It’s a measure of how my mind works that once I’ve moved on from something, I tend not to know what to say about it. I cut my C25K training short after week 6 because I felt I’d got what I needed from it and I didn’t feel that persisting with the steady state runs in weeks 7 to 9 were going to be of benefit either physically or mentally. Regardless, here’s a quick recap of week 6 for reference.
Week 6 of C25K is the second microcycle that has three different runs. Day 1 is a 5 minute-8 minute-5 minute set of intervals with 3 minutes RI and day 2 is two 10 minute runs with a 3 minute RI. I did both on the treadmill and both went well enough. Day 3 is another long run, progressing up from w5d3 to 22 minutes. My training went mostly to schedule – the intervals were fine but I cut the 22 minute run short because I messed up the pacing and poor shoe choice. (“They’re the Wrong Shoes, Gromit!”). I was a little disappointed to not be able to round out that programme with a good run but having already done a 6 mile run earlier in the week, I very much felt like I was going through the motions.
Overall my personal experience of C25K has been good and useful, especially coming back from injury. The most useful part was being able to follow a structured program with a purpose that only required me to run for 20-25 minutes at a time and yet still felt like I was making progress. I can see the benefits of the program as an easy, good and accessible way of getting people into running, following the basic principles of starting easily with a run/walk sessions and building up to running continuously for up to half an hour at time.
Having said that, I don’t think there’s anything particularly outstanding about the C25K schedule that sets it head and shoulders apart from other beginners programmes. I also feel that it might benefit from some tweaks to the week 4 schedule as the run/walk intervals in that week seem to be based more on making the numbers look nice (the walk intervals are half the length of the run intervals). I will accept, however, that as I was working at a set pace rather than just running free, I would need more feedback from people to make a better assessment. It’s also just a matter of details.
I think I’d also prefer to suggest a running plan which did not have so much repetition of sessions. I think a lot of the challenge of starting to run is not so much physical but mental and I have a feeling that new runners would be quite able to cope with – and benefit from – a gradual progression for each run. C25K is perfectly fine, however, and some new runners may prefer it. An added bonus is that there are accompanying smartphone apps that can be used by runners to time the intervals and that may be a swaying factor for some people.
So there we have it, my C25K adventure is over. Time to move on.
Week 5: the one that everyone talks about. This is the first of two weeks where each workout is different, gradually ramping up the effort until the w5d3 continuous 20 minute run. For me it was going to be about concentrating on pace. Once again I took to the treadmill for day 1, 3 intervals of 5 minutes with 3 minutes RI. I went back to my planned pace on this and, for the most part, stuck to it. The only time I didn’t was briefly during the last interval when I hopped off the treadmill for a couple of seconds, nominally to catch my breath. I got straight back on and then stepped the pace up as penance – a way of making up for the lapse in focus.
I still struggle with this habit – of giving up and easing off when the end is so very nearly in sight. It’s like my brain screams “No more!” and I have to take a brief respite by hopping off the treadmill or walking during a race. Yes, I will admit again that I have yet to finish any race without walking at some point! Ultras, obviously, are forgivable but even in 5k/10k/HM I’ve stopped and walked. But it seems providence was waiting for me when I got back from the gym as I found a link to a Runner’s World article about “building mental muscle”. The article referenced Tim Noakes’ “Lore of Running” which, coincidentally, I’d been reading the night before.
The article made me reassess my approach to the next two sessions.
Week 4 of the C25K is where it starts to ramp up with quite a sharp progression to 16 minutes total running in two sets of 3 min run, 90 sec walk, 5 min run with a 2.5 minute run between sets. Excluding the cool down, it’s the first time that the program demands more time running than walking. The step up is also quite considerable; if you recall, C25K week 3 only has 9 minutes of running so week 4 nearly doubles the time. An alternative way of breaking down the challenge is to focus on the time running in one go is only increased from 3 minutes to 5. That shouldn’t be too bad right? Right?
For me, it turned out that the real challenge was the 90 second
walk recovery between the 3 minute and 5 minute runs. Having worked out a more structure pacing plan based on the FIRST plan and sticking to it through week 3, I knew what I was aiming to do: 3 minutes at 6:30 min/mi and 5 minutes at 6:45 min/mi. Best Laid Plans and all that (soon to become a subtitle of this blog, I’m sure – in fact, I might even get it inscribed on my gravestone!)
W4D1 was hard!
This week, I explored the effect of what happens to the body after an overabundance of food, alcohol coupled with sleep deprivation and general fatigue.
This microcycle involves another set of intervals: 90s run, 90s walk, 3 min run, 3 min walk and repeat. Again I felt that this was a little too short – it’s only 9 minutes of actual running – so I tacked another 90s interval at the end to bring the time including warm-up to 25 minutes total (well, 24m30s) and then have a walking cool-down. Following on from last week, I set the pace for the 90s intervals at 6:15 min/mi and the 3 min run at 6:30 min/mi. That definitely made it challenging. I trained on Wednesday and Friday and in the Thursday, I cycled to work (11.5 miles either way) with a mind to introducing some cross training into my program. However, thanks to my competitive nature and Strava suggesting I could do an uphill section a little faster than before, I already had tired legs for w3d2 so I made up for it by pushing the final 90s interval at 10mph making (in theory) for 400m in 90s. Hard, but I felt great afterwards.
It all went downhill after that.
This weeks sessions ended up all being done on the gym treadmill. I had hoped to do a bonus fourth session this morning but a late start and busy day got in the way of that which means no Garmin splits. The week 2 program is a step up from week 1 with the intervals going from 60 seconds to 90 and the rest going from 90 to 2 minutes, repeated for 20 minutes (although it doesn’t quite add up as the last rest period takes you to 21 minutes.) The total duration of the six 90s run intervals is 9 minutes, merely a minute longer than week 1 which is good for beginners as it helps their body to adjust. I felt it wasn’t quite enough for me and with that annoying discrepancy in the time, I ended up adding an extra 90s interval to the program and a 2.5 minute cooldown to round off the workout at 30 minutes.
Buoyed by my speed at the end of last week, during the w2d1 session, I gradually increased my pace on the treadmill to gauge how fast I could comfortably go. For the second two sessions, I pushed at a satisfactory 6:30 min/mi pace for the intervals. It will be interesting next week to see if I can keep this pace up for the 3 minute intervals. Even though I’m using C25K to help me work towards running a 5km at 7 min/mi, I’m using a faster pace for the shorter intervals, loosely derived from the pacing tables provided by the FIRST program. (You can read more about FIRST here and I do recommend their book, “Run Less, Run Faster“). As the C25K intervals increase in time, the pace will get a little slower.
Still, two weeks in and it’s all going well.
After last weeks taster, I decided to being C25K in earnest this week, using the Cool Running Couch-to-5K program. I’ve touched on why I’m doing this before but for posterity, here the three main reasons why I’m using C25K as my training plan and I hope to expand on them in future posts.
- It’s a gentle introduction back to running after five months off with injury and should help to rehabilitate my broken foot
- I want to get to know and understand the program for myself so that I’m in a better position to help clients and other beginner runners with it
- Even though it’s marketed as a beginners program, I want to gauge if there is any potential benefit to a runner who is already quite capable of running 5km
Also, to reiterate, the only caveat to this program is that I will not continue if I have pain in my foot.
So week 1: I can say it went well. After discovering last week that I could push the pace on my foot, I decided to set a target pace for my intervals of 7 minutes/mile (8.6 mph). The first two runs this week were done on a treadmill at my gym and I felt fine at the set pace. The final run this morning was out on the road where I attempted to stick at the same pace. My splits after the split: