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Couch to 5K

It's July. Yup, you heard me, it's already July! And like most Minnesotans, you're probably wondering how we've already made it through half the summer. Maybe you're also wondering how your spring fever for getting in shape has dissipated to walks between the couch and the fridge.

You could write the rest of the summer off as a couch potato, or you could get out there and pound the pavement with a couch to five kilometer (5K) running program. Let me tell you as a runner and a physical therapist for the RunSMART program, training for a 5K (which is 3.1 miles) is a great way to get active. 

It may seem like a long way to walk, let alone run, if you're out of shape; but with an appropriate training plan, realistic goals and a little motivation the finish line is well within reach. Read on to learn how to make the transition from couch potato to 5K finisher.

  1. Set a goal. Determine what your goal is before you start a training program. Most of us start with a goal of getting in shape. However, competitiveness often kicks in during training, which is great for motivation but can exacerbate problems during your training.
  2. Think about sustainability. For long term health benefits, you need to find a fitness routine that is sustainable. This means finding something you enjoy and that your body tolerates (if you have knee issues, running might not be the sustainable exercise choice for you).
  3. Mix in other activities. Trying a variety of activities like biking, swimming or golfing helps keep your muscles balanced. It can also help you stay motivated by giving you a break from running, but keeping you moving towards your goal.
  4. Plan for the weather. As Minnesotans we need to factor in rain, snow, cold, heat, humidity and wind in any training plan. Be ready to make alternative plans for exercising indoors or at a different time of day.
  5. Expect some bumps in the road. You will experience setbacks, but try not to get discouraged. Even elite athletes have difficult training days or get sidelined by weather or injury.

The starting line
If you are choosing a race date as motivation, choose one that is at least three months out. Start with 20 to 40 minute workouts three to five days per week. Workouts should consist of:

  • 10 to 20 minutes of walking. Gradually increase the length of time, intensity and the incline or number of hills you walk. Walk at a pace where you can still carry on a conversation and increase from there. Increase the length of time and incline by 10 percent per week. That means if you started walking 15 minutes on week one, week two should be 16.5 minutes, week three should be just over 18 minutes and so on.
  • 10 minutes of strengthening exercises. Concentrate on strengthening your lower body with squats, lunges, side leg lifts and backward leg lifts. Do two sets of 10 reps each, every time you walk.
  • 10 minutes of stretching. Again concentrate on the lower body by stretching the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, gluts and pectoral muscles.

Mile marker: two months prior to race
You'll want to start a walk-jog interval routine by incorporating some jogging with your walking:

  • Walk for five minutes and jog one minute for 12 to 36 minutes.
  • Gradually increase the amount of time spent jogging and decrease walking.
  • Work up to 10 minutes jogging and just one to two minutes walking.
  • Keep up the strengthening and stretching.

Mile marker: one month prior to race
Gradually increase your total exercise time so that the distance you cover in that time frame is five kilometers. Continue to incorporate walk-jog intervals as needed:

  • Start by walking a half to one mile, then jogging one to two miles, followed by walking a half to one mile.
  • Work up to jogging the entire distance.

The finish line
The day of the race, don't start out too fast and use up all your energy. Listen to your body, if you can't run the entire distance don't be afraid to walk. The day's goal is simply to cross the finish line. Because really you've already won, by motivating yourself to get up off the couch and sticking to your training plan.

Don't hesitate to consult with your sports medicine professionals with any specific questions or concerns. Find a doctor, physical therapist or athletic trainer who likes to work with runners.


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