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The Best 5K Training Plan for Beginners

This is the ultimate, comprehensive guide to 5K training that will get you across the finish line (with a smile, hopefully)!

First of all, Why Run a 5K?

There are many reasons to run a 5K but here are our top reasons:

It’s an approachable distance

A 5K is 3.1 miles, and is one of the most approachable distances for beginners since most people can finish in 30-40 minutes (or less).

Training requirements vary depending on your starting fitness level but even if you’re completely new to running, you can still train for a 5K in 8 weeks.

Most beginners follow a simple walk/run plan that allows your body to slowly get used to running and build up your endurance over time. So you’re working towards a realistic, achievable goal without over-extending yourself.

Having a goal keeps you motivated – make it S.M.A.R.T.

Sometimes we feel more accountable to ourselves when we set a specific goal. That’s why I like the S.M.A.R.T. method.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Agreed-Upon, Realistic, and Time-Based. I learned this at work during a goal-setting exercise and have applied it to my fitness for years.

So, instead of saying a vague phrase like “I want to run more” or “one day I’d like to run a race”, think in more specific terms. Perhaps it’s “I want to complete my first 5K two months from now” or “I want to run the July 4th 5K in my hometown as my first 5K and I will finish!”.

The “agreed-upon” part is in your hands…you must agree to your goal I can’t help ya with that one haha.

Once the goal is set, then you’re more likely to stick to it!

Camaraderie (it’s a good bonding experience!)

I started running 5K’s about 9 years ago, and my first race was with coworkers and some friends.

They motivated me to sign up and commit and we really enjoyed talking about our running trials and tribulations. Having other people on the same journey made the 5K training process so much fun!

This year, my Dad ran his first 5K ever (at the age of 60!) and it kept him on his toes! He even stayed motivated during a time of year he usually takes an exercise break (winter).

That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

You don’t have to run with others. But if you have family or friends with similar goals, why not sign up for the same race and bond over achy muscles, good runs, and pre-race excitement?

Increased Energy

Exercising regularly gives you more energy.

I have personally experienced this and know many other people who have too.

So sign up for your first 5K and reap the benefits of regular exercise – plus (BONUS), the incredible energizing feeling of accomplishing your goal and running your first 5K!

Selecting a 5K Training Plan for Beginners

Identify your current fitness level:

Set Your Goal: I already talked about how to make a goal earlier, but now is the time to pick your exact goal. “Finish my first 5K by X date” is a totally acceptable goal! Don’t worry about time or pace if you’re a beginner. Completing the 5K (injury-free) is perfect!

However, if you are a beginner to 5K’s but not a beginner to exercising or running, then pick a finishing time or average pace you’d like to achieve.

To img out your normal pace, use this handy Pace Calculator.

Pick a Race: This is the fun part – which race do you want to select for your first 5K? Sign up at the beginning so you’re committed.

Pick a 5K Training Plan: First, you must identify your current fitness level. This is important, and you need to be honest for the plan to work.

There are various “scientific” methods to determine your fitness level but for the purpose of picking a 5k training plan for beginners, start with the following 10 week plan if you haven’t run 1 continuous mile yet:

Remember, you can modify any plan to fit your needs. If running a mile is too hard, then walk 2 minutes, run 2 minutes, and repeat until the mile is complete.

Preparing to Run

Don’t skimp on the running shoes, trust me.

Do not wear any cotton.

Let me say that again…step away from the cotton! Haha.

But really, cotton absorbs sweat and keeps it there, causing chaffing and issues with temperature regulation. Plus it’s just uncomfortable to be soaked in sweat all run.

  • Shirts/Pants – get at least two shirts and two pairs of pants (or shorts or capri’s) made of wicking material. You can find this cheap at places like TJ Maxx or online. The wicking material pulls the sweat away from your body and makes a WORLD of difference.

Sometimes, it’s ok to skimp on price and quality. Other times, it’s not. Running shoes = do not skimp.

  • Running shoes – get fitted for the right running shoes. This is my #1 recommendation. Find your local running gear shop. I can always find a pair between $80-$120 and they last a long time when training for 5K’s (recommendation is to get new running shoes every 300-ish miles).

MIND BLOWN when I wore the right pair of shoes for the first time. Everything was easier. I hurt less. Just bite the bullet and do it.

Music: Use Pandora or Spotify, or get a great playlist to pump you up and keep your mind occupied while running. It makes the run so much more fun!

Fitness Tracker or App: I used the free version of Runkeeper for years and loved it. Super easy to use as long as you have a smartphone. Use this if you just want to track your runs.

For fitness trackers, I have a FitBit and love it. But there are tons of options in the market, some as inexpensive as $20 (up to say $300+ for something more advanced like an Apple Watch). Use this if you want to have all your steps counted all day (and not just from a run). They usually come with other capabilities like sleep tracking too.

Hydrate: Make sure you drink plenty of water (all the time) but especially in the hours before your run so you’re properly hydrated.

I’ve seen a million recommendations on how many ounces or glasses to drink per day but the one that stuck with me is this: take you weight (in pounds) and divide it in half. That is how many ounces you should drink each day. Note: a typical plastic water bottle has 16oz or so, so if you’re 140lbs then you should be drinking approximately 4.3 of those water bottles per day, as an example).

Warm Up: Make sure to walk 3-5 minutes as a warm up, or do some light stretches. (**The jury is still out on static stretching before exercise so consult with a professional if you have questions about this, however, I have done static stretches for years and personally need it before a run).

During Your Run

Focus on Proper Running Form: I demystified proper running form in this post, but here are some highlights:

Head up and look at the horizon. Shoulders back and relaxed. Core straight.
Make sure your foot is hitting the ground directly under your hips. Don’t make fists with your hands…instead, relax them.
Arms pumping forward and back (not side to side across your body) and try to keep them at a 90 degree angle.

Breathe: Focus on proper breathing. Breathe in for 3 steps and out for 2. If you find yourself getting out of breathe or having difficulty breathing, ease up. Slow down or walk, it’s totally ok. You’re just learning!

Forget About Speed: Beginner runners sometimes get caught up trying to go faster, and it can be a mistake. Just focus on the distance you need to cover (or the time you’re supposed to run). As a beginner, your goal is not to run your first 5K at a super-human speed. It’s to finish it. And follow your training plan. So forget speed for now.

Follow the Plan: You chose a 5K training plan for beginners and now you need to stick to it. Don’t do anything crazy and add in tons of miles, or skip a full week. Stick to the plan as best you can and you’ll be rewarded on race day.

After Your Run

Cool Down and Stretch: End your run with a 5 minute walking cool-down. Make sure you stretch immediately after too: try these 10 post-workout stretching exercises!

Hydrate: See a pattern? Water is important to a runner. Drink plenty of water after your run, you just sweated! Even if it’s winter, your body still sweats.

Eat Something: Refuel with a healthy snack. Don’t go too long without eating something.

Are you super excited to start your 5K training?! I hope so! Comment or contact me at contact[at]howtorunguide[dot]com with any questions or inspirational stories about your first 5K!