Just finished Couch to 5K and wondering what to do next? This article is for you…
One positive side-effect of the coronavirus lockdown measures is a massive increase in the number of people who have taken up running. BBC News reported that more than 858,000 people downloaded the NHS-backed One You Couch to 5K app between March and June, which is almost double the number of people who downloaded it over the same period last year.
We think this is fantastic, so to all the people who have taken up running for the first time over the past few months, we say “Congratulations, and welcome, fellow runners!”
If you’ve finished Couch to 5K and now feel a little lost, unsure what to do next, or overwhelmed by the idea of doing different events, please allow us to help you navigate life after Couch to 5K.
The world is your oyster!
Running offers a huge array of possibilities. You can run almost anywhere: on roads, trails, mountains or deserts. You can do fast runs, slow runs, short runs, or long runs.
Yes, most of your runs are likely to be within a few miles of home, but there are a lot of different things you can do on your own two feet.
Events are suspended at the moment, due to coronavirus, but it is only a matter of time before they start up again. When they do, you can choose from all manner of events, including parkruns and 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, marathons or ultramarathons.
If organised races aren’t your thing, a virtual challenge might be more to your taste. They give you the opportunity to set a personal goal and complete it in your own time, on your own terms.
Many runners choose not to do any events at all, and just run for themselves in their favourite places, doing whatever sort of running makes them happiest.
This choice is all part of what makes running such an exciting, accessible sport.
What you do next is up to you
It can be easy to feel like you should be aiming to run further or faster once you have completed C25K. This is especially true if you’ve been seeing friends’ posting their running achievements on Strava or social media, but it’s also a natural urge to want to keep the momentum going and build upon what you have already achieved.
If you’ve already got your next goal in mind, that’s fantastic and we fully support your efforts to achieve that goal. It’s great that you’re feeling so motivated and excited to run.
If, however, you’re not sure what to do next, that’s OK too. We’re all individuals and all have different reasons for running. There’s no point picking a new goal just for the sake of it if you’re not feeling inspired to do so. Running should be a fun, exciting part of your life, so it’s important that you enjoy it.
Rather than rush into choosing a new distance to aim for, or enter a big event, take the time to enjoy running for fun. Explore different places; run with a friend (if safe to do so); try listening to music, podcasts, or in silence; hit the trails; or run at different times of day.
By experimenting with your running and trying new things, you may find you work out what you enjoy most and become inspired to aim for a new goal.
That goal can be anything you like. For many runners, who’ve just run 5K for the first time, increasing the distance (from 5K to 10K and then onto even longer distances) seems the next logical goal – but it’s not the only way to do things. For example, you may choose to:
- Run the London Marathon and raise thousands of pounds for charity;
- Complete virtual challenges over various distances;
- Get faster over 5K or shorter distances;
- Get fit enough to reach the top of a hill that always defeats you;
- Run without getting out of breath so you can maintain a conversation with a friend;
- Form a regular exercise routine to improve your health and wellbeing;
- Run-commute to work a couple of times a week..
It’s up to you. If it excites you, it really doesn’t matter what you choose to do next.
Even if you’ve got a big, shiny new goal that you want to aim for, we would encourage you to be patient rather than embark on a new training plan straight away. After all, your body is still getting used to being the body of a runner and it takes time to adapt.
Not so long ago, before Week 1, you weren’t a runner at all. Now, after just a few weeks, you are. Each week of your Couch to 5K journey required you to keep pushing your limits, which puts stress on your body. This is necessary to improve, but it’s also important to give yourself some time to recover before continuing to push your limits further. Otherwise you run the risk of getting injured.
Your body will tell you how much time you need (if you’re aching, take it easy; if you’re feeling fresh, push on), but repeating the last few weeks of the Couch to 5K plan will help to consolidate the progress you’ve made so far.
You won’t be losing fitness, getting slower, or going backwards. Instead, you’ll be reinforcing and strengthening the foundations you’ve just built.
Many people find they’re able to get used to the cardiovascular demands of running for half an hour relatively quickly, but strengthening your musculoskeletal system takes a little longer. Consolidating your foundations like this will give your muscles and joints a chance to catch up with your heart and lungs.
Once you can do 5K or 30 minutes of running in relative ease, then you’ll be perfectly placed to build towards your next target.
Choose a goal, choose a plan
Couch to 5K works because it is a structured programme. Each run is prescribed for you, and the voice in your ear provides the support and encouragement to keep going.
Once you’ve graduated from Couch to 5K, and no longer have a plan or a motivational voice coming through your headphones, it is tricky to work out what to do next.
Fortunately, every runner has been through this, so there’s a load of resources to help you.
If you’ve entered a 10K virtual challenge, for example, and want a training plan to follow, a quick internet search will bring up a load of training plans to choose from. We’ve even got training advice for you right here, on lonelygoat.com.
If your challenge is a personal one that doesn’t have an obvious training plan – like running an A-Z of street names in your neighbourhood, for example – you might be able to adapt a plan for a different event to suit your challenge.
After looking at different plans, you’ll soon notice there are countless different ways of training for each event distance. Rather than be overwhelmed by this, you should be encouraged, as it shows there is more than one way to achieve your goals.
The main benefit of a training plan is not so much that it gives you instructions on how to reach a certain distance, but that it provides structure and a way of holding yourself accountable. If you find yourself struggling to follow a plan, don’t be afraid of adapting it to better suit you and your circumstances. And if you find your plan, is causing you stress, then consider whether you need to get back in charge of your goals.
Whether you choose to follow a structured plan, or make it up as you go along, just remember the key principles of patience and consistency. Improvements in running fitness can take time, so be patient; but you’ll progress more quickly if you stick with it, so be consistent.
You’re not alone
There are millions of runners around the world, and quite a few of them are members of Lonely Goat Running Club. So no matter how you’re feeling – whether you’re loving your new running life or struggling – there is a welcoming, helpful community of like-minded people out there to support you.
It is perfectly normal to go through emotional ups and downs with your running. If you’ve lost your mojo, either check out our article on the subject, or join the Lonely Goat Running Club Facebook Chat Group to get the support and encouragement of ‘the Herd’.
If you’ve just completed Couch to 5K, or are in the early stages of your running journey, we would love to hear about it. Likewise, if you’re a more experienced runner, feel free to share your tips and wisdom with those who are new to running. Just jump into the conversation on Facebook, Instagram or Strava.
All are welcome at Lonely Goat Running Club, as it is the shared experience of thousands of different people that makes it such a special, supportive community.
Congratulations on being a runner – Welcome to the Herd!
PS: Thanks to Lonely Goat, Ellen Williams for the image at the top of this page.