The Couch to 5k program is almost over...now what happens?
You’ve been logging consistent running workouts for 8 weeks. The 5k race you’ve diligently prepared for is in just TWO days. You will show up, nail it, enjoy it, celebrate the heck out of your accomplishment, and then go off to wear that finisher’s medal all weekend long.
But…then what? What happens when you no longer have the group waiting for you, the scheduled outings on your calendar, the easy progression, the ambitious goal, and several enthusiastic coaches to keep you on track?
Well, lots of things could happen. Let’s explore some of them…
…you could decide running isn’t for you after all. Some people just plain don’t like running, and there’s no reason to force yourself to do it if you haven’t found it to be enjoyable. There are endless options to move on to! First, though, we’d suggest you try changing it up before you completely ditch your hard-won endurance. Try hill, sprint, or track workouts to add more variety. Maybe you’d like TRAIL running – get out into the peaceful quiet of nature, see wildlife, and enjoy fresh terrain. If running is still just MEH, then go ahead & check out some other endurance sports. Maybe sit yourself down on a bicycle seat, aim for the next town on the Central Lakes Trail, and take advantage of all the hours you’ve put in on your feet making such a feat easy-peasy.
…you could plan to keep the exact same schedule, logging 30-minute outings 3 times per week. This would be great! Nailing consistency will go a long way toward your lifelong fitness. But we’ve seen that such a plan too often leads to…you quitting entirely. Right now you may feel confident that you can keep doing the same schedule; after all, you’ve done it for many weeks now, and you’re about to rock your 5k – you’re unstoppable! But when the group, the set schedule, and the clear plan to a specific goal all disappear at once, your odds of success drastically decrease. Key pieces of success that we recommend you figure out now: set a firm workout schedule at YOUR ideal time(s), find a workout buddy (or several), create a variety of different workouts (sprints, trails, hills), and/or set your next long-term goal.
On that note:
…you could decide you want to run a faster 5k. Fantastic! The easiest way to do that is to take the same progression concept of the Couch to 5k plan and apply it to your next round of training, simply making the running intervals faster. For 2 minutes, run just fast enough to be uncomfortable for the lungs, then spend 4 minutes recovering, either running at your usual easy pace or walking. Work your “easy” time down to 2 minutes, then your “hard” time up toward 30 minutes, the same way we just finished doing. Find & register for a fall 5k NOW that will keep you motivated.
…you could decide you’re going for a 10k (or longer). Amazing! Once again, the progressions we just did with the 5k can be applied to longer distances. For a simple plan, try this: add 3-5 minutes to your weekend run for 2 or 3 weeks straight; cut it back to only 30 minutes on week 3 or 4 to give your body a recovery week; then pick up where you left off in the week before. Repeat this cycle until you reach your target distance. Keep your weekday runs at 30 minutes so they don’t impact your long run; if you find yourself craving variety, again try hills or sprints or trails to mix up those 30-minute runs. Once more: pick your next race NOW.
In all of these instances, we recommend that you also do resistance training of some kind. Ease in from whatever your starting point, but whether it’s doing the running drills we’ve shared, adding bodyweight workouts, or playing with kettlebells, you will see multiple benefits from regular strength training. As we’ve discussed, it will help you to “build a bigger container” and increase your work capacity in regards to running, lifting, AND everyday life. As a runner, one of the key benefits to think about is the reduction of injury risk. In running, you are performing the same motion thousands of times per run, so it’s important to offset that overuse tendency. Resistance training helps to strengthen your entire body, retain full range of motion, and preserve muscle mass as you age…what’s not to love?!
No matter what you decide to do after this 5k, we encourage you to start making plans now, because we truly do want to see you continue your fit life. We hope you’ve found running enjoyable, but if not, a Minnesota summer is perfect for exploring various activities; we are sure you will fall in love with one or several, and that will make it easier for regular movement to become part of your everyday life.
We’ve been honored to take you through this program and are excited to see how far you go. We encourage you to reach out to the group, to the coaches, or to us at NSS at ANY time, for any help or questions as you continue in your journey!