree that it doesn’t encourage you to listen to your own body and mind and these are crucial if you’re ever going to feel like a ‘runner’. While doing c25k, I thought I wasn’t a runner until I finished it. Going out on my own, I feel like a runner all the time.

    • Such a good point about not feeling like a proper runner until you complte it, if you run you are a runner, its as simple as that

  3. January 7, 2015

    I totally see where you’re coming from here. I used the C25K plan and it worked nicely for me in that it gave me some structure and helped me set goals. That said, by the end of the program I was nowhere near being able to run an entire 5K, despite the fact that I could run for 30 minutes. That’s faster than a 10-minute mile! I still can’t do that! So it was discouraging to go through the program, get to the end, and feel like I wasn’t measuring up. I’m over it now, but it was a hard lesson for a new runner.

  4. January 7, 2015

    I agree to an extent on this article, as you said it is each persons decision on what they choose to do. For me the C25K was brilliant, it got me to running 5k and I feel it got me to the point that I could read my body. At first I had no clue, I was running too fast so couldn’t last as long as I thought I should have. If I hadn’t have done the C25K I would have tries to do too much too soon and givin up just thinking I couldn’t run.
    Carla x

  5. January 6, 2015

    I completely agree with you! I like the idea behind C25K but I don’t think it works for everybody. I found that some weeks I was bored during the run, as it was too easy, but other weeks I had to stop because I struggled too much, so I quickly lost motivation. I think if you can, it’s much better to just run how and when you want, gradually increasing in distance until you hit 5K!

    Emma x

  6. I started off with Couch to 5K because I didn’t know how to get out there and run, as daft as it sounds. I did end up repeating the first week but then I ended up with shin splints so had to rest and get new trainers. I haven’t used the programme since, however it has allowed me to work out what I need to do.

    When I was doing couch to 5K I was trying to run as fast as possible in the space they give you so as to get further. Now that I go out without it, I just set myself somewhere in my eye line and then take as long as I need to run there at a comfortable speed.

    The only reason I stopped using Couch to 5K was because I find it a bit tedious. Sometimes I can manage to run a bit further, other times I need to stop a bit sooner and now I don’t feel guilty about it.

  7. I can see both sides. I started running with Couch 25K, and loved it because it knew what I could do better than I did. Laura, the coach on the NHS app, had more faith in me than I did in myself. At times it seems to go up in big stages, but she will say things like, “I know you can do this, because last week you did ____, just take it slowly.” And to my surprise, I found she was right.

    HOWEVER, like many others I got stuck (on week 6 and then 7) and when that happened I devised my own plan which was simply to run for a minute longer with each run. That’s what got me past the hurdles. I still plan to finish Couch 25K, though. I really like Laura, and her calm confident encouragement, and I’m looking forward to hearing her congratulate me at the end of week 9.

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