“ Couch-to-5k or Couch to Ouch to Couch!?” Who Takes Part in Beginner Runner Programmes in the UK and Is Non-Completion Linked to Musculoskeletal Injury?

Relph, Nicola, Taylor, Sarah L., Christian, Danielle orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1117-6127, Dey, Paola and Owen, Michael B. (2023) “ Couch-to-5k or Couch to Ouch to Couch!?” Who Takes Part in Beginner Runner Programmes in the UK and Is Non-Completion Linked to Musculoskeletal Injury? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20 (17). ISSN 1661-7827

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20176682


Physical activity has mental and physical health benefits; however, globally, three-quarters of the population do not meet physical activity guidelines. The Couch-to-5k is a beginner runner programme aimed at increasing physical activity. However, this programme lacks an evidence base, and it is unclear who is attracted to the programme; running also has a high rate of musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries. The aims of this study were to identify the characteristics of people taking part and the incidence of MSK injuries as well as exploring the experiences of people who dropped out of a modified 9-week Couch-to-5k programme. A total of 110 runners (average age was 47.1 ± 13.7 years) participated in the study, which involved completion of questionnaires (running experience and footwear information, quality of life (EQ-5D-5L), physical activity level (IPAQ-short form), MSK injury history and knee condition (SNAPPS and KOOS-PS)) at the start, middle and end of the programme and collecting sociodemographic information (age, gender, social economic status, relationship status, education level), as well as body mass index, running experience, footwear information, quality of life, physical activity levels, MSK injuries and knee condition. Fifteen drop-outs were interviewed to explore experiences of the programme. Runners were mainly females (81.8%) with an average age 47.1 years, average body mass index of 28.1 kg.m2, mainly from high socio-economic levels, married and educated to degree level. In total, 64% of the sample had previous running experience and were classified as active. Half the sample self-reported pain/discomfort and 37.2% reported anxiety/depression at the start of the programme via the EQ-5D-5L scale. Self-reported health scores increased (p = 0.047) between baseline (73.1 ± 18.8 out of 100) and at the midpoint (81.2 ± 11.6), but there were no significant differences between any other time points (end point 79.7 ± 17.5, p > 0.05). Twenty-one injuries were reported during the programme (19%). Previous injury increased the risk of new injury (OR 7.56 95% CI from 2.06 to 27.75). Only 27.3% completed the programme. Three themes emerged from interviews; MSK injury, negative emotions linked to non-completion and design of the programme. The Couch-to-5k may not attract diverse inactive populations, but future work with larger sample sizes is needed to substantiate this finding. Dropping out was linked to MSK injury and progressive design, so future programmes should consider including injury prevention advice and more flexible designs.

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