I started the 'Couch to 5K' running program to lose weight — here's what I wish I'd known before starting

  • Couch to 5k” running programs are a great way to get fit for new runners.
  • Author Jennifer Still writes that she recently turned to a “Couch to 5K” running program to lose weight.
  • Here, Still details seven tips she wishes she’d known before starting the program.

After years of being overweight and unfit, I decided I needed to make a change, and soon.

I started with the basics: a completely overhauled diet and some moderate exercise. I’ve walked my dog twice a day for years, but I also joined a local gym and began doing cardio in the form of indoor cycling five days a week.

However, I always wanted to try running and vowed that I’d one day start and complete the Couch to 5K program, a walk-run regimen that works to gradually increase your running distance over time.

Considering that I couldn’t even jog half a mile at my starting point, I doubted my ability to run five kilometers (roughly 3.1 miles). But after recently starting the C25K program, I’m already learning so much and starting to believe that maybe there’s a runner inside me after all.

Here are a few things that I wish I’d known before I set out for my first run.

(Almost) anyone really can do it.

Anyone who can walk comfortably for 30 minutes nonstop can successfully do Couch to 5K, which means most people, regardless of fitness level, stand a chance. As a New York City native, I was used to walking long distances and had never struggled with doing so, even when I was fifty pounds heavier.

Knowing that I met the minimum requirements helped me have a positive mindset from the beginning, and as the saying goes, attitude is everything.

Good, solid running shoes are paramount.

“Good” doesn’t necessarily mean “expensive” here. Not all running shoes are created equal, especially since everyone’s feet are different. The type of shoe that’s right for you will depend on a variety of factors, including the surface you’re running on, whether you’re on long or short runs (obviously, Couch to 5K is on the shorter end of the spectrum), whether you overpronate or have high arches, etc.

After doing a lot of research, I went with the Hoka Clifton 5, and I really like them. Whatever shoe you choose, a pair that’s better for your feet will pay off in the long run.

You should be focusing on building stamina, not speed.


During your first week of the Couch to 5k program, you spend your program time alternating between walking and short spurts of jogging. While it might be tempting to burst ahead at full speed, doing so won’t help you in the most important area: increasing your stamina.

You may be able to do the 60-second running stretches at a clip, but rushing things will work against you once you reach later weeks when the program shifts to longer running segments. I initially made the mistake of pushing myself too hard.

Your diet is important in your success.

While having a healthy diet is important for everyone regardless of their fitness regimen, it’s critical for distance runners, who require plenty of energy and endurance to get through longer runs.

While Couch to 5K starts you off pretty slow without a lot of running, I noticed that I struggled through my running sections when I hadn’t eaten enough (or at all) prior to setting out. While I generally thrive on fasted cardio, it doesn’t fly for running. When you’re running frequently, you need to make sure you’re eating enough – especially when it comes to protein.

Everyone’s journey is different.


This may sound obvious, but it’s still important to note. It’s tempting to get caught up in feelings of frustration or sadness, especially if you follow other runners’ progress online.

It’s important to remember that the people running marathons didn’t wake up one day able to do so; it took long, hard hours of training, and everyone has to start somewhere.

There are some great resources online to help you on your way.

One of my favourite spots to visit for inspiration is the Couch to 5K subreddit, which is full of sweaty selfies of other runners of various ages, weights, and abilities getting out there to pound the pavement.

Whenever I’m feeling frustrated, I just scroll down the page and feel a lot better. Also, Google is your friend when it comes to answering any questions or concerns you may have about the program – just be aware of how addicting reading about running can be.

You don’t have to succeed the first time, every time.

Daxiao Productions/Shutterstock

Couch to 5K isn’t a strict program in the sense that if you happen to have a rough day and struggle to complete a session (or even multiple sessions in a week), you don’t have to move forward until you’re good and ready.

Instead, you can repeat a session or week until you successfully finish it. Sure, it’s designed to be a nine-week program, but taking a bit longer to finish it won’t do anyone any harm. I haven’t had to repeat a week yet, but I’m fully prepared to do so if need be.

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