How long will it take to get ready for my first 5K? How long do I need to train for a 5K?
HOW do I even START training for a 5K??
These are the biggest questions I get from people considering their first 5K.
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!
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)
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)
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?
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. Simply set your goal to steadily progress.
If you somehow miraculously go all out and your first 5K is blazing fast then every time you run it’s harder and harder to see improvements. Not only do you risk injury, but you risk mental burnout. 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?
Well, 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 beginners, training for a 5K takes time. It’s tough to say exactly how long, but a few questions will help us come up with an approximate guideline:
- Are you starting from scratch with no recent exercise experience?
- 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. 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!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.
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.
Here’s a basic “Couch to 5K” program to help you start training for your first 5K:
Note this program only looks at 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. For runners, cross training is a powerful tool to help you build strength, endurance and even avoid injury.
What are the best cross training options for runners?
Yoga is a great way to incorporate gentle stretching into your routine. The focus on breathing will help you increase your lung capacity and ease tightness in your hips.
Biking is another great option as is swimming, Pilates and even working out from home. 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.
One cross training focus that’s important for all runners is physical therapy.
I know, many of us think of PT as something you do only when you’re injured, but I’ve found incorporating PT moves into my regular routine helps keep me avoid injury in the first place! PT exercise will help you prevent IT band injuries and calf strain. It also helps increase your hip flexibility. Here are a few easy PT moves to get started.
Incorporate them into your routine at least once a week.
5. What Running Gear Do I Need?
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:
- Running shoes
- 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 to rock 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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