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Couch To 5K: Friend or Foe?

Ok, so you lost weight and did it by running. What does that really mean? HOW did you actually do it? Do you recommend it? Fair enough: My thoughts on the popular Couch to 5K program that I used.

A lot of the questions I get asked recently about my weight loss revolve around food and/or working out. I figure now is as good a time as any to share some of what I’ve been going through in regards to those two topics. I’ll cover my thoughts on the “food” part of this in my next post, so here comes the fitness piece.

(Disclaimer: before I go any further, I want to say that I am in no way a professional, expert, or any other form of authority on the matters of exercise and weight loss. I can only relay my experiences and opinions. I know - and stress - that there are my personal opinions and experiences and realize that in all likelihood they are unique to me and me alone. Since everyone is different, everyone can and probably will have a different experience and have success using what works for their unique circumstance).

I do get a lot of questions about working out, and more specifically, what I think of the Couch to 5K program since that was my program of choice and easily the most popular plan out there today.

Couch to 5K is a nine-week running plan that has you working out three times a week, for about 40-45 minutes each time. (This varies per the specific workout, but that’s the average as I remember it).

The real meat and potatoes is that the program involves “interval training,” or basically a combination of running and walking that is designed to start you off slow (walking a lot more than running), and slowly ease you into running for 30 minutes straight by the end.

There are two variations of the program, one “time-based” that has you running for a set amount of time, walking for a set amounts of time (for example running for 60 seconds, walking for 90 seconds) and then there is a distance-based variation that has you running and walking for set distances (for example running one-quarter of a mile, walking one-eighth of a mile).

Based on my conversations with pretty much everybody who has used this plan and the multitude of Couch To 5K iPhone apps out there that tell you when to run and when to walk (based on time), the time variation is far and away the more popular method for people to use. 

My usual answer to the question or my thoughts on it is I am a huge believer in the Couch to 5K program and would highly reccomend it. What variation of the plan I would recommend is based on what you want to accomplish. If your intent is to get fit and lose weight, than I say go ahead, follow the masses and rock it out with the time-based variant.

That plan (along with the four weeks to a mile plan before that I used as a primer) managed to help get me from being winded walking up a flight of steps to a much better place physically. It helped me burn a ton of calories and improved my overall fitness exponentially. I’m grateful that it is widely available and I’m still kind of surprised that it’s just out there for everyone for free. Very cool on the part of the creators. They could be charging for it, but instead just have it out there for the greater good.

On the other hand, however, if the goal is to actually run and complete a 5K, I’m not sure I would recommend the time-based plan that I used. The plan succeeds at exactly what its stated intention is, which is to get you running for 30 minutes straight without walking. Where I ran into a problem with it was that I personally did not hold a 10-minute per mile pace when I was first starting out. Running for 30 minutes is awesome, but my 30 minutes would only carry me for two miles and change. I was so fixated on completing the scheduled runs based on the times laid out by the plan that it never even dawned on me until about halfway through the program that I was not going to cover the 3.1 miles that make up the 5K, even when I was done the program in its entirety. I realized what pace I had to be running at and compared to where I am, let’s just say there was a pretty good sized gap there. Frankly speaking, a 10 minute mile is just not where I was at that point. Lesson learned.

I just want to add a little sidebar here: Not running a 10 minute mile is not a bad thing. I was active, moving, and feeling pretty fantastic about it when I completed the Couch To 5K program. The thing I would say to bear in mind is this: In the running world there are a ton of “motivational slogans” out there, but one that really resonated with me, especially at that point of my training was “whether it’s a six minute mile or a 12 minute mile, a mile is still a mile.” I was running close to 12 minute miles at that point, and that just went a long way to drive home the point to appreciate that I was out there, being active, and seeing some awesome results. But I digress.

This is not to say that if you use the more popular time-based Couch To 5K you will be unprepared to participate in a 5K, you just may not be able to run the entire thing. Case in point: I completed the Couch To 5K and I ran my first race last year on Feb. 11, 2012. (The Cupid’s Chase 5K in Philadelphia). It was an amazing experience. I destroyed (shaved a full six minutes off of) my previous best time for a 5K based on my practice runs.

I still was not able to run the entire thing. It was a mile and a half out, and then you turned around and came back. I ran the entire way out, and then had to alternate between running and walking for approximately two-thirds of the way back. I still did a lot more running than walking, but had to walk nonetheless. I’m ok with that. I saw it coming and was prepared for it. I had enough 5Ks scheduled that my goal for that first one was just to finish the race and take in the experience (and not come in dead last). The more you stay at it, the easier it gets. I was running complete 5Ks shortly after that.

With all that said, I am amazingly proud to say that I completed the Couch To 5K program the way I did it and not only from a physical perspective. In my case, I had started so many plans and programs to get fit and lose weight and quit every time, completing it not only signified the end of the scheduled runs but also meant that I started something and saw it through to the end. Between completing the program and my first 5K race, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that I can do this…all of it. It was very encouraging then and a huge motivational tool that I still use today quite a bit.

So there it is: my two cents on all things Couch to 5K related as I see them. This may help some people see things from my point of view, and then again it may just be self indulgent ramblings. Either way, they are out there. Hope it helps.

Until next time, Have a good one.

Andy

For more from Andy Aubin, check out his blog, Big Andy's Running here

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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