Monday, April 11, 2011

Review: C25K Program (Couch to 5K) & iPhone App

I started the C25K (Couch to 5K program) via my iPhone app in September of 2010. Just as it name states it is a program that's designed for beginners. The idea being that if you've never run before you can slowly begin to build up your running level through interval training. This program consists of 9-weeks (typically 3 days a week) of 30 minute interval jogs/runs. Each week increases its interval training starting off from very minor intervals (a minute to a minute and a half) to getting to your first full 20 minute run in Week 5 (Day3).

Prior to starting the program I went to see my Sports Medicine Doctor. He gave me a complete physical. He stated to make sure I monitor any aches and pains, if I have any to stop immediately and most importantly "take it slow."

My first couple of weeks (Week 1 & 2) seemed simple enough. I got out there in my neighborhood every other morning, hitting my feet to the pavement. My heart rate sky-rocketed, but nothing so high that I couldn't continue with the program. At this point in my training I was weighing about 199 lbs and it seemed as though I started to get a slow and steady pace, with non-labored breathing.

Around Week 3 I started getting a shooting pain in my right knee. Hoping at first that it'd simply go away, I continued, but after a weekend of hobbling pain, I realized I needed to see a doctor. I went back to my doc with the pain. After a cortisone shot and an x-ray (to be sure I didn't have any broken bones) I was told to take off 2-3 weeks before starting running again.

Supplementing my cardio with elliptical cycle and combing with my regular weight training, I waited my two weeks and then started the whole program over again. At this point I was down to close to 195 lbs and started to feel a bit stronger in my leg muscles, so through end of October and November I felt I was getting very successful through the program, getting through a pretty tough Week 5 (where the program switches up the intervals) all the way to Week 7 in early December.
It was in early December that I started feeling the pain. It seemed like a shooting pain in both my shins (as if a jackhammer had been directly on my shin bones), however the left shin pain continued throughout the day and was most painful during the morning. Stupidly I continued training in December thinking I simply had a case of shin splints.
In January I made a commitment to stop training (again supplementing cardio with elliptical and continuing weight training). Once again I started back on the program with Week 5 Day 1 in February, thinking that since I had kept up with training I was capable of starting off at this week. My first few runs were fine. My heart rate was in the normal range, my breathing non-labored, but after a few consecutive runs, the shin pain returned and I finally decided to see an Orthopedic Doctor to confirm or deny my doubts.

March 1st, 2011 - Doctor diagnosed me with shin splints in my left tibia. I had to cancel my first 5K and was, needless to say, devastated. I took off the entire month of March, again relying on my good old trusty elliptical cycle.

Beginning April I restarted my running training WITHOUT the C25K app... instead I switched to Runkeeper Pro and here's why:

C25K App Pros:
  • Easy and VERY simple to follow. If you're new to running and don't even know how to count intervals, when to run or not, or ow much mileage, pacing, etc. The app does it for you. You press go and you're ready to go!
  • The interface is one of my favorites, I love the Moods (happy, not-so-happy, and sad faces) to indicate how I felt during the run. It also has weather indicators, type of environment I ran on, listing of heart rate, and notes section.

  • For a bit extra through iTunes, you can purchase the GPS tracking which is sah-weet. It tells you exactly how many miles and can tell you want your run pace, walk pace, and average pace are for each workout.
  • It posts your workouts to Twitter & Facebook if you want. Helps to let others know where you are and lets them give you an "Atta boy!"
C25K App Cons:
  • Its programmed for 9 week training with 3 day a week workouts. For a n00b like I was, this was probably not a good idea. Instead of taking it slow I, of course, wanted to stick tot he training schedule of 3 days a week and anything less than that felt like I was "losing."
  • There's no web-site integration. Meaning, its in my iPhone and now it stays in my iPhone. Other applications I've noticed have web-sites that run as "backup" to your app, which allows for you to enter info via the web-site or if you have a serious crash (or switch phones - as I have now) you can just continue where you left off.
  • It increases mileage over the recommended 10% per week increase. Meaning if you run/walk 1 mile the first week, you should be only increasing to 1.1 miles the next week. C25Kapp doesn't really take this into account. In some cases the intervals increase so much you're running 1.5 to 2 miles one week and closer to 3 the next. For anyone who's not used to running or detecting injuries, this can be dangerous.
  • It doesn't announce your mileage or run speed as you're running. It's only after that you're able to find out what you've done and even then it averages your run pace.
DubyaWife's Recommendation:

It's a good app for what its intended for, but I think it needs tweaking. Most of the people who download this app are new to the whole running plan and usually the download is on a recommendation from others. They think this will do the work for them... and for a time, they're right it does. However, they can extend this program for longer than 9 weeks (or at least give the user the opportunity to extend). Also, why not make it customizable, allowing the user to choose how many days a week and weeks he/she wants to complete the program. To me, it seems as thought they're assuming the activity/health level of the average user, and each person is in a different level of fitness. The most important thing you can do is keep educated on running and the injuries that come with and be mindful during this process, or serious injury can happen.

If you use this app, IGNORE the 9 week, 3 days a week calendar. Just run when you feel healthy and healed up enough to run. Part of the training process is also allowing yourself time to heal, and if you're a gung-ho-idiot-who-can't-say-no (like me) then you're up Shit Creek with no paddle. Take it SLOW and repeat days/weeks if you need to. There's no need to rush things.
Make sure you have a good pair of shoes AND that you're continuing strength training (especially lower body) during your training. (See my Shoe Inspection post) Also don't neglect stretching after each and every workout. Focus on your hip flexors, calves, quads, and hamstrings. And give your knees a rest. This means lay off squats, lunges, and other knee-bearing exercises. Trust me your bursa sacs will thank you.

Also, check out some other program available out there. RunKeeper Pro, MapMyRun, etc. Chances are they are a better fit than the widely popular C25K.

And above all, keep running. If you get demotivated, if you lose track, if you get injured... take your time to heal, to refocus, to regain that motivation. Running isn't just a dream, it can be a reality. Find what suits your needs and keep running!

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