Couch to 5k

A friend recently asked me to join her in running a 5km race and at first I rejected it outright, as the idea of me being able to run a race of any length seemed quite ludicrous. However, after giving it some thought, I decided that it might be just the thing to get me to put away my keyboard and start moving my body. The race is in April and the application deadline is in February. I still haven’t decided whether or not to actually compete in the race — and when I say compete, I mean it in the sense of “trying to finish the race, hopefully without collapsing” — but I thought I might try to design a training program that would help me discover whether or not I might be up to a 5km race at some point.

Luckily, there is no need for me to design anything. (And I mean “luckily” in the sense that I would have absolutely no way to know how to do such a thing, and so it wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.) The nice people at coolrunning.com have come up with a way to train yourself to run 5km over 9 weeks. Their program is called the “Couch to 5k Running Plan” and I think it is perfect for people like me who would otherwise have no idea how to start. The basic idea is that you do alternating intervals of walking and running, and over the weeks you gradually increase the running and decrease the walking.

I tried it for the first time on Wednesday morning. I am better at convincing myself to exercise in the morning, so I woke up bright and early, layered up my clothing and put on some mittens, strapped on my iPod and away I went. The first day of the plan requires you to walk for 5 minutes, and then alternate 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes (or 8 times), followed by another 5 minute walk. I have a watch with a timer, but as luck would have it, the battery was dead, and my local shop refuses to repair it without sending it away for a few weeks, so I ended up borrowing a timer from a friend who is an elementary school teacher. I started the timer when I set out for my 5 minute walk and then kept checking it to make sure I was on track. When my walking time was up, I reset the timer and started jogging, again checking the timer to make sure I was on time. I knew that it would be difficult to keep track of the number of times that I had done the run-walk combination, so I devised a system that involved having 8 pennies in one pocket, and moving one penny over to the other pocket every time I finished running. Simple, but effective. I then kept my eye on the timer and completed my training for the day. (By the way, the VERY BEST training-for-a-5k-run song EVER is “Keep Hope Alive” by The Crystal Method.)

This was all fine and good, but I did feel that the timer and the pennies made everything a bit fiddly. What if I forgot to bring the pennies one day? What if I started running, but forgot to set the timer? I know these are not really important questions, because I could just make things up as I went along, but I am a bit of a perfectionist, and the chance of these things going wrong decreased my pleasure in the experienced slightly.

Later that day, when I was searching the internet for ways to de-fiddle this process, I happened upon the answer: the Couch to 5k Podcast, by Robert Ullrey. Robert has recorded nine weeks’ worth of podcasts to go along with the Couch to 5k Running Plan. There is music in the background and he gives you instructions about when to start walking and running all the way through. It is just PERFECT. All I need to remember to do is to take my iPod, and Robert takes care of the rest. What a great jogging companion!

I tested out the Week 1 podcast on Friday, and found it to be very useful indeed. Because Robert was telling me what to do, I could forget about all the fiddly details of the program and just concentrate on running. I was able to focus on my form and my speed (such that it is) rather than worrying about checking the timer and transferring pennies. It was very liberating.

I have only used the podcast once, and only done two days of the 9 weeks of training, so I can’t say yet whether they are effective, but I can definitely say that they are going to let me get further in my training than I would have without them. (If I actually do manage to finish the program, or better yet, enter the race, I will let you know!)

Feb 28 update: I just finished week 6 and so far, so good. I have signed up for the race, but I am still not sure whether I will be able to do it any justice. We shall see…

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