Like a decent number of people, I started the couch-to-5k running program in the middle of stay-at-home orders. I finished it up just today and felt like rambling about what it is and how it went.
I had been meaning to do it for a while now (Google Play tells me that I had gotten an app for it a couple of years ago). Now that my commute is five seconds and there are fewer cars out, I didn’t have much of an excuse anymore. I would describe my cardiovascular fitness when starting as “good for a desk worker” (I was already doing yoga and pilates and biking regularly) and I just wanted to be able to run a few miles without stopping.
C25k training schedule
There are a few different programs out there with the goal of taking a beginner to five kilometers. I used the c25k Active.com app which is nine weeks long. The goals are time-based, not distance-based, so really at the end of the nine weeks you’ll be able to run for thirty minutes straight, not necessarily for five kilometers. Each week is broken up into three days.
If you don’t want to download the app, the schedule is below. I ran Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The particular days aren’t so important, but I would recommend a rest day in-between running days, especially if you’re new to running. Warm ups and cool downs are brisk walking.
|Week 1||Day 1||30 minutes|
|Day 2||30 minutes|
|Day 3||30 minutes|
|Week 2||Day 1||31 minutes|
|Day 2||31 minutes|
|Day 3||31 minutes|
|Week 3||Day 1||28 minutes|
|Day 2||28 minutes|
|Day 3||28 minutes|
|Week 4||Day 1||31.5 minutes|
|Day 2||31.5 minutes|
|Day 3||31.5 minutes|
|Week 5||Day 1||31 minutes|
|Day 2||31 minutes|
|Day 3||30 minutes|
|Week 6||Day 1||34 minutes|
|Day 2||33 minutes|
|Day 3||32 minutes|
|Week 7||Day 1||35 minutes|
|Day 2||35 minutes|
|Day 3||35 minutes|
|Week 8||Day 1||38 minutes|
|Day 2||38 minutes|
|Day 3||38 minutes|
|Week 9||Day 1||40 minutes|
|Day 2||40 minutes|
|Day 3||40 minutes|
How it went
I would say that overall it went fine, I had no desire to repeat any weeks. I took some notes during the whole thing, because of course I did, and they’re in narrative form in this section.
I started off the first couple of weeks in Nike Roshe Ones, which are more streetwear than actual running shoes. I had been intending to complete C25k in those shoes and get proper running shoes if I finished, but two weeks in I got Altra Escalante Racers, which were much better.
I have a wide toebox and in my daily life prefer shoes with no heel. I go barefoot at home. So those Altras seemed like a good fit. I had to buy them without trying them on due to the whole pandemic thing, but they turned out okay. I would prefer an even wider toebox but they’ve given me no trouble after the initial period.
Week 1 went fine. I did have some weird arch cramping similar to the feeling I get when holding one-legged yoga asanas for too long (translation: my arches are weak!). I ate some phở, shrimp pad thai, and sandwiches from a local shop, which all did a decent job of fuelling me.
Week 2, my phone decided that it did not like running Spotify, my C25k app, and the Fitbit app all at once so I ran without music. The arches of my feet felt a bit better; I did start feeling some weird ankle and shin sensation, which I didn’t stop running over but did start rolling out my muscles in the evenings. I ate Mexican rice with beans, corn, and eggs and chicken jalfrezi this week.
Week 3, I started using the Altras. They’re zero drop so I was expecting calf and Achilles tendon stretching and that’s what I got. Since I wasn’t even doing six miles a week, breaking them in like this worked okay, but I imagine that a more seasoned runner would take their time. My arches seemed to be a normal level of tired by this point. I ate fried tofu stuffed with pork and braised in tomato sauce (đậu hũ nhồi thịt sơt cà chua), baked haddock with potatoes, and sesame peanut noodles.
Week 4, the wool blend running socks I ordered from the REI anniversary sale came in (I’d been running in no-show socks meant for office shoes). Yeah, turns out that was much better. No calf cramping this week, my left arch decided it would resume being tired. I took up a more consistent yoga routine to deal with my calves and Achilles tendons. I ate pasta with roasted garlic and roasted red peppers and thịt kho for the week.
Week 5 is the week with the first continuous run. It actually wasn’t so bad! I had the usual arch soreness and phone idiocy (I got it open box for $200, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised). I ate more thịt kho and lime-marinated pollock with potatoes.
Week 6 has a return to intervals with another continuous run on day 3. I had calf cramping but my arches were fine. I ate more Mexican rice this week and this is also the time I started noticing that I do better when I eat more carbs. Real genius there Jessica.
Week 7 is the start of continuous running all week. I reset my phone over the weekend and that appeared to have stopped the issues it was having. I was doing well in terms of aches until day 3, when my left hip flexor started cramping but eventually worked itself out. I had jollof rice with chicken and pasta with roasted peppers.
Week 8, fear of more hip flexor cramping led to more stretching, but I was also pretty sleep-deprived, which didn’t help. No cramping anywhere though, just difficulty in maintaining my tortoise-like speed. I had more stuffed tofu, smoked haddock salad, and delivery sandwiches.
Week 9 went surprisingly well. No cramping this week either. And no phone trouble! I polished off more delivery sandwiches, stuffed tofu, and Mexican rice.
According to Strava, I ran 52 miles over the course of C25k. I got faster (going from ~16 minutes/mile to ~14 minutes/mile) with less effort. And I don’t have any more cramping in my arches in daily life as long as I remember to stretch my calves, which was the best unintended side effect.
I plan to take a break for a week and then do the rest of July with 30 minutes of running three days a week to maintain my fitness. In August, I think I’ll take up the 5k to 10k plan.
Tips and tricks
It was all-in-all pretty straightforward for me. I had the cardiovascular fitness but not the specific running muscles at the start of the program, so my advice is oriented in that direction. I’m also not a doctor or physical therapist!
Absolutely do core and glute exercises if you’re not already—I took up barre in this timeframe and it was good cross-training for me. My scoliosis blesses me with misaligned hips so this was especially important. I also did lots of single-leg exercises focusing on strengthening my feet since my arches have a tendency to collapse.
Stretch calf muscles, with both bent and straight knee, hip flexors, and quads. Yoga did a good job of this for me, but really any dynamic stretching would do.
Eat enough and sleep enough. I was good about this most days, but occasionally when I had just a salad or something for lunch and dinner the day before, I felt it; carb-heavy days were better, which makes sense. I also felt it with poor sleep, but I already knew that (a far cry from actually implementing it in my daily life…).
Lastly, run like a turtle. For me, it was better to run at a pace I could hold a (slightly breathy) conversation at than to run all out. I didn’t injure myself, just felt the normal “getting into running” pains, and I think that was more important than seeing if I could break a personal record every time.