When I first started #Runtober, turning October into BGG2WL Running Month, everyone mentioned Couch to 5K and how epic it is… but for every person who loved C25K, I got someone else asking me what it was and how they can begin.
C25K is, basically, a program that seeks to bring couch potatoes up off the couch, and onto a trail jogging for the full 3.1 miles (the distance, in miles, of a real 5K.) Developing the ability to run a mile straight – let alone three miles – requires an overhaul of your approach to your physical, cardiovascular as well as your mental well being, and C25K is a safe and healthy way to approach that.
People who aren’t used to a full half-hour of running have to learn how to breathe in order to get oxygen running properly throughout their bodies. Everyone is different – many people are mouth breathers, but that has never worked for me – and you have to learn what works for you. Also, you have to learn how to avoid panicking simply because your body isn’t used to what it’s being put through. Your lungs have to get used to the extra work, your blood gets moving, your adrenaline kicks in, your seratonin starts flowing and before you know it, your body feels completely different from anything you’ve ever felt before. It takes a lot of mental preparation to handle that, and a program like C25K can help you develop that.
As the weeks progress, some people experience soreness, but that’s okay. That’s your body realizing that you “lifting yourself off the ground, defying gravity, and crashing back into the Earth at a rapid rate” is going to require some additional muscle development, and responding accordingly.
For me, I started C25K when I was still around 240lbs. I couldn’t progress as fast as most people, which was no biggie for me. Instead of progressing to a different kind of interval every week, I slowed it down and progressed every 4 weeks. I’d had a terrible fear of running and felt embarrassed by how slowly I ran the mile in high school for the President’s Council’s test, so the mental element of C25K was most important to me. Taking the opportunity to take it slowly allowed me to get over my fears and become comfortable with the idea of me running, and what that meant for my body.
The great part about C25K – for me – is that it doesn’t cost any money. It’s Free-Ninety-Nine. Y’all know me. I love free. The structure is simple:
If you powerwalked for 4 minutes, then made a million dollar mad dash for 1 minute, then powerwalked again for 4 minutes, then another minute-long million dollar mad dash… and continued that cycle? That would be you successfully training in intervals.
You could even scale it back a bit. If you’re a beginner to cardio, simply try walking at a leisurely pace for 4 minutes, then power walk as fast as you can for a minute.
It doesn’t matter what you do during that 4 minute/1 minute interval, as long as they are of varying intensity and you are pushing yourself to the limit.
Once that feels like it’s no longer challenging? Shift your intervals. Power walk for 3 minutes, make that mad dash for 2 minutes. Keep your leisurely pace for 3 minutes, then power walk for 2 minutes.
Keep moving like that until you’re power walking for 5 minutes straight.. and if you feel like you need to slow down a tad? Then give yourself a minute. Before you know it, you could be power walking for 8 minutes, and then taking it slow for 1. Power walking for 10 minutes, slowing down for 1. The same goes for power walking/mad dashing.
How do you know that it’s challenging you? You’re sweating – that’s a big hint. You’re breathing harder – that’s another one. Remember, you’re challenging your heart to work harder, so that’s your biggest indicator of whether or not you’re challenging yourself. You’re training for cardiovascular ability… so that you’ll eventually be able to duck those pesky zombies. Once you no longer feel that in your heart, it’s time to move up to the next level.
After you’ve reached the point where you’re power walking (or mad dashing, depending upon what your intervals consist of) for your entire cardio session, it’s time to try to up the ante. Start over – yes, start over – so that if you were once leisurely walking and power walking, now you’re power walking for four minutes and jogging for 1. You just keep playing with the intensity at a controlled pace and before you know it, you’ve increased your cardiovascular ability.
C25K is a bit more structured than this, though – week 1 is intervals that consist of 30 seconds of running and 4 minutes, 30 seconds of walking; week 2 is 1 minute running, 4 minutes walking; week 3 is 1:30 of running, 3:30 of walking, and it adjusts in 30 minute increments – and there are plenty of apps out there to help you begin. For starters, the popular app RunKeeper, which I’ve blogged about how to set up and use this app to your advantage. There’s also the Zen Labs app for iphone, C25K 5K Trainer, also available for free. It’s a beautiful app with loads of encouraging bells and whistles and lots of things to help you hashtag all your runs with #Runtober and get it done. Check it out!
Do you do C25K now? Are you a graduate of the program? Did C25K help you? Are you currently struggling with it? Let’s talk!