I’m a typical geek in that I don’t often get a whole lot of physical exercise, but I’ve so far had the advantage of good genes and a high metabolism. Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a healthy lifestyle. So last February, my wife convinced me to try the “Couch-to-5K” program with her, and we decided to blog about the experience. Since then we’ve done a couple 5k runs, a 5-mile run, and most recently a half-marathon. Read on to see how I went from “you want me to run for ninety seconds?” to “I just ran 13.1 miles without stopping.”Brian Little mentioned the Couch-to-5k in GeekDad Goes to the Gym last fall as one of the many options he looked at, but I wanted to take a little more in-depth look at it. As I understand it, the program was first introduced by Cool Running. The goal is to get you from couch potato to running a 5k in about two months. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week. You start off alternating 60 seconds of running (or jogging) with 90 seconds of walking for 20 minutes, and then gradually the runs get longer until you’re running 30 minutes non-stop.
At the beginning, when we looked at the schedule, it really looked daunting: as somebody who couldn’t really run a couple blocks without losing my breath, I really dreaded the weeks where we’d have to run five, or even eight, minutes at a time. But the ramp-up works; it’s like hacking your body. There was a recent report that energy drinks really work but not in the way scientists expected. Their conclusion suggests that “it is not the muscles, heart or lungs that ultimately limit performance, but the brain itself …” so it makes sense that at least some of our physical limitations are actually mental.
We had two tools to keep us on track during Couch-to-5k. The first was a series of podcasts by Robert Ullrey. When he tried the program himself, he decided to make podcasts with a mix of music, and a voiceover telling you when to switch between running and walking. It’s certainly much easier than timing yourself and trying to remember which week and workout number you’re on each time. I don’t really remember much about the music but my wife and I generally chatted while running anyway and just let it play in the background so we could hear the announcements.
The second tool is accountability. It’s always easier to stay on track if somebody else knows what you’re doing. In our case, we had each other, but we also started a blog. We told friends and family what we were doing, and tried to record our thoughts about workouts. It serves both as a journal where we can see how far we’ve come, and a way for people to keep us on track if they notice we haven’t posted in a while. (We’ve taken a break after our half-marathon for various scheduling reasons but we’ve got some more runs planned soon!)
Last December, after running two 5k races, we decided to step it up and train for a half-marathon, using a training program by Hal Higdon. It’s somewhat similar in that you gradually increase the lengths of your runs, but there are usually three short runs per week plus a long one, mixed in with cross-training and stretching days. It does take a bigger time commitment, and I’ll admit that I often missed a few short runs here and there. It paid off, though: last month we ran our first half-marathon, and it was definitely a moment we’re proud of. I don’t know that we’re ready for a marathon just yet but we’re hoping to do some more fun runs when we’re able, and maybe at Thanksgiving we’ll get to do the Space-Coast Half-Marathon.
If you’ve ever thought about running but just don’t think you can do it, give the Couch-to-5k program a shot. You might just surprise yourself, and you’ll be that much more likely to stick around to watch your geeklets grow up.