C25k Diary

As it’s the New Year and many people are thinking about reviewing their exercise regime, I thought this might be a good time to write about my experience with Couch to 5K (C25K), a well-known programme for training anyone to be able to run five kilometres.

I should point out that this isn’t a real-time diary. I started it late last year and, as I write this, I have not yet completed a full 5km run. But — spoiler alert — I’m still making progress. There have been a few bumps on the way which, I think, is what makes this worth writing about.

My motivation for writing this is two-fold.

First, most of the advice I’ve seen on the internet about jogging is for people who are already reasonably fit or at least have some idea of what they’re doing. This doesn’t describe me.

Second, by writing this publicly I’ll be more motivated to actually finish!

But, stepping back a little, let’s talk about my background. I have not done much “formal” exercise for around a decade, by which I mean I’ve not been to a gym or done any sports. I’m active, though. By virtue of living in a city and not owning a car, I walk a lot. I did try to do C25K a couple of years ago but managed to hurt my knee so badly that I was literally limping for a couple of weeks. (The advice I’d found at the time suggested pushing past the pain. This was bad advice.)

My motivation for trying again is that I need to do more exercise! And jogging is simple, cheap and needs no specialised equipment. I decided to start indoors, in a gym, because I’m a coward and a realist. I knew that if I could find an excuse for not exercising (like it being cold, raining, dark or a Tuesday), I would use it.

So my strategy was: go to the gym every weekday, straight after dropping the kids off at school. This was because I would already be out of the house and halfway to the gym. No good excuse not to go. I’d do the C25K three days a week and swimming the two others. And I wouldn’t beat myself up if I needed to miss one or two sessions a week.

I used the C25K app. I have quibbles with it but it mostly works as advertised. You tap “Start” and it guides you through the programme, both on screen and with voice instructions. You can play music in the background, but I found that I often tried to jog to the beat rather than the pace I was trying to maintain and switched to listening to podcasts instead.

The first week is pretty simple: “a brisk five-minute warm-up walk. Then alternate between 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.”

I managed it without too much difficulty. I was pleased that week two was fairly straight-forward too. The third week, however, was a challenge.

“A brisk five-minute warmup walk, then do two repetitions of the following: jog for 90 seconds, walk for 90 seconds, jog for 3 minutes, walk for three minutes.”

Given that I was finding it hard, what should be strategy be? Should I keep going but run more slowly? Should I keep repeating week 3 until I could manage it? Repeat it until I could manage it comfortably?

The app provided no advice. There was no obvious way of repeating previously completed sessions and no FAQ section. Last time I just kept going, but I ended up hurting myself and giving up. I knew what not to do.

I didn’t find much on the web. Mostly the pages were “C25K is an eight-week programme to get you running 5km.” This suggested that I shouldn’t be repeating weeks. Yet, if the daily programme is always about 30 minutes then slowing down clearly wasn’t going to work either — I’d never hit the 5km.

What was the escape valve? Give up and feel like a failure?

In the end, I found a site that advocated repeating weeks, so that’s what I did. I tried hard not to feel like a failure.

I ended up repeating week three three times before I felt happy progressing to the next week. In hindsight, I was probably a little conservative and I could have progressed earlier.

I found that the app does allow you to go back though I didn’t find it entirely obvious. If this is how you’re supposed to do it, calling them weeks is pretty misleading and, I think, doesn’t help people as unfit as myself. If they were called, say, units I wouldn’t feel so bad repeating one.

The takeaway is that even someone pretty unfit lasted a few weeks before struggling and was still able to find a way through. If I can do it, you can!

My first setback and the solution I found feels like a good place to pause. Come back soon to find how I did on weeks four onwards!