Training For a 5K

Sage RountreeMaybe you used to run but got out of the habit when life got in the way. Maybe you’re happy with your current gym routine and the occasional jog. Maybe you already run some and feel intrigued by the stories of your friends who run marathons. Training for a 5K is a great place to start your trip to becoming a runner. It doesn’t take a big time commitment—under an hour a day, at least three days a week. And experienced runners can tell you: it can be just as hard as the longer stuff!

Following a plan takes the guesswork out of daily workouts and gives structure and meaning to your training. I’ve done the planning for you, including cool-down yoga podcasts. Your job is simply to execute the runs.

If it feels a little intimidating, all the better. Most things worth doing are. So push your limits, race the clock, and compete with yourself. It’ll be the start of a new adventure.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

Approval from your doctor. This is always a good idea when you begin a new program; it’s especially important if you have had running-related injuries in the past.

A target race. It’s easy to find a nearby 5K, possibly a turkey trot, jingle bell, or resolution run. Seeing your neighbors will provide impetus to keep running! To find a race, check your local paper, as well as Active.com and the Runner’s World Race Finder.

Good shoes. Head to your local specialty running store and have your stride assessed. Expect to pay $100 for decent shoes—your body is worth it. Keep these shoes exclusively for running, and replace them as soon as they break down.

Supportive bra. It’s time for a high-impact sports bra that fits well. When you find one that works, order two or even more, so you can rotate them.

Chafe-free, wicking bottoms. Shorts, a running skirt, tights—all these are fine. Just choose something that doesn’t chafe your thighs, belly button, or any other part of your body. If your bottoms don’t have a liner, choose wicking panties over cotton, which will weigh you down and can chafe.

Open road. Trails are ideal, if you have access to a safe, soft trail. If you’re completely new to running, approach singletrack trails with caution, choosing fire roads and bridle paths as you build your sense of balance. If trails are out of the question, choose a soft track over asphalt, and asphalt over concrete, which is very hard on the legs. Use the treadmill only as a last resort. Your race will involve you moving across terrain, not staying in place as you hover over a treadmill belt.

A friend. Training partners are wonderful motivators, especially if you like to think up excuses to beg off your workout. Knowing a friend is waiting for you helps get you out of bed in the dark or straight into your running clothes after work. A canine friend can be just as much help as a human one!

THE PLAN: OVERVIEW

I’ve built a lot of leeway into this 5K plan. If you are already running for fitness, you can run up to five days per week on this schedule. If you are prone to injury, new to running, or enjoy swimming, cycling, Spinning, climbing, rowing, in-line skating, hiking, dancing, or just grinding it out on the elliptical trainer, choose those activities on days cross-training is scheduled. Aim to meet the allotted time for cross-training; you can go over if you’re not going hard or are enjoying a non-impact sport.

If your schedule keeps you busy on the weekends but gives you time during the week, feel free to start on another day. You can also shuffle workouts during the week, but don’t stack two hard days (Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday) back to back.

Be sure to start and end every workout with some easy running to warm up and cool down. Ten minutes is a minimum here. After ten minutes easy, you’ll include harder sections or hills according to the schedule. For example, the instructions for the first run read “Pickups: run 40 min. with 6 x 30 sec. fast, 2 min. easy between.” This means that during your first forty-minute Tuesday run, you’ll do at least ten minutes of running to warm up, then you’ll include six surges, each lasting thirty seconds, with two minutes of easy running between, before finishing with ten or more minutes of cool-down. This plan measures your runs for time, not distance. Aim to complete each workout within five minutes of the suggested time. You’ll be running on feeling, rather than pace or heart rate; this keeps things simple and easy, and it personalizes the plan to how you’re feeling day to day.

I’ve included instructions for yoga and, optionally, Pilates. Yoga and Pilates are both great for increasing your core strength and maintaining your flexibility. A stable core is critical to running. Your core is the anchor of your stride, and being strong through the center keeps you together as you fatigue. Being flexible, with full range of motion around the hip joint and down the legs, prevents many of the overuse issues that plague runners (IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, shin splints).

The schedule suggests yoga routines to match each day’s demands. These are linked to episodes of my podcast, Sage Yoga Training, and I’ve also listed the constituent poses. You can substitute your own favorites as well. You can learn about the poses from any experienced teacher, from my book The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, or from Yoga Journal’s Pose Finder.

If your target race is more than eight weeks away, you can repeat either of the four-week blocks, or simply build to running the amount of time listed in week 1.

THE PLAN: FIRST FOUR WEEKS

Tuesday’s pickups teach you to turn your feet over faster—this is laying the groundwork for the second block’s speed. They’ll be like little surges in your run.

Whether your race is flat or hilly, you’ll include hill running on Thursdays to build run-specific strength. Here’s one place where a treadmill can come in handy, if you live in a very flat area (set the incline around 5 percent). There’s no shame in walking back to the bottom of the hill—you need to feel recovered so you can put out an honest hard effort on the next climb. If you’re feeling playful, try walking down the hill backward, to stretch out the legs.

Saturdays are for longer runs. These should be run at a conversational pace. (Ideally, you’ll be talking to a buddy and not to yourself!)

You’ll increase the work over the first three weeks, with the fourth reducing volume so you can absorb the training. Feel free to drop an easy workout in this fourth week—get a massage or go to the beach instead.

MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
WEEK
1

Rest; Yoga or Pilates
Pickups:
Run 40 min. with 6 x 30 sec. fast, 2 min. easy between. Follow with Wall Stretches.
30 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Core and More.
Hills:
Run 40 min. with 4 x 45 sec. hard up a hill, walking back down.
Follow with Lunge Series.

Rest; include Relax.
Run 40 min.
Follow with Standing Stretches.
30 min. easy or cross-train.Follow with Quick Fix.
WEEK
2

Rest; Yoga or Pilates
Pickups:Run 40 min. with 7 x 30 sec. fast, 2 min. easy between. Follow with Wall Stretches. 30 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Core and More.
Hills:
Run 40 min. with 4 x 60 sec. hard up a hill, walking back down.
Follow with Lunge Series.

Rest; include Relax.
Run 45 min.
Follow with Standing Stretches.
30 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Quick Fix.
WEEK
3

Rest; Yoga or Pilates
Pickups:
Run 40 min. with 8 x 30 sec. fast, 2 min. easy between. Follow with Wall Stretches.
30 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Core and More.
Hills:
Run 40 min. with 4 x 90 sec. hard up a hill, walking back down.
Follow with Lunge Series.

Rest; include Relax.
Run 50 min.
Follow with Standing Stretches.
30 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Quick Fix.
WEEK
4

Rest; Yoga or Pilates

Pickups:
Run 40 min. with 4 x 30 sec. fast, 2 min. easy between. Follow with Wall Stretches.
30 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Core and More.
Hills:
Run 40 min. with 4 x 45 sec. hard up a hill, walking back down.
Follow with Lunge Series.

Rest; include Relax.
Run 40 min.
Follow with Standing Stretches.
30 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Quick Fix.

THE PLAN: SECOND FOUR WEEKS

Time to capitalize on the groundwork and build speed. Tuesdays you’ll run hard for time. What’s “hard”? Define it for yourself. Aim for a pace that feels tough but lets you get through the allotted intervals without blowing up. This effort will be at or above your 5K race pace.

Thursdays, you’ll run tempo. “Tempo” has many meanings—again, you’ll need to set your own definition. The middle, “medium hard” section of these runs should take some focus, especially toward the end, but not leave you wiped out.

If your running is going well, build the long run up to one hour in this block. If you are pressed for time or feel like that’s too much, it’s fine to hold at 45 or 50 minutes throughout this block.

The fourth week of this second block reduces your volume while maintaining a little intensity to get you rested and ready to run your best on race day.

Before you know it, race day will arrive. Include a short warm-up timed to finish close to the race start. Get into your fast groove, keep your attention on good form, push, and smile!

MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
WEEK
5

Rest; Yoga or Pilates
Intervals:
Run 45 min. with 4 x 3 min. hard, 2 min. easy between. Follow with IT Band Express.
40 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Core and More.
Tempo:
Run 45 min. with 15 min. medium hard.
Follow with Pigeon Sequence.

Rest; include Relax.
Run 50 min.
Follow with Standing Stretches.
40 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Core and More.
WEEK
6

Rest; Yoga or Pilates
Intervals:
Run 45 min. with 5 x 3 min. hard, 2 min. easy between. Follow with IT Band Express.
40 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Core and More.
Tempo:
Run 45 min. with 20 min. medium hard.
Follow with Pigeon Sequence.

Rest; include Relax.
Run 55 min.
Follow with Standing Stretches.
40 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Core and More.
WEEK
7

Rest; Yoga or Pilates
Intervals:
Run 45 min. with 5 x 3 min. hard, 1 min. easy between. Follow with IT Band Express.
40 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Core and More.
Tempo:
Run 45 min. with 25 min. medium hard.
Follow with Pigeon Sequence.

Rest; include Relax.
Run 60 min. Plan a water stop or two. Wear the clothes you plan to race in.
Follow with Standing Stretches.
40 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Core and More.
WEEK
8

Rest; Yoga or Pilates
Intervals:
Run 45 min. with 3 x 3 min. hard, 2 min. easy between. Follow with IT Band Express.
30 min. easy or cross-train.
Follow with Core and More.
Taper:
Run 30 min. with 3 x 90 sec. comfortably fast.
Follow with Pigeon Sequence.

Rest or run 10-15 min; just enough to calm you down. Include Relax.
Race! Include a warm-up of 10 min. with 4 x 20 sec. fast, timed to finish close to the start. Take an easy walk to work out any stiffness. Follow with Relax.

CLICK HERE FOR A PRINTABLE PDF OF THE TRAINING PLAN
(Adobe Reader required)

I look forward to taking your questions in the comments below. Good luck, and please let me know how it goes! And when you’re ready to train for a 10K, CLICK HERE! »

SAGE ROUNTREE is a USA Triathlon Certified Expert Coach, Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher, author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga, a contributor to Runner’s World, a member of PowerBar Team Elite, and one of Athleta's Featured Athletes in 2009. She loves competing in triathlon and running races of all distances. Through her business, Sage Endurance, she teaches yoga to athletes and coaches clients in running, ultrarunning, triathlon, and duathlon... {more»}

Comments

  1. Julie says:

    Hi, Sage, great post…question for you. I am considering doing a sprint triathlon next summer and am looking for a training plan like the one that you posted for the 5K. Any recommendations?

    Thanks!

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  2. Rachel says:

    Great article and ideas. Running and yoga are mandatory for each other. The more I run the more yoga I require. Wished I lived on your side of the country, I’d be in your classes!

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  3. Sage says:

    Hi, Julie! There are many good places to get a training plan for your sprint tri. Gale Bernhardt’s plans are first-rate and available in her book “Training Plans for Multisport Athletes” as well as online at TrainingPeaks.com. You can find similar plans at BeginnerTriathlete.com and other sites online.

    My friend Monette and I wrote a plan to prep women for a local women-only race, the Ramblin’ Rose. Its distances are very short, but you can extrapolate and add a little more to each workout for the standard sprint distance of 750m/20K/5K. You can find the schedule here: http://www.endurancemag.com/eventproduction/RR08/RR-Getting_Started_JUN08_LR.pdf

    Chapter 19 of my book “The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga” shows how to slot the yoga into your training week, with variations for a single-sport athlete, a triathlete, and an all-around active person. The deeper you get into yoga, the easier you’ll find it is to intuit what to do on any given day.

    If there’s interest, I’ll work up a sprint tri training plan with yoga included. I can’t recommend triathlon enough–it is great fun with built-in cross-training. The only downside is that people tend to love it TOO much and get obsessed!

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  4. Dawn says:

    Sage, I loved your post – what fantastic information you’ve given to us, including the podcast links. Wow! I wish I would have known about you sooner – I used to live in the RTP, NC, area until this past July when my husband was transferred to NJ. But, thanks to your post, I look forward to tackling the plans you’ve laid out for a 5K as all-around fitness has always been my goal.

    I am currently 7.5 months pregnant and my level of fitness has really diminished, or so it seems. It is very frustrating. I walk (til my feet hurt anyway) and cycle, and also do prenatal yoga or pilates every day at home, but I long to be able to take a deep breath again, to run, to touch my toes, and so on. If you have any suggestions about getting back in shape after baby, or any websites that have training plans specifically for post-partum fitness endeavors, that’d be great. I have watched Maya’s video on here (Athleta Chi) about 10 times and it gives me hope that I will once again return to the fitness level I used to have. I also want to pursue triathlon but that seems to be a very distant goal at the moment.

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  5. Sage says:

    Hi, Dawn–I can relate to how you’re feeling, having exercised as best I could through my two pregnancies. Your body is doing just what it should: directing all its energies toward the baby and prepping you for the endurance event of labor and delivery!

    Part of that process is the relaxing of the ligaments around your hips, so you’ll need to be careful postpartum. They say nine months in, nine months out, meaning it’ll take about nine months for your body to return to its standard shape. Disheartening, maybe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work out as soon as your health-care provider gives you the thumbs-up.

    I was walking and doing some gentle stretching the afternoon my second daughter was born. After a month or so, I’d take her for walks and jogs. (The baby needs to be a certain size to fit in the jogger safely.) When she was four months old, I ran in a 10K pushing her in the stroller. In fact, that was the first time I ever won an award, third place in the baby jogger division! After the race, I was sitting on a park bench nursing her, still wearing my race number, when a nice older runner came by and commented, “Now that’s what I call a milk shake!”

    You might enjoy reading these essays on the Web page of the Road Runners Club of America: http://www.rrca.org/resources/articles/runaftch.html

    Take it easy but keep it consistent is my best advice. I know you’ll get there. They say that moms are faster. It’s held true in my circle of friends. Being a mother gives you a new perspective on why you train, and it will increase your endurance, raise your pain tolerance, and give you incentive to make every workout count.

    Best wishes for the rest of your pregnancy, your fitness program postpartum, and your life as a mother!

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  6. Julie says:

    Sage, this is great, thanks so much., this is so helpful. I’m in the Washington, DC area, and planning on doing the IronGirl sprint tri in August 2009. However, I have family in Charlotte, NC, so will consider the Ramblin’ Rose. FYI–I am also a student at Circle Yoga in Chevy Chase, Md., and have signed up for your workshop, so I look forward to meeting you there.

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  7. Dawn says:

    Sage, thank you for the advice and personal wisdom! Your response was quite encouraging as well as logical – just what I needed! I look forward to seeing more posts from you here on the Athleta Chi blog.

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  8. Hannah says:

    I’m sure this is a very lovely plan for people who can already run 40 minutes in week one. However, if I could already run for 40 minutes I wouldn’t need a training plan for a 5K since that basically is a 5K (or more). I would love a training plan that makes more sense for a beginner than someone who is already able to run that long.

    Like: Thumb up 1

  9. Rachel says:

    Hannah,

    This article and the comments below it may be helpful:

    http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-380-381–9397-1-1X5-3,00.html

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  10. Amy says:

    Hi Sage,

    I wanted to click on the links for the after running streches, but they wouldn’t work. Is there some way I could get those? Thanks! I’m enjoying the 5K workout so far!

    Regards,
    Amy

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  11. michelle says:

    Sorry about that Amy. The files moved after this plan was posted, but the links are fixed now. All the best with your training!

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  12. Jainee says:

    Sage,
    HELP! I am a 40 year old who has lost her drive. I enjoyed cross-country and track in high school and was running 11 to 13 miles at least three times a week in college and throughout my early 20s. Then came family, work, and many other excuses not to stay in shape. I do practice yoga but I’ve found that just yoga is not rewarding enough for me. I miss running. I miss the feeling of accomplishment it gave me. I’m having tremendous difficulty getting started. Every now and then I’ll put in a mile or two (usually just one) and then be so sore that I don’t stick with it. Can you offer some advice or some “getting started” tips to help me stay motivated and focused? I don’t have a running partner or workout trainer so I’m on my own with this but it’s really important to me to “get back in the game”. I’m not in good shape anymore so I’ll need to start slow and easy but the key word here is START. What should I do so I don’t get discouraged? I’d appreciate any advice you can give.

    Like: Thumb up 0

  13. Sage says:

    Hi, Jainee,

    I think you answer your own question here: start slow and easy, and expand your thinking to include walking as part of the “run workout.” You might aim to walk 30-45 minutes, with the first and last 10 walking and the middle part a run/walk mix, maybe run 2/walk 3, or some ratio that works for you.

    Having a partner–even a dog, even a NEIGHBOR’S dog–will certainly help.

    A little soreness is normal. Be sure your shoes are fresh and the right type for you. Also, choose soft surfaces, like smooth trail or a rubber track, if you can stand it.

    Hope this helps! You can do it, Jainee!

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  14. Jackie says:

    Hannah and other non-runners,

    I am a first time runner at the age of 43. I found an iPod application called “Couch to 5k” that was perfect for me. It is a program that runs in the background while you have your choice of music on and prompts you to walk or run at preset intervals over a 30 minute period. Over the course of nine weeks you progress until you are running a 5k. I have asthma and have always avoided running. This slow build up was perfect for me and I actually enjoyed it!

    Good Luck!

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  15. Jody says:

    Thanks Sage, this looks like a great way to get started running. Jackie, I am also interested in the iPod application that you mentioned in your post, can you tell me how to find it? Thanks, I have always wanted to run a 5k and am hoping to finally start training.

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  16. Anna says:

    Hi all–about the Couch to 5K ipod app–there are a few available. You can just search for Couch to 5K in the app store. I use a UK one called Get Running which has a training plan all mapped out with 3 runs per week, but I usually add in a 4th. I am just beginning running again after two stress fractures and I’ve found the app really helpful. I’m hoping that it’s helping me make my bones stronger slowly enough that I can avoid fractures from now on, and at the end of its 9 weeks maybe I’ll try out this plan!

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  17. Nina says:

    Dear Sage,
    I can’t thank you enough for this terrific program. I was not athletic as a kid, and although I have exercised regularly as an adult, I had never really had the experience of pushing myself to the limit physically. The hill and interval runs in your training program taught me to relish that intensity, and when I finished my 5k race, I felt strong, in-control, and pain-free. Looking forward to doing this program agei and then on to the 10k. Thank you!

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  18. Adriana says:

    Sage,
    My Grandmother signed up for a 5K recently, who said she may jog here and there, but was going to walk most of it.. I have never been able to run for any length of time, but I *can* walk, sprint, jog… So when she asked me if I wanted to do it with her, I agreed. After being signed up she told me that I wouldn’t be walking with her. I would be with my age group…
    I’m almost 20 and it would be embarrassing to end up walking most of it. I don’t care what place I get, but I would like to be able to keep a jogging pace for the majority of it.
    What would be the best way, with only 2 weeks away, for me to build endurance? I really want to be able to run someday, but maybe I just don’t push myself hard enough?

    Like: Thumb up 0

  19. Sage says:

    Adriana, you can do it! You can probably move back to your grandmother’s corral to walk/jog with her. If you want to run most of the race, be sure you start at a very conservative pace and slot in intentional walk breaks from the start. (Perhaps jog 5 minutes, walk 1 is a good place to start.) There’s not much you can do to build endurance in two weeks, but you can practice this 5/1 ratio and find the right speed of slow that you can maintain for the full 5k. Let me know how it goes!

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  20. jane says:

    I am running a half marathon at the end of Feb. 2012. I have just started running/jogging. I did complete a 5K in May, my first one ever. How should I start training for the half marathon?

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  21. Sage says:

    Hi, Jane. Congrats on your race! You’ll want to be comfortable with the first week of the half marathon by November (take a look at my plan for it here: http://www.athleta.net/chi/2009/04/06/training-for-a-half-marathon/). Between now and then, a 10K is a good goal, as is keeping very consistent with your running and strength training. Have fun!

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  22. Maria says:

    Hi Sage,

    Thanks for putting together this great plan! I am really enjoying integrating yoga into my running routine. I was just wondering how fast “fast” should be in the first four weeks of pickups. Small increase or turbo rockets? I have been cruising pretty good and then feel really wiped in the last 10 minutes of easy running afterwards. Is that a good sign or a bad one?

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  23. Sage says:

    Thanks, Maria! “Fast” should be pretty fast, but not pukey fast. About to your 5K speed or faster, like a mile time trial speed. Not all out; that makes you tense. As you keep up with the plan, it should get easier. Good luck!

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  24. Robbin says:

    Hi Sage,
    I was an avid runner and Tri-athelete for many years. Running was my sense of peace. It gave me strength both mentally and physically. I miss it! I have had a double fusion in my lower back(lifted something way too heavy) and have limited running since. I want to get back into it. I currently walk, do Bikram Yoga and take Pilates twice a week but nothing gives me the peace of mind that running did. Do you have a program that I could use? Is there anyone that you know who runs after back surgery? If so, can you please pass my contact info on to them?
    Best,
    Robbin

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  25. Sage says:

    Hi, Robbin,

    I’m sorry that you can’t run right now. I can’t give medical advice, but I can suggest you talk to your health care provider and look into cycling. Maybe you can find a bike set-up that works for you?

    Personally, I love walking and can find hiking to be plenty of challenge. You might not be in the right location for vigorous hikes?

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  26. Jamie says:

    Morning Sage,

    I just tried using the links that are above in the training schedule, but they are all coming up with errors. Could you please help?

    Thank you,
    Jamie

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  27. Team Athleta says:

    Hi Jamie,

    Great news — the podcast links are fixed! We wish you the best with your training.

    ~Michelle

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