What I’ve Learned From Failing C25K

What I’ve Learned From Failing C25K

By one objective measure, I’m a complete failure at C25K. Here’s why that doesn’t matter to me at all.

Image: Elvert Barnes

I spent a reasonable amount of 2014 being unwell. Not critically sick, but just unwell in that vague things-aren’t-as-good-as-they-should-be way. It sucked, and it brought me down, and as 2015 dawned, I was keen to do something about it.

At the same time, and for the first time in two decades, I gained weight. I’ve never been what would be classified as massively overweight, but at the same time since I was 17, I could tell you how much I weighed, because with minor variations, it was always the same figure: 74kg.

I held that weight for more than 20 years, but last year things changed, and I put on a solid extra chunk of mass. That’s thanks at least in part to getting older, which none of us can avoid, and partly to being unwell and therefore a little less active.

The solution seemed pretty simple. I needed to get fit somehow, both to shed a few of those extra kilos and to help improve my overall health in 2015.

I chose C25K as my exercise routine of choice because it’s nicely structured, it’s relatively inexpensive, and I could use my choice of apps and gadgets to help get me motivated. There are few things that a tech journalist loves more than a gadget or two to keep the enthusiasm flowing.

That was on January 1. The full Couch To 5k course is meant to run for nine weeks of gradually escalating exercise, which means that as the calendar runs, I should have been doing five-kilometre runs sometime around March 5.

It’s April 20, and I’m currently only doing the week four routine. Week four!

That should have been over and dusted at the end of January, not making me gasp for breath in late April.

So, in one sense, I’ve failed, if you count C25K as a race towards a destination with a strict 9-week timeline.

You may now point and laugh at my failure, if you must, but, really, I don’t care. Here’s why.

Fitness isn’t a race — it’s a destination

There’s a cliche in pro wrestling interviews where a returning grappler, usually in their mid-40s or later, will talk about “being in the best shape of their career”. Biologically that’s less than likely, but it’s often to do with them not having worked for a while, so they’ve had time to rehab injuries and hit the gym more regularly than a travelling schedule allows.

In my case, however, I really am in the best shape of my career. I’ve never been a fitness/sports type person my entire life, so while my weight was constant throughout much of my life, that was largely thanks to a relatively rapid metabolism rather than a healthy outlook.

Actually working for my thin has improved my fitness levels to a degree where they’ve never been. I can run places, and that’s helped with work, running to events or to catch a train, as well as cutting my weight down by a measurable quantity. There’s even these weirdly defined things starting to happen around my stomach. They might even be abs, but I’m not going to call them that yet. There’s work to be done.

Which is why I’m quite content to only be on the week four schedule of C25K, even though I should be “done”. I’ve still kept to the schedule, running at least three times a week for each and every week this year so far, with no signs of slowing down. I’ll get to that 5K at some point, and it may not even be this year, but every step I take is still good exercise that I wasn’t otherwise getting last year.

Running is good for my creativity

As a freelance writer, I spend a lot of my time writing, which means that I’m generally driving either a desk or hunched over a laptop en route to somewhere where I’ll probably be hunched over a laptop writing news or features or reviews or such. It’s quite sedentary, but it’s also not terribly varied.

Having a schedule that says that for at least three days a week I have to get out of the office and hit the road running forces me to change perspective and take a necessary break from work. In a general writing sense, that’s good for creativity, because all work and no play makes Alex a dull and repetitive writer who relies on tacky clichés.

There’s more than that, however. I’ve also found that running has informed my creativity in other ways. It’s why I’m currently also starting a 52 week short story challenge, because while I jog, my mind is tumbling through all sorts of possibilities and thoughts, not all of which relate strictly to being a technology journalist.

Running without music is boring

I run (carefully) with headphones on, because one of the first things I figured out is that running without music really annoyed me. Partly because it’s easier to run to a beat, but also because it gives me yet another thing to focus on towards the harder end of a run when my legs are starting to think about stopping running.

It’s a good way to get a different perspective

I’ve travelled a bit this year, which means that my running days haven’t always coincided with when I’ve actually been at home to run. My standard running routine is picturesque enough, but I’ve also been able to run through the hilly climbs of a tiny seaside town in Spain, round and round a geese-filled duckpond in East London and to and from a beach in Northern NSW. Later this week, I’ll be doing at least one run through New York’s Central Park.

It’s enabled me to take a slightly different perspective on the world, especially if I’m running either early or late. My own freelance schedule doesn’t always mean that I’m writing during “regular” work hours, so there’s some solid variance in when I run.

I didn’t actually need all the gadgets

Running regularly has allowed me to test out a few fitness gadgets, but I’ve settled on a fairly simple set of tools for my running regime. My Pebble provides the timing via the Running Coach App. For music I’m currently using Plantronic’s Backbeat Fit headphones, and the carrying case they come in houses whichever phone I’m using that particular week to provide music and allow me to take calls if I’m running in the middle of the day. It’s a simple and light set of tools, and while I’ve tried other devices that incorporate potentially useful features such as heart rate monitors, I’m yet to find one that works well enough to be worth the trouble.

It’s a surprisingly good discipline tool for kids

I have three kids, which means that fights in the house are a relatively common experience. Show me a house where the kids never fight, and I’ll be looking for the morphine drips you’ve got the kids hooked up to right before calling the relevant authorities.

A couple of times, I’ve taken my eldest son out running with me when he’s been busy arguing with his siblings. It’s something of a win-win-win situation, because it removes him from the situation (so the siblings calm down — win), gives him something else to focus his angry energy on (double win) and gives me some father-son time to chat while we walk and jog (triple win).

My only fear here is that I’ll say I’m doing that on a later week that’s kicking me hard, and he’ll coast past me and wonder why I’m wheezing so much after a long run.


  • Alex, I don’t think you have failed with C25K program. I personally believe that the program is too ambitious for people who have not run in a very long time. I really do think that this type of program should be done as a 6 month program.

    I did try it myself and after 7 weeks I was still stuck towards the end of week 3. The biggest problem I found was that the strength and endurance you need in your legs to progress doesn’t build as quick as the C25K program is designed around. To that end I think that it’s more for people who have a basic level of fitness and have bodies geared towards and active lifestyle and not everyone has that type of body.

    I think that there are some apps out there that will coach you towards a 5km run, based on your previous runs/walks recorded in the app, and that the app will increase or decrease the requirements for each run as you do them. This I think is much better approach than something as rigid as C25k.

    I have only started running again after 3 months of not doing much due to illness (cold, then bronchitis, then post viral cough, then sinus infection, etc….public transport yay).

  • Strangely when I tried C25K when I decided to do Tough Mudder I went ahead of the program. I think you are actually better off to stay behind it in some circumstances; like me for instance, I was pretty overweight when I started. My fitness seemed to scream past the program so I upped the distance/time ahead of the program and ended up with a stress fracture in my tibia because my body wasnt used to the impact.

    It’ll depend on each person, some may take longer and some may exceed it but you really need to take everything fitness related at a pace thats right for you. Otherwise you risk injuring yourself. In saying that you still need to increase intensity enough to make changes. Balancing act…

  • I’m presuming if you were 74kg and put on some weight in 2014, you’d still be less than 90kg? Since you’ve been running 3 times a week since January, I find it incredibly hard to believe you can’t run 5km. It’s a 30 minute run at 10kmph. I’d say you are being held back by your mindset, as if it is some big obstacle to overcome. It’s half a hour of your life, just go out and do it – prove it to yourself.

  • I do wonder how much of it is the limitations you set for yourself – “5K that’s way too far for me to run!”
    I realise everyone’s fitness story is different, but I remember jogging 5K in less than a month of starting, and that was just after having a weird sprain in my toe. I consider myself back then to be quite unathletic (and well, I still fairly much suck at cardio). So it makes me wonder, do I just have some untapped talent* (which I am probably squandering) or is it just more a matter of not thinking too much about it and plodding along.

    *perhaps I got bitten by a radioactive mule?

  • Yeh, i did the C25k, you definitely have trouble getting past some of the stages, at least in mindset, just do it! I think it was week 5 that was hard… But once i did week 5 i stepped out to 5k and was doing that in around 28 mins. I stopped with the 5k cause i was getting sore, and pulled it back to 3k and then stopped all together because of a routine change at home…. kids… bugger…. might have to start again now.

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