We Did It So You Don’t Have To: Couch to 5K
I was a soccer player in early high school, until a bad knee sprain put me out of commission and away from sports for about eight years. More recently, I’d begun biking to and from work every day, and, because I live in a city, I walk to most places in my neighborhood. But even though I talked a good game, saying I’d start running “next summer,” “next summer,” “next summer,” deep down, I never seriously thought I’d be a runner. And then my Ms. Fit boss, Kathie, asked me to review the Couch to 5K app by Active.
Couch to 5K is an Android and iPhone app available for 1.99, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: an interval-based 5K training app that tracks distance, running pace, and walking pace. What I LOVE about this app is that it’s just about training and encouraging you to run a 5K distance (3.12 miles). There’s no calorie tracker, no fat burn mode. It’s even gender neutral—the language of the app, even down to the coloration, targets a gender neutral user-base of runners, which immediately made me comfortable.
Besides the two dollars for the app, I didn’t need to buy anything to start running: no fancy athletic gear, no Lululemon clothing, no $900 shock-resistant running shoes. I already had what I needed: some basic running shoes, shorts, a t-shirt, a sports bra, and something to keep my ‘do out of my face.
The first run was invigorating. The intervals of one minute of jogging with one-and-a-half minutes of walking were enough to remember what endorphins felt like.
After that first easy run, though, I fell off the wagon. A combo of a bad cold that kept me in bed for three days and pure, unadulterated (cigarette-heavy) procrastination kept me from running all through June.
It’s hard to admit this, because we all want to be track stars right away (or at least I did, because I remembered what I coulddo in high school and assumed that was the level I should already be on). But sometimes, life just doesn’t go according to plan. If you don’t follow your training plan, running every other day, the app won’t bother you. The computerized trainers won’t even notice you’ve been gone. It’s up to you to stay on track.
By the time I finally stepped up to my “Week One, Day Two” run, it was almost a month later. By that time, though, I’d quit smoking (I was on day six, and more than a month later, I’m still going strong!) It was amazing how much easier it was to breathe, how much better I felt when I was done, and how much I just did not want a cigarette after feeling those kinds of endorphins.
The runs following were not only consistent: I was raring to go, spurred on by in-app “trainers,” like the hokey, GPS-sounding Constance, the why-am-I-vaguely-attracted-to-you Billie, the silly, boot camp-inspired Sergeant Block, and the zombie (really!), Johnny Dead. I’ve tried each trainer every week, though my favorite was Billie. The computerized encouragement, paired with someone outside myself telling me when to walk and when to run, helped me find the motivation to eventually not need the trainers anymore.
The recommended rest day in between runs was sometimes too long for me. I loved how powerful I felt in my body, how capable I felt running for three minutes at a time, five minutes at a time, 20 minutes at a time.
Running regularly helped me take back some of my old athleticism. When I ran, I felt powerful. As a naturally clumsy person, I felt a positive sense of control over my body.
This started happening around Training Week Five for me. The first time I ran for eight minutes at a stretch, I reached a metaphorical hump and realized I can do this. Which is good, because with my lapses in training (life happens), my first for-real 5K came at the end of Week Five, one day after my first twenty- minute run.
Boss Kathie, signed us both up for the Fleet Feet “Elvis is Alive” 5K, a themed race that coincides with the anniversary of the death of The King. On race day, I was all nerves until I got to the race site. There, I found it hard to be jittery, surrounded as I was by Elvis impersonators — old and young, in polyester jump suits and track shorts and so many glittery scarves — all sporting the swag bag’s free aviators-with-sideburns. Elvis music blasting out from loud speakers filled the park.
And then it was time for the runners to line-up. A horn sounded and we were off.
I ran with Kathie about halfway. At the mile and a half mark, Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” danced its way into my headphones and I pulled away without realizing it. Flanked by other runners of all ages, body types, and levels of Elvis-ness, I didn’t feel competitive. I felt an overwhelming sense of togetherness. “If these runners can do it, I can do it,” I thought, and repeated it to myself whenever I felt like giving up.
After thirty-four minutes of running, the longest and farthest I’d gone in eight years, I reached the final stretch. And I sprinted through the finish.
I’m about to begin Training Week Six, and I’d say that Couch to 5K has worked for me. It’s accessible to almost everyone and conducive to making healthy habits part of your weekly schedule. And, once you finish the training, and you want to continue (like I do) there’s a second app by the same company, Active, called 5K to 10K. After feeling so powerful and confident in what my body can do, I’m not about to stop.