Second Wind: Special Features

You know how DVDs have all that extra stuff, including crappy trailers for other movies and director's commentary? That's what this page is, for my article "Second Wind" in The Magazine. It's also here because I write way too much, and need a place to put the extra bits. Think of this as the director's cut of the article—for the fans.

Photo: the gray foam tube I used to help with shin splints
The gray foam tube.

Questions and Answers

How do you come up with the "millions" number for people who have tried C25K? Well, first I asked an app developer and was told they don't discuss download statistics. Then I reached out to several other people who should know (including a current owner of Cool Running), none of whom responded. So let's do some math. First, I looked at some popular C25K apps for Android (because public sales stats are not available for iOS): C25K™ - 5K Trainer FREE (100k-500k installs), RunDouble Couch to 5K Tracker (500k-1m installs), C25K (100k-500k installs), and the official Couch-to-5K app from (the current owners of Cool Running, mentioned in the article) (50k-100k installs). Just based on some Android apps, we see a minimum of 750,000 app installs. Installs may not equal actual runs, though. So let's look at Facebook, where the official C25K page has north of 350k Likes. I think it's very likely that those Likes are from people who have at least tried the program in some form, and I think we can assume that some of them are not Android app users. Add to that the fact that there were no Android C25K apps prior to 2008, but the program had been in the wild for a dozen years, and I think it's quite likely that you had tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of runners who used the program prior to the apps. Oh yeah, then add in all the iOS apps. Note: if you have real statistics and want to share them, contact me.

What did the original Kick website look like? Ah, the Wayback Machine, how I love thee. Have a look. (Clark told me that there was an earlier version that was not crawled, but it was reasonably similar.) It's actually interesting to compare that page from 1998 to the current Cool Running page for Couch to 5k. Not all that different.

How did you get into C25K specifically? Aside from getting dumped, I was encouraged by the Facebook and blog posts by my old friend Mike McHargue. While Mike was always fitter than I, we're roughly the same age, we had somewhat similar nerdy jobs (he actually got me my first Webmaster job in 1998), and I figured if he could do it, so could I.

Which 5K did you run? I ran the Shamrock 5K in 2012. I trained in mid 2011, then took a break from running in late 2011 when I had my tonsils taken out. (Tip: as an adult, having your tonsils out really sucks.) The Shamrock is a run through downtown Portland, Oregon, the day after St. Patrick's Day, so you can count on a bunch of hungover people doing it. At the end there's free beer and chowder, but I skipped those in favor of going home and rubbing my shins. I finished near the bottom of the pack (I was 497th out of 526 in my age bracket), but I finished.

Deleted Scenes

What's something awesome that you cut out of the article but you wish you'd left in? Clark told me a story about how he became, however briefly and jokingly, the 11th strongest man in Maine. In August 2011, he was at a "Blueberry Festival" in Maine, just hanging around with friends. There was a strongman competition that day, but nobody was entering, and festival organizers egged Clark and his friends on until they agreed to participate, mainly because the top ten strong men would win prizes. So Clark gamely did the crazy stuff (he mentioned hauling rocks, carrying logs, and so on). He got so into the competition that he broke his right ring finger. And he came in eleventh, meaning his only prize was bragging rights. I tell you this story to indicate that when Josh Clark decides to do something, he does it until he breaks a friggin' finger.

Anything else you cut out? I'm glad you asked. There's a whole section that had to be cut for length, expanding on Clark's mother as inspiration and commenting on his overall design philosophy for the program. Here's a draft of that section, which was titled "Bouts of fitness." I think the most remarkable thing here is Clark's attitude toward running before he became a runner; it is simultaneously unexpected (because who would think this guy who gets people into running hated running?) and exactly right (because C25K is about people who aren't yet runners trying to become runners). Anyway:

One little-known detail of Clark's C25K invention is that he created it with his mom in mind. Before he became a runner in 1993, exercise was not part of his life—it took that bad breakup to get him on the street to begin with. "I had no interest in running, which I found to be boring and painful. I just associated it with, frankly, masochism. Also that was my attitude toward fitness: if you exercise, this is what exercise is like—it's boring and it hurts and it's not for everybody." So how did this anti-runner create an insanely popular running program? In 1996, he wanted to help his mom with her own health goals.

Clark describes his mother as someone who, like many of us, has "bouts of fitness." He thought, "I wonder if I could help my mom get through it? I wonder if there's a better way to start running than the stupid way that I started running, which is just loping out there too fast and running through intense discomfort and assuming that that's what running was: it was tolerance for pain and discomfort."

"So I had these two simple realizations: first, anybody can walk two or three miles. I was thinking about my mom. She does it. She walks it. Anybody can run a little bit. There must surely be a way, gradually, to get from here to there without doing it so fast and so abruptly that it's just defeating. Then I had the second realization, which is that now that running feels good and healthy and even meditative, there must be a way to introduce that sooner. It can't be about just busting through a wall. If you can get little hints of the satisfaction of finishing a run, if you can introduce those victories early in the process, people suddenly realize it's like, Oh wait, I'm a runner, or I'm a jogger."

Nancy Griffin, Clark's mother, ran the C25K program with her husband Ken. They ran a 5K at the end, and she still occasionally participates in half-marathons, fifteen years after being among the very first C25K users.

And what else? Well, there was a whole bit about the "third path," those people who go on to become marathon runners. For instance, a fellow Portland runner has a remarkable story that started largely because of C25K (and the confidence associated with Week 5's 20-minute run I refer to in the piece). And hers was just one of a pile of amazing leads that came across my desk when I asked around online. Here's a snippet:

I have spoken to lots of people who took the third path in the running world. One example is Denise Laird, a runner from Portland, Oregon, who started the C25K program after struggling with the weight gain that came with the birth of her son. Since starting C25K and improving her diet, she has lost 110 pounds, run multiple 10K events and half-marathons, and plans to run two full marathons in 2013. She wrote in an email interview, "Without having run that 20 straight minutes in C25K, I would have never believed I could do it!" Laird also notes that she has used Jeff Galloway's Half Marathon training app — similar in concept to C25K, but intended for longer distance running.

More Stuff By Chris Higgins

I write for Mental Floss and The Atlantic and even This American Life this one time.

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