From couch to 5k…you can do it!

Can’t run 3.1 miles?

Cory Frederick couldn’t run that far either at this time last year, but thanks to what is called the “Couch-to-5K” program, he was able to go the distance at the Diakon Wilderness Center’s 2014 Outdoor Adventure Challenge.

As a member of the event’s planning committee and a huge fan of the Diakon Wilderness Center’s mission to help at-risk youths, I wanted to use my experience as a personal trainer/gym owner/runner to draw more people to the 5K, but also to help others simply gain the benefits of exercise. To that end, I offer some helpful tips below.

For those interested in participating in a 5K run such as the wilderness center’s event, I decided to offer the Couch-to-5K program, which turns running a 5K into a feasible goal even for someone who is starting off as a couch potato!

The nine-week program eases participants into distance running by beginning with intervals of jogging for 60 seconds and walking for 90 seconds during the first week. The running intervals gradually become longer until eventually the participants are running for 3.1 miles straight. I advertised the program through our gym and was pleasantly surprised when Cory’s registration arrived. I had first met Cory when he was about 18 months old and I watched him in the child-care area of our gym; now he was 13 and ready to go after a 5K goal.

Cory stayed dedicated throughout the entire program. When the training got harder, he would come to our sessions telling me that he didn’t think he was going to be able to complete the full workout. But he always pulled it off—even during some tough summer heat!

I offered to run with him on race day, but by then he had developed confidence and insisted he would be fine on his own. We agreed that I would come back and finish the race with him after I had crossed the finish line myself. When I met up with him during the race he was doing very well. He had made some friends along the way and everyone told me how inspiring it was to see that he just wouldn’t quit!

My favorite memory is of the race’s last tenth of a mile when I suggested we pick up the pace for a final kick to the finish line. Despite having three miles of tough trail running behind him, he sprinted so fast that I almost couldn’t keep up with him!

Have you wanted to run a 5k like Cory—or wanted to start increasing your overall fitness level? You can do it, too! Here are a few tips for anyone interested in becoming more active:

1) Take small steps. Don’t feel as if you need to commit to exercising for an hour five days a week. If you can do that—great! Just realize that adding only 20 minutes of activity a few days a week is still an improvement and you can build up from there after you get comfortable. That’s the entire premise of the Couch-to-5K program, and participants are amazed to find out they can actually run 20 minutes straight after only five weeks. A small amount of effort builds up quickly.

2) Set a measurable goal. Think in terms of what you would like to be able to do, then determine what you need to do to get there. It’s easy to let life get in the way and allow your desire to be more active fall off the radar if you have a vague goal to “start exercising more.” But if you set a goal of being able to do 20 push-ups, for example, you can measure your improvement from week to week. You’re more likely to stick to it when you see that your efforts are getting you closer to your goal. For Cory, the desire to complete the Diakon Outdoor Adventure Challenge was his incentive for not missing a training session.

3) Adopt a problem-solving mindset and shoot holes in your excuses. If you think you don’t have time to exercise, try doing squats while you watch commercials or wake up 15 minutes earlier to go for a walk or do a fitness DVD. If your bad knees limit you from some forms of exercise, find something that you can do. If you just don’t enjoy exercising, look for something that will make it fun for you, such as joining a new class or finding friends who will exercise with you. Decide what’s been keeping you from doing it so far and actively seek a solution. The answer is there if you choose to look for it.

If you’ve run 5K races before but you’re hesitant to try a trail run, there are some things you can do to prepare for the Diakon Outdoor Adventure Challenge, which will be held Sept. 19.

First, the biggest difference between road running and trail running is the uneven footing. There is some skill involved in choosing the right places to step, changing the length of your stride on occasion to avoid sticks, logs, or larger rocks, and determining how quickly you can safely navigate the terrain because it will likely be slower than your road race pace.

Second, the best way to prepare is simply to run some trails.

Third, I would be remiss if I didn’t advise you to do some training on hills before the race too. “Killer Hill” has become one of the trademarks of the race, so you will want to be prepared!

I’ll be starting a new Couch-to-5K program during the week of July 20. The training will take place over nine weeks and culminate at the Diakon Outdoor Adventure Challenge Sept. 19.

Participants will meet twice a week to train together and will complete one “homework” session on their own each week. Details will be available soon on the Diakon Outdoor Adventure Challenge Facebook page and at

This goal is in reach if you want it!
About the author:
Maggie Wonsick is a runner, personal trainer, and owner of Train Yard Gym & Fitness in Enola, Pa.

Because we review comments, they do not appear immediately. Please do not submit each comment more than once. Please review our comment policy.


Comments are closed.