How to Train for a 5K Run in Just Six Weeks

There are all kinds of reasons to sign up for a 5K race -- maybe it's to support your favorite charity, maybe it's to achieve a fitness goal you've set for yourself. Whatever the reason we called in the experts to help you do it

Signing up for a 5K seemed like a good idea. But now that the event is getting closer, and um, your butt hasn’t moved much from the couch, you’re having second thoughts. Can you really run a 5K (3.1 miles)? Should you just drop out? Don’t throw in the towel yet. This expert advice will have you celebrating at the finish line in just six weeks.

Buddy up. First, if you haven’t exercised in a while or you have any health problems, get your doctor’s go-ahead to lace up your running shoes. Then phone a friend. “Training for and completing in an event like a 5K is more fun when you have a run partner,” says Randy Accetta, director of coaching education for the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA). Plus, you’re more likely to stick with your training if you’ve got someone else to work out with. If you can’t convince a buddy to join you, search the internet for running clubs in your area (the RRCA maintains a list) or check with the local specialty running store to see if they know of anyone just starting out who needs a running partner.

Get the right gear. Before you pound the pavement, invest in a good pair of running shoes. “Visit a store that specializes in running shoes, not a sporting goods store,” says Accetta. “The experts there know how to find the best fit for your foot and stride.” Expect to spend upwards of $80 for this critical piece of gear. But once your feet are taken care of the rest of your shopping list -- socks, moisture-wicking shirts and shorts, a well-fitted sports bra -- will be relatively inexpensive.

Start slow and steady. Make “walk, don’t run” your mantra when first starting out, says former long-distance track Olympian Jeff Galloway, author of Running: Getting Started. Do a combination of running and walking when you begin training. Depending on your fitness level, you can start running for just 10 seconds and then walk for the remainder of a minute, until your complete your daily training assignment. If you’re up to it, you can alternate running for two minutes and walking for one. As you grow stronger, walk less and run more. You may work up to running for your full workout; you may still do some combination of walking and running, even on race day. However you get there, the goal is to make it across the finish line.

Use a training schedule. This condensed training program is designed to have you 5K-ready in six weeks. During the hectic workweek, the focus is on getting in some running time every other day, in minutes, not miles. On Saturday, concentrate on covering more ground, regardless of how long it takes. Take a rest day on Sunday. (If you change your schedule, just rest the day after the longest training session.) On non-running days, Galloway recommends doing exercises that won’t fatigue your calf muscles, such as walking, swimming, cycling, rowing or upper-body strength training.

Six-Week Schedule to Train for a 5K 

Week 1: Tuesday (10 minutes); Thursday (13 minutes); Saturday (1 mile, however long it takes to finish)
Week 2: Tuesday (16 minutes); Thursday (19 minutes); Saturday (2 miles)
Week 3: Tuesday (19 minutes); Thursday (22 minutes); Saturday (2.5 miles)
Week 4: Tuesday (22 minutes); Thursday (25 minutes); Saturday (3 miles)
Week 5: Tuesday (25 minutes); Thursday (28 minutes); Saturday (3. 5 miles)
Week 6: Tuesday (20 minutes); Thursday (30 minutes) and then Race Day! (Usually Saturday or Sunday)

The big day. On the day of the event, give yourself plenty of time to find parking, register and use the restroom. Finish eating at least 30 minutes before the start time. “You want some carbohydrates, but not too much fat or protein,” says Accetta. Try half of a whole-wheat bagel, oatmeal or a banana. (Your diet leading up to the 5K shouldn’t change much, and there’s no reason to load up on carbs the night before.) Depending on your preference and the day’s weather, you can carry a water bottle with you or rehydrate after you reach the finish line. As you’re trekking along, take in the sites and soak up the energy from other runners and walkers. High-five your running partner or your cheering family and friends as you cross the finish line -- you deserve to celebrate!

Quick Tip: Apps to Help You Train

Map My Run: Find running routes anywhere, map your run and track your pace and distance. Free on iTunes and Google Play

Nike+ Running: Tracks your pace, distance traveled, calories burned, and maps out the route you’ve completed. Free on iTunes and Google Play

Runkeeper: Tracks distance, pace and time of runs/walks. Free on iTunes and Google Play

5K Runmeter:  Features a 5K run/walk training program for beginners, as well as training plans for your next challenge: a 10K or half-marathon. $4.99 on iTunes; $2.99 at Google Play

Tempo Magic Pro: Allows you to adjust a song’s tempo on your iPod player to match your run stride. $1.99 on iTunes; (no Google Play app)

Easy 5K with Jeff Galloway: Features a 7-week training program, GPS tracking, stat tracking, high-energy fitness music and beat-sync technology to match your music with your run pace. $3.99 on iTunes (no Google Play app)

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