On C25K – Early Days

I have been Twittering about my recent attempt to start the Couch to 5K (C25K) program. I’ve known about the C25K program for some time. I think I first came across it before I was pregnant and bookmarked it for ‘further consideration.’ Well, many, many moons later, inspired by a couple of friends I know who’ve liked it, I’ve decided to give it that old college try. Except, I haven’t been to college in a loooong time, and my bones are a bit creaky, but still..

C25K is structured to give a very gentle build-up so that by the end of the 9 week program you are running a 5K. I decided, upon a bit of reflection, that three things were absolutely necessary for me to actually do this program.

  • 1) I had to sign up and pay registration fees for an honest-to-god 5K to be preparing for,
  • 2) I had to be public about it, and
  • 3) I needed some cool technology to distract me (see below).

The second has already proven its worth, because if I weren’t public about it I would have stopped after C25KW1D2 — (that’s Couch to 5K; Week 1, Day 2 for the uninitiated.) But now there’s public humiliation at stake on my Twitter feed (and on Facebook, since I pipe everything from Twitter over to Facebook, and now here), so I have to keep doing it. I also signed up for a local 5K at the end of April – it gives me 3 or 4 more weeks to get ready in addition to the 9 weeks of the program. Since I’ve got some travel coming up and also expect to have repeat some of the days, hopefully that will work out. One thing I like about this program is that it’s really only 30-40 minutes per outing for several weeks. And 10 of that is warm-up/cool-down. So really, just 20 minutes or so — and what kind of wimp would I be if I couldn’t suffer through a bit of jogging for 20 minutes three times a week? At least that’s what I’m saying right now. (Yes, the self-loathing self-talk in my brain is really fun to live with, I tell-you-whut.)

Before I went public, I had mentioned it to a few friends, one of whom put the 5K I signed up for on her calendar to come and cheer. There’s another good motivation, because me and all my high-productivity knowledge-worker friends are fanatical about the GTD-hard-landscape of our calendars–so knowing I’m on someone’s calendar is also a good impetus. You don’t mess with people’s calendars!

So, for my own sake, I thought I’d jot down a few notes while I’m still very early in the process.

Technology: Last fall I installed the NikePod software on my iPhone and bought a NikePod sensor, which integrates with the iPhone/iPodTouch and tracks how far and fast you’ve gone. You can then transmit the data to the NikePlus website that will then keep track of all your runs, show you the shape of them (intervals, sprints, whatever), and let you jot down a few notes.

NikePlus Graph

NikePlus Graph

The NikePlus website feels like something that a lot of development was put into, but for which not much maintenance or enhancement has been done. Still, it works for my purposes. Since my running shoes are not Nike shoes (which come with a built-in sensor slot), I also bought a little pouch to shove the sensor into and then attached it to my shoes. Seems to work great, although I haven’t actually calibrated it yet to make sure it’s getting the distance right — sometime when I’m on a proper track with distances measured out I’ll do that. It’s also integrated with the iPod such that you can choose which playlist you want and has a cute feature called “Power Song” for when you need an extra boost of inspiration. I’m not using that yet, since there’s a set of podcasts (see below) I’m listening to right now, but I can see it being very useful later on. I’m thinking something by Queen will probably be my Power Song when it comes time to create my own playlists.

Music: I’m using one of Steve Boyett’s Podrunner podcast series. The “First Day to 5K” podcast was designed specifically for use with the C25K interval program and provides audio cues for when to switch from walking to running and back again. Moreover, it’s mixed to change the bpm as appropriate. And, it’s free! It also exposes me to some music I would never listen to otherwise, so that’s cool too. I’m expanding my cultural horizons while plodding along. So far only one of the pieces has really stuck with me as something I want to go find and listen to apart from the podrunner stuff, but it’s early still. Not having to watch a clock is a huge value-add. There are other podcasts that do similar things – I’ve also bookmarked Robert Ullrey’s C25K podcasts and may try one of those at one point, too.

Location & Timing: Mornings. There is no way, with my crazy-angsty job and a toddler, that I could ever hope to do any such program regularly in the evenings. So it’s mornings every other day or sometimes with 2 days in-between. There is a constructed pond just down the road from us that has a walking/running trail that goes around it. I drive down, park across the street, and then use that. It’s great because it’s mostly asphalt (not concrete) and it’s not right next to the road (with all the crazy traffic around here). I’ve been there 4 times and I’m already starting to recognize some of the regulars at that time of day–including the small woman probably 20 years older than me who lapped me 3 times, but let us not speak of that again–and grumpy-middle-aged-man-with-dog.

View from C25KW1D3

View from C25KW1D3

Yesterday and three days ago, however, I had to use the treadmill at the rec center. I made a mistake this past weekend. While planning for the weekend, I heard the weather people say it was going to be super cold on Saturday and that we’d get a dusting to an inch of snow later in the day on Saturday, but somewhat warmer on Sunday. So my decision was: run in the cold-cold-cold on Saturday morning or wait and go Sunday after the snow? I decided to wait until after the snow. But of course, we got several inches, instead of just an inch. And the path was not cleared, so I had to go use a treadmill inside. Lesson: If it’s not precipitating and you’re due to go, just go. Siiigh. And, frankly, after a few minutes I tend not to notice the cold – and it’s not like it gets that bitter cold around here. (The forecast for Saturday morning was 20 degrees.) I had to use the treadmill again yesterday morning because the path is still not clear. And more snow is in the forecast for the next few days, so I have a feeling I’ll be at the rec center for the next few sessions.

So, now I’ve done a few outside runs and two on the treadmill and I definitely prefer being outside. Here are the pros and cons as I see them:

  • Outside positives: fresh air; slightly varied terrain; free; some sense of community/solidarity with the other crazy people out there
  • Outside negatives: weather; safety concerns (see below)
  • Treadmill positives: no weather, easier on the knees
  • Treadmill negatives: boring; feels harder and I go slower; costs money

This could change if I’m still at this as we move into the summer months, as I’m much less tolerant of heat than I am of cold, and the heat and humidity around here can be oppressive, even at 6am.

Safety: I was really fascinated by the experiment conducted by TwitchHiker last year. Basically this guy decided to see how far and where he could travel based only on the good graces of people on Twitter. I thought it was a very clever idea. And I also thought that sort of thing is so much easier for a guy to decide to do. Similarly, I think women walking or jogging solo outside have to think harder about where and when they go. Most of the path around the pond that I mentioned is visible from the road, although not all of it. But I still try to be very mindful and (sadly) not turn up the music so loud that I can’t hear if someone is coming up behind me.

Health: My biggest concern – apart from simply continuing to find the motivation – is making sure I don’t inadvertently mess up knees or end up with shin splints or something. It’s not actually a huge distance each week so hopefully I can avoid any such issues for now. My doctor recommended being diligent about fish oil supplements, which I have in my spplement regimen anyway, as that’s supposed to help with joints. My knees were bothering the first few days but seem to be less troubled now, albeit still with a bit of creaky-poppyness.

Community – The 5K I found to aim for is put together by Run Pacers, a boutique race manager and local chain of running stores in this area. I’ll almost certainly buy my next pair of running shoes from them. They seem to really have their act together. I’ve also come across (on one of my local parenting email lists) a very local-to-me running group (they sometimes use the same path around the pond that I do) and if I manage to keep this up may join them at some point, too. I was corresponding with someone from that local group (and from the list) who has signed up for the same 5K that I did, so my Google-fu and list-scanning skills still seem to be pretty good. As with any new ‘hobby’, once you start to poke around into a subculture, you find all sorts of interesting things.

Ok, that’s my brain dump for now. I’m sure I’ll have more observations as the experiment continues, but that’s a start.

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5 Responses to On C25K – Early Days

  1. acm says:

    wow, great for you!

    having somebody waiting for me at the gym (that is, my racquetball partner) is the only thing that keeps me going there every week — as evidenced by my failure to go solo if he has to cancel — but I imagine that having a concrete goal is good for a stretch of time too. in the longer term, maybe finding other friendlies will make it easier to get out and about after the race day passes. building exercise (i.e., the walking part of our commute) into our lifestyle (see: “urban hellhole”, pluses) has been my main strategic choice, but even there, pregnancy was only one of many things that made it seem worthwhile to wait for a bus instead, blah blah blah…

    ah, the pleasures of the couch! but man, the really tangible pleasures of feeling more energetic and less achy from just moving around a bit. good luck with the whole endeavor!

  2. Mike W. says:

    What you’re doing is great, and based on the way you tell the story, you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing and learning all the right lessons along the way. I remember that I hit a point in my training when it became less about exertion and more about investigation – how will my body react if I attempt this distance, this speed, this surface, or this nutrition? The Nike Plus or its equivalent really help with that, help feed the geeky brain bits that keep our bodies moving. Heck, you’ve even used the word “experiment” so it sounds like you’re already there.

    What you may not know, is that there are people reading this who had never even considered doing it for themselves… but because of you, they will. It’s hugely inspiring to see someone make a major leap forward, and in my view, just starting out is the biggest leap that anyone could take. It’s more inspiring to go from couch to 5K than it is to go from half-marathon to full.

    This is really fantastic – I hope you continue to succeed.

  3. Dineen says:

    What Mike said.

    You’re doing great, and I am sure you will continue to surprise yourself every day! I wish I could be there to cheer in person, but know I am cheering from afar every day.

  4. I went through the process you are describing a few years back. It gets easier as you find ways to make it more of a habit, and the best way to do that is to try not to miss two days in a row.

    Having a workout buddy is also a big help, even if it is only once a week. Join the group– it’ll help keep you on track.

    The best way to avoid injury is to make sure you have the right shoes. If you are running in an old pair of kicks (or even a new pair of kicks) that you didn’t get at your local running store, go to the running store and ask to be fitted. If what you are in are fine, they’ll tell you, but if you are in the wrong shoes you can really set yourself back.

    Your knees will continue to feel better as you get stronger. So will the rest of you. Excelsior!

  5. Medley says:

    Bill, given that C25K assumes 3 days/week, I’m letting myself skip 2 days once in awhile — in particular, W4D1 sort of kicked my butt yesterday (first time I feel like I haven’t bounced back quickly once the plodding was over), so I’m waiting until Wednesday to do W4D2. But my rule is that on at least one of those days in-between, I’m hopping on the exercise bike for some cross-training/quad work.

    I have good shoes – I apparently over-pronate (buh-whuh?), a guy in a running shoe store told me once, so he recommended Brooks.. I have two pair and will switch to the newer pair probably around week 6 or 7. (Even the old pair doesn’t have that many miles on them.)

    I’m still procrastinating on joining the group – first of all, there are no open paths outside right now due to Snowmaggedon, and I want to wait until week 6 or 7 when I’ll be doing (in theory) longer stretches of running.

    Thanks for the notes, all!