how to train for your first 5k

Congratulations! You have committed to running 3.1 miles, or, as it’s more popularly know, 5 kilometers. Whether this is your first 5K ever or your first time running this length in a long time, there are a few steps you must take before crossing the finish line.

As you may know, the 5K is the most popular distance running race.  It is short enough that you do not need months of preparation (as most half and regular marathons do) and is an amazing goal to set and hit for novice runners or those trying to get back into shape.  But let’s face it; crossing the finish line at any distance is a great feeling and feat! I remember my very first 5k for Susan G Komen (you can see the adventure here), I did it 2 weeks after wisdom tooth surgery but since I committed with a girlfriend I made sure it happened even if we did walk the whole thing 🙂

To start training, you will need a few things: time, commitment, goals, proper gear, support, motivation and an accompanying nutrition plan.  So, what do you say? Are you ready to run?

How to Train for a 5k

how to train for a 5k

Make Your Plan and Set Your Goal

First thing’s first, you need a plan!  Use your lunch break or your evenings to fit in your exercising. Or, if you’re a busy beaver, you might have to sacrifice a few winks to wake up extra early before work to fit in your training (don’t worry – it’ll be worth it in the end!).

A good schedule will take you anywhere from five to ten weeks. It all depends on your fitness ability when you start. Some popular schedules will go like this: run/walk for at least 30 minutes Monday through Thursday, taking Friday to rest and Saturday to give it your all in a lengthy distance, followed by Sunday to then rest again. The flow of most training schedules will work in a build-up. You will build momentum and stamina in the first half of the week and end on either Friday or Saturday with a long walk/run – we’re talking up to 7 km.

Why go more than you have to?  You want to make race day easy and breezy.  When you train for a marathon, you normally get up to a few miles shy of the goal so you push out all you’ve got on race day.  But 5K’s are different.  You go a little bit further (just walking if you want!) so you can run the entire time on the big day.

Next, you have to set some goals.  Is the goal simply to finish?  Is there a certain time you want to hit? You decide what you want to get out of this 5K!

I created a free downloadable PDF that will help you map out your goal, check it out by clicking the button below:

Free Goal Planning Worksheet

Get the Gear

Make sure you have the proper equipment in check before you begin training to reduce your chance of injury.  Start with sneakers.  Nike, Asics and Adidas all make bright and fun running shoes that last. You want to find something with an arch for cushion and support, something that fits your foot just right – not too tight or too loose.  Sneakers should last you between six months to a year (depending on how often you use them) before it’s time to buy again.

You also might want to invest in a decent water bottle, running watch (the Jawbone or FitBit Flex are great at tracking your entire health regime), iPod holder, hat or sunglasses, sports bras and, of course, cute running outfits.

how to train for a 5k

Build a Following

Registering for the event in the first place should keep you on track with training.  Every workout from now until the big day will be purposeful – or should be. As with any difficult life goal, it’s easy to get distracted, cheat or take a day off. That’s why it’s important to have other people around you supporting you and holding you accountable.

Find a running club or join a gym. Meet like-minded people with like-minded interests who will cheer you on! Have a buddy register for the race, too, so you can complete your workouts together.

Incorporate strength training

Make sure you are adding in a bit of weight training to your routine. Two to three times per week add in a weights or cross-training segment. Use dumbbells to work your arms and legs.  Do push-ups, planks and crunches. Whatever it takes for you to also be building muscle.  Strength training builds support and decreases your risk of injury from overdoing your muscles while running.


Though it might not seem it, rest days are just as important as exercising days.  Your body rebuilds muscle and grows stronger while you are resting. Take it easy and get in your beauty sleep. Do not use your rest days as an excuse to cheat and eat two extra large pizzas. You will only pay the price the next training day!

Don’t Forget about Food!

Food is fuel. You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘put good in, get good out’ before. You need to be putting healthy foods into your body if you want to see it go far.

If it helps, keep a log of the food you eat everyday. You will get a better prospective of what you are putting into your body and what you need to change.

Lots of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats are essential to providing your body with the nutrients it needs to endure running. You might be wondering why carbs are important – especially if one of your takeaways from 5K training is to lose weight. But in fact more than 50% of your daily intake should be carbs like vegetables and fruits because that is what fuels your workouts!

Carbs are nothing but stored energy and you need every ounce of energy out there on the trails.Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are great sources (and much better than what you usually think of when you think carbs…you know, popcorn, fries and all that junk food!).

Protein is also important, as it helps muscles recover quickly. Think chicken, eggs, yogurt, etc. Add in healthy fats like almonds, olive oil and avocados and you’re good to go.

How to train for a race

Ready, Set, Go

On the big day, get there early so you have time to register, park and get settled.  You’ll probably be a little nervous or excited, too. Eat a light source of carbohydrates (like a banana) half and hour before the start time. This will give you the energy you need to get through the race, but also not weigh you down and give you muscle cramps.

Then, blast off! Put all of your training to good use as you cruise to the finish line.  Download your favorite songs onto a motivational playlist to listen to during the race.  High five people watching on the sidelines. The most important thing is to stay motivated, focused and have fun. If you feel the need to walk, do not beat yourself up. One of the most important things in life is to just show up and you definitely did just that!

When the race is over, glory in a delicious post-race snack.Try a fruit or some coconut water again (to replenish the ones you’ve lost) and drink lots of water.

Grab that well-deserved T-shirt and take a rest. You did it!

SO I wanna know..

  • Have you taken the 5k challenge yet?
  • What did you do to prepare?