I may have mentioned this before, but it’s recently come to my attention again just how absurdly broken any Couch-to-5K program is. See, the entire idea of a C25K program is to teach someone with absolutely no running experience (like sitting on the couch) how to run a decent distance (3.1 miles) in a decent time (~30 minutes).

In theory, it’s great for new runners. Unfortunately, the reality is much different because the unspoken rule of thumb is that “everyone has to work their way up to Day 1,” which kind of defeats the purpose.

If you are a real couch potato and/or live a sedentary lifestyle, you are not going to be able to start out with Week 1, Day 1 of any C25K routine, and that means it’s broken. It’s a program for non-runners that doesn’t start where non-runners should start.

Not only have I been hearing multiple friends have trouble with this recently, I also had major problems with it when I was overweight and out of shape. So if you’re trying a C25K program, don’t fret if W1D1 is way too hard (and honestly, it probably is).

Here’s what I recommend you do. 

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 have to walk during their races. It’s a rest for your legs, as 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 what I’m doing.

If you’re looking at starting C25K, then you should make sure your legs and lungs can handle it. Especially if you’re asthmatic. The first day of the C25K is generally 9 intervals of running at 60 seconds each, with the same number of walks at 60-90 seconds.

That’s hard. That’s a lot of starting and stopping. It’s hard on your legs, and it’s hard on your lungs, and you’ll be sore and panting for breath before the first one is over if you’re a legitimate couch-level beginner.

So make sure you can walk before starting. I suggest that you be able to walk for 30-45 minutes at 3.5-4mph (15-18 minutes per mile) without feeling out of breath before you even start the shortest C25K intervals. 

I know that when I tried C25K for the first time, I couldn’t run for 15 seconds, much less a full minute. And it took me a long time before I could. It may only be a week or two for you. But if you’re panting and feeling like you’ll die from just walking, then you’re going to be in for it with C25K.

I suggest that you get Runkeeper (or another GPS app or watch) to check your pace. Or even a C25K app, but I’ve found their GPS modes are a little wonky for the most part and always to back to Runkeeper.

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. We all do. The program works, just not quite 100% as advertised–that’s why I say it’s broken.

Bonus Tip: After talking to @relysh and @_vidyala on Twitter, I realized another pitfall of C25K–the weeks are too condensed. If you’re having trouble transitioning from, say Week 2 to 3 or Week 4 to 5, don’t feel bad about repeating a week. I had to repeat Week 4 maybe three times before I could move on. Don’t feel tied down to being done in however many weeks your program says–it’s nice marketing, but bad science.

Running and fitness is a lifestyle where comfort and safety are paramount, and all training plans need that personal touch. So if you feel the need to repeat a week, you’re not alone. In reality, the program should be stretched out to 12-16 weeks, but that wouldn’t be nearly as appealing, would it?

Early on, the weeks are intense on your knees and your lungs because of the constant starting and stopping of the intervals. Know that after you get into 3+ minute intervals, your knees and joints should stop feeling as though you’re beating them to death. Mine did.

What are your experiences with running trainers like C25K?

And be sure not to miss the Geek Fitness Health Hacks Podcast! Click to listen to all the episodes now!

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