Halfway between the couch and 5K

September 4th, 2012

Three seasons of the year, our climate is ideal for running outdoors. Naturally, I took it up in the middle of the other one.

Late summer in the South may seem like a terrible time to begin a 5K training program. It is. Terrible, and probably dangerous. I can’t recommend it, unless it is the only thing between you and going CRAZY because vacation is over, school is still out, the heat index is over 100 and the kids say they’re tired of swimming.

So on July 31, a day on which the recorded high temperature was 108.4 °F, I laced up my sneakers, fired up a free “couch to 5K” training app on my iPhone, and fled my demons.

Well, walked away from them briskly. The training app conditions you very gradually, alternating periods of walking and running, increasing the intensity over an eight-week period. The goal is endurance, not distance. “START RUNNING,” the virtual coach says, after every so many minutes of walking. I think it sounds a little menacing, but, whatever, it works. When I began the program, I google mapped a 5K loop through my neighborhood. When the training time is over, I walk the rest of the way.

Following the same route really helps me gauge my progress. When I began, I was barely reaching 1.5 miles in the 25 minutes it took to complete the program. The entire 5K took nearly an hour. The mercifully brief intervals of running could only be called that in the loosest sense. It was the most lumbering, ungainly kind of locomotion that could not technically be considered a walk.

Starting the fourth week was tough. This will sound pitiful to any seasoned runners who are reading, but I thought going from three minute intervals of running to five minute intervals would kill me. Today was the first day I ran them without thinking “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod” the entire five minutes. Today, the end of Week Four, was the first day I ran most of my route. I was home in 30 minutes.

I am going to DO this thing. And just to make sure, I’m committing to do it in public. On September 22, I’m going to run, walk or crawl in the Hillcrest Run for Shelter 5K, which raises money to assist homeless people in our city.

You can encourage me in this folly by clicking on the button below and making a tax-deductible donation in any amount. Better yet, if you are in the area, you could run with me. After all, I’m going to need someone to bark “START RUNNING!” every few minutes to keep me going.

P.S. Have you ever run a 5K race? Anything I should know besides wear sneakers and pee first?


15 Responses to “Halfway between the couch and 5K”

  1. Jennifer Pyron says:

    I’ve only managed to do one 5k … but I still consider that an accomplishment, especially considering that I really ran the whole thing and I was 40. Here are my tips, for what they’re worth:
    1. Don’t wear new clothes or shoes. Make sure you wear something you’ve run in before many times and you know won’t cause chaffing or blisters.
    2. Use headphones. I found that every time I wanted to start walking, a new kick ass song would come on and I’d find the oomph to keep running.
    3. Find a pacing partner. I asked my friend Kim – a marathon runner – to run beside me for pacing (so I wouldn’t start out too fast and run out of steam) and for encouragement. I bet you have at least one good runner friend who would forgo a really fast run in order to help you complete your first 5k. Kim basically talked to me the whole time while I huffed and puffed. But she made the time fly with her stories and advice.
    Good luck! I so admire you. Maybe I’ll be back in running shoes one day!

  2. lis says:

    I’ve run a couple races – for my first 5k I just told myself to have fun. Sounds so silly I know, but it really was actually fun. Not as much the running bit – but the solidarity of a big group of people who said “Ok, I’ll show up and give it my best” on the same day. We don’t have to talk about the fact that some (a lot) of the 10k runners finished faster than my 5k – I did it and that was what counted. And if you have to walk a bit in the race, who cares? It’s for a good cause, it’s good for you, and if where you are is anywhere like where I am, there’s this whole underground runners world and it’s kind of fun to pretend to be part of it for a day! Even if they have carrots and brown rice for dinner that night and I have ice cream…again, more things we don’t have to talk about.

    Also don’t eat any dairy 12 hours before, drink lots of water starting at least 24 hours before, and carbs the night before is helpful for extra energy the next day 🙂

  3. I did a 5K once and came in dead last. Dead. Last. I’m doing another one at the end of September. My training was going really well until school started. I’m walking it, needless to say. Godo luck!

  4. Kathleen says:

    I actually just wrote about taking up training for a half-marathon I have been trying to run for years. (Life keeps interrupting the training.) I wrote about it here:


    It is so tough to start running again, I always feel as if my lungs are going to explode and my legs just give out. Yet, I feel good enough after and accomplished to try, try again.

    Good luck! How do you manage to fit in running time with parenting/writing/laundry all the other million things that seem to be calling to you on any given day? That proves to be the continuous challenge for me. (Aside from my lungs and legs failing.)

  5. Janice says:

    You go, girl! I’m proud of you. To start training in that kind of heat and humidity is a huge accomplishment all by itself and it sounds as if your training is going well.

    I have run a bunch of 5k events and would reiterate all of the very helpful advice above.

    It may be too soon to say this, but I’d be willing to bet you’re going to get hooked on running and want to run even longer distances eventually. It’s a wonderful contemplative activity – perfect for a writer like you. I started running when I turned 40 and it changed my life. I now run 3-4 days a week and have completed 6 marathons, a 50k run (in May to celebrate turning 50) and a bunch of other races of varying lengths. It’s gotten me through some very tough times and helped me to celebrate some very good ones.

    At any rate, good luck with the training. Keep us posted on how it goes and be sure to write a full race report!

  6. Janice says:

    BTW, here’s the link to a little post I wrote in the spring about where I started with my running. I hope it will provide a little encouragement and inspiration:


  7. Ashten says:

    I’ve ran lots of 5Ks. I started running over a year ago using the Couch to 5K app. I, too, was terrified of switching from 3 minutes of running to 5 minutes. You can read my laments on my blog.

    But once I did the distance once, I never let myself go back. So now my minimum run is three miles. I’ve found the distance to be kind some days and relentless other days. But there is nothing quite like finishing and knowing that on that day, despite everything going on or how your last run went, you’ve put 3.1 miles behind you. And nobody can do that but you! Best. Feeling. Ever.

  8. Jana says:

    How wonderful for you! I started the Ease into 5K app at the end of February and have run 5 5K races. I have two more on my schedule in October and intend to begin the Bridge to 10K app for the fall and winter races here in the Baton Rouge area.

    My advice echos the above. Additionally, I have a couple of “self-talk” pieces:

    You don’t have to go fast, you just have to go.


    It doesn’t matter how fast you go, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch.

  9. Jon says:

    When I want to stop, I act like someone who doesn’t. Slip into a comfortable pace and have fun. Look at other people. Wonder what their deals are.

  10. Patty says:

    I read the book “Run Like a Mother” for women who have kids and busy families and it helped inspire me and connect with what I was doing wrong (I wasn’t using my mental toughness to get me through!).

    For me, I have to vary my route or I get bored very easily!

  11. You’re inspiring me.

  12. Asha says:

    You are AMAZING and awesome. That’s all.

  13. Jana says:

    Shoot–I almost forgot–gum. Chew gum while you run. It helps keep your mouth from drying out, of course, but, I’ve also found that it keeps me from concentrating so hard on my breathing. No matter how loudly Enrique Iglesias is singing “Baby I Like It,” I couldn’t drown out my breathing until I started chewing gum.

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