Couch to 5K – A guide to start running

Deciding to become a runner can be one of the best decisions you make. It offers improved fitness, mental wellbeing benefits, and the opportunity to explore places you otherwise might not. But, getting started as a runner can feel tricky. Those first runs might feel harder than you hoped or expected. You may find yourself reading loads of conflicting advice about watches, shoes, clothes and different ways to train. And there’s also the possibility that you might pick up an injury that stops you running just as you’ve got going.

Fortunately, it is perfectly possible to overcome these issues, if armed with a little knowledge. To help you navigate these first few weeks as a runner, here’s our advice on how to start running: The Lonely Goat Couch to 5K guide.

What’s Couch to 5K?

Couch to 5K (often abbreviated as C25K) refers to a training plan that is designed to take you from non-runner (ie: someone sat on the couch) to the point where you can comfortably run for a distance of 5 kilometres, or for half an hour.

5km (often referred to by runners as 5K) is equivalent to 3.1 miles. For a lot of runners, it is a distance that would be covered in about 30 minutes of running. It’s the same distance as the popular parkrun events you might have heard of, or seen taking place on Saturday mornings in your local park before coronavirus stopped them.

What if I want to run further than 5K?

There are lots of running events that are further than 5K (such as 10Ks, half marathons and marathons) and you might have ambitions of running these distances in the future, but for now, Couch to 5K is a good place to start.

From experience, it often feels like getting from 5 to 10K is easier than getting from 0 to 5K. Get comfortable at 5K, and you’ll be well placed to start training for longer distances.

Where can I find a Couch to 5K training plan?

There are a few different C25K training plans out there. They’re all slightly different because there is no one correct way to train. That said, many of the plans will be broadly similar as they follow the same, sensible approach of gradually increasing the amount of time that is spent running.

Two of the most popular C25K plans in the UK are:

Feel free to have a look at these or some other plans and see which one you like the look of the most. You’ll get to 5K whichever you choose – you just might take a different route to get there.

Lonely Goats, Fiona and Iain Jarvis at Bushy Park parkrun

The theory

Start small, then grow. This is how most C25K plans work.

Humans are well suited to running. Our bodies are built in such a way that we can cover long distances at moderate speeds: We’ve got strong legs built like springs; can sweat to keep cool; and can use different kinds of food to give us the energy to keep moving.

Our bodies are also very adaptable. If we do a lot of one thing, then we’ll get very good at it. The problem is, the opposite is true, too. If you’ve never run, or haven’t run in ages, then your body won’t be used to it. The potential is there for you to be a runner, but your body is not currently set up to make it feel easy.

To get around this, you need to gradually reintroduce your body to running.

Take it easy

Start with a very small amount of running. When your body is used to that, then add a little more. Keep going, balancing the need to increase the amount of running with the need to let your body adapt. The adaptations take place when your body repairs itself are (when you’re not running) so make sure you allow time to rest and recover between runs.

Do too much running too soon, and you run the risk of a) finding it hard and getting demoralised; or b) your muscles, joints or bones not having enough time to adapt, resulting in you picking up an injury that stops you running.

Do too little running, and it will take you ages to get used to it. On balance, it is probably safer to do too little rather than too much, as you reduce the risk of injuries, but it can be hard to maintain the patience to do so.

At your own pace

Only progress through a plan, moving onto the next stage, when you feel ready to do so. If you are struggling at any point, then drop back to a level you can manage. Once you’re comfortable, move on again. It’s better to be cautious than rush things.

Some people will be able to whizz straight through a C25K plan with no problems. Others will take longer. Both are absolutely fine. Every runner is different, with a different body and different circumstances. What’s important is not whether you complete the plan as fast as possible and exactly as it’s outlined, but that you eventually reach your goal of running for 5K or half an hour.

How fast?

For most C25K plans, the walking sections should be done briskly. That is, not a gentle stroll, but as though you’re in a little bit of a hurry.

Runs should be done slowly. If you could maintain a conversation while running, then you’re going about the right speed. You might even find that it is slower than your walking pace. That’s OK, as we’re more interested in getting your body used to the motion than worrying about getting fast. Do not sprint!

What do I need?

Now you know where to find a training plan and what to expect, here’s some advice on what kit you need.


There are lots of different makes and styles of running shoe to choose from. It can help to go to a specialist running shop and get their advice on what shoes to wear, as some may be better suited to your running style than others.

However, don’t worry too much if you’re not able to do this straight away. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that top Olympic athletes were running super fast times in shoes that would be considered casual trainers today.

By all means, splash out on some new shoes you would like to, but at this stage you should be fine going out in a pair of comfortable trainers that fit well.


Anything that you could go to the gym, do yoga, or play football in is going to be comfortable enough for running in. Lightweight fabrics will be easier to run in than stiff or heavy clothes.

Generally speaking, you can get away without wearing too many layers, as you’ll warm up when running, but you’ll soon learn through trial and error what works for you.

Wear underwear that will support any sensitive parts you don’t want to bounce around!

Anything else?

Listen to music if you want, but consider whether it will prevent you from hearing traffic or other things you need to be aware of.

High visibility clothing and a torch are sensible when running on the road in the dark.

If you’re well hydrated and have eaten well, you shouldn’t need to carry anything to eat or drink when out for half an hour or less (unless you have a specific medical reason for doing so).

You can do any run with a basic watch, just as long as you can easily see how long you’ve been running for.

It’s up to you whether you choose to use an app such as Strava to log your run, or tell you how far you’ve gone, but it’s not essential. Some people like the added motivation of posting their runs on Strava, others prefer to fly under the radar.

You can follow a C25K plan outside, or on a treadmill. It won’t make a huge amount of difference, but some runners prefer one over the other.

How can I celebrate my achievement?

If you want an extra motivation boost, or like the idea of a medal to celebrate your C25K achievement, check out the Lonely Goat 5K Virtual Challenge. You can sign up for free, and when you complete your 5K, claim a digital Support Inspire Achieve medal. You will also have the option of purchasing a physical medal that you can display with pride.

On top of that, our friends at Wiggle are offering a 15% discount on running kit to anyone who completes a Lonely Goat Virtual Challenge in 2021!

What happens once I’ve completed Couch to 5K?

First things first: Make sure to congratulate yourself! Then, you can think about what you’d like to do next. We’ve written an article on the subject that might help you decide.

Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to try and get faster or run longer distances. It’s entirely up to you what you do with your new found running ability. You might choose to stick with regular 30 minute runs, for example, or just do whatever takes your fancy on any given day.

The main thing is that you enjoy yourself!

Enjoy the support of the Lonely Goat Running Club community

There’s a wonderful community of like-minded runners available should you need support or advice on how to tackle the Couch to 5K challenge. Just head over to our Facebook Chat Group, share your runs on Instagram, or get involved on Strava.

Welcome to the Herd!


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