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More than 858,000 people downloaded the Couch to 5K app during the first three months of lockdown – a 92% increase from the same period in 2019 – but sticking to the plan is another matter.
If you’ve downloaded the app and never looked at it again, or have given up after the first week, you’re certainly not alone. Given we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s even more understandable that you may be struggling with motivation.
To help, HuffPost UK asked runners who have completed the app – or are well underway – to share how they’ve stayed on track, plus their top tips for others. You’ll be running 5K in no time.
1. Repeat weeks you find difficult.
Couch to 5K is designed to gradually build up endurance, but Natasha Haws, 26, from South Shields, says you don’t have to stick to the plan rigidly if the pace isn’t quite right for you.
She downloaded the app because she was living alone at the start of lockdown and needed something to concentrate on. At the time, she couldn’t run 200 metres without stopping – two weeks ago, she completed her first 5K.
It wasn’t straightforward, though. Haws suffered with shin splints – which is pain along the shin bone, usually caused by over-exercising or an increase in training – and found she needed to build herself up a little more slowly. She interspersed the Couch to 5K plan with shorter runs using the Nike Running App, and proudly completed the nine-week plan in 12 weeks.
“Repeat weeks you find difficult,” she says. “Don’t judge your progress against anyone else but yourself.”
2. Find a running buddy.
Exercising with a buddy is great for accountability. If no one in your household fancies running, it’s relatively easy to do while socially distanced with a friend.
Reva Nandakumara, 38, from London, has enjoyed running with her eight-year-old for the past 13 weeks. “When I didn’t feel like going for a run, he would drag me away from my laptop and say ‘no come on, we have to we promised,’” she says. “I would do the same to him on days when it looked a bit chilly outside and he didn’t want to venture out.”
The pair have been running three to four times a week for more than three months, which “feels like an achievement”.
“Let’s see how we hold out in winter though, I have a feeling that might be our next big hurdle,” Nandakumara says.
3. Don’t worry about your pace.
Lots of people share their running data online, so it’s easy to be hard on yourself for not being fast enough. But Ian Davies, 54, from The Wirral, advises ignoring the numbers.
“Don’t worry about pace, just keep moving and focus on why you started the journey,” he says. “I’m convinced not being able to complete Couch to 5K is more mental attitude than physical ability. Even if people jog at almost walking pace, they still win.”
Davies’ running journey started on June 1 when he downloaded the app to try to lose the weight he’d gained during lockdown. “It was hard the first few days, but once I got into my stride (sorry) I found myself actually wanting to run,” he says.
He talks to friends on WhatsApp who are also trying to lose weight using the app. “We have a group for support when needed,” he explains. “We share food ideas and encourage one another when we confess to not wanting to carry on.”
4. Connect with the Couch to 5K community.
If no one in your friendship circle can relate to your struggles, turn to the internet community for motivation, says Dawn Webster, 40, from Norfolk.
She downloaded Couch to 5K after trying Joe Wicks’ PE sessions with her 14-year-old son and realising space in the living room was a little too tight. The pair have since completed three runs per week for seven weeks.
“I found Reddit c25k was super supportive, encouraging and informative and I check in daily with other users to cheer them on,” she says. “Today was meant to be a 28 minute run, but I ran for 34 minutes and hit 4k which is insane when I could barely manage the first few weeks.”
Webster smokes and says her new-found love of running has inspired her to make a plan to quit – something that will no-doubt inspire others, too.
“I’ve still got a way to go, but my number one takeaway is that getting out is always better than not,” she says. “Not completing a run you attempt is a win, because you did something.”
5. Plan a post-run treat.
When you really can’t shift that CBA feeling, think about how great you’ll feel afterwards and plan a post-run treat, says Jennifer Barnard, 28, from Hertfordshire, who’s recently completed the app.
“I downloaded it because running was something I always wanted to be able to do but I never felt I had the time,” she says. “Being in lockdown meant I had no excuse!”
Barnard’s tips for making it through the tough first few weeks include running in the morning so you can enjoy a productive day afterwards and telling friends about your aims, so they can support your progress.
“Oh and having homemade ice lollies in the freezer for when you get home,” she jokes. “It’s something to look forward to having when you get back!”
6. Focus on the improvements.
It’s surprising how quickly your health can improve with regular running and Yaz Osho, 41, and based in Brixton, London, says focussing on the benefits has kept her going.
“I was inspired to download the app after realising in May that gyms weren’t opening anytime soon, so I needed to take matters into my own hands,” she says. “I’ve remained motivated because my asthma has improved as a result of Couch to 5K and I’m a lot fitter – which is always a plus.”
Osho says this sense of achievement and progress motivates her to push herself further each time. Her top tip for those hard days is to create a banging playlist. “Sync your run to music,” she says. “It helps me run faster.”
Need a little more motivation? Here are some other tips and personal stories from people who downloaded the app and never looked back.