Ok you have done it! You have completed your goal race or progressed from the couch to being able to run 5k without stopping! Congratulations!
Now what comes next?
One of the BIG problems for new runners or those wanting to move up in distance is how to progress or improve from this point without getting injured or psychologically burnt out. The good news is that I’m going to help you to work out what to do and how to do it!
Positive Habits – The Virtuous Circle!
If you’ve done 8 weeks or so of a 5k course then you’re well on the way to developing a new positive habit or routine that will improve your life. Usually it takes 10 – 12 weeks to really establish and embed such a routine – effectively to become a running addict! So keep going and feed that (good) addiction!
This starts to create a brilliant, virtuous circle (much better than a vicious one!). The virtuous circle is better energy, fitness, self-image, sleep patterns, eating and immunity to illness and therefore being able to run more often and longer which in turn feeds the circle again.
This is something that money can’t buy – it’s a whole-person feeling of well-being that gets better and better. With the zero to 5k this is what I want you to enjoy – sharing this virtuous circle is my passion!
Keep on Running, Stop! or Try Something Else?
Option 1 – Stop! Really?!
You may have reached a crossing in the road. Do you accept that you have achieved your challenge of zero to 5k. Put it down as a positive or challenging experience and go back to zero.
Many people follow this path – that’s fine, no one is going to judge your choice. But there is another, much better, path – this leads to that virtuous circle.
Read on to discover how to progress your running.
Option 2 – Try Something Else
Maybe you have found running really tough – you believe it’s just not your thing. But you have appreciated the discipline of following the zero to 5k program or trying to do so.
You have enjoyed getting fitter and feeling the blood pump round your body. You have loved that sense of achievement and glow that comes after the successes and completed sessions or weeks. So maybe running is not for you but remember there are so many alternatives out there to achieve the same feeling.
If you’ve loved the challenge but haven’t quite fallen in love with running then maybe you should try a different sport – swimming, cycling and rowing are all great all round fitness sports.
Or why not put swim, bike and run together in a triathlon. That way you still do a bit of running each week but you also get the variety of learning two other sports and the, not inconsiderable, challenge of putting all three together in a race format. There are lots of friendly triathlon clubs around to help orientate you and help you with training.
I’m a coach for swimming and cycling too – both of which have their own challenges! See this blog about how to swim for 30 minutes without stopping! And there are so many other activities and sports out there. The thing I personally love about running is that it’s so easy to do logistically – you just lace up your trainers and get out the door.
Swimming and cycling take a bit more planning, as with so many other sports, so check out my other blogs and YouTube channel to find out the best way to progress in Triathlon.
But whatever you do, find your niche and STAY ACTIVE!!
Option 3 – Take the Path Less Traveled – Keep on Running!
Keep on Running!
So let’s assume that as you are reading on you have taken the bold decision to take that path less traveled and stick with your running program. Let’s have a look at what happens next.
Again there’s three main options…
1 – Stick with the 5k distance and Running 30 minutes 3 or 4 times a week
You could quite easily stick to what you’ve been doing during your 5k course. You’ll gradually get better at running 3 or 4 times a week for 30 minutes or so. It will become easier and it’s a great lifestyle change that is very doable with a busy schedule.
Stick with what you have been doing and it will keep you fit and you’ll begin to reap lots of health benefits. You can vary the program a bit with some faster intervals. You can take part in 5k races knowing the distance is achievable for you on a regular basis. You can even run more hilly or off-road courses to give yourself a bit of variety.
But maybe you fancy stepping up to a bigger challenge?
2 – Go Longer! Build up to 10k and beyond!
You could look to up the distances you are running. Perhaps you’d like to target a 10k or even a half marathon. Such challenges are very much achievable – after all you’ve already proved that you can rise to a challenge!
It’s important to manage the next step up carefully. It’s all too easy to overtrain or get injured. So again the 10% rule applies, just gradually step up the distances and time on your feet – 30 minutes becomes 33 in week 2, 36 in week 3 etc.
Incorporate some structured strength and conditioning training to accompany the running. Two 20 minute sessions per week will help you more than another run session.
If you want to run longer check out my YouTube video below on Running Longer Without Getting Tired.
3 – Go Faster!
Why not try running a faster 5k? Or even dropping to a shorter distance and try running a mile as fast as you can? Or trying a 1500m run at a running club “open meet” on the track? In my next blog I’ll be showing in more detail how to aim to go faster over the 5k distance.
Whichever option you go for you need to manage the change carefully.
As I’ve said it’s all too easy to end up injured, disillusioned or burnt out. So it’s really important to take stock; think about what you’ve enjoyed, what you can manage as a time commitment and the goals that motivate you going forward.
The challenge is to integrate steady progress and lifestyle changes that make continued progress possible. One of the biggest challenges and determinants of continued progress is the ability to enjoy and savour the process. So learn to love the training – try to find ways to make the journey enjoyable.
Here are some ways to develop further that love of running.
Listen to a podcast or your favourite compilation as you run.
It’s sometimes good to have a distraction and what better than to stimulate your mind and body by listening to a thought provoking or inspiring podcast. Or just to enjoy your favourite tunes to fire you up while you run a set of intervals.
Run with a friend and chat, or a canine companion.
Some human or canine companionship while you run can help enhance the experience or help you to get through a tough session or even help you rediscover your mojo.
Then you can return the favour and inspire someone else. Teaching others can be a great way to learn If you have come a long way from the couch you can be an inspiration and role model to others!
Try joining a club and running with others from time to time It’s a great way to boost your training Be sure to share your goals with the coach or the others that you are running with.
Run mindfully, to meditate, to pray or to let go of the stresses.
Run mindfully, notice the sounds of your running, your feet on the ground, the sounds around you, feel the breeze on your face and your fingertips. Engage your senses!
However bad things are going for you; spend some time appreciating the good things in your life, count your blessings and feel the deep rooted satisfaction and even euphoria that comes from this appreciation.
Find a race or event that inspires you and sign up!
There’s nothing like a target that you’ve committed to to help focus the mind and keep your training going. Don’t wait til you think you are ready; sign up, set a plan and GO FOR IT!
Stay out of the Grey Zone!
One of the challenges for new runners is that in comparison say to someone who has been running for years already is that it is easy to end up doing lots or most of your running in what is known as the GREY ZONE. The grey zone is where your running is not hard enough to bring about useful changes, adaptations or improvements but at the same time too hard to feel pleasant or comfortable (and to make you want to do it more).
Ironically you are probably also running too fast or hard for it to be beneficial in building base level cardio-vascular fitness and too hard for you to be able run long enough to build endurance and start to utilise fat as a ‘fuel’ for your body.
Get faster by running slower!
This oxymoron is actually grounded in science. The body adapts well to the process of easy running and it is the most efficient way of training the cardio-vascular system and promoting overall fitness.
Do 90% of your running at an easy pace where you can hold a conversation. Then do 10% at a hard level where you are really pushing yourself! Allow plenty of time for recovery after hard sessions and you will get stronger and faster.
Fat Adaption / Utilisation
Fat adaption or utilisation means encouraging your body to favour fat as a fuel compared to glycogen. As you run you will use different fuels held within the body. Your body tends to favour accessing glycogen as a fuel source during higher intensity activities because it is easily accessible. If you train at a lower intensity your body will use a greater percentage of fat as a fuel, it has the capacity and the time to do this when you are running slowly.
For distance runners the more you can encourage your body to use fat the better. It’s the best way to fuel your activities, rather than guzzling energy drinks, munching on bars or gels to boost your glycogen levels.
It also is the best way to lose weight as you run. Once your body gets used to using fat as a fuel your blood sugar levels will be much more steady as you run, you won’t get that energy bonk that comes with low / high yoyoing.
So there are some of the options available to you after you’ve finished a couch to 5k program. In summary…
Enjoy the achievement, take stock, make plans, move on and take action!
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Thanks for reading and Good Luck with your running!