How long will it take to get ready for my first 5K? How long do I need to train for my first 5K?
HOW do I even START training for a 5K??
These are the biggest questions I get from people ready to knock 3.1 miles off their running to do list. And often in a panic when the race sneaks up on them.
First 5K Training Tips
Did your first 5K land on you by surprise? Maybe a friend shoved a last-minute Turkey Trot on you or you’ve realized there’s a charity run you signed up for and forgot about.
It suddenly hits you: you’ve only got a few weeks to get your behind in gear and get moving!
My favorite first 5K training tips:
- run/walk is not just acceptable, but usually necessary to get your body used to the pounding of running
- remember to enjoy the process – celebrate each time you go a bit farther
- giving yourself enough time to train means the race will hurt less and you’re less likely to get injured
- anyone can do a 5k!! Don’t psych yourself out, at the start line you’ll see a whole variety of people
- stop worrying about your weight or your size or your stride, none of that is what makes a runner; what makes a runner is the dedication and the determination
All right with those in mind, let’s dive in to your most common 5k training questions and make this a reality.
1. Is It Okay to Run/Walk Your First 5K?
Absolutely! There’s nothing that says you must only run to be a runner.
Many new runners fear the run/walk or feel like it means you’re somehow “less” of a runner. Put that idea out of your head right now!
Even if you walk or jog, you’re still a “real runner.”
- Alternating running and walking is totally normal.
- I guarantee you’re going to see plenty of walkers during your race. There’s no shame in walking.
- Using a run/walk method to train will even help you prevent injury.
In fact, the run/walk method is actually a real thing. It’s called the Galloway Method and many runners even Boston Qualify using it! (But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.)
The Galloway Method is one of the best ways to start running because it allows you to slowly increase your run time.
- Your body has plenty of room to adjust and get used to each new pace.
- You’re increasing your effort, but it’s gradual—baby steps, ya know?
- Nothing will derail your 5K like an overuse injury, so don’t overdo it at first.
- You know the saying: slow and steady wins (or at least finishes) the race.
Here’s how using the Galloway Run/Walk Method might look after you spend at least 10 minutes warming up:
Week 1 – 3:3 (run to walk intervals in minutes)
Week 2 – 3:2 (run to walk intervals)
Week 3 – 3:1 (run to walk intervals)
Week 4 – 4:1 (or maybe stay at 3: 1 for a while—see how you feel)
Celebrate ALL Your Progress
As you complete each run, allow yourself to celebrate each little bit of progress!
Don’t judge yourself based on what you think you need to be doing or what you wish you could do. You’ll get there eventually. For now, start out slow and take PLENTY of walk breaks.
Maybe, after you train for a month or two, you’ll find 5:1 or 8:1 is your perfect split.
Fabulous! Stick to it!! When you find a comfortable split, focus on increasing your distance or use it to play with your pace during the run portion. The objective is to build up endurance, not to feel like you need to continuously run for hours on end.
If you’re worried about your walk breaks slowing your pace down, don’t sweat it! Over time you’ll also work on keeping up a faster pace during the walk portion. Some runners may even find their walk time is nearly as fast as their jog!
2. How Do I Set Reasonable Goals for a First 5k?
One of the best ways to relieve pressure around your first 5K attempt is to remember this: the number one goal is to improve.
You don’t need to be the fastest to the finish.
And whatever time you set the first go around gives you new information about what you can do and a goal to aim for in the next 5K (trust me there’s always a second).
If you want to continue to build your running skills, aim for a finish you feel good about.
Set a baseline.
If your first 5K seems slow, GREAT! You’ll only move forward from there. In fact, a low baseline puts you on track for those two little letters that thrill runners: P.R.
P.R. stands for “personal record,” also called P.B. for “personal best,” (but the letters P.B. make me hungry, so around here we stick with P.R.). Enjoy each time you manage to set a record. A P.R. is occasion for celebration!
Great, I understand setting a low baseline so I get better each time, but realistically, what’s a reasonable goal? This brings us to…
3. How Long Should It Take to Run a 5K?
Let’s do the math:
- A fast walk at 4.0 MPH will take you about 46 minutes
- A 12-minute mile (that’s 5.0 MPH) will take you about 37 minutes
- A 10-minute mile (at 6.0 MPH) will take you about 31 minutes
All of those are totally awesome times!
Just because the race winners are finishing in 15 minutes doesn’t mean boo.
You aren’t trying to win! You’re focusing on making progress and enjoying the day, so you’re ready to do this again and again!
4. How Long Does it Take to Train for a 5K?
For beginning runners, training for a 5K could take 6 weeks to 16 weeks! There are a lot of variables, so let’s break down a few to see where you are and help you decide how long you need.
- Are you starting from scratch with no recent exercise experience? (12-16 weeks for safety)
- Do you have a time goal?
- What kinds of other workouts are you already doing?
If you simply feel a little out of shape and you’re looking for a way to get motivated, a 5K is a powerful goal.
New To Exercising Consistently
If you’re starting from scratch, allow yourself at least 12 weeks to build up safely.
You don’t want to derail your progress with an injury, so building up slow will help you get into a routine of running regularly. You won’t feel burned out and ready to stop immediately post-race. Start slow and you’ll feel ready to P.R. in race number 2!
Exercising, But Increasing Intensity
Are you currently walking daily or biking frequently? Are you in pretty decent shape but looking to add running to your regular routine?
If you’re starting with a bit of exercise experience under your belt, you’ll still want to allow yourself at least 10 weeks.
Running uses different muscles and requires you to build stamina and cardio capacity.
Already Running, But Never a Race
Are you taking consistent fitness classes or engaging in a little running, but somewhat sporadically?
Allow at least 8 weeks.
Even if you’ve been a runner in the past and you’re feeling pretty fit or if you run occasionally, you’ll still want to give yourself time to train. 8 weeks will allow you to ramp up running routine and turn it into a regular running habit.
Printable First 5K Training Plan
Here’s a basic “Couch to 5K” program to help you start training for your first 5K.
Pin it to reference later or grab our free printable version!
- Note this program only uses only 3 days a week of running.
- This is plenty to get you started, but for a bonus spend a little time 2 or 3 other days of the week cross training.
- Incorporate more fitness into your daily routine—take the stairs, get a standing desk and park out in the boonies when you go to the store. Even taking a few long walks on your “off” days will help you build your fitness.
For runners, these types of cross training are most useful to help you build strength, endurance and even avoid injury.
Don’t make the cardinal runner sin of neglecting things like the post run stretching to loosen tight hips or stopping your other workouts like biking and strength training.
5. What Running Gear Do I Need for a 5K?
When you first start out, it’s tempting to focus on the equipment you need. In fact, it even gives you an excuse to procrastinate. (I can’t run until I get a pair of compression socks!)
Here’s the deal: don’t get too worked up about having the perfect gear. Truthfully, running doesn’t require much and having started back in the day when cotton t-shirts and log baggy shirts were in vogue, I can tell you: gear isn’t what makes you a runner.
Showing up, doing the work and putting one foot in front of the other is what’s going to matter most!
That being said, if new gear is going to get you motivated (it definitely motivates me!!), here are the most important pieces of gear in order:
- Finding the right running shoes
- Why running socks matter
- Anti-chafe stick
- Dri-FIT (or moisture-wicking) shirt
- Dri-FIT (or moisture-wicking) Capri pants or shorts
- My summer must haves
- My winter must haves
There ya have it!
That’s all you need to get ready for running your first 5K!
Remember to go slow and steady, alternate runs with walks, and build up your speed and distance as you go. Before you know it, you’ll have a 5K under your belt!
Are you running a 5K soon?
What’s your strategy for getting started?
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