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Celebrating the success of Couch to 5k

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

As flowers bloom, nights grow lighter and we celebrate the emergence of spring, celebrations of a different kind have been taking place across the Jog Derbyshire network.

The latest round of couch to 5k programmes have been coming to an end, swapping dark, damp nights for graduations in the ever increasing sunshine. Medals are being handed out, cake eaten and messages of congratulations and feelings of achievement emulating throughout the groups.

Where for a lot of groups, couch to 5k was put on hold last year, this winter they’ve been back with a bang, welcoming new and returning joggers. We’d like to say a massive well done to the more than 300 people who’ve graduated in the past few weeks (or who will soon graduate) and an equally well deserved well done to the groups who supported them.

A recipe for success

One of the perks of being part of Jog Derbyshire has always been the freedom for each group to do things the way which works for them and Couch to 5k has been no different.

The traditional Couch to 5k programme has been tinkered with, adapted and in some cases thrown out the window completely. Being replaced with versions including None to Run, Sofa to 3K and longer programmes. You can read more about why some of these formats worked for certain groups here

For one participant, a less traditional Couch to 5k programme has suited her perfectly. At Jog Swanwick the Couch to 5k group is a rolling programme which runs all year round. This means there’s no pressure to finish in a set time period and group leader Andy adapts his sessions depending on the needs of the people there.

For 62-year-old Jackie, who’s been running in the group since 2019, it’s just what she needs.

She said: “Andy’s happy just to let us run at our own pace. He doesn’t push us but then he’s also very encouraging. We’ve got to accept we’re the age we are and we’re doing more than the people sat in their houses watching television, that’s how we look at it now. I didn’t know how long it was going to take me to do it but my aim is to do a 5k without stopping.”

Over at Overseal Running Club, adaptions have also been made. Leader Simon explains:

“With the NHS app you don’t actually cover the 5k because it builds you up to the 5k. The way we’ve designed our couch to 5k programme you are actually covering 5k every single session, it’s just the intervals between the running and walking are slightly longer or shorter depending on where you are in the programme. You’re getting the 5k in right from day one but it’s a gradual build up to actually running for 5 minutes straight.”

A programme for everyone

In many groups, Couch to 5k has created a meeting place where people of all ages and abilities can enjoy jogging alongside each other without fear of judgement. People completely new to running have chatted alongside returning runners looking to get their confidence or mojo back. Motivations have ranged from a wish to get fitter or lose weight to meeting new friends.

53-year-old Emma from Overseal Running Club had prior experience of running but having put on seven stone was nervous about getting back into it. The Couch to 5k gave her the confidence to give it a go.

She said: “I’d got to the point where it was really affecting my health. I’d got high blood pressure and just generally struggling to even walk without getting out of breath.

“I joined the running club and they’ve been absolutely fabulous. I don’t think I’ve ever joined anywhere that was so welcoming and so inclusive and non judgemental.

“There are people on the Couch to 5k this year who are all different ages, all different shapes and sizes, different motivations and it’s just been really lovely to come together with people who are so encouraging and just want to see you succeed.

“I’m not the fastest but I’m certainly not the slowest either and that isn’t a problem. I’m just going at my own pace and I’m just really enjoying it and getting back into my running.”

For others, the informal nature of the sessions was a big draw.

Joanne, a participant at North Derbyshire Running Club said: “It’s been nice, there’s been nothing formal about it, there’s been no forms to fill in or anything like that. It’s just been like come along and enjoy yourself.”

Support from group and co-leaders

Praise for the support given by the leaders and co-leaders of the groups is forthcoming in abundance. Whether it’s a large group filled with leaders, co-leaders and other group members or a smaller group under the watchful eye of just one leader, the support remains the same.

Emma said: “The atmosphere is brilliant. The club’s motto is, we start together, we finish together so they do lots of turn backs as well so you never get left.”

It’s this motto which was evident in Emma’s description of one of the programme highlights for her.

She said: “One of the ladies in our group, she’s absolutely lovely, she’s so motivational. I kept saying I really hate hills and I just can’t get up that last hill. And she said, right, I’m coming back for you and we’re going to do it together. She picked me up and said, right come on, get your arms moving, head up, chest out, keep your breathing going, you’re nearly there and she just encouraged me all the way up and I managed to run up the hill for the first time.

“I have to pinch myself when I think six weeks ago I couldn’t even walk up this without getting out of breath and now I’m running up them. That’s what it’s about being part of a group that you just wouldn’t get if you were running on your own.”

What’s also evident is the satisfaction the leaders get back from running the programmes.

Simon at Overseal Running Club said: “I love it I do. Especially if I see a member who started Couch to 5k and I can watch their journey. Especially when they go right at the start, I can’t do it and then a year down the line they’re doing 10k. As a club we are helping people realise the potential of what they can achieve and what they thought they couldn’t achieve right at the start.”

Andy at Jog Swanwick said: “I get a buzz giving something back to the community. I’ve run for 30 odd years and I got to a stage where I didn’t think that I could get any quicker. I got to 60 and I thought is there something else I can give and my wife advised me why don’t you start a group.

“I walk home with a smile on my face most nights. I make sure everybody gets home safe as well. I adapt the session to whoever turns up. If one turns up that’s great and if no one turns up which I’ve never had, I’ll just go for a run.”

Committing to a group

For a lot of participants, doing Couch to 5k as part of a group rather than on their own has played a big part in motivating them to start and continue.

Jackie explains: “Because of how old we were, we were concerned people were looking at us and laughing and things like that but it doesn’t bother us now. So I think confidence has improved. Personally I wouldn’t go out for a run by myself. I think oh I might bump into somebody I know, things like that. But when you’re doing it as a group it doesn’t seem to matter.”

David, a participant at North Derbyshire Running Club admitted on a dark, rainy session: “I’ve run a few times on my own, it’s hard work. Like tonight, if I was running on my own, I’d have stayed in [because of the bad weather] so coming with other people is good.”

Making things a little easier

The groups also implement small but important steps within their programmes to boost confidence and make things less scary. Once again, these vary between groups. One example is at Swad Joggers where they organised a buddying up system for the Parkrun graduation. Each graduate will have a fully fledged Swad Jogger member supporting them around the course.

At Overseal Running Club, on week six of the programme they move the route to the Conkers Parkrun site.

Simon explained: “From weeks 6 to 10 we actually do the session on the Parkrun route so they get familiar with the terrain they’re going to cover and the route they’re going to take and what to expect. Parkruns can sometimes be a bit intimidating if you’re a new runner so we like to get them there early, show them what it’s all about so when it comes to the week 10 graduation it’s not that bad for them.

“Week 10 we literally go down as one big running club and we support and run with the Couch to 5k members and at the end they’ll get presented with their medal and certificate.”

Support also extends beyond the end of the Couch to 5k programme with varying options for graduates to continue running with the group. At Overseal Running Club around 60% of it’s members are previous Couch to 5k graduates and we’ve bumped into numerous Couch to 5k participants from past years on our visits to different groups.

At North Derbyshire Running Club there is also a 5k group for the graduates to progress into and the leaders from the Couch to 5k programme accompany them across.

Leader Chris said: We spend some time in the 5k group so those who graduate have some familiar faces to make it less scary. I dragged my sister along when I first started running so I understand how it feels.”

Improving mental and physical health

We’ve chatted to lots of Couch to 5k participants over the past few weeks and everyone has a story to tell about the benefits they’ve taken from it – from small changes to physical health to life-changing changes to mental health.

We’ve met people who’d been struggling with their mental health after the pandemic took them away from their workplace and isolated them at home who have thrived in a new social setting. We’ve come across those who were in the throws of a Couch to 5K back in 2020 when the start of the pandemic cut it short and have loved having another shot at it.

For Emma, the changes have been massive to both her physical and mental health. She said: “I’ve lost about a stone and eight pounds since I started running so obviously my weight is going in the right direction and my physical health seems to be getting a lot better.

“My mental health – this week’s been really difficult – I had to have one of my dogs put to sleep at the weekend which was really sad and I really didn’t know if I wanted to run. But actually going out, being with people, having a chat, the camaraderie and just being out in nature you know just focusing on your running and your breathing was just what I needed. It just lifted me out of it and I didn’t think about anything whilst I was out on my run, it was just a really nice switch off.”

Andy at Jog Swanwick adds: “A lot of it I think is the social part of it seeing other people and running with other people. Especially when I see them come together and they’re like, ‘oh how are you, what did you do this weekend?’ It’s really good how they build a friendship just through running. So they do get fitter but they also get to see somebody outside their own four walls. It’s quite a big pull for a Couch to 5k, seeing other people.”

Celebrating their achievements

Finishing a Couch to 5k programme is a big achievement and groups all have their own ways of celebrating. Some turn their local Parkrun into a graduation event, like Overseal Running Club and Swad Joggers. For others not quite at that stage, like Rogue Runners’ Sofa to 3k group, celebrations will be lower key but just as celebratory and all groups have Jog Derbyshire medals and certificates to hand out.

At Swad Joggers they added a personal touch, providing handwritten personal messages for each graduate alongside their medal and certificate.

Simon at Overseal Running Club said: “Even though it’s a small medal, for the guys who do the Couch to 5k it actually means quite a lot. Speaking to previous members when they start doing the events and collecting the medals they’ll always remember that first medal that they got and the achievement that bought.”

You can find out if your local group has any Couch to 5k programmes planned by finding their details on the Find a Group page.
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