Couch to 5k for Dummies

Feel Better Osteopathy osteopath Emma Lipson running couch to 5k

I hate running. I don’t see the point. Hoarse throat, sweaty, out-of-breath, aching all over – why would you want to?  Well, that’s what I used to think. Over the past month however, I have become a complete convert.

How did that happen? you might ask. Well, I have been meaning to get back into more regular exercise for a while. Now my youngest child is 3, and my osteopathy business is thriving, I feel I have more time to focus on me. I wanted a form of exercise to fit around work and family commitments, that wasn’t time-consuming, got my heart pumping and got me outdoors. That’s when it clicked that maybe running could be a good thing.

My negative feelings about running stem, I think, from being forced out on muddy cross-country runs week after week at school. I was never very good, and just remember feeling cold and miserable. Or maybe it was the time I approached the final straight of a race, a late straggler, suitably blotchy and spluttering, to notice the boy I fancied in the year above standing at the finish line!

Since my school days, there have been a few more attempts at running, usually involving a rash decision to head out for a jog on a particularly lovely morning. Feeling invincible, but with absolutely no prep , I paid for it in stiffness and muscle ache for days afterwards.

Couch to 5K

Being older and wiser, I decided to do a bit of research before embarking on my current project. My running friends all recommended the Couch to 5k programme, and now I can see why.

Couch to 5K is a plan which helps you get into running by gradually building up your strength and stamina. It is suitable for complete novices (like me!) or those who want to return to running after a break. Its a 9 week programme incorporating three 20-30min sessions each week where you do a mix of running and walking, gradually building up the length of time spent running. So in the first week you run for just a minute at a time, followed by 90 seconds walking, then another minute running and so on for 20 minutes total.

I’m 5 weeks in and loving it! I genuinely look forward to going for a jog. I can now run for 20 minutes / approx 3.5km without stopping. Apart from being just a little bit stiff after my first outing, I have had no aches, pains or stiffness at all.

The Kit

Running shoes beginnerBack in the day, people used to jog in shorts, t-shirt, tracksuit and regular trainers. Today, there seems to be a whole industry built around running gear. For someone starting out, this all seems rather daunting. So, back to my trusted friends, who assured me that all I needed to buy  was a decent pair of running shoes and sports bra. They recommended the Shock Absorber High Impact bra and getting some trainers professionally fitted. Whilst it may be tempting to buy trainers cheaply online, it really is worth getting a good fit to support your feet properly. Given the amount of force that travels up through your legs when running, well-fitting trainers may well make the difference between developing foot/ankle/knee/hip/back pain or not.

So, off to Warwick Sports to get some advice on trainers. They looked at the shape, arches and amount of pronation through my feet and watched me running. They then picked out a few pairs of trainers for me to try, and it was obvious which felt best. So far, I have been really happy with them, and also like the colour which is a bonus!

The App

OK, so now I look the part. Next issue: how do I know when to change from running to walking in order to follow the Couch to 5k programme? I don’t have a stopwatch. The answer of course is in an app, but not just one app – there are loads out there that notify when you need to switch from running to walking and vice versa.

Some are all-singing-all-dancing, monitoring speed and distance, synching with music if you run with headphones and lots more. However, being a simple lass, I just wanted the basics, preferably for free. So if you have an android phone and you want something simple that works, I’d recommend ‘Couch to 5k free’. It beeps to tell you to change from running to walking and back again, progressing through the programme a day at a time.

The Route

Running route leamington spaNext the fun bit, planning a route. I love maps and exploring, and it turns out that running ticks both those boxes. I haven’t looked into the various apps like MapMyRun yet, preferring to use the old-fashioned A-Z. I have however discovered some lovely new parts of Warwick (where I live) and some paths I never new existed. Personally I prefer to run off road as I like the peace, better air quality and softer impact through my joints – that’s the osteopath in me!

The Time

Where to find the time to run three times a week? My aim is to run 20 minutes, so add on a couple of minutes to get changed, 5 mins stretching and 10 mins to shower and change. That’s maximum 40 minutes all in. Everyone’s days are different and I have the advantage of being self-employed, but I believe we can all find a way to find 40 minutes two or three times each week. For me, for example, it helps me see a late work cancellation as an opportunity for a run, rather than a frustration. At the end of the day, its all about prioritising. You can make it happen if you really want to.

The Stretches

The most beneficial time to stretch is after your run, not before. The Couch to 5k includes a brisk walk to warm up before your run, important to increase blood flow and prepare your muscles for exercise. Unless you have a lot of time, the stretches you do after your run should be tailored to any areas of joint vulnerability or stiffness you may have, but as a general rule should focus on the legs and back.

Remember to hold stretches for 20-30 seconds to get the full benefit. Never bounce or force a stretch and never stretch to the point of pain. This video is a useful starting point. If you have any particular history of knee, ankle, hip or lower back pain, a good osteopath will be able to guide you on specific stretches to minimise the risk of re-injury.


People get into running for different reasons: fitness, weight-loss, sense of achievement, to manage depression or chronic pain. Personally, apart from feeling fitter, I have also been pleasantly surprised by some unexpected benefits: head-space, peace, solitude, a connection with nature and overall feeling of wellbeing. Anyhow, the enthusiasm is there for now. Speak to me in the cold dark depths of the winter, and we’ll see then how strongly I’ve been converted!

Emma Lipson is Principal Osteopath at Feel Better Osteopathy in Warwick, Warwickshire.

Over to you…

As I mentioned, I am a novice runner so would welcome any tips from seasoned runners or recent beginners alike. Please do leave comments below.

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