How To Run: ‘Couch to 10k’ in 9 Weeks

how to run couch to 10k
Art by Chris Marrinan

You could not have paid me to go for a run at any point in the last twenty years.

I was more likely to hike up and down mountains all day than run a single bloody mile. And often would.

It was asked of me at times – when training for soccer, dance and the like – but never received well. With a larger-than-average chest, little legs, type 1 diabetes and a mind that never stops, I simply couldn’t think of anything worse.

Unfortunately, I’m also a do-what-you-say kinda woman, so when a loved one tagged me in the Run For Heroes challenge (to run 5k/3.1 miles, donate £5 to the NHS, and nominate five more people to do the same) at the start of lockdown, I dusted off my trainers and set out to get it over and done with.

Only, something changed. Though I had to take a few walk breaks along the way, I finished the 5k not just feeling good but feeling that oft-promised but never-realized ‘runner’s high’. I wanted to do it again and I wanted to do it better.

But when I did – reducing my time from 45 minutes to 35 minutes in just five days – I wanted even more.

So, when I was eventually scheduled to run my twenty-fifth 5k in nine weeks, I ran 10k instead.

Pause for effect.

I WENT FROM HATING RUNNING TO RUNNING A 10K IN LESS TIME THAN PEOPLE ARE MEANT TO GO FROM ‘COUCH TO 5K’.

It turns out our bodies can do some truly bloody amazing things. And I’m here to help yours do them, too.

To be 110% clear, I am nowhere near qualified to become any kind of running coach or set custom 10k plans, but I do have some helpful tips and tricks to get you to 10k without wanting to chop your legs off.

So! Here we go. Your friendly neighbourhood couch to 10k plan:

  1. Run those 5ks. From day one, every run I did was at least 3.1 miles. Some, like the first, clearly took an age to complete, and some felt like nothing. Getting into the habit and pushing through those hard days matters most. Once you know you can, you always will.
  2. Take breaks. I started running on Saturdays and Wednesdays so my legs could get used to the impact. On week three, I felt comfortable enough to add Monday runs.
    Three runs a week will be more than enough to get you to 10k fast, but those breaks are essential to help your muscles recover. Don’t. Run. Every. Day.
  3. Include strength training. On non-run days, I find time to do some core HIIT, at-home lifting or virtual dance classes. Every little helps. (Just don’t go hard on your legs as you need them for your runs.)
  4. Protein. God, I hate myself for even mentioning the stuff, but protein is a game-changer. I drink fresh, vegan protein shake after every run (again, kill me), but do whatever works for you. Boosting your protein not only accelerates muscle growth but rebuilds the muscle fibres you ravage when you run.
  5. Do one fast run and one long run every week. I do a ‘who cares’ 5k on Mondays, a 5k with one super-fast mile on Wednesdays (when I typically beat my personal records), and a 5k-or-more on Saturdays (when I have a little more time to burn). By week six, I had pushed myself up to an 8k and could run for an hour without stopping. At that point, a 10k just doesn’t seem that intimidating.
  6. Train with a friend. Find someone to run with once a week, if you can. My fiancée is an experienced half-marathon runner and, while he can literally speed past me in seconds, those shared-run endorphins are often incentive enough. Partnered running is also one of the easiest ways to socialize while social distancing in lockdown.
  7. Tell yourself you can. The biggest obstacles in life are mental, and running is no exception. I could barely lift my legs off the ground towards the end of Saturday’s 10k, but I pulled through. Because I told myself I could and would. Nothing more.
  8. Bonus tips for type 1 diabetics. Track your blood sugar closely before and after each run. Everyone will be different, but I’ve found it’s imperative to make sure I’m no lower than 6.0 before I go out (or I’m basically asking for a low).
    Additionally, anything longer than an 8k demands a little on-the-go carb-up. I’ve found Huma’s all-natural energy gels (around 20g) the easiest to swallow on the move so far, but you might prefer something with more carbohydrates if you experience especially bad lows.

With all of that said, if you need some encouragement or non-pro advice, I’ve been tracking my progress and experiences on Instagram Stories. DMs always open as long as you’re not sending me your genitals.

Now, off you go – Day One starts today!

xoxo, Lela