Couch to 5K: How To Do It

I've been a runner since college. Not a great one, mind you; I'll run for a period, then switch to some other form of exercise, then come back to running again. I used to do seven-minute miles but those day are distant at the moment. I've been around running circles here and there during this time; I was even once a member (very briefly) of the Boston Athletic Association, the venerable institution that puts on the Boston Marathon. I have never seen a running program gain traction like the Couch to 5K program.  Put out by Cool Running and ridiculously simple, the Couch to 5K program assumes that you are completely sedentary and have never run before.  It then presents a stepped program beginning with periods of alternating walking and running, and progressing over the weeks to more running and less walking.  After 10 weeks, you sign up for a 5K and go.  I have actually talked my husband and eight-year-old son into starting the program, and we're planning our first family 5K in October. There are lots of running plans that have alternated run/walk programs so this is nothing new.  But somehow doing the Couch to 5K seems "in."  When we walked into our local running store to get fitted up with new sneakers, we told them our goal and all three staff members simultaneously said, "That's cool!" There are a few things to think about, though, before you lace up those sneakers... Get good shoes! Newbie runners can be especially prone to injury.  Make sure you have a good pair of sneakers that keeps your feet stable and allow you to run with a natural gait.  This is not the time to be cheap; buy the best pair you can afford.  Also, skip the big box stores and go to a specialty store for runners.  Your feet and your podiatrist will thank you. Get good socks.  A lot of blisters aren't from the shoes, they're from the crappy crew socks you're wearing.  Most running socks have a band around the arch of the foot to help hold them in place and are made of a fabric designed to wick moisture and minimize chafing.  Good socks are your friend; invest in three to four pairs. Know your route. I am a huge fan of  You can literally plot a route from your front door and be as specific as which side of the street you run down.  You can even find local running routes saved by other users.  These other runners in your area know the "good routes," things like how traffic patterns go and which trails are shadier.  You can also check a local book store or running store for books or flyers with running routes on them. Think about what to carry. You'll need a key or two, ID, maybe your wallet.  What do you need to take with you when you run and do you have a place to put it?  On our first outing, my husband grabbed a very thick water bottle and I had to juggle the thing through our whole run. Have a watch with a second hand. We actually use the timer on our iPhone (yes, we're geeks) but you'll be timing yourself in 60-second increments so you'll need a watch with a second hand. Sunscreen and water. Drink a little water before you go and it's not a bad idea to bring water with you too.  Even though it's only a 20 to 30 minute run, it's good to be able to take some sips.  We've been running in some nasty heat this week and we've been splashing my son with water to keep him cool.  As for sunscreen, you know what to do. Pick your 5K race early to give you an incentive. We are debating between a Doug Flutie charity race and the Superhero 5K on Halloween because it looks like so much fun!  Heck, maybe we'll do both.  But find a race that appeals to you and sign up for it!  It will make it less likely that you'll back out. That's it.  Follow the program, make sure you're prepared, and you'll have a blast.  I'm hoping this turns into a whole fun activity for my family. We get to chat while we run and coach each other along. It's great watching the big, proud smile on my son's face when he accomplishes something that takes a little effort.
Tip for Bostonians: The Chestnut Hill Reservoir by Boston College is almost exactly a 5K if you jog around twice.  It also has a nice flat, soft surface to run on and great views.  Just look out for the goose poop.
What are your tips? Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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10 Responses to Couch to 5K: How To Do It

  1. Tara Burner July 21, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    I JUST bought new pair of running shoes on Monday :)
    I used to run in track and cross country in high school (but that was ummmm 25+ yrs ago!)
    Have a 5K in mind (it’s not til Feb though)
    Congrats on your decision and I’m off to ck. out now

  2. dava July 21, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    I have always wanted to be a runner, but never have stuck with it long enough. I started the Couch to 5K about 6 weeks ago. Everything progressed perfectly until Week 4. Then I went on a short vacation, and went through a short spell of the blues. After a week and half of moping, I’ve started again.

    I started with week 3 to make up for the week and half of nothing, and it feels pretty good. I’ve been on the treadmill rather than running outside in order to avoid the heat.

    Good luck to your family and happy running!

  3. Lisa Johnson July 21, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    oh you’ll love Map My Run. It is just totally cool … L–

  4. Lisa Johnson July 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

    Dava, great that you started up again and didn’t just let it slide. It is perfectly ok to go back a week or two to the level you think it appropriate. It’s ok to repeat a week as well. Just listen to your body. That way you’ll avoid injury and you really will find yourself craving running. I promise. A little more persistence and it’ll happen. You’re almost there.

  5. Susan July 25, 2010 at 9:18 am #

    I use an IPhone app that helps. You start it when you start running and you will get prompts to walk, or run. You can even sync it with your own music. I think it’s pretty useful. I also use this app with the Nike Plus app so it can track my mileage after so you can track your improvement.

    As far as holding water, I used to have one of those water waist bands that helped but for some reason I lost it when I moved! But I found that useful so I didn’t have to hold it while running.

    I actually wrote a post about running a 5k as well!

  6. Allyson July 25, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    I really enjoy your posts, Lisa. You always provide good info. I’ve been thinking about starting the couch to 5K program to get myself moving again. I’m def going to be giving this a shot

  7. Lisa Johnson July 26, 2010 at 7:07 am #

    Susan, I know what you mean about the water bottle. It’s silly! But you gotta have water. I’ve seen the belts, as a family my husband Greg and I would wind up arguing over who had to wear it, ha!

    Allyson, thanks so much for commenting. It’s great to get new voices on the blog and I’m happy to help if you need any advice to get going. I would say if you feel like you’re not ready to go to the next week to just repeat the last one you were on. It’s totally ok to do that! We repeated week one because my husband had a tweaky knee issue we had to work out.

    Anything where you’re moving is good.


  8. lorrie July 29, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    thanks for those great tips i think ill use them toward walking and work toward my 5k next year or in the fall

  9. Tara burner July 30, 2010 at 7:43 am #

    I used the mapmyrun and found out what I thought had been a 2 1/3 mile run is actually 2.6 mile yippee for me lol

  10. Lisa Johnson July 30, 2010 at 8:07 am #

    Yay Tara! It’s always great when it was more work than you thought with less effort! :-)

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