(CNN)Josh Clark's journey to becoming a lifelong runner began with a painful breakup in 1994. To help himself recover, the then-23-year-old public television producer started to run, an activity he hated. "There was probably a little bit of self-punishment to it," said Clark, founder of Big Medium, a digital agency and design studio.
The Couch to 5K founder reveals tips for running beginners
Indeed, his first weeks pounding the pavement were difficult and decidedly unpleasant. His body hurt. But then something surprising happened: Clark started to enjoy running. His runs had become easier and calming, and he loved the feeling of his body in motion. So when Clark's mother was searching for a fitness routine a year later, Clark immediately suggested running, with the zeal of the newly converted.
There was just one issue. He knew how agonizing his first few weeks of running had been, and he did not want his mother to go through that. So Clark drew up a nine-week exercise plan that combined walking with running to ease her into it, dubbing his plan the Couch to 5K program.
Twenty-five years later, this plan is considered one of the most popular exercise programs in the world. Now nicknamed C25K, it's even endorsed as an official exercise plan by the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. CNN Wellness talked with Clark to get his thoughts on why his plan is so effective in helping countless beginners start a running habit that sticks.
Important note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CNN: A lot of people find it difficult to start running. Why do you think this is?
Josh Clark: Almost always, we start out going too fast or too far. Giving ourselves permission to be gentle with ourselves, and kindly easing into this new running routine, is key to success.
CNN: What was your main goal when creating Couch to 5K for your mother?
Clark: I did not come to this running schedule with a "no pain, no gain" approach. I was writing it with the love of a son for his mother. I wanted this to be a good experience for her. I didn't want her to get hurt. I wanted her to succeed; I didn't want her to run into early defeats. And so I wrote a schedule that was gentle and kind, and that -- I believed -- could have her running a 5K over the course of nine weeks. And she did!
CNN: Did you base this program on scientific research or did you think it up yourself?
Clark: I wish I could say I came to this with any kind of scientific knowledge or grounding in physiology, but I didn't. It was just this instinct of, "How can Mom go from literally a couch to 5K? What can I imagine her doing?" It turns ou