Can Couch to 5k make me a faster runner?

I recently decided that I am going to complete the Couch to 5k running programme, recommended and built by the the NHS. Everyone I’ve told about this has been a bit confused, as I’m far from a ‘beginner’ runner (did I mention I ran a marathon last year? I’m still using that fact to impress people, except I don’t think it’s all that impressive these days).

But despite having done a fair bit of running, I want to go back to basics. This is partly because I’ve had some time out from it (it’s a love-hate relationship at the moment. And by at the moment I mean, this entire year so far) and partly because I want to see whether I can improve my 5k time (i.e. will I be running regular sub-30s by the end of it?).

Week One: The Fun Begins…

So this week, I downloaded the ‘One You Couch to 5k’ app and completed the first of nine weeks of podcast-led running. The idea is that you run just three times a week, ensuring that you take a day of rest between each of them to let your body recover. I also do yoga and dance classes once a week and occasionally drag myself into our little home gym for a self-instructed spin (torture) session, but am sticking to just three runs a week as the programme dictates.

Countryside view of a field with a blue sky between two trees
Beautiful countryside view on run #1

The First Run…

Each run begins with a 5 minute warm-up walk (and ends with a 5 minute cool-down walk), which is already introducing good practice for running. I have to confess, I’m usually terrible at doing any kind of warm up, so this has immediately made for a really positive change in my running routine.

Next, I had to run for 60 seconds, and then walk for 90 seconds – which repeated 8 times in total. It admittedly did feel very strange going back to a mixture of running and walking, but it was lovely at the same time – it felt good and I was putting far less pressure on myself than I usually do. The app recommends that you run a comfortable jog, but as I’m not a total beginner and I’m doing it with the goal of improving my time, I was running at my ideal 5k pace (around 5:45 minute kilometres) and will try to continue to maintain this whilst I up the distance. That’s the plan, anyway!

At the end, I found myself feeling excited for the next run – which I’d set myself a reminder for in the app, a great feature! 

The 6am Start

My second run out of the three was an early morning one. I forced myself out of bed to squeeze the workout in before I had to get ready and leave for work. The early start meant that it was a fasted run (i.e. I didn’t eat anything before heading out) and I was still half asleep and probably lacking a bit of energy.

Early morning sky
6am sky!

But again, it was a good run. It was actually really lovely to be out in the fresh air so early, with beautiful views of the countryside to boot. It’s also so great having the podcast to keep you going, with some words of encouragement in my ears! That definitely boosted me even though the running itself hasn’t yet felt like a struggle, I felt really good to be doing something and to be sticking to the programme.

The Final Run (of the week)

The third and final run for week one took place on Saturday, which meant I had time to have a bit of breakfast and hydrate before I went out. About an hour after polishing off my bagel, I donned the gear and headed out into some questionable weather with waterproof jacket and all (spoiler: was definitely too warm for long leggings and the jacket got hoooot).

Again, the run felt really good. It’s quite rare for me to have three good runs in a row to be honest – and that’s where I think Couch to 5k has really helped me. I feel like my love-hate scales are tipping over to love for the first time in a while! It was also the fastest I had managed to complete the run throughout the week, despite headwind and having to take a badly timed break for a tractor to pass on the road.

Picture of two runners
A little running selfie!

What’s next?

Now that the first week is over, my next step is three more runs over the following week, with slightly longer run-times. I have everything crossed that I’ll be able to maintain my goal pace for this, but only time (and effort) will tell!

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