The Couch to 5k Plan Kinda Sucks

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I know that I have mentioned this before, but any couch to 5k plan out there is kind of broken. The entire idea of C25K is to teach someone with absolutely no running experience (like sitting on the couch) how to run a decent distance in a decent time.

What is a 5k, Anyway?

5k stands for 5 kilometers, which is 3.1 miles. And average runners can run that distance in ~30 minutes.

In theory, it’s great for new runners. Unfortunately, the reality is much different. The unspoken rule of a couch to 5k plan is that everyone has to pre-game C25K so they’re ready for Day 1, which kind of defeats the purpose. And sucks.

If you are a real couch potato and live a sedentary lifestyle, you are absolutely not going to be able to start out with Week 1, Day 1 of any couch to 5k plan. (I have written more about that here.)

Not being able to start up with Day 1 is disheartening and puts people off. And you know what? That sucks. A couch to 5k plan is a program for non-runners that doesn’t start where non-runners can start.

I…can’t even.

How to Approach a Couch to 5k Plan the Right Way

Not only have I been hearing multiple friends have trouble with this recently, but I also had major problems with it when I was overweight and out of shape. So if you’re starting out with a couch to 5k plan, don’t fret if W1D1 is way too hard (and honestly, it probably will be). That’s okay. You can prep for that.

Don’t Be Ashamed of Walking, Especially at First

Most people who want to be runners think that walking is weakness. It’s not. Even marathoners and ultra-marathoners walk during their races. It’s a rest for your legs because it works different muscles than running. There are days where my whole routine involves going for long walks, keeping my heart-rate up, and just enjoying being outside.

If you’re looking at starting couch to 5k, then you should make sure your legs and lungs can handle it. Especially if you are running with asthma like I am. The first day of a couch to 5k plan is around 9 intervals of running for 60 seconds, then the same number of walking intervals for 60-90 seconds.

That’s hard, y’all. Especially if you’re not used to moving around at all. If you’re truly a couch potato, then running 9 full minutes at 60-second intervals is tough.

This is why people think running sucks.

It’s hard, and it’s not fun, and it’s not indicative of the sport in general. What it is, though, is hard on your legs, hard on your lungs.

You’ll be tired and panting for breath before the first one is over if you’re a truly couch-level beginner. 60 seconds is far too long for a first running interval ever. And doing that for 20-30 minutes? It’s too hard. And more than that, it kinda sucks.

Plus, the next day, your legs will be super sore. It’s dumb.

Again: This is Why People Think Running Sucks

Running doesn’t suck. The Couch to 5k plan does.

But you can totally fix it by pre-gaming the program. Make sure you can walk a while before starting. It may sound silly, but it’s true.

I suggest that you be able to walk for 30-45 minutes at 3.5 to 4 mph (15-18 minutes per mile) without feeling out of breath before you even start with your couch to 5k plan’s intervals. 

I know that when I tried a couch to 5k plan for the first time, I couldn’t run for 15 seconds. I was 280ish (maybe more than that), and a whole minute of running was 100% out of the question.

It took me a long time before I could make it even 30 seconds. It may only be a week for you to be able to do Week 1, Day 1. Maybe 2. It all depends on you and your level of fitness.

The takeaway here is that you have to take the time to prep to make sure that the first week of C25K doesn’t make you hate running as a sport or activity. Because I know for certain that it’s turned a lot of people off (though to be honest, probably not as many as it’s turned onto running).

I suggest that you get Runkeeper or Strava (or a GPS watch) to check your pace. You can use the GPS from a couch to 5k app, but I have never had them work right for me. I always prefer to use them for interval timers, but not for GPS.

When You’re Ready to Run with C25K

Once you can easily walk at a decent pace for a decent time, then you’re good to start running. Just don’t get discouraged if you have to work up to a beginner’s program like C25K. A lot of us have to.

Just remember it’s because they kind of suck. We don’t suck. Running doesn’t suck. Couch to 5k plan creators’ assumptions suck.

The plans work, don’t get me wrong, and they have helped me multiple times as I have needed to get back on my feet. They just don’t quite work 100% as advertised.

And after talking with some of my friendos on Twitter, I realized another pitfall of the couch to 5k plan: the weeks are too condensed. If you’re having trouble going from week to week, don’t feel bad about repeating it. I had to repeat Week 4 three times before I could move on. Don’t feel tied down to the weekly schedule. The couch to 5k schedule is nice marketing, but bad science.

Running and fitness is a lifestyle where comfort and safety are paramount. All training plans need that personal touch. So if you feel the need to repeat a week, you’re not alone. If you need to walk, walk. It’s okay.

If you ask me, the couch to 5k plan should be stretched out to 12-16 weeks to really take advantage of the real-world experience of newbie runners. But that wouldn’t be nearly as appealing, would it?

What are your experiences with the Couch to 5k plan?

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