The Best Beginner Running Program

by Stephanie on January 21, 2011 · 1 comment

in Running

What’s the best way to start running?

Some would say to just lace up your shoes and start running.  But for people like me who had no run training and no success with it in the past, it can be a little more complicated.  All running publications, such as Runner’s World, stress the importance of starting out and building up slowly.  Too much too fast leads to pain, injury, and burnout.

The trouble is it’s hard to know how slow to start out and how fast to build up.  I dabbled in running off and on for several years and I never got the hang of it.  I would do too much or too little and I rarely made any progress.  I never could figure out what I should actually be doing.

That’s where the Couch-to-5k training plan comes in.  This is hands down the best way to start running.  It is widely known and comes highly recommended from the running community.  You’d be hard pressed to find a more popular beginning training program.  And the best part is that it’s available for free!

The Program

The 8 week program assumes that you can walk for 20-30 minutes.  That’s also about how long each workout will be.  From there it gives you 3 exact workouts for each week.  You’ll want to take a day of rest between each workout.

Week 1 starts with 20 minutes of intervals:  jogging for 60 seconds and walking for 90 seconds.  This is doable even if you haven’t been getting much activity recently.  From there the program increases the intervals.  By Week 4 your jogging for 3-5 minutes at a time.  By Week 8 you should be able to run 30 minutes or approximately a 5k.  It may seem like big gains in two months, and it is, but it’s also very doable.

Customize It!

One neat feature of the Couch to 5k program is that it allows you to do your intervals by time or by distance.  For instance, you can jog for 3 minutes or a ¼ mile.  I found time to be easier since I was running outside and did not have a way to track exact distances.  Depending on your speed, time intervals could have you running slightly more or less than the given interval mileage.  That’s okay.  This program is not meant to make you fast.  Run at the pace that is comfortable to you.  Speed will come later.

The workouts will be tough, but they should be doable.  If you find that you’re struggling, don’t move on to the next week’s workouts.  Repeat that same week and give your body time to adjust to the new effort.  If your fitness level is very low you can make this a 16 week program and do each week’s workouts twice.  If your fitness level is higher, start on week 2 or 3.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get there.  Just keep making the effort!

I did the Couch to 5k program back in August 2010, after deciding to run the 2011 Seattle half marathon in June.  I knew it would probably take me the whole year to work up to 13.1 miles since I couldn’t even run 5 minutes at the time.  I started on Week 2 of the program, jogging 90 seconds and walking 2 minutes.  By Week 8 I could run for 30 minutes, though it was pretty tough at the time.  And because I’m pretty slow, 30 minutes was just under 3 miles for me.  Not quite a 5k, but I do honestly think I could have pushed for 3.1 miles if I had wanted to.  Two weeks later, in October, I did run my 5k road race.  It felt great!

Since then I have continued increasing my intervals and I’m now up to running over 5 miles; way longer than I’ve ever gone before!  I have recommended the Couch to 5k to all of my friends that talk about getting in (or back in) to running.  It’s a great program and I credit it for getting me on track to really becoming a runner!

Have you used the program?  I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Note: There’s a lot of information if you Google “Couch to 5k”.  Maybe even a few versions of the program.  The one I have heard most about and used myself is the one I linked to above on  They give a lot of information about getting started and using the program.  They have a lot of other good information on their site as well.

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