With many Jog Derbyshire groups getting back into the swing of Couch to 5k over the past few months, we asked a few leaders to give us the lowdown on how they’ve approached it. More recently it’s become evident that the traditional programme isn’t always suitable for everybody so groups have adapted and changed things to suit their own members with brilliant results.
None to Run – Castle Striders
We at the Striders wanted to offer a beginners programme with the primary intention of getting people more active and running. Our aim for the programme is to enable people to make the first step on their health and fitness journey, to make a lifelong change and this is not a temporary one-off exercise. We aren’t about weight loss, we are about getting people active and enabling them to make positive changes to their lives. We are here to make them runners.
Why did the Striders choose none to run? It’s a 12 week programme and not nine like Couch to 5k. The end result is that participants run continuously for 25 minutes not to a certain distance. Feedback from our runners’ previous attempts at couch to 5k are the timetable intensifies at too fast a rate for them and they drop out at key parts of the programme.
The none to run programme is more gradual than couch to 5k and the participants are told to slow down the running. The intention is to get them running no matter how slow. As a leader it is easier to speed up a runner’s continuous run over time following the programme than get people to move from run – walk – run. All of our graduates have gone on to challenge themselves and complete a 5k anyway at Parkrun with regular Striders helping and supporting them on the way. We even have graduates regularly running in excess of 10k now as well and one training for a half marathon with the rest of the Striders.
Another key advantage of the programme is the supporting strength and mobility exercises that are part of the programme. The online videos show these simple workouts that are designed to help the participants through increasing flexibility, strength in key areas such as IT band for example and help limit the risk of injury and muscle soreness.
The key for me is the programme’s relative simplicity. Three running sessions a week which are the same for each week, never run two days in a row, complete the strength and mobility exercises once or twice a week in between. There is even an app that people can subscribe to which guides them through the runs and audio files that people can listen to whilst they run that tells them when to run and walk if they wish.
David Senior, Castle Striders leader
The ‘homework club’ – Ilkeston Joggers
For the first time in 2 years, Ilkeston Joggers recently completed their latest Couch to 5k course with 23 runners completing the eight week programme. The culmination of which was with a “graduation” 5km run at Beeston Parkrun on a Saturday morning (26th February).
The course programme generally follows the NHS Couch to 5k app with a few tried and trusted tweaks picked up from previous years of running the course.
In the past we have typically delivered three Couch to 5k courses per year in an attempt to introduce people to the joys of running. These have always been very well attended with some cohorts starting with 90+ runners, many of whom continue their running journey with Ilkeston Joggers or other local running groups.
Whilst having so many people keen to get into running is a positive thing, it does come with a few issues. Logistically it can be difficult to arrange routes suitable for groups of such a size, and with a limited number of qualified run leaders it was hard to get to know the runners and ensure all abilities and needs were being met.
This year we decided to do things a little differently.
Firstly we decided from the start to limit the group size to 30 by asking people to sign up in December in advance of our new year start the first Wednesday in January. This allowed us to have a manageable group size, with the leaders able to spend more time with each of the runners.
The 2020 Couch to 5k we ran ended with a graduation parkrun on 7th March 2020. The following week, Parkruns, Ilkeston Joggers and the rest of the world ground to an abrupt halt due to COVID-19. Thanks to some funding grants from Erewash Small Grants Scheme and Local Giving Magic Little Grants during this time we have been able to send a number of joggers on LiRF courses increasing our pool of regular leaders from three to seven, giving us more options not only for Couch to 5k but with the existing weekly groups.
Another addition for this year was the introduction of the “homework club”. The Couch to 5k programme recommends repeating the session a second or third time in the week. In previous years we have always recommended this but never really known if anyone was doing it. We were also aware that a lot of people are often uncomfortable running alone so we decided to run an additional session for another opportunity to run as a group. Originally the intention was just for the first week to allow the runners to get to know each other and then arrange their own session but due to popular demand this became a regular session throughout the eight weeks. This really seemed to help all the runners that attended, especially in the latter weeks when the jumps in running time get bigger.
The tweaks this year seem to have worked as approx. 80% of the group have completed the whole course rather than 40-50% in previous years. Almost all have also expressed an intention to continue coming not only to the official Wednesday sessions, but also to their informal Monday homework sessions.
Rob Marron, Ilkeston Joggers leader
12 week programme – Phoenix Running & Fitness
Many years ago, I conducted the Couch to 5k training program for a group of beginners. Whilst it was successful, I found that many started to struggle both physically and mentally in weeks six to seven when the program jumps from five minute jog to an eight minute jog. I found that we had to step back and do an extra couple of weeks around the five to six minutes jog before progressing. This left me questioning the program for many beginners.
Roll on to 2019 when I trained to be a personal trainer and CiRF and I set about developing my own 12 week RunFit 0to5k course which also includes Strength and Conditioning training using my PT Qualification. I have found that the slightly longer approach, allows a more gradual build of the aerobic base thus allows for a more natural progression to running for longer.
I stage my course with starting with two minutes of walking with an increase in the run block each week and a decrease in the walk recovery through the weeks with finally only 30 seconds walk recovery.
I very much actively encourage my runners to work with the scale of perceived exertion and focus on feeling based running. I find then my runners actually tell me when they are ready to run again. To quote one of my current beginners last week at around 50 seconds into the 60 second walk recovery she asked if we were running again!! Bingo – what does this mean? That she understands herself and her body and knows when she feels recovered sufficiently to run again.
I love taking my beginners, we have fun, chat, work hard, they learn things about themselves that they didn’t know they are capable of. They get physically stronger to run, they start to believe they can and support one another. Onward retention is high into my improver groups and many have been running now for several years.
Helen Treece, Phoenix Running & Fitness leader
Sofa to 3k – Rogue Runners Ripley
Couch to 5k (C25k) programmes are well-known and pretty common, but what do you do when you find a significant number of people are put off starting them because they are nervous about returning to a fitness activity, or maybe about starting one for the first time? At Rogue Runners Ripley, we identified a lot of people locally who lacked basic fitness or who simply didn’t want to run as far as 5km. So, how could we attract these people to our group? We put our thinking caps on and came up with the idea of a Sofa to 3k (S23k) course.
In a nutshell, the S23k course follows the same pattern as the C25k, with increasing periods of running over its ten-week duration. But, where the challenge of the C25k course ramps up quite steeply in the middle weeks, the S23k follows a gentler trajectory. We launched this to our first cohort in June 2021 and were delighted with the response. It ran at the same time as our C25k course and participants supported each other via our Facebook group. We posted regular run reports in there, as we do with our other running sessions, so the new starters felt like an integral part of the group. In September 2021, we held a S23k graduation run in Crossley Park in Ripley, planning the final C25k group run to finish there so those runners could clap the S23kers over the line. Of course, we had certificates and medals for our graduates, hand-made by the wonderful Mel from The Crafty Cottage.
The challenge with both S23K and C25k is the retention of runners after the course finishes. We rebranded our regular runs into ‘Rogue Rabbits’ and ‘Rogue Rovers’, with the explicit intention that our rabbit sessions would be an ideal follow-on from the S23k course. It’s been fantastic to see the number of runners that we have managed to keep coming along to our sessions. Some have challenged themselves further by taking on our latest C25k course, some are attending our Rogue Rabbit sessions, while others are coming along to our walking group. Whichever group they are coming to, they have stayed within our club. Getting people along who were nervous about starting to exercise meant they could see the supportive nature of our leaders and co-leaders first-hand and understand how supportive the whole group are. As an illustration of this, many of the S23k graduates completed their first 5k at the C25k graduation at Parkrun the week after theirs. They had been given the confidence to give it a go – and that is the best advert ever for the success of the programme.
James Illsley, Rogue Runners leader