Why Couch to 5K may not have worked for you

One of the most frequent questions we’re asked is, how does your 5K plan differ from Couch to 5K?


Couch to 5K, affectionately known as C25K, was written in 1996 by Josh Clark. In the nineteen years since he first shared it with the world, millions of people have used the plan to kick 5K butt.

At first glance it looks super simple: just walk and run… walk and run.. then voilà… 5K glory!

On the flip side I’ve talked to so many people that didn’t make it past Week 2 of the plan. They call themselves Couch to 5K “failures” or “drop outs”. They berate themselves for being out of shape or lazy or slow.

This brings pain to my heart! You’re not a failure if you didn’t make it through the Couch to 5K. It could just be that it wasn’t the right plan for you.

Even though C25K has helped so many start running, I still think the plan has quite a few flaws. So let’s have a look at how it compares to our Up & Running 5K Beginners plan.

C25K was written by a young dude in his early 20’s.

Many young couch-dwelling guys could get out the door and make themselves run in some capacity. They have more muscle mass and often that youthful “go for it until you croak” spirit.

The U&R 5K plan was written specifically with women in mind. I was asked to devise a training program for Italy’s first Avon Running 5K race. I had my non-runner friends in mind when I wrote the plan; the ones that walked loads but didn’t dare run. Today men use it too; we just arm them with a little patience!

C25K is outdated with only running in the workouts.

You run and walk, with less walking and more running as the weeks go on, until you arrive at the mythical 5K in thirty minutes.

The U&R 5K plan includes running drills from the very first workout. Why? You need more than just plain running if you want to run well and prevent injury. You need to condition your whole body, so we include strengthening exercises right in your workout. Gentle moves like heel lifts and marching in place get those dormant muscles buzzing and help you run and walk with less effort.

You can’t “flunk” our 5K plan.

The C25K selling point is that you’ll be running either 5k or 30 minutes at the end of the programme. Many runners find that they don’t cover 5k or are able to run for 30 minutes straight in that timeframe.

The U&R 5K plan will have you covering 5 km at the end of eight weeks at whatever pace you feel comfortable with, either running all the way or including a mix of walking and running if that suits you. Everyone’s a winner!

C25K can get boring as the weeks go on.

With a simple mix of walking and running intervals, the training can get monotonous. It also doesn’t teach you anything about running style or technique.

The U&R plans are varied each week, with specific exercises to help you learn about pacing yourself and gauging your speed. No boredom involved.

Let’s take a look at Week 1 of both plans so you can compare for yourself.

Couch to 5K – Week 1
Alternate 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of walking for a total of twenty minutes. (That would be 8 minutes of running).
Workout time: 20 minutes

U&R 5K – Week 1
Brisk walk – 5:00
Walk with arm swings – 5:00
Stretch – 3:00
10 x (walk 0:30 / slow run 0:10) – 6:40
1km walk
1km Free Form Run
Workout time: 40 minutes

There’s a lot of walking in the first week, but the workout ends with what we call “Free Form Running”. This means you cover the given distance in whatever way you feel comfortable doing in that moment. I’ve seen some runners continue with a run/walk pattern and others whip out a 5:00 minute kilometre. You choose the speed, you choose the modality. The key is comfort, both physical and mental.

If you’d like try Week 1 of our 5k plan, head over to the 5K Course page and click the “View Sample Plan” button.

If you’re ready to jump in and start running,  join us for our Spring 5K course! It’s the only live course we’re running for 2015 and we begin on Monday. 

  1. April
    Thank you for this. I am in my 50's but I'm always been very active with no injuries. I started parkruns 15 months ago, and in the past year I just don't seems to be able to go faster or feel less exhausted. I begin each run absolutely determined to get past the 300m mark without stopping. I just REFUSE to stop, I will get there. And every week I fail. This week I failed utterly and hopelessly. I "achieved" the same time as I did a year ago. I try to tell myself that I lost 5kgs, that I complete the 5km each week, that it is "achieving my goals". But for a generally contented and confident person, this is the only true, deep depression I have ever known. That feeling of complete failure each week as I laugh and tell people "I never give up". People 20 years old than me jog past. People twice my size jog past as I gulp for air like a fish out of water. I just want to give up. But next week I will be at the start line, desperately hoping that the advice I read during that week will somehow make the difference. That new shoes, or iron tablets, or eating some new food, or more sleep will "make the magic happen". I haven't been out on a Friday night in 6 months so I can "prepare" or my ordeal, and "be fresh" to achieve that perosnal best. I live for the day that for just 20 seconds out of 40 minutes I will feel a "high", or enjoy myself, or even just feel "not exhausted". People keep saying exercise cures depression. Bullsh!t. Watching your times drop and feeling fitter cures depression. For me, exercise CAUSES depression. I just read the app instructions and know that 30 minutes after 9 weeks is ridiculous. After 18 months of weekly 5km, I can't slowly jog the 1st km without walking for 10 seconds at least 6 times. And if my husband - having completed his five km 15 minutes ago - once more joins me for the last 500m extorting me to "finish strong" or "10 second sprint" when I am barely able to walk, I feel I am perfectly justified in killing him.
  2. Julia Esther Jones
    Hi April, thank you for your message! Are you running/training a minimum of three days per week? I usually find that less weekly mileage volume is the problem when runners aren't improving over time. Have fun with the ParkRuns!