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Fit For You: Couch to 5K

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As summer gets into full swing, one common event throughout the city is the 5K run. From color runs, and charity races to beer runs, the 3.1 mile race has become one of the most popular types of races nationwide.

According to Running USA, 7.6 million people finished a 5K in 2015 – making it the most popular race distance.

While its popularity has surged in recent years, the Couch to 5K, or C25K, program has been around since 1996. Josh Clark created the 9-week program.

Clark says he created the program because he used to be one of many people who find the task of running daunting. "For my whole life, I've been incredibly skeptical of exercise. In fact, every time I tried to become a runner, I was met with defeat," he explains.

Twenty years ago, Clark broke past his own training barrier and found himself enjoying the physical and emotional benefits of running. "I thought there's got to be a better way than trying to crash through this wall of discomfort," he says. And thus, he says he constructed the run/walk program in a way that would benefit people like his mother, who was the main motivation to create the exercise regimen. 

While putting the program together in his early twenties, Clark explains that a lot of it was more intuition-based on his own experience than research-based. "A lot of this was lead by intuition and luck I have to say, but by the end of it there have been millions of people who have run this program and have gotten to the other side of it. So I guess that intuition proved out," he says.

However, he says there is now the concrete evidence that the slow build up to running is beneficial for the human body - particularly one that is being introduced to regular exercise.

"There is this real value to doing work and rest, work and rest," Clark explains. "And you see that not just in an individual exercise session, but over the course of a week that your body recovers with a couple of rest days and you actually get more progress."

Clark notes that although the slow build up may be counter intuitive, people need to stick with it in order to adjust and succeed.

"Most beginners approach things as just assuming, 'This is called running, I have to go out there and I have to run to exhaustion,'" he says. "But it turns out that doing it that way is the route to injury and discomfort and all the things that people associate with being bad about running."

Clark's initial skepticism not only helped to create a doable program, but also makes for a relatable and inspiring message. "It's important to have early victories, if you can do these things where everything is attainable," he says. "Maybe it's a stretch for you to jog for more than a couple of minutes at a time...but by the first week, you've done it."

Clark also notes that just because he created this program that does not mean he is always running or working out regularly. He often finds himself getting reacquainted with the C25K schedule every so often, and that's alright with him. As long as this program exists, it will be there for people of all fitness levels and running experience, Clark says.

"I, like everybody else, has that 10 or 15 pounds that I'd like to loose, and I think that part of it is being forgiving to yourself and just knowing that you can always return to this," he says.

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.