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 MapMyRun.com. 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?