Fit to run in nine weeks

Local couple rises to 5k challenge for wedding

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 19, 2013

MADISON HEIGHTS — He works for one of the Big Three. She’s a full-time nursing student, employed part-time on the side.

For Madison Heights couple Clare Shaw and Shaun Marx, it’s been a struggle to stay in shape, what with work and study demanding so much of their time.

But following the decision to tie the knot was the decision to get fit in time for their wedding next June.

A couple of years ago, they decided to train for a 5k, which is 3.1 miles. Shaw overdid it, though, breaking her foot in the process.

Now, they’re trying it again — and this time, they have found a system that works. The regimen is called the “Couch to 5k Challenge,” through Health Alliance Plan, but the routine itself can be done by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

The goal is to take someone who barely exercises, or doesn’t exercise at all, and make them able to run a full 5k by the end of nine weeks.

Around 400 people are currently enrolled in the program — far more than the 100 people HAP was expecting. The program provides training plans, group practices, technical support from coaches and a team page where enrollees can support each other.

It all leads to the Detroit River Days Race on June 22.

“You don’t need to be physically active to start this,” Marx said. “If you can walk for five minutes straight, you can start the program. It’s meant to start from no exercise, building up to the 5k. You may not finish the 5k in first place, but you will finish it.”

Participants run three times a week, including a group run once a week. The idea is to gradually build endurance.

Every session during the nine weeks starts with five minutes of walking as a warm-up and finishes with five minutes of walking to cool down. This is important to avoid injury.

For each of the three sessions during the first week, the program recommends alternating between a minute of jogging and a minute and a half of walking. This set is done eight times.

For the second week’s sessions, participants move to a minute and a half of jogging and two minutes of walking, doing this set six times. On the third week, the set becomes a minute and a half of jogging, a minute and a half of walking, three minutes of jogging and three minutes of walking. This set is done twice.

On the fourth week, the routine changes to just one set, comprising three minutes of jogging, 90 seconds of walking, five minutes of jogging, two and a half minutes of walking, three minutes of jogging, 90 seconds of walking and five minutes of jogging.

And so it continues, adding variations for each of the remaining five weeks.

“There will be times you think you can’t do it or don’t have the time, but if you think about it, it’s just nine weeks in the grand scheme of your life,” Shaw said. “And by the time you’re done, you’ll be so into it that you won’t give up. At the beginning, I thought, ‘How am I going to do this? But now I think, ‘How did I ever go without?’”

Before the weather warmed up, Shaw and Marx used treadmills in the gym. If one of them was ever not feeling well, they would push each other to stay disciplined and squeeze in the exercise. At one point, they both fell sick for a spell and it was challenging to get back into the groove, but they did it and have kept at it.

Now, they’ve gone from minimal physical activity, occasionally riding their bikes or walking their dog, to lengthy nighttime runs.

“Last night, I had the longest run I ever ran,” Shaw said during an interview on the eighth week of the nine-week program. “When I got done, the reality set in: I really can do this — how did I ever doubt myself? It’s realistic, and that’s the thing — you really can do this. I feel amazing.”

For more information about Health Alliance Plan’s Couch to 5k Challenge, visit