Couch to 5K can seem daunting at first, but there are things you can do to make completing it a little easier. Here’s how to start, so you can finish before the end of the year.
So, you’re thinking about taking on theCouch to 5k challenge? It might sound simple enough, but anyone who’s tried running in the past will know only too well just how tough jogging those 5,000 metres can be.
It’s almost October and the year’s mostly behind us, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait until January to usher in those new fitness goals. You can dust off the Couch to 5K app now and get ahead of the new year’s resolution rush. If you start now – or even next week if you need to mentally prepare before lacing up your shoes – you could finish all your runs before Christmas.
As the Couch to 5K programme setsthree runs a week for nine weeks, that would take you to the beginning of December. Of course, we’re gearing up to one of the busiest periods of the calendar, meaning that for many of us, three runs a week just isn’t realistic. If that’s you, don’t panic. Here’s how to get the C25K programme done in three months.
Try pre-runs before committing to Couch to 5K
Before you commit to something, sometimes you have to test the waters a bit. A nine-week running project does take commitment, so make sure it’s something you want to see through. You can do this by having a trial run.
Nicola Basger, a psychotherapist and personal trainer, tells Stylist: “Deciding to run a 5k is all about mindset and balance. Focus on the time you’re moving for – don’t just look at the distance you’re covering.
“If you’re just starting out, then break it down into bite size chunks: running to the end of the road and back and see how that feels. If that feels achievable, then try running a little further, and if you get out of breath, take it into a walk.
“Intermittent running is a great way to feel that you’re going further without feeling too tired. Remember, whatever you’re doing, your fitness will improve, and your breathing will get into a rhythm. Just pace yourself.”
Be kind to yourself
When it comes to fitness and working out, sometimes we get frustrated by our limitations. But, take it easy on yourself – fitness and endurance takes time.
Basger adds: “When setting yourself a target like running 5k, it’s easy to feel it’s not achievable. We place extra pressure on ourselves and ultimately this gives us permission to give up before we’ve even started. But allow yourself the breaks. Be kinder to yourself. You will get there.
“Be more mindful of what you can achieve in your own time; you are building a great relationship, linking your physical and mental wellbeing, whether you run for 10 minutes or for 40.”
Fuel your body properly ahead of a run
Going for a run requires energy, and that comes from food. So your diet is important, as what you eat will give you the boost you need to see a run through.
Morgan Mitchell, Olympic runner and F45 training ambassador, tells Stylist: “Getting the right food in for a session is extremely important. If I don’t have time for a meal, I’ll have snacks such as peanut butter and chocolate dates or a healthy smoothie (often with nothing but green veggies to make sure my iron intake is up).”
Protein is especially important. During exercise you are effectively breaking your muscles down, and proteins provide the amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscle.
As Mitchell is vegan, she gets her protein source from a plant-based diet rather than meats and fish. “I mainly focus on getting iron and protein in,” she says. “Almost all of my meals include spinach and kale. For protein, I love tofu – I can also just eat it raw.
“For runners who eat a plant-based diet, I’d recommend seeing a dietitian. When I first started eating plant-based, I was so lost, and getting professional help really set me on the right path.”
Think outside of the training box
For some, committing to Couch to 5k might be your main source of exercise, but if you supplement this with other forms of workouts, not only can you get stronger but you’ll also work on your endurance.
For Mitchell, this rings especially true. “Swimming helps with my breathing a lot. I also love boxing. Strength training is always a good one as it helps prevent injury and can also assist with speed and power. I also play one-on-one basketball with my sisters – we’re super competitive and I won’t leave until I’m satisfied.”
Mix up your motivation
Some weeks, you’ll be raring to go for a run; other weeks, just putting on the trainers and heading out into the cold feels like a gargantuan task. This is where essentially bribing yourself (for motivation) comes in, says Mitchell. “I set goals along the way, from online shopping or having a meal with friends after a session.
“Also, having a running buddy helps keep me motivated. Doing long runs with a group or even one person can take your mind off of the hard part.
“I’ve also recently started keeping a diary where I document my training and feelings/mood for that week. Reflecting back on that after the season is really eye opening, and it’s nice to see how far you’ve come.”
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Call in the pros
If you’re starting out, the world of running can seem overwhelming, which is why asking a few professionals can go a long way.
“Without my coaches, sports psychologist, dietitian and physio all helping out, I probably wouldn’t be competing on the world stage,” says Mitchell. “Find a recreational coach or club to join, or just email and ask people for advice.”
What to do during the run
During the actual run, there are also a few things to be mindful of in order to complete it. Morgan says: “When I’m running, I really try to focus on my breathing and to put my attention on what my body is doing – relax my shoulders, keep my body in line.”
You might also find that splitting your session in half and listening to a podcast, followed by music, helps to keep you motivated.
Of course, it’s not a big deal if you don’t reach 5k by Christmas; start now and you’ll be set up to continue into January (much better than starting afresh when it’s cold and dark). As you move towards the goal, you’ll find out more about what works for you. That might mean running at lunchtimes on the days you work from home, jogging on a treadmill when the weather’s rubbish or listening to an intense playlist as you go.
Whatever you do, it’s your run – enjoy it.
Images: Getty/Morgan Mitchell
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