Couch to 5K

Thoughts on pacing

So yesterday I completed the dreaded W5R3, and the big step up to 20 minutes non-stop got me thinking about the idea of pacing myself. It may sound silly now, but before I started on c25k, I had never really thought about pacing myself when exercising. I sort of thought the idea was you just ran as fast as you could until you could run no more, and then stopped.

When I started c25k, I found I could manage week 1 and week 2 without too much difficulty. I had enough general fitness to run for 90s in a single go, and the enforced walk gave me time to recover. When I looked at the W3 schedule, though, with its 3 minute runs, I was quite intimidated, as I was quite sure I had never been able to run for that long in one go. I knew that if I just went out and ran as fast as I could, there was no way I would make a whole 3 minutes. It was then that I realised, if rather than running as fast as I thought I could, instead I ran as slowly as I could, that would allow me to get through the 3 minute run. It worked a treat. Once I had done the first run of the session, and knew I could do it, on runs 2 and 3 I pushed myself a bit more and ran a little faster (I think, I wasn't measuring).

Of course up to W5R2, all of the increases are modest. The big W5R3 of course changes that. From the perspective of even running 8 minutes, then having a break, running for 20 minutes might as well be running forever. I found myself looking at posts here and people talking about the "conversational" pace. Two months ago, to me, that would be an oxymoron. Running meant a raised heartbeat, panting for breath and painful muscles. Without me realising that, however, c25k was changing that. I actually can sustain a run at a pace that does not completely debilitate me. If I was going to run for a length of time that seems like forever, then I had to find a pace of running that I felt I could sustain not until the next walking break, but forever. I had to actually pay attention to how my body was feeling, how hard I was breathing and how my muscles felt, and actually modulate my running pace.

I'm sure for plenty of people this is an obvious thing, and in an abstract sense it is obvious to me. What has come as a revelation, though, is that it is something that I can actually do, and by doing it I can run a whole lot further than I would ever have contemplated beforehand. To me, suddenly 30 minutes and 5 km no longer feels like some far off objective that is nothing like the runs that Laura is telling me to do. It is the same kind of thing I have already done, just a little bit longer.

I thought I'd share this with the community because there are a lot of posts from people who find themselves at a particular milestone in the course where they look ahead and think, "that step is too big". My experience suggests that the step isn't too big, you just have to pace yourself.

4 Replies

Wonderful post - Thank you! I have been wondering how I would ever be able to achieve longer runs now, (just goung into week 3) and 30 mins sounds such a long time but I would not have been able to run 3 mins 2 weeks ago and i now feel it really is something I can do now! Posts like yours give me courage and determination to succeed. Thanks again and congratulations on your continued success.


A thought provoking post - but necessary to remind us that we do need to slow down and pace ourselves. Thank you for sharing. Best wishes.


Nice post and some useful points for new and old runners alike. Getting your pace and breathing right is important and there is time later once you have built the base of running for 30 minutes, to push on and either run further improve the pace at which you run or both.

It sounds like you won't need it but good luck with graduating.


Great post. You are so right, you need to find a natural pace (or probably more accurately cadence), that you can just trot along at. It has taken me ages to truly understand this, and get it right. Injuries have dogged me for a few months now, so I tried really hard to slow down. But I couldn't, I just have this natural happy pace. What has happened though, is that I have relaxed more. The runs are 'easier', more enjoyable, and I seem to be managing my injuries better.

(Or is it something to do with running in the sunshine? Bit of both I think!)


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