July 29, 2021

Final Thoughts on the Couch to 5K Plan


A little over nine weeks ago, I started the Couch to 5K running plan (originally from the CoolRunning website, but no longer there). There are a ton of "couch to 5K" plans (meaning to get you from couch potato to 5K runner by following the plan) out there on the internet, but the one I followed was (I believe) the original. I had tried it way back in 2007 for the first time--before there were smart phones and apps to follow and/or track running.

Back then, I printed out the plan and followed the instructions. I knew NOTHING about running at that time! I had no idea what a slow or fast pace was, how far was "far" to run, or even the distance (in miles) of a 5K. I never finished the plan.

I tried a couple more times over the next few years, but never got very far. The plan has you do intervals of running and walking, building up the running portions while reducing the walking portions over a period of nine weeks--at which point, you're supposed to be able to run 5K.

I absolutely hated running intervals--I found myself constantly dreading the next running portion. The walks seemed to be so short and the running seemed to last forever.

Fast forward to 2010, when I wanted to start running after having lost about 60 pounds. I couldn't stand the thought of doing intervals again, so I worked my way up to running 5K with a make-up-as-you-go-along plan. Basically, I just ran as far as I could (which wasn't very far at all!) and then added a little bit each time I went out (three times per week). I wrote it out in my own sort of "couch to 5K" plan. Here is the plan I wrote that is basically how I became a runner--I call it the "Walk to Run" plan; and here are eight beginner 5K plans that I wrote with a variety of options.

I went on to run 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, and even three full marathons. I'd become a "real runner".

Anyway, about the Couch to 5K...

Since I'd pretty much given up running in 2017 (aside from short periods here and there), I had gotten totally out of shape. I no longer considered myself a runner. Eventually, I found that I missed it! I missed the physical and mental health benefits I got from running regularly. And because I had never finished the Couch to 5K plan, I thought it would be fun to see if I could do it this time--dreaded intervals and all.

I located the old plan (via screen shots) from Google images and then I typed it out so that it was printable and easy to read. I printed it out and hung it on my refrigerator. (Here is the printable one that I made--remember, it's not my plan; I just typed it out so that it's easy to read.) I know it's old-fashioned to print out the plan these days, but I really like seeing it on my refrigerator and crossing off the runs as I complete them. Sometimes I prefer the old-fashioned method of things to the new apps.

The first week looks so simple on paper: Run 60 seconds, walk 90 seconds, and repeat 8 times (for a total of 20 minutes). It turned out to feel much harder than I anticipated! I was gasping for breath and my face was beet-red after that first workout.


Each week increases the amount of running for each interval and decreases the amount of walking. I found myself just wanting to get the running out of the way so I could walk the rest of the time. I didn't have enough time to catch my breath between the running intervals and I just wanted to be done!

Week 4 of Couch to 5K is pretty infamous because there is a huge jump in the amount of running. I was determined to get through the week, though, because I knew that I was capable of it. (The best advice I can give to a new runner is to slow down--even when it feels like you're running at a pace that you could crawl faster, you can go a lot farther than you think when you slow down.)


A lot of people choose to repeat weeks of the plan or create weeks that are something in between each. And I would definitely recommend doing that rather than quitting altogether. The only reason I didn't do that was because I really felt determined to do the whole plan as-written in nine weeks. But there is certainly no shame in repeating workouts. And I'd suggest creating a Week 3.5--that way Week 4 isn't so intimidating!



After the first few weeks, I did most of my runs on the treadmill (just personal preference). I also chose to do all of the running at the same pace so that I could see if my fitness was improving (if the same pace felt easier after running it over and over again, I would know that I was getting fitter). I like to use my heart rate as an indicator of my effort as well.

So, my overall thoughts of the plan itself:

I still don't like intervals. If I was starting from scratch as a runner (again), I would prefer to follow my own plan--doing all the running first and then finish with walking. I actually progressed faster and found it easier without doing the intervals.

I think the Couch to 5K plan is definitely too much, too soon for true "couch potatoes". The first workout has you running 8 minutes--even though there are walk breaks in between each minute, it's still a lot to ask of someone who has never run before.

I followed the plan exactly as written and it did, in fact, take me from couch to 5K runner. But it was HARD--even for someone who used to regularly run long distances.


I liked that it was only three days a week. When someone is going from "couch to _____", asking them to exercise 6-7 days a week sounds impossible. Three days a week of short workouts of 20-40 minutes or so is much more do-able and less intimidating.


I did enjoy the variety of the workouts--which I know directly contradicts what I said about hating intervals. I just liked that each week was a little different, which kept it from getting too monotonous.

I didn't really FEEL the progression of the workouts. I guess I hoped that they would feel easier over time, but they really haven't (yet, anyway). I am still dripping sweat after each run and my heart rate hasn't noticeably improved. However, now that I am up to the entire distance, if I continue to run three miles at a time, I'm hoping that I'll start to notice improvements.

For my FINAL final thought: I think the Couch to 5K plan works to get someone to run the 5K distance, but I think it's too hard for the average couch potato--which will make it not-very-fun, which will likely make them quit. It's a good plan for people who have taken a short hiatus from running and want to get back into shape. If you do the first few workouts and find yourself dreading each interval, then it's not the plan for you--the intervals only get longer.

[It's important to note that all of this is MY OWN opinion of the plan--obviously everybody has their own thoughts about it. Tons of people love the plan! I'm not saying whether it's a good or bad plan, because that entirely depends on the person who is following it. We all need to figure out what we like best and what works for us, which is why I did my own plan back in 2010.]

I'm really happy that I completed Couch to 5K because I'd felt like it was unfinished business from 14 years ago. Now I can put it to rest. And now I am at the point that I can run three miles, which was the goal in the first place!

3 comments:

  1. I tried it years ago and somewhere around week 3 or 4 I quit because the jump was so ridiculous! Now I’m battling a bad knee so no running anytime soon.

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  2. What a great recap. I must agree about Couch to 5k not working 100% for everyone. As you probably recall (from the book), I had to modify it A TON in order to make it to three miles. That "easy 9 week plan" took me something like 20 weeks to complete. I'm okay with that. I'm so glad that all I read was "60 seconds of jogging" or I never would have begun running at all. What's next for you with running? Any races? Columbus offers a lovely tour of central Ohio in October. ;-) No pressure. Just curious.

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