Week 7: Sophie's Couch to 5K diary

Running tips, tricks and insights from a beginner getting to 5K with wearable tech
Week 7: Sophie's Couch to 5K diary

I'm a slow runner. I've known this for a while, I'm slow at everything, walking, swimming, making an exit, but now it's confirmed. Now I have cold, hard numbers.

This week I decided to hit pause on my quest for the perfect beginner runner hardware and focus on the apps that have been tracking my progress for the past seven weeks.

Wareable guide: Using wearable tech to get up and running

Why? Because the Couch to 5K challenge pretty much forced me to. You see, for this week and the next few, final, weeks of the challenge it's just getting out there and running. Well, getting out there, completing the five minute warm up walk then running.

Running out of time

The last run of Week 6 was 22 minutes which increased to 25 minutes in Week 7 and will increase again to 28 minutes in Week 8 and 30 minutes in Week 9. No walking intervals, no messing around, no separate walking and running paces recorded, just running.

I skipped to the end of the app's log - a bad habit I've managed to quit when reading but clearly not with apps - and found that the last 30 minute run of Week 9 has a Congratulations badge underneath.

Wait a minute. Panic. What if I haven't run far enough in the 30 minutes? This is when I decided to dig into my data to see how unreasonable it was of the Couch to 5K app to expect that performance from someone who's essentially a beginner. I'll revisit my progress after Week 9 but here's what I've found so far and how it will help me actually get to 5K.

Step flount

First up, daily fitness. As you'll remember, I've been tracking this first using the £40 Jawbone UP Move and then with the £120 Fitbit Charge HR, two do-it-all fitness and activity trackers. So have I been moving more overall since I began the challenge?

I jumped into the 'Trends' section of the UP Move app to have a look at my weekly progress for the last week of December (before I started Couch to 5K) and each week of January. I was presented with red and black graphs showing that my step count was higher every week in January than the end of December but what with the Christmas holidays, that's to be expected.

Read more: Jawbone UP Move review

My 'active time' stats shot up in the week of the 5th to 11th January (13 hours 27 minutes) then plummeted again to almost my December levels (4 to 5 hours) for the rest of January and I don't think that can entirely be put down to my runs and walking home from work. There was no clear upwards pattern in any of the graphs though, more like steady evidence of me almost hitting my step goals - my lowest step counts have been 3500 - 4000 on my 'rest days'.

Now, to the Fitbit app. I prefer Fitbit's layout of my data - just go to the dashboard and select the metric you want to see to get those colourful bar charts. Sliding the graph along changes the days you want to include to get daily averages too. I had a nice play around with my weeks to get averages of between 6,000 and 7,500 steps per day. It's not 10,000 but I'm happy enough with this for now and looking at the Moves app I used to use to track day to day distance and steps, Couch to 5K has definitely made an improvement. I'm smashing the '30 active minutes' pretty much every day too, that means lots of Fitbit stars for me.

Heart beats

With all these heart rate monitoring gadgets, I was intrigued to see how my bpm has done over the weeks. Ever heard anyone brag how low their resting bpm is? Well, I'm in no position to do that but according to Fitbit it has actually gone down a little.

A healthy resting heart rate for an adult is 60-100 bpm but athletes are more like 40 - 60 bpm. The first heart rate tracking wearable I tried out was the Microsoft Band way back in Week 3. That week my resting heart rate (according to the Band) was between 60 and 75.

Read more: Fitbit Charge HR review

The Fitbit Charge HR continuously tracks heart rate so that you can glance down while out running and though at first glance, the graphs look to be just for resting heart rate, you can dig in to each day to see the spikes and a breakdown of the time you've spent in each zone (fat burning, cardio) during your training. This is all fascinating stuff and I recommend setting aside some time to browse the stats - just be aware that in my brief comparison, the Fitbit overestimated my heart rate by about 3-5 bpm compared to a Wahoo Tickr X chest strap. We have a more rigorous test of HRM trackers coming soon.

I've been wearing the Fitbit for three weeks now and my resting heart rate seems to have decreased very slightly from 68/69 bpm to a consistent 66bpm all this week. Result. It would be great to get below 65 bpm for my resting heart rate by the end of the challenge.

Lickety Split

Of course, there's lots more data but some of it I'm not tracking (sleep, I get enough) and some I'm trying to ignore. For instance, I'm trying to ignore calories burned as most trackers and apps are said to slightly overestimate this and our fitness expert Kieran Alger says you're more likely to treat yourself with a junk food snack if you think you've burned plenty of calories on your run.

Like I said, this is all about getting me to 5K so I've started to look at my distance and pace too. The Fitbit app isn't terribly helpful here as senior editor James Stables notes in his Fitbit Surge vs Garmin Vivoactive comparison so I went back to the Couch to 5K app which uses my smartphone's GPS. My distances are all over the place, even within the same week, from as low as a total of 2.5K. That said, in Week 6 I did manage to cover 4.06K in one of the runs, my furthest distance so far - even though this run had some short walking intervals, this makes me more optimistic that I can get to 5K in 30 minutes by the end of Week 9.

Read more: The best running watches with music playback

The Couch to 5K app gives you walking and running paces separately in each log but not in the graph which is pretty unhelpful. In a couple of runs, including that good 'un in Week 6, I've hit a pace of 8 min/km for both walking and running which is my fastest so far. I'm averaging 8 or 9 min/km which made me blue until I found out my Couch to 5K "buddy" Sam is about the same. My fastest running pace is 6.36 min/km apart from the run in Week 2 where the app reckons my pace was 0.26 min/km. Whoosh, watch me go. But seriously, if I run 5K at 6.36 min/km it will take me 31.8 minutes which seems realistic and not that much longer than the app predicts.

Now that there's no walking intervals, I should see my pace drop and the app more accurately record my progress. I am also going to add some more banging tunes to my running playlist to get me moving slightly faster and keep an eye on my pace when I'm out.

There's only really one thing for it - I need a "proper" running watch.

If you're doing Couch to 5K, what's your distance and pace looking like? Am I making you feel better? Let me know in the comments.


  • yafizicist says:

    Amazing progress Sophie, and really interesting to see you explore all the different running tech.

    • s.charara says:

      Thanks! I'll take all the encouragement I can get.. 

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