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Couch to 5k the right way: A cautionary tale


Ah, the New Year’s Resolution: Diets, gym memberships, and eating a lot of sad salads—that’s what the New Year is all about, right? In fact, losing weight tops the list of New Year’s Resolutions in 2017, outranking “Better Financial Decisions” and “Quitting Smoking.” Statistically about 8 percent of people will achieve the goal they set for themselves—those are terrible odds!

In honor of Healthy Weight Week, I’d like to take a moment to propose the idea of not dieting, and instead focusing on healthy lifestyle changes through eating well and being active. It sounds so simple—but it’s far more attainable than trying to lose weight and find your inner harmony through fad diets and miracle cures. So why not make this the year of being kinder to yourself through new hobbies and interests?

Have you thought about running a 5k?

Yes, you read that right! Running in an official event (with, you know, sponsors and tents and where friendly volunteers give you water and bananas) may sound scary or intimidating, but if properly prepared, you may be surprised by what you can accomplish. In the process of training your body to run a 5k, 10k, or more (reach for the stars!), you’ll find that making healthy choices will not only make you perform your best, but also help teach you long-term success.

But what if you’re already on top of your fitness game? What if you work out several times per week, eat reasonably healthy foods, and feel like you just got this? That means you don’t need to train to run a few miles (or 6), right? Well. That’s what I thought before signing up to run the California International Marathonrelay. I work out several times per week. I eat reasonably healthy foods. I was on top of my game. As I donned the official running bib and shirt, I thought to myself: I got this.

Dear reader.

I did not have it.

After awkwardly jogging my way past mile 1, I quickly realized that my best bet for reaching the finish line was either 1) run for two minutes then walk for one minute, or 2) call an Uber. My legs were questioning every thud of my sneakers against the pavement; everything hurt and nothing was fine. But the cheery faces, uplifting signs and surrounding (actual, well-trained) runners motivated me to suck it up. So I turned up my playlist, said a little prayer, and hobbled my way to the end of the relay. It wasn’t pretty—and for about a week after my short jaunt down the marathon relay trail, I was singing the same song in my head: I should have trained for this.

Don’t do what I did! Learn from my running faux pas and follow a training program; these are designed with the novice in mind and will help you avoid injuries. One of the key things to remember with running is that you have to start where you are with your fitness level and not where you want to be—this is one of the top reasons people quickly give up on it: they do too much, too fast. I found this to be true with crash diets, too—diving headfirst into a drastic change can set you up for major disappointment.

Have you heard of Couch to 5k? This is a great place to start. This program guides you step by step to make it safely to that run you signed up for—all at your own pace. They also offer running logs and helpful tips and tricks to get you to the finish line. By signing up for a 5k, 10k, or half marathon, you’ll find it easier to stay on track with a training timeline because there is an ultimate goal—and probably a snazzy t-shirt and medal at the end of it! I don’t know about you, but earning a medal always sweetens any goal I set for myself.

Another thing that I did wrong during my first little trek was wear the wrong shoes. I donned my everyday workout shoes—which is one of the first no-no’s of running. Treat yourself to a shoe fitting at your local specialty running shop—not only will you feel better hitting the pavement with the proper shoes, but you’ll also be preventing common running injuries that can occur from wearing improper gear. Being prepared for any sudden injury is crucially important, as well. Always check with your doctor before starting any new regimen to make sure you’re good to go.

With all the hustle and bustle of the new year, it’s easy to fall prey to the advertisements trying to get you to focus on “losing weight and feeling great in 2017”—but the path to whole-person health is so much more than losing weight. It’s about learning how to set reasonable goals for yourself, staying on track with proper nutrition and making healthy—and sustainable—choices along the way. Instead of focusing on what you need to lose, focus on what you can gain this year. Just keep running!