How to train for your first 5K

September 14, 2022 | by Laurie Lasseter
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Training for your first race can be exciting and a bit overwhelming, but it won’t be a problem if you break it into easy steps.

Your first step, if you haven’t taken it already, should be to get to the point where you can run for 30 minutes at a time without stopping, three times a week. Now, let’s review how to extend your run to the 5K distance, and work a bit on pacing and speed.

First, determine how far you are running in your 30-minute run. Count laps on a measured track, run on a marked course, or use a GPS watch or your phone and a phone app like MapMyRun.

If you are new to running, chances are, you aren’t yet running 3.1 miles in your 30-minute runs. If that’s true, start adding five minutes per run per week until you get to 3.1 miles. The plan looks like this:

  • Week 1 - Run 30 minutes per session, 3-4 times per week
  • Week 2 - Run 35 minutes per session, 3-4 times per week
  • Week 3 - Run 40 minutes per session, 3-4 times per week
  • Week 4 - Run 45 minutes per session, 3-4 times per week

Beyond week 4, continue as above, adding five minutes to each run every week until you are running for long enough to complete 3.1 miles of running during each session.

At this point, all running in the above plan should be done at an easy conversation pace. If you can’t comfortably hold a conversation, slow down a bit. You don’t want to go too fast as you build your endurance.

Also, don’t exceed four days per week of running. On non-running days, dedicate one day to rest and strength-train or cross-train on the other two.

Listen to your body—don’t worry if you need to repeat one or more of the above weeks before moving on. Each runner is different and your progress may not always go according to your plan. If you feel like a particular training week was very difficult, or if you are developing a lot of soreness, aches and pains, repeat the current week before proceeding to the next one in the plan.

Once you are running 3.1 miles in training, you are ready to run in a 5K (3.1 mile) race! For your first one, set a goal to finish in lieu of a specific time goal. Since you’re already running 3.1 miles in training, you should have no problem completing that distance in a race.

If you’re interesting in improving your speed before race day, incorporate a ‘speed day’ into your training program. Shorten one of your weekly runs by 10-15 minutes and gradually increase to a pace that is 15-20 seconds per mile faster than usual.

For example, measure your easy/conversation pace to use as a baseline and use a measured track, course, GPS watch or phone app to do this accurately. You can achieve a faster speed by increasing the speed of your leg turnover (your cadence).

So, you’ve followed the plan and you’re just about ready. Incorporate these night-before tips to ensure a great race:

  • Review the course map.
  • Check the weather forecast and lay out appropriate clothing.
  • Pin your race number to your shirt and affix your timing chip (if you have one) to your shoe.
  • Go to bed just a little bit earlier than normal.
  • Try to relax!

On race day, try to run a fairly even pace for your 5K. This pace should be just slightly faster than the conversation pace you ran in training. If you did a speed day each week, aim for that faster pace. Enjoy your first race experience and finish strong!

Drive your health forward at Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness.

Laurie Lasseter is a marathoner, ACE certified personal trainer, and an RRCA certified running coach with Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness Centers.

Join the 2022 Healthy Driven Running Series! The series includes three fall races that Edward-Elmhurst Health is sponsoring:

  • Harvest 5K Run/Walk & Kidz Miler (Plainfield): Sunday, Sept. 25
  • 2022 Healthy Driven Half Marathon & 5K (Naperville): Sunday, Oct. 16
  • Fraidy Cat 5K, Ghost Run 10K & Meow Mile (Oswego): Sunday, Oct. 30

Runners who finish all three races (5K or longer) will receive a Healthy Driven Running Series finisher medal. Learn more.

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