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How to Train for a 5K

How to Train for a 5K

If you run or do interval training, you’ve probably given some thought to entering a 5K or fun run. Although you might be nervous about running 3.1 miles, you can arrive ready to go if you follow a training plan for at least six weeks before race day. Here are some simple steps to show you how to train for a 5K, no matter your fitness level:

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Follow a Training Schedule

Before you lace up and start running, create a workable, realistic schedule that includes both running and cross-training, suggests trainer and coach Kourtney Thomas, C.S.C.S. Choose a 5K race that’s six to eight weeks away, so your body has time to prepare.

“Put your running days into your calendar, so you know you’ll have time for them,” advises Thomas. “Then stick to it. Breaking down your training into small chunks of time, with plenty of rest at the beginning, will give you a great start.”

This six-week schedule integrates cross-training options, which can help you build more strength and flexibility. Be sure to warm up and cool down before and after each running and walking session.

Week 1

  • Monday: Run 1 minute, walk 1 minute. Repeat 10 times.
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Yoga for 30 minutes.
  • Thursday: Run 2 minutes, walk 4 minutes. Repeat 5 times.
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Yoga for 30 minutes.
  • Sunday: Run 2 minutes, walk 4 minutes. Repeat 5 times.

Week 2

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Run 3 minutes, walk 3 minutes. Repeat 4 times.
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Run 3 minutes, walk 3 minutes. Repeat 4 times.
  • Friday: Xtend Barre for 30 minutes.
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Run 5 minutes, walk 3 minutes. Repeat 3 times.

Week 3

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Run 5 minutes, walk 3 minutes. Repeat 3 times.
  • Wednesday: Yoga for 30 minutes.
  • Thursday: Run 8 minutes, walk 2 minutes. Repeat 3 times.
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Xtend Barre for 30 minutes.
  • Sunday: Run 8 minutes, walk 2 minutes. Repeat 3 times.

Week 4

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Run 8 minutes, walk 2 minutes. Repeat 3 times.
  • Wednesday: Yoga for 30 minutes.
  • Thursday: Run 10 minutes, walk 2 minutes. Repeat twice, then run for 5 minutes.
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: 600 Secs for 20 minutes.
  • Sunday: Run 9 minutes, walk 1 minute. Repeat 3 times.

Week 5

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Run 9 minutes, walk 1 minute. Repeat 3 times.
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Run 12 minutes, walk 2 minutes. Repeat twice, then run for 5 minutes.
  • Friday: Yoga for 30 minutes.
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Run 8 minutes, walk 2 minutes. Repeat 3 times.

Week 6

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Run 15 minutes, walk 1 minutes. Repeat twice.
  • Wednesday: 600 Secs for 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Run 8 minutes, walk 2 minutes. Repeat 3 times.
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Yoga for 30 minutes.
  • Sunday: At this point, you’ll be ready to run a 5K (that’s 3.1 miles)!

 

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Interval Training for a 5K

training for a 5k - running with a group

If you’re already a runner and want to run a faster 5K, you can opt for interval training. Run the same number of days as the plan above, but instead of alternating running and walking, you will:

  • Start with a 1/2 mile warm-up.
  • Run a mile at 50% effort, a 1/2 mile at 80% effort, a mile at 50% effort, and another 1/2 mile at 80% effort.
  • Cool down with a slow 1/2 mile run.

Intervals train you to run faster since your body is getting accustomed to running at high speeds for longer periods. Interval training helps you avoid falling into the common trap of running only long, slow distances at a steady state. While there’s a place for those types of runs, interval training can help make you faster.

 

Why Runners Need Cross-Training

Running stresses the body and, like anything, can become repetitious. That’s why it’s important to incorporate cross-training. Yoga, barre, and Pilates train your body in other ways. Cross-training helps strengthen the muscles you use in running, along with the ones you don’t.

Too much repetitive stress can lead to issues down the road, so it is always smart to stress the body in other ways that improve performance. Yoga, barre, and Pilates (or other mobility practices) can strengthen your body in different ways. They also increase the range of motion in joints that become stiff from running. Resistance training helps develop not only strength but also power, which often is lacking in runners. Swimming and cycling (either on the road or in a group class) provide similar benefits to running with less stress on your joints. Not surprisingly, many triathletes start out as runners.

 

Find a Running Group

If you don’t like running alone, find a group. In most areas, running groups are quite common. They meet mornings and evenings, departing from running stores, restaurants, bars, and local landmarks for runs of all distances and at all speeds. Some even meet at parks or tracks for interval training. These groups are usually informal and welcoming and are a great way to pick up tips, meet new friends, and find supportive training partners.

 

Find the Right Running Shoes

training for a 5k - minimalist running shoes

What’s on your feet is just as important as how you structure your training days and work on your cross-training. The right running shoes may reduce your risk of injury, improve performance, and can even keep you running more efficiently. Check out this article for top tips on what to choose.

With the right training and a specific plan in place, you’re much more likely to show up for your first 5K feeling ready and enthusiastic —and that can translate not only to a great first race, but also to many more 5Ks (or longer races) in the future.

Elizabeth Millard

About

Elizabeth Millard has written for Men's Health, SELF, Prevention, Runner's World, and several other health and wellness publications. Based in Northern Minnesota (yes, it's just as cold as you've heard), she's also a rock climber, obstacle course enthusiast, and registered yoga teacher. Follow her on Twitter.

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