From the Couch to 5 KM on Your iPhone

Let’s be clear on something: I hate exercise. I have ever since Phys Ed class in high school. It was my poorest class–I probably averaged a C+. Whenever we did any kind of long distance running, I would usually come third to last in the class. I’d beat the corpulent Chinese kid and an asthmatic Brit with skin the colour of flourescent light.

I actually don’t mind competitive (though not too competitive) sports like soccer or Ultimate frisbee, but lately my schedule has prohibited much of that. And hiking is nice.

These days I go to the gym twice a week, and loathe every minute of it. It’s a necessary evil, though, and I’m planning on adding some cardiovascular activity to the routine.

When we lived in Morocco, I did most of the Couch to 5K running plan jogging barefoot on the beach. It’s an interval program where you start with lots of walking and a little running and, after nine (though I’ll probably take 12) weeks, you’re running five kilometres.

Because it’s an interval program, you spend a lot of time glancing at your watch and saying to yourself “okay, run until the second hand goes past the three, twice”. I found it a little tricky to focus on the audio book or podcast I was listening to when this time-tracking sub-routine was always running in my head. And the audio book or podcast is critical, because it’s the only enjoyable aspect of exercising.

I’m embarking on the Couch to 5K routine again. This time, I’m going to do so armed with this nifty little iPhone app:

Couch to 5K Screenshot

It provides vocal cues–in male voice, female voice or beeps–to tell you when to switch from walking to running and vice versa. You can listen to music or other audio and it just interrupts for a moment to tell you to slow down or speed up.

I’ll still hate jogging, but this will make my morning runs 4.6% less excruciating. Which is a good deal, at $1.99 for the app.


  1. I have just bought said app. If it sucks (or I suck at it), I will walk at a brisk-ish, out of breath pace and hunt you down demanding a shiny toonie.

    1. I’ll steal a couple of 2lb weights from the gym to fend you off. They’re all I can lift.

  2. Here’s what I hate about school gym classes: the kids who would benefit the most from coaching so that they can actually Learn and Improve ~ you, me, CCK and DJ Luminous ~ struggle on their own, while those kids who come to class already knowing how, get the teacher’s attention.

    I was a committed ballet dancer throughout my school years, auditioning for ballet school, etc.; but was terrified of being hit by the ball in gym. Maybe my hand-eye coordination is bad? Anyway, if I’d been struggling with math or spelling, I would have been offered help with my learning. I guess I’m still not over it! 🙂

    1. You’re quite right, though I never actually felt that gym class was about improving one’s fitness or skills.

      It’s too bad you couldn’t get exempt from gym. That’s what my wife–a competitive figure skater–did. As a result, though, her hand-eye coordination isn’t strong.

  3. I loathe looking at my watch to time intervals. Part of the reason I like running is that I find it meditative – the repetitive pounding on the pavement, the deep breathing, the beautiful scenery. And it’s hard to get into that meditative state if I have to keep checking my watch. My watch does have an interval timer, but the beep is so quiet that I can barely hear it at the best of times, but certainly not with my music playing (and the music is mandatory).

    Since I’m iPhone-less (at least until my current Telus contract runs its course), I’ve made a playlist that consists of 10 minutes of fast-paced songs, followed by 1 minute of classical music. I run for 10, then walk to the classical, and repeat.

    1. That is an excellent hack. Plus you saved yourself two bucks (plus the crippling costs of the iPhone, mind you).

  4. I’m sure the app will work fine. Finding someone to run with works even better. I took a beginner run class at the Y. They figure out and tell you when to walk or run. I met lots of interesting people learned lots about running and made my goal of running a 10k race in 8 weeks. The difference is I want to run . You said, hiking is nice. Maybe you should &^%* the running and stick with hiking/long walks , the cardio benefit will be the same and you will enjoy it more

    1. All good advice, except my dearest resource these days is time. So finding somebody to run with, and scheduling those (and adhering to that schedule) would be tricky. The same goes for hiking or walking–it takes more time than the aforementioned running.

      I do walk lots, as we don’t own a car, but I don’t think it’s sufficient.

  5. Beth – I’m exactly the same way…which is why I bought this app. 🙂 You don’t need to clock-watch; the prompts do everything for you. You can create your own 30-minute play list with whatever does it for you; the gentle voice-overs come on over your own music! It’s genius, really. *lol* And it keeps track of your running sessions, so you know exactly where you are in the Couch to 5K program. AND…you don’t need to have an iPhone – it works on the iTouch as well.

  6. i dunno, forget about working out, just walk and bicycle everywhere and eat less, works for every culture except canada and the usa where we’ve forgotten this somehow

  7. I am using this App on my new iPhone. I am really enjoying it. The only problem is that you cannot (or I cannot?) go back and change the songs once the program has started.. it seems that if I hit the circle button thingy to go back to iTunes, the program stops commands. All in all I like it. I am motivated to run.. my daughter and I did it together the other day.. we just used a splitter and two headphones.

    1. Indeed, I find that the app doesn’t ‘keep counting’ if I navigate away from it. So I either change songs quickly, or just listen to a long podcast or audiobook that won’t require me to do so.

      You could always create a 30-minute playlist, which would solve this issue.

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