How To Start Running

The first couch to 5k class I ever coached has been running for 5 years today! It’s easy for me to remember their anniversary date because it’s 2 days before my birthday. Turning 25 wasn’t easy for me. I was still pretty new to Annapolis, I had no friends, and I was on the verge of having a quarter life crisis. I started coaching them on a Monday night. While I had coached before it had always been for people who were already running, so there was a lot of concern about how I’d be able to coach a bunch of beginners. There I was on the first day of practice with them, depressed because I hadn’t accomplished 80% of the things I set out to accomplish before I turned 25, incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin, and had no clue what I wanted to do with my future. I ran with all of them; I ran back and forth between them, and I talked to everyone that day. I got to know them. As we talked about their fears and goals, I realized I wasn’t the only one a little skeptical and hesitant in life at that moment. I realized that I belonged with them, and that I could help them get over their fears and accomplish their goals. At the end of practice, I invited them all to come out for drinks with me at the next practice because it was my birthday. Not only, did many of them come out, but they bought a cake and a card and little gifts from our conversations (one woman bought me my favorite shampoo).  Five years later, I’m ready to turn 30, and my feelings are way different!  I have now coached hundreds of people to run their first 5k. I’ve coached further distances, and plenty of people to run insane personal records. I never thought coaching, especially beginners, would become such a big part of my life! Last night, I celebrated my birthday with a few folks who have been in my programs throughout the years (some from that first 5k class), and I realized just how much I have accomplished. I know this is what I was meant to do.


My first 5k class at their graduation 5k.


I get a lot of emails and messages (and random questions) from people who want to train for a 5k.   People always ask how to start. My 5k class participants often get asked for their schedules that I send out or they have friends who want to know what we’re doing, so I thought I’d address it. If you want to start running, here are my suggestions:



Join a Couch to 5k Class

As a coach, I think this is best. My community has no shortage of couch to 5k programs. If you live in affluent running community, do your research. Who is coaching the program? What are their qualifications, credentials, and experience?   Are there assistants, helpers, or mentors? Do you have to have a special membership or meet any requirements?   What is the retention rate? What happens if you get injured? What size is the class and can the program be customized?   Is there a cost associated with the program? What does that cover?  What happens if you want to run faster or further – is there a plan for that?

A lot of people need a class and the accountability. They need a place and time to report. I know that when I coach my couch to 5k classes, I can get all of them to the finish line. My belief in them, and their trust in me gets them to keep coming.  Classes also offer (sometimes) more information and can cover topics like injury prevention, nutrition, running for weight loss, kids running, stretching, cross-training, goal setting, etc. Again, it all depends on the class and coach.

My winter 2014 graduation class.

My winter 2014 graduation class.

If you live in Annapolis, I offer 3-4 couch to 5k training programs a year. My next session starts Monday, 27 April at 6:30pm. Email me for details or register online through the City of Annapolis:

If you don’t live near me, that’s okay. Check with your local running club or store. Many of them host Couch to 5k classes or know of them.

Grab A Friend

Whether you join a class or not, try to start with a friend or family member. I’ve found that the accountability of a running partner works wonders! Actually, you don’t even need to wait for an official class to start, just grab your friend (and 4 legged friends work too), and start today. Go for a walk. Discuss your goals and put a plan together. If your workouts are scheduled meetings and someone is planning on meeting you there, you are more likely to show up and do it.   Don’t know what to do yet, that’s okay – there are a couple options.

Get a plan or schedule

If you aren’t in a class, find a schedule or plan! There are no shortages of books, articles, online programs or apps for this. Your program should be at least 8 weeks long, but I’d aim for one that is 10-12 weeks long. It is okay if it is longer.  Look for a program that has you increasing your time running very slowly and calls for 2-3 days of running a week. (I’ve always liked 3, but can get you through with 2). Most will combine running and walking, and that’s also how I coach my beginning programs. Your first week or two should be doable, and if it seems like it is too much, look for another schedule or guide.

Remember, most of these schedules are just guides. It’s a great starting point and will work for most people. However, they aren’t perfect, and they weren’t written specifically with you in mind. If you need to modify the program, go ahead and do it. Repeating a week or going back a week are both okay. If you notice pains or an injury, it may have been too much too fast for you, so take it a little slower.  If you need help, send me an email or message, and I’ll get you going in the right direction.

Find A Community

If you are in a class, this doesn’t apply to you as much right now. However, if you are following a program and running on your own, find a group. Whether this is a local group, an online forum, or a Facebook group. Find people who have gone through it before or are going through it at the same time. It can be online. Heck, some of my best accountability partners I found online. There are lots of support groups out there.

I’ve decided that I will run an online Couch to 5k group/class during my live class this time around. The program will start the week of the 27th of April. It will be 12 weeks and I encourage you to run a local 5k at the end. I’ll have more information shortly, but for now, just send me an email if you are interested: (


I always say, “Just start!” Don’t overthink it.   The tools are out there, and I’m always here if you get stuck. But you have to start, just put one foot in front of the other and go for it! Plan a date, put in on the calendar, and work it into your personal schedule. Day 1 go for a walk, and run for a 30 seconds in the middle. On Day 2, run 30 seconds twice.  You don’t have to do be amazing or have an elaborate plan – put one foot in front of the other and go for it. Start small, but start! Increase slowly, and you will get there.

Best of luck! Keep me posted, and I look forward to seeing you run your first 5k! Ashley Kelso