couch to 5k: intro to running by Ian Rogers
2020, my 48th year and 14th as a runner, was a good running year running for me, and maybe for you, too. Well into 2021 now, many gyms are still closed and we’re still being asked to mingle less, yet like dogs who need walking we are animals who need to move. Running for me is like skateboarding -- minimal equipment, no friends needed (but I'm happy if a friend or one of my daughters will join), and no gym required -- step out the door and the playground is already under your feet. Running, like skateboarding, changes your relationship with your surroundings; it adds a new vector and set of possibilities. A lot of us have needed this additional portal as COVID-19 closed a lot of doors and options. I'm thankful to have had running, even when it was unlawful for me to run further than 1K from my Paris apartment.
I've had a few friends pick up running this year, and I've always recommended the classic "Couch to 5K" program for them. It's a combination of running and walking and I've seen many people go from, "Oh I'm not a runner, I don't have a runner's body, my knees, [ADD YOUR EXCUSE HERE], etc" to "Oh wow I actually run!" using this program.
Trying to help a friend I realized it's become VERY DIFFICULT to find this original Couch to 5K program on the Internet. There are a couple of apps but the reviews are mixed and they seem to make it harder and more frustrating than it needs to be, so I thought I’d give you a simple “get started” suggestion here. If you'd like to ease your way from bitching about not having a runner's body, hurt knees, or just being lazy into enjoying running, hopefully this is a pleasant and helpful starting point.
NOTE: If you can't stop bitching because you're just a bitch, then sorry, this article won't help you. Remember, there are runners who had WAY more to overcome than you. If you're up for it and run regularly (3 runs per week, yes, really, 3 runs per week) for a year (yes, really, a year) then chances are very high you'll find yourself "a runner". You are what you do. If you make excuses and bitch, then... Yep, you guessed it, you are a excuse-making bitcher. Your choice. My mom (who became a marathon runner in her 30s after 3 kids) always said, "The hardest part is tying your shoes." Or my runner friend Hugues’ mom said in French, “Ne réfléchis pas enfile tes baskets.” Thanks, moms. Tie em up. Get out there.
OK, let's start running!
First, a couple of basics:
1) Read or listen to the book/audiobook Born to Run. Christopher McDougal's 2009 book about ancient and modern ultramarathoners will give you enough motivation to see what this running thing is all about. It might even change your mind about thinking you're "not a runner"...
2) Get good gear. I like running because there is minimal "stuff" required (compared to, say, cycling or skiing) but you still need to be comfortable in the basics. For me my basic warm weather "kit" is:
- Newton Running Shoes (I've also had good luck with Brooks and Hoka in the past but I prefer my Newtons for my feet)
- Good socks from Wrightsock, Swiftwick, or Satisfy.
- Comfortable shorts with no chafing, these are my favorites from Satisfy for summer.
- Light singlet, this one from Satisfy is perfect. I prefer running with no shirt but I usually carry one -- the Paris police actually stopped me when I was running in the street during confinement and told me to get on the sidewalk and put a shirt on... I need to learn how to say "sun's out guns out" in French...
- Simple belt for phone and keys. This is the simplest invention and an absolute must. I've lost a house key running before. It sucks. Carrying your phone on your arm or even in your shorts pocket is a drag. Having your keys on a clip so you can't lose them and your phone on the center of your body and not on a limb allows you to forget they're even there. The belt I use is this one.
- If you're at all serious about running, having a watch can be great. But if you're carrying your cell phone you don't need it and it can also be great to run without a clock hanging over your head. I have the relatively inexpensive Garmin Forerunner 45. I don't want a "smartwatch" while running -- the last thing I want while running is an alert from my phone.
- Sports headphones. This is a real problem for me. I have sensitive skin and a few of the models irritate the inside of my ears. The best I've found are the Jabra Elite Sport. They fit well, are waterproof, and have a battery life long enough for marathon running. But the sound quality is worst of class. Apple Airpod Pros seem to work pretty well for a lot of people, but in some ears they will still bounce out.
For winter, I'd add:
- A good pair of tights, these are the Satisfy ones I wear.
- A base layer, I keep a Merino short or long sleeve, a coffee base-layer, and a soft turtleneck version on-hand and layer depending on the weather.
- A good waterproof windbreaker. Running in the rain is fun if you're warm enough. Rain and cold is no excuse to skip a run. Get the right gear and get out there. "I regret that workout." Said no one. Ever.
3) Don't "just run". Make a plan. Stick to it. If you need help keeping yourself accountable, do it with a friend or a coach. Set a goal. Make a sane plan to reach that goal. Put the workouts in your calendar or where your obligations to work or family are. Don’t let something else take priority. You should be as unlikely to miss the run that’s in your calendar as you are the miss the meeting with your boss that’s in your calendar. Plan for it. Go to bed early so you can get up early enough to run. Running tomorrow is going to add more to your life than that Netflix series tonight, I promise. Reap the rewards, mentally and physically. My experience tells me you'll be happier with your performance at work and socially as a result. I once asked Rick Rubin why he decided to change his health. He said he simply reprioritized to make sure the things that make him a better person were at the top of his to-do list instead of the bottom. He realized that by taking care of himself, he could be better and more available for others. Inspiring words to live by.
4) Be patient. Run regularly, not hard. Never, for any reason, add more than 10% to your longest distance at once (says the guy who once doubled his mileage in a week to outrun a bunch of Swedish women in a Nike Run challenge -- I was injured for weeks as a result -- DUMB). Remember, it takes longer for your body to make changes physically than mentally. Give your body time to adapt.
Print this, hang it on your wall, and cross ‘em off! Analog is better than an app -- aren’t we running to get AWAY from our phones?
Download the Couch to 5k poster
Words and guide by Ian Rogers