Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A review of the C25K program

Me, after finishing my first 5k run.

So, as many of you know, I am a recent graduate of the couch to 5K program, otherwise known as C25K. I thought I'd take a minute and put together a little review on it.

Doing C25K was honestly one of the best things I've ever done for myself. It really did take me from being a non-runner to being able to run a non-stop 5km.

Having said that, I'm going to be quite honest and blunt. This program is not an appropriate one for a true couch potato. Despite the claim that it takes you from couch to 5k in 9 weeks, it starts you off with running intervals of 1 minute. That's 60 seconds of non-stop running. It may not seem like that much, but if you don't run, 1 minutes is a really long time when you start.

If you are obese and inactive, I would not suggest you start with this program. Prior to starting c25k, I was already doing 60 minutes of cardio at least 5 times a week, and I still found it challenging. Doable, but challenging. I don't think I could have managed it without already working out.

If you are at a healthy weight and inactive, this might work fine for you. That was not my experience, so I can't really speak to it.

While I don't think this is actually a program for couch potatoes, I do think it is superbly well designed to bring someone from being able to run 1 minute non-stop to being able to run 30 minutes non-stop.

The program can be done anywhere, indoors on a treadmill or track, or outside. I love running outside and think there's no real comparison. If you decide to start on a treadmill or track, be aware that it is more difficult to run outside. You probably won't run as fast and it will be more work. Completely worth it, but more of a challenge.

One thing to keep in mind is that you need to have a way to time your intervals. I'm sure there's some of you with fancy watches that you can set to beep at the appropriate times. Alternatively, you can use music. There's a bunch of links on the c25k page for podcasts. I used podrunner, but to be honest I didn't love it. Nothing wrong with it; just not my style of music. There's also apps that you can use with your own music that give you cues when it's time to switch between running and walking. Probably a good bet if you like choosing your own music.

There are a few weeks when the change in the amount of running seems intimidating. For me, week 3 when the running doubled to 3 minutes seemed huge. Week 5 is the biggest step for most people, since it's the first week that you run for a 20 minute stretch. I suggest going with it and giving yourself the benefit of doubt. I honestly did not know if I was going to be able to do some of the workouts but I tried and surprised myself when I could do it.

If a week does prove to be too challenging for you, you can always redo the previous week, which will prepare you to move forward.

After finishing week 6, you no longer do intervals and are instead doing a steady run. At this point, I found it worked better for me to run based on distance instead of time. When I was running based on time, I'd either stop running early and have a longer cool down walk, or I'd find myself having to throw in extra loops to finish the time. You can map out your distance on Map My Run beforehand and then you just have to follow your route. The program has both time and distance listed, so it works well.

I do think the program should be followed pretty closely. Three days a week is the perfect amount when you start running. More then that and the risk of injury becomes too great. Less then that and your body isn't getting the conditioning it needs to build stamina. Even if you are in great shape, keep in mind that running is hard on your body and you need to get it used to the movement before doing too much.

I absolutely recommend this program to somebody that wants to learn how to run. A couple weeks after finishing the program I ran my first 5km race and I felt strong and capable.


  1. Thanks for the info. I will use that this week as I progress. Very helpful !!!

  2. I couldn't agree more. With everything you said. I also think it is one of the best things for myself, but that it really isn't for a beginner. That said, the fact that it keeps you down to three days a week really helps 'beginners', who are already so prone to injury.

  3. I'm a beginner with no experience and it worked great for me! But I was at a healthy weight and (painfully) inactive, so I'm sure that helped my case!

    I was totally inspired by you though! You did so well! You're still piles more active than I am too, I'm envious.


  4. I've been thinking about doing this program for a while now - thanks for the review. Looks like I might just do it now...

  5. Thanks for the review! I tried this program once before but didn't really put much effort into it and quit after only a week or so. I think I might try it again when we finish our basement and get a treadmill. I'll probably do more running then.

  6. It's nice of you to take the time to do this evaluation.

    As always, I think you rock as an athlete!

  7. Wow... thanks for that review. I've been thinking of starting this program at some point! :) You're doing so awesome!!

  8. I am about 30 lbs overweight and completely inactive. At 38 I really wanted to start running and the PodRunner Interval program was not for me. The music for one was awful. I am now at week 5 of C25K and I have to disagree that if you are overweight and inactive this isn't for you. Yes, it is hard, but I am doing it and managing a pace (when running) at 1/4 mile in 3 minutes on a HS track. I am having trouble making it through 5 minute w/o breaks runs, but I am just going to repeat the last day until I can do it, and then I will move on. So, your assessment that this is not for someone overweight is a bit misleading. My girlfriend who is also doing this is just like me in weight and fitness and she is on week 8 so it is doable if you are motivated enough. Thanks for your review, though. I hope this is helpful for others preparing to start.