Training For a 5K

by Sage Rountree 27

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»}