Training Up to a 5k Race

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You’ve stuck to your resolution to exercise more this year, and now you’re eyeing a 5-kilometer race later this spring. Maybe it’s a local downtown run on Memorial Day or a Fourth of July race in a nearby city.

Here’s a schedule that will prepare you to run the whole race, and maybe to be a little bit competitive about it. But the training—and the race itself—ought to be an enjoyable experience. Always run at a pace that feels comfortable.

Getting Started

Let’s assume that you’ve been walking a lot and jogging a little, so you’re in reasonable condition. The first week of training will be a step forward, so plan on running three days and walking on the others. This plan will have you ready to run steadily for at least 30 minutes after eight weeks. That should get you to the finish line. (5K is 3.1 miles, so a 10-minute-per-mile pace will have you on target. If your speed is more like 12 or 15 minutes per mile, you might need a few walking breaks to complete the race.)

I recommend that you vary your training courses. Choose a traffic-free area when possible, such as a park or a high school track. If the course you’ll be racing on is hilly, then make sure some of your training runs are too.

Phase One: Base Training

Think about minutes rather than miles. You’ll run at a comfortable pace on three nonconsecutive days for these first four weeks, with walking breaks to extend the distance you cover. Walk for 30 to 45 minutes on at least three of the other days. Finish every workout with a few minutes of walking.

Week 1

  1. Run 5 minutes; walk 10; run 5
  2. Run 7 minutes; walk 10; run 5
  3. Run 5 minutes; walk 5; run 5; walk 5; run 5

Week 2

  1. Run 5 minutes; walk 10; run 5
  2. Run 8 minutes; walk 10; run 5
  3. Run 5 minutes; walk 5; repeat two more times

Week 3

  1. Run 6 minutes; walk 4; repeat two more times
  2. Run 10 minutes; walk 5; run 5; walk 5; run 5; walk 5
  3. Run 5 minutes; walk 3; repeat two more times

Week 4

  1. Run 12 minutes; walk 5; run 6
  2. Run 6 minutes; walk 3; repeat two more times
  3. Run 12 minutes; walk 5; run 6

Phase Two: Building Confidence

You’ll run a bit longer in this next four-week phase, but keep up with those walks on alternate days. You’ll probably be ready to run for 30 minutes at the end of this phase. Leave at least five days before the end of this phase and your race, taking a couple of easy runs before competing.

Week 5

  1. Run 15 minutes; walk 3; run 6
  2. Run 5 minutes; walk 2; repeat two more times
  3. Run 10 minutes; walk 5; run 10
  4. Alternate 5 minutes running and 3 minutes walking for up to 40 minutes.

Week 6

  1. Run 16 minutes; walk 4; run 4
  2. Run 6 minutes; walk 2; repeat two more times
  3. Alternate 5 minutes running and 3 minutes walking for up to 40 minutes

Week 7

  1. Run 20 minutes; walk 3; run 6
  2. Run 8 minutes; walk 2; run 6; walk 2; run 6
  3. Run 12 minutes; walk 5; run 12
  4. Alternate 6 minutes running and 2 minutes walking for up to 40 minutes

Week 8

  1. Run 24 minutes; walk 3; run 6
  2. Run 8 minutes; walk 2; run 6; walk 2; run 6
  3. Alternate 6 minutes running and 2 minutes walking for up to 40 minutes

Phase Three: Adding Speed

More advanced training involves “speedwork,” which means shorter, faster runs at least once a week. After eight weeks of training, you’ve built a strong foundation. But speedwork puts added strain on the muscles and joints, so proceed with caution. Be mindful of pain and take time off if necessary to heal. But if you’re ready for the next step, incorporate some interval training. I’ll refer to distances on a track, but you can do these on any flat surface. (One lap around a standard high school track is 400 meters.) You’ll follow much the same plan as in phase two, but substitute 400- or 800-meter “interval sessions” for the second workout of each week. You’ll also want to make your long run of the week a little longer, so add 2-4 minutes to that first workout.

Week 9

  1. Run 18 minutes; walk 3; run 6 minutes
  2. Run 400 meters; rest for 1 minute. Do this six times. The pace should be faster than anything you’ve done so far, but not so fast that you have trouble completing the workout.
  3. Run 10 minutes; walk 5; run 10
  4. Alternate 6 minutes running and 2 minutes walking for up to 40 minutes (do the running portions a little faster than you did in earlier weeks).

Week 10

  1. Run 20 minutes; walk 4; run 5
  2. Run 800 meters; rest for 1 or 2 minutes. Do this four times.
  3. Alternate 6 minutes running and 2 minutes walking for up to 40 minutes

Week 11

  1. Run 24 minutes; walk 2; run 6
  2. Run 400 meters; rest for 1 minute. Do this eight times.
  3. Run 12 minutes; walk 5; run 12
  4. Alternate 8 minutes running and 2 minutes walking for up to 40 minutes

Week 12

  1. Run 28 minutes; walk 4; run 4
  2. Run 800 meters; rest for 1 or 2 minutes. Do this five times.
  3. Alternate 8 minutes running and 2 minutes walking for up to 40 minutes

Stepping It Up

Thinking about winning the race? You can find more advanced training schedules at Nike.com and RunnersWorld.com. If soreness from overtraining slows you down, be sure to read “Your Anti-inflammation Plan”.

Best of luck. Your natural inclination (driven by adrenaline) may be to run too fast at the beginning of the race. Tell yourself to stick to your normal training speed. If you feel great after a mile or two, feel free to pick up the pace. And have fun!

Sources: 

“5K Run: 7-Week Training Schedule for Beginners,” www.MayoClinic.org, 3/4/17 

“5K Training Plan,” www.Nike.com 

“Beginner Training Plan: 6 Weeks to a 5K,” www.FitnessMagazine.com 

“The Weekend Warrior’s 5K Plan” by Amy Rushlow, www.MensHealth.com, 3/3/15

Contributor: 

Cameron Hendrix