The 5K is a wonderful, and sometimes overlooked, distance. Regarded as the sprint of endurance events this distance is very fun to race and most fun-runs (Color Run, Beer runs) use this distance for their events. It’s the perfect distance for new runners to start theyr’e running journey… but don’t be fooled! The 5K is also a merciless bloodbath for those competing to finish in the top spots! Elite athletes start off with a mean sprint and shift to the top gear from the very beginning of the race. They stay at a high effort until they’ve crossed the finish line with visible anguish on their face! It’s a brutal event for those who choose to take it seriously.
Whatever your decision is, you should prepare for this race just like you would for a marathon! You need a training plan with structure and progressive elements to prepare your body to do something it’s not accustomed to. This first race will be your entry into the running world and you should create good habits in order to be able to participate in this sport for as long as possible. (If you want to skip all the details and download the training plan, scroll to the bottom of this article.)
Preparing for the Race
Finding a Race and Signing Up
Ideally, you want to find a race that gives you two months of preparation time, especially if you’re an absolute beginner. Finding a 5K can be tricky, depending on where you live. You can easily find a 5K park-run in the United Kingdom for example and I think this is also true in a few other European countries. However, in my country (Portugal), there aren’t any park-runs. The races here are organized differently! In Portugal, there is a main event like the Lisbon Rock’n’Roll Marathon which has the full distance 42km and also a ‘mini-marathon’ inside the same course, which usually ends at the 5K or 7K mark of the marathon.
Some races require you to pick up your goodies bag with a t-shirt, leaflets and bib on the day BEFORE a race, other races only give you these things after you’ve finished the race. Once again, make sure you read all the info in in the races webpage. If you can’t find the information your looking for, reach out to the event organizers.
Ok, this doesn’t sound important but trust me, paying attention to these details now will save you a lot of headaches later on! You don’t want to arrive at the race location only to be surprised by full parking lots and confusion about where to go! Most race organizers have all the information needed right on their website so make sure you know where the race is, how to get there, where you can park and where you will pick up your running bib (if you haven’t received it already). If you can, take the time to visit the race location before race day and have a practice training session there. If you can’t go there physically try using Google Maps to get familiarized with the area.
Prepare your running clothes two days before your race, make sure you have your bib and something to hold it on your clothes! There are many options here as well, from magnets and tape, to pins and belts.
The best you can do is get everything ready so there are no surprises on race day!
The Training Plan
Time vs Distance
There are different training styles and I’m a firm believer that the main focus for a beginner is the time they on the road rather than the total distance they cover.
I believe this because when you’re a beginner you’re still trying to figure out what your optimal pace is and so if I tell you to run 4km in training your will inevitably try to finish the 4k under a specific time frame. Removing the distance aspect from training allows you to let go of any expectation. A 30 minute training session is a 30 minute training session and it doesn’t put any pressure on you to reach a certain distance – just pound the pavement for thirty minutes!
That being said, there are days where you will be walking for up to one hour so it is likely you will walk more than 5K during training and that is ok – you should reach your goal distance in training in order to know what to expect on race day! Anyhow, let’s move on to the actual training plan!
The good thing about the 5K is that almost any healthy person can complete it safely with minimal training. There are many methods that you can use to train for a 5K but the technique we’ll be using in this training plan is inspired by Jeff Galloway’s Run-Walk-Run method. I wrote an article a few months ago about this technique but here are the main benefits of this technique:
1. Injury Risk Reduction
2. Quicker Recovery
3. Longer Long Runs
4. Provides Strategy for Race Day
5. Keeps Body Temperature Low
6. You May Highly Personalize Your Ratios
7. Helps Keep Your Mind Fresh
I recommend reading the full article to completely understand what the Run-Walk-Run method is. Regarding the training plan provided in this article, the ratios mentioned (3:2, 1:4, 2:3, etc) are simply how much time you’ll spend running and walking in each interval.
3:2 = 3 minutes running + 2 minutes walking
1:4 = 1 minute running + 4 minutes walking
You will repeat the intervals above for the total time required for any specific day.
Here’s a very important aspect to consider… adaptability! Be flexible! Do not be a slave to your training plan! Listen to your body and adapt according to what it’s telling you. If it’s taking you two or three days to fully recover from a hard running session, that’s a sign that you may need to alter some things. You should either dial it back a little on the hard days (until your body feels recovered and ready to perform harder workouts) or you need to rest more (this usually happens when someone has a very active job).
It’s important, physically and psychologically, to be flexible with your training plan. Listen to your body and learn to hear what it’s saying (this takes time and experience). Don’t be afraid to change your training plan if it’s too hard (or too easy) for you.
Boost Your Performance
It’s no secret by now that strength training is extremely beneficial to running and to overall health. You don’t need to lift weights at the gym for 2 hours, a simple 20 minute bodyweight strength session at home can do wonders! YouTube is a great resource for this. Just search ’20 minute bodyweight strength workout’ on the YouTube app on your smartphone, put the phone on the floor and copy what the trainer is doing in the video.
For me, the most exciting thing about running a 5K is that it’s easier to stick to a strategy! Using a strategy helps keep you mentally sharp and focused from the start to the finish line.
Your goal for race day is to create your own Run-Walk-Run ratio. Choose whatever you feel most comfortable with and stick to it, focus on finishing strong with great posture and a controlled pace! After all, you want those finish line pictures to look great, don’t you? ;)
After the Race
Since this training plan is structured in a way that you had already reached the 5K distance in training, your body is used to this effort and shouldn’t be feeling sore. However, the psychological aspect is also important so be sure to treat yourself to a nice slice of pizza or any other indulgence!
Saving Your Memories
So, you’ve just been through a 6-week training plan AND finished a 5K race. That takes commitment! And you don’t want to throw all that effort into an old chest of forgotten memories, do you? I propose you create yourself your own RunPage with all your race information so you can look back on it many years from now and see the progress you’ve made!
RunPage allows you to create your own Runner Profile with all the races you’ve participated in, completed with your photos, bib number, finish time, your own race description and even a special Fly-Through map for sponsored events.
Click here to create your own RunPage – it’s completely free!
When can I start running again?
As mentioned above, your body is used to the distance you ran so there is really no need to take any days off. Ideally, you should go for a walk on the day following the race and continue training for the future.
You’re now a proud owner of a shiny 5K medal! Do you feel the urge to collect them all yet? I know I wanted ALL the medals for ALL the distances! There are truly beautiful medals out there… anyway, my recommendation is for you to sign up for your next race and train appropriately! Try following this progression: 5K > 10K > Half-Marathon > Marathon
That way you won’t be skipping any steps and you will be increasing your distance in a logical, safe and progressive manner. If you’re interest in training for a 10K, I have also published a Couch to 10K in 10 Weeks training plan!
Other Useful Mentions
How to Warm-Up Effectively in 10 minutes – click here.
Nutrition can boost your running results - click here to find out how.
Interested in creating your own training plan? Download a free template here.
Supplements for Runners – find detailed information here.
If you have any further questions you can leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com
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