What is C25K and what can it do for you?
So let's get this guide to C25K on the road with a quick description of what it actually is. In short, it's a program designed to get you running a continuous stretch of 30 minutes or 5km (whichever is the shorter - normally that’s the 30 minutes), without walking, in 8-9 weeks. Each session takes between 25 and 38 minutes, including a 5 minute warm up and a 5 minute warm down.
For the first 6-7 weeks, you walk and run alternately in set intervals. At first, there is more walking than running. Gradually, that swaps over until you’re running more than you’re walking. Eventually, the walking is dropped and the running builds up to 30 minutes.
There are various free apps out there which you can download to your phone. All timing instructions are on the app. Your job is to follow them to the letter.
Is it for me?
It may be, if:
- You want to start running, because people do look as if they have fun doing it, but you don’t have confidence in yourself ; or
- You don’t really want to start running as such, but you’ve worked out that it might be the best option for you to get the exercise you need and you need a place to start; or
- You’ve run in the past but have been ill/injured and want to start again from scratch
- You want to start off your exercise programme by doing some walking and build that up as a habit before you think of trying anything else (in which case, you need to adapt the programme a little - see later.
What equipment do I need?
- A suitable pair of shoes. These don’t need to be the best running shoes ever - certainly not in the early weeks. But do use supportive ones that you’re confident won’t cause you any injury. For the distances involved, there is no great risk of developing blisters or other minor, irritating conditions.
- Comfortable clothing. If you’re not sure how many layers to use, err on the side of being slightly too chilly when standing still, as you’ll warm up once you get going.
- A phone with adequate battery life and a downloaded C25K app and earbuds for the phone. You can do it without a phone, but then you’ll need a stopwatch and a physical copy of the day’s activity (or you’ll need to commit it to memory).
Ease of use 5/5. Download app. Put on headphones. Press go. Walk. Run. Walk. Rinse. Repeat. Stop when the nice lady tells you to.
Straightforwardness factor 5/5
Quit risk: low-medium
Financial outlay: low: if you have a phone and comfortable shoes, none.
Personalise your experience
The best thing about C25K is that all the thinking’s been done for you. The goal is set (run 5km) as is the path to the goal. The only planning and faffing you need to do is download the app and make sure you’ve got some earbuds for listening to it as you go. No activity comes without some pre-faffing, but C25K sets the bar pretty much as low as it can go as far as getting ready is concerned.
So, to use it: go outside, start the app, select the first day of the programme and follow the instructions as they are given.
That said, though, there are ways of enhancing the experience and it’s worth doing so, because starting to run is hard in lots of ways. The programme is there to hold your hand, but there are still ways to personalize your experience.
Listen in peace
If you want to listen to the sounds of nature as you go, the programme won’t really disturb you. However, a lot of people quite like to have something to take their minds off things as they go. Some like music, which is great, but personally I find it doesn’t work so well. It somehow interferes with my breathing pattern as I run and I feel like I’m trying to bash square pegs into round holes if I get the wrong kind of music. Even though Spotify, for example, allows you to create a playlist to match your running cadence, it doesn’t work for me. Once I’ve started, I don’t really want to be pressing phone buttons Great if you can, though!
Personally, I like free podcasts. If you don’t want to concentrate too much, you could try a comedy programme/Archers omnibus/ghost story. If you find ranting against the injustice in the world takes your mind off things then try current affairs. History podcasts work very well for me. I know that others prefer novels in talking book format. Nowadays a library subscription may well give you access to talking books for limited periods without charge.
You should still be able to hear the C25K instructions alongside whatever you’re listening to.
Adapt to a walking programme for a gentle start
The programme is designed to get you to run 5 km in 8 weeks. It uses a walk-run-walk system, so that at the beginning you are doing more walking than running. You gradually swap over to do more running than walking and then the running stretches gradually get longer.
Because it works with timed intervals, you can also use it as a walking rehabilitation programme. If your current goal is just to get in the habit of walking a little and you need to build up from nothing or find walking difficult, swap the walk intervals for something else; sitting on a bench, maybe taking very slow, mindful steps looking at what’s going on around you. Then swap the run intervals for brisk walking.
There’s even a pooch to 5K, for getting going with your dog!
Maybe one day I’ll try it with a skipping rope and swap running for skipping and walking for lying flat out panting my lungs out. Just because it’s possible…
How to get the most out of it
Run as slowly as you possibly can
I once read a piece of advice from someone who had gone through the programme OK, but then struggled to keep up once they’d finished it. On their third run through, they worked out the key to success: run as slowly as possible.
Unless you’ve signed up for a marathon in 3 months’ time and haven’t even got any running shoes yet, there’s nothing at all to be gained from getting sucked into trying to run more quickly than is strictly necessary.
As sound as this advice may be, though, it isn’t easy to follow. You have to concentrate on slowing the pace down so that you’re still comfortable.
It’s so easy to get misled by people telling you how slowly they run and then reporting a pace that is twice as fast as yours. They are humblebragging. Feel sorry for them if it helps, but IGNORE THEM!!!
If you can, take absolutely no notice of your distances at all. Just stick with the timings
If you do want to extend past the 30 minute continuous run and go for 5km, try to time your attempt to coincide with something (an organised run, a parkrun, a key episode of the Archers on podcast). 5km takes a long time to run when you’re starting out and it helps to have some built in distraction and/or encouragement.
Take as many weeks as you need to. Repeat a session or a week as necessary
There is absolutely no need to rush through this. Take your time. Rather than miss a session because it looks too daunting, take a step back and repeat some. As many as you need. It’s an 8-week programme, but no one is going to make you do it in 8 weeks. It is far more important to get out 3 times a week than it is to push through the programme as fast as possible.
If you need to take time off, go back and repeat from a point that feels right, don’t just try to pick up where you left off (unless you really are working to a date you’ve committed to - for a charity run or whatever).
In the long term
Taking your time is so important in the long term. It’s what will give you the base to keep going once you’ve got through the programme.
The goal of C25K isn’t really to run 5 km. It’s to give you a feeling of accomplishment, the knowledge that you can hit a set goal, the confidence to move and a basis for carrying on with exercise once it’s finished.
However you do your C25K, this is the real takeaway.