So, You are wanting to know how to do the Couch to 5k training plan for non runners and have loads of questions. This forum is designed to enable you to ask for advice from the welcoming, supportive and incredibly nice bunch of folk who make up our membership, so feel free to do that, but a quick browse through this post may help answer some of your basic queries and might be something you want to come back to look at again in the future.
The NHS and One You C25k programme is a training plan for absolute beginners, or those who have not run for many years. Its aim is to get you running for 30 minutes non stop, which for some will be 5k, using a programme structured over nine weeks and working out, ideally, three times per week. Don’t worry, you are in control of your progress and many do not hit 5k in 30 minutes at graduation, but they have transformed their lives and their future health prospects. You start with walking and slowly build up, so don’t be put off. The plan is duration based and never asks you to run any specific distance or pace…….you are in control.
The plan is guided by either a series of podcasts, which can be played on any device capable of playing mp3 files, or as an app to be used on either Android or iOS phones or tablets (although a tablet may be too bulky to carry if running outdoors)
The podcasts are available here nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/Couch-to... Scroll down the page to the box containing the nine separate podcasts and click to select and download each one. Alternatively, if you have iTunes on your device you can download via that.
The Android and iOS apps are available here nhs.uk/Livewell/c25k/Pages/...
The information on both podcasts and apps is the same. The podcasts are led by your trainer, Laura, who will tell you when to start and stop and give useful tips along the way, interspersed with music. On the app you have a choice of four celebrity trainers, plus Laura, giving all the same advice, but you can play your own choice of music.
THE LINK BELOW HAS A WARNING ATTACHED and will take you to a spreadsheet view of the training plan. Some people get very worried knowing what is coming up. If that is you, don’t look, but if you are like me, and would not even want to start without knowing what is in store, then click away. It is a useful reference. healthunlocked.com/couchto5... What I can tell you is that by the end of the the plan you…..yes YOU, will be running for thirty minutes.
Okay, the podcasts or apps are downloaded and ready to go. Are you?
If you are very unfit, have any underlying health issues or are concerned, then please consult your GP before starting the programme. Some people find they need to do some regular walking before they start the plan, easing into gentle exercise before they move onto C25k. If that is you, look at the link below nhs.uk/oneyou/active10/home...
There is no age limit to this plan. In 2017 we had an 83 year old graduate and many children have done this alongside their parents, although it is the parent’s responsibility to make sure of the suitability for their child and the virtual graduation badge can only be issued to forum members, who have to be over 16 years of age. Many starters are overweight, many have other conditions, but remarkably they all seem to benefit from this very simple method of building their fitness. A number begin by saying that they have never liked running (school memories often to blame) only to find that within a few sessions they are loving the feeling they get and can see real benefits in a very short time. The biggest surprise for most are the mental benefits. Running changes the chemical balance in your brain, makes you feel good and ultimately turns you into a run junkie.
Find yourself some loose clothing to wear, suitable for the time of year and some trainers, if possible. Dress for five degrees warmer than it actually is, you will warm up. For anyone with breasts, I am advised that a good sports bra is essential equipment. Any shoes will do for the first few weeks, but if you persist beyond Week 4 then you really do need to invest in some proper running shoes. In my opinion, it is best to go to a specialist running shop and have a gait analysis done. This will assess what sort of shoes and support you need to keep injury risk minimal. This link discusses running shoes in more detail. healthunlocked.com/couchto5...……………..which-shoes
Your shoes will have to help absorb up to seven times your body weight being transmitted up your legs with every stride, so are the most important part of your running equipment, so follow the advice offered by experts, not your mates, even if they run marathons, and get the right shoes for you. We are all different.
C25k can be run outside, which provides fresh air, vitamin D from sunlight, a constantly changing environment and for me, the real joy of running. Treadmill running is fine for those who prefer to be indoors. It is recommended that you set the treadmill to an incline of 1 degree, at least, to simulate running outdoors, otherwise the transition to outside running can seem extremely difficult, when the glorious day comes, although you may want to continue running on the treadmill, which is fine. Running is running, wherever you do it.
If doing your training outdoors, try to plan a safe route beforehand, preferably avoiding steep hills and crossing too many busy roads. You will be told when you are halfway through, so you can turn round and head back home, if doing an out and back workout. If you want to minimise the strain on your joints, running on grass or trails will reduce the impact.
Each C25k workout starts with a five minute warmup walk. This is to get the heart pumping and muscles and joints warmed up ready for the exertions to come, so it needs to be at a brisk pace, but not so fast that you cannot hold a conversation. Your trainer, on the app or podcast, will tell you when to start walking and then when to run, so you do not have to worry about timings. Just follow the instructions and enjoy yourself.
The commonest mistake by those starting this plan is to go too fast. You will be told to do your running intervals at a gentle jog, which means you should still be able to hold a conversation, not just gasp the odd word. If you are gasping or panting you are going too fast and with short breaths, you are not going to get enough oxygen into your body to supply the demands of your muscles and you will tire quickly. This is called your easy conversational pace. It will be different for each runner and will get faster as you get fitter. This is the pace at which even elite athletes spend as much as 80% of their training time........... although considerably faster than most of us. The body of a new runner will adapt perfectly adequately at a nice gentle jog. There is no such thing as too slow, as long as you are maintaining a running action, with both feet simultaneously off the ground on each stride. Even if you feel you are reasonably fit and have good cardio health, if you have not run before, or not recently, then please take it easy and allow your body time to develop. It is explained in this post, which also explains why you need to take at least one rest day between runs healthunlocked.com/couchto5...
Speed will come later, when your running body is stronger.
The rest day from running is not negotiable, but does not have to be spent back on the couch again. When you run, unlike other exercises, you actually damage your muscles and the rest days are when they repair. Any non impact exercise, such as swimming, cycling, weights, Pilates or yoga will be beneficial to your overall fitness and to your running and will aid the repair and strengthening of muscles. The weeks of C25k do not have to coincide with calendar weeks. You may want to run every other day, or you may find you need more than one rest day between workouts…..both are fine.
Getting started, actually going out of your front door into the exposing view of neighbours and total strangers, is probably the hardest part of the entire programme for many. What you rapidly realise is that as soon as you are out jogging along, you become invisible to nearly everyone. You are far more likely to get positive comments from people who notice you, than negative ones. After a few sessions, you will be enjoying yourself so much, and your confidence will be such that you really won’t give a damn what anybody thinks.
At times the demands will be tough. You may find that you cannot complete a workout. In that case, have a rest day and try again, maybe running even slower. Each run is building your body, so be patient …….you will get there. A positive attitude is important and how to deal with the challenges is addressed in this post healthunlocked.com/couchto5...
You can only fail this plan if you permanently head back to the couch.
When anyone, however fit, starts a new physical training regime that they are not used to, they will suffer aches and minor pains initially. This is unavoidable but should you be in real pain, then your body is telling you to stop…...so do just that.
For many years first aid for runners was known under the acronym R.I.C.E. standing for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. This has now been superseded by other variations such as M.I.C.E., where the M stands for mobility, because rest was often interpreted as no movement, which can be harmful for some injuries. The NHS version now appears to be P.R.I.C.E., where the P stands for protection. nhs.uk/conditions/sports-in...
Runners are drama queens, in that what to a non runner is an annoying pulled muscle, is for the runner, a full blown injury. You have to listen to your body and take care not to exacerbate injuries by continuing to strain them. New runners are particularly prone to shin splints and calf strains and Achilles tendon strains, which can often be rectified by the correct footwear, slowing down, shortening stride and also by judicious use of a foam roller, an innocent looking, fiendish weapon for the masochistic runner to use to ease strained muscles by self inflicted massage. They hurt like hell, but do an amazing job…… physioroom.com/catalog/Foam...
If your aches and pains persist or recur frequently, then head to your GP or a sports physio to get a professional opinion. Often the advice will be to rest up and that again needs to be taken seriously. If you take sensible precautions, wear good shoes, follow good training plans and don’t attempt to do more than is sensible for your level of experience, then injury is by no means inevitable, but running does figure quite highly amongst sports for the number of injuries, so take care.
Illness, and other parts of life, can strike any of us at any time and annoyingly, it stops us running. The big question is when to start back and, if you are in the middle of the programme, where to start back. Only you can know. The advice about colds is that if it is above the neck, you can run, below the neck do not. I am a wimp and like to enjoy my running and through experience I have learned that it takes longer to recover enough to manage physical exertion, than it does to get back to everyday routines. Performance and enjoyment may be below par, even when you feel almost fully better. Give yourself a rest and come back fully fit. If you have missed anything up to two weeks of regular running, you are unlikely to have lost much condition, so pick up where you left off and gauge how that run goes. If you miss longer, just drop back a run or week and see how it goes.
One of the best ways to reduce injury is to make sure you stretch immediately after each and every run, while muscles are still warm and supple. I use these and swear by them nhs.uk/Livewell/c25k/Pages/...
These stretches should not be used on cold muscles before a run.
Stretching before a run should be dynamic stretches, because muscles are not necessarily warmed up runnersworld.com/ask-coach-...
These are not essential but can be helpful if the weather is particularly cold, or you have specific muscle groups that need extra attention.
Learning to run is as much about discovering how your body works as it is about putting one leg in front of the other. The internet is a brilliant resource for doing your own research, but it won’t be long before you come across contradictory advice, so be careful.
One piece of advice, which somehow has slipped through into the C25k podcasts and even more inexplicably into the more recent app, is the advice you will receive on heelstrike. Across most acknowledged sources, heelstriking is considered to be the least favourable way for your foot to fall; midfoot or forefoot are the preferred techniques. Heelstrike causes more jarring impacts up the leg, which can lead to knee problems and shin splints and even stress fractures. It is often caused by overstriding, so make sure that your footfall lies under your torso, not out in front. The most crucial aspect of footstrike is to keep it as light as possible, no slapping and as little jarring as possible.
For general advice on your posture when running, read this nice simple explanation of the basics nyrr.org/youth-and-schools/...
Good posture improves efficiency and performance and helps reduce injury risk.
Breathing for many is problematic in the first few weeks. There is one answer…...slow down. There is advice on the podcasts and app about breathing and while this advice is good, many people, myself included, found that trying to count breaths and steps, was just one multitasking demand too many. If you can do the techniques suggested, then all good and well, but if not, worry not, just breathe as you always have done. You can work on breathing later on. Breathing solely through your nose is virtually an impossibility, while running,which this link gives some detail on, as well as lots of other interesting info. theguardian.com/lifeandstyl...
Many come to C25k as part of a weight loss journey. C25k will make you lose inches…...measure yourself before you start and then again half way through the programme…….but it is, by itself, unlikely to make you lose weight, simply because a 30 minute workout does not burn a significant amount of calories. However, as you tone up, feel fitter and feel better about yourself, you may, like many before you, find that you don’t crave rubbish food and want to eat to maximise your running efficiency. If you are already eating a good varied diet, there is no need to change it for running C25k workouts. If you move onto marathons, that is a different matter.
You want to eat a good nutritious diet as a runner. Eat a broad range of things, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Cut out processed foods, biscuits, cakes and sweets from your daily diet and reduce alcohol, keeping them all for special occasions. Do not be tempted to reward yourself for your exertions with that “naughty” treat. Counting your calories may be helpful and many regulars here have had great success with My Fitness Pal, either online or as an app, used alongside C25k.
Whatever time of day you run, it is best not to do it on a full stomach. While one man’s large meal is another man’s snack, the general guidance is that you should wait two to four hours after a large meal, before you run, and thirty minutes to two hours after a snack. My favourite running time is first thing in the morning, with half a banana for 5k and a whole banana for 10k run and a pint of very diluted 1:6 apple juice immediately before I go out of the door. It doesn’t work for everybody, so experiment, but if you ate normally the previous day, you don’t need to fuel up specially for C25k workouts.
Hydration, or fluid intake, is crucial to being an effective runner. When you run, your heart pumps blood to supply muscles with the oxygen, essential to the rapid contractions being demanded of them. If you are not fully hydrated, your blood will be thicker and transport of oxygen will be impeded, leading to heavy legs and tired muscles, as well as stitches and headaches.
The NHS recommends different amounts of fluids in different places, anything from a minimum of 1.2 litres to a minimum of 2 litres per day, both of which seem extremely low amounts for someone who is partaking of physical exercise. I drink between 2.5 and 3 litres per day, whether I am running or not, and this coincides with the information in this article runnersworld.co.uk/nutritio...
The important thing is to drink often, like frequent showers, rather than drought and flood. This way the body can utilise the fluids most efficiently. Hydrate today for tomorrow’s run. If well hydrated, there should be no need to carry fluids with you on any run under an hour duration, unless it is extremely hot or you have a specific medical condition. It is important to replace the fluids lost while running, soon after you stop.
Apps such as Runkeeper, Mapmyrun, Endomondo, Strava and many others can be used alongside both the C25k podcasts and apps to track your routes and record your pace and distance, as well as a wealth of other information. All this is fascinating data and can help you to see your progress, but in terms of C25k it is totally irrelevant. The training plan is duration based. The distance you cover and your pace are personal to you but can sometimes be discouraging to others if they are feeling they are not matching up to the performance of others, so please be considerate when posting your personal stats. This doesn’t mean we don’t allow you bragging rights on the forum…...of course we do, we understand your pride in your achievements and PBs, but when you consider the range of ages, physical conditions, disabilities and the whole breadth of genders that this community encompasses, comparing yourself to others is pretty fruitless and against the ethos of this wonderfully disparate, supportive and magical forum. Please think of others.
Safety has to be considered when running, from many aspects. Firstly if running on roads, even pavements if you are going to have to cross roads, then make sure you can be seen. Wear colourful clothing and in the dark use either headtorch with front and rear lamps, a bodylamp front and back or at least wear highly reflective or fluorescent clothing. If running on roads with no pavement, run on the side of the road so that you are facing oncoming traffic ( the right hand side in the UK), except possibly on the inside of blind bends, when it may be safer to be on the outside of the bend. If you have headphones/earbuds then make sure the volume is down when running on roads, so you can hear traffic. Consider taking one earbud out. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back, if possible. I always carry a phone in a waist belt, even for a 5k across the fields, because on some of my Devon routes you could lie injured for a week before being found. You never know when you might twist an ankle or discover the secret of the universe.
Run where you feel safe, carry an alarm, if it makes you feel safer, or use an app enabling your loved ones to track you. Many people proudly post the stats from their latest run on the forum, along with a map of their route. I have pointed out to many that they have potentially just showed the whole world roughly where their house is, where and when they run and when their house is possibly empty. Some are happy to broadcast this sort of info to all and sundry, others are horrified at their own thoughtlessness. It is up to you, but do think before you post.
THE ADDICTION WARNING AND DISCLAIMER
You may start C25k with the naive thought that you are just going to do a little bit of exercise…….be warned, running is addictive. Within weeks you may not recognise the new you. You may find yourself getting out of bed at previously unheard of hours…...to go running. Your wardrobes will fill with garish lycra that you would not have been seen dead in previously and you may find yourself fitter and happier than ever in your entire life. Be warned, this training plan may change your life……….but don’t blame me.
If you have read this far you have stamina……….that will serve you well becoming a runner. This post may have additions over the months and years, so drop back to reread it every now and then. If you can think of any glaring omissions, spot any horrendous errors or can suggest any other useful links, please PM me and we can talk it over.
Time to run.
Keep running, keep smiling.