By: Jeremy Neisser
Whether you’re looking just to cross the finish line, or break out a new personal best time, training for a 5k can be a daunting task.
It is important to understand some key principles of training so you can stay healthy, train intelligently, and reap the benefits of all your hard work when race day arrives.
Consider this article a summary of all the necessary items to consider while taking on your training, some may apply to your situation more than others, but they will all undoubtedly provide guidance and insight into topics that might be very familiar, or completely new.
Keep in mind that we also provide many free 5k training plans ranging from beginner all the way to advanced. I encourage you to check those out after familiarizing yourself with all the basic “need-to-know” tenants of 5k training.
With that said, let’s get started.
How to Train for a 5k: From Start to Finish
1. Register For A Race
This might seem like a given, but actually signing yourself up for a race might be the most important part of running or racing a 5k.
Signing up for a race usually comes with a small entry fee, so you have quite literally put your money where your mouth is and might as well start your training sessions so you can get the best out of yourself on race day (and get the biggest bang for your buck).
There are a ton of websites that list races near you. A simple Google search will deliver tons of results.
2. Establish an Intelligent and Flexible Training Plan
This part can make or break your 5k experience. It is pivotal to establish a solid training plan that can act as your guide through your preparation to race.
To do this, you can find a coach or experienced friend to work with, or you can find a well-formed training plan online or through various running/coaching books.
I would also set a realistic running goal. Having a goal makes you accountable.
If you find yourself wanting to design your own training plan, here are a couple of key notes to consider.
- Establish the date of your race, and establish your training plan from race day backward to the present day. This may seem counterintuitive, but it gives you a realistic time frame and allows you to better account for the “key sessions” you might want to fit in during your build-up. Hopefully, you have 8-12 weeks to prepare, but if you only have something like 4-6 weeks you can still get enough training in to have a fun experience.
- Insert volume goals first, most beginners should only increase mileage by 10% each week, more experienced athletes can be more aggressive with increases in volume. Plan to have at least one week of lower volume within your training plan so you can recover (cut volume back by 25-30% this week).
- Most beginners should really take the “just run” approach to training for their first 5k, as just the act of running 4-6 days a week can really improve fitness.
- Seasoned athletes should plan on doing 1-2 official speed and stamina workouts each week. This could range from hill repeats, faster track workouts, tempo runs, and fartleks (example workouts are listed at #6 on this list).
- Most runners should plan a 1-2 week “taper” or have rest days in the weeks leading up to the race. A taper is essentially cutting back the overall volume of running, but still maintaining the quality sessions. This will allow your body to rest and absorb the training it has done, but without losing too much fitness.
3. Wear The Right Shoes
Yet another essential point for training is to be properly fitted in a pair of running shoes that fit your individual gait and running form.
I highly recommend that beginners go to their local specialty running store and ask the employees there to take them through the “fitting process”.
These people are professionals, and will definitely get you in the right pair of shoes to take on the training ahead.
There is a chance that some of you will also want to ask about a racing or workout shoe as well. These shoes are made especially for performance and can be a little more aggressive and allow your body to store and release energy efficiently.
This will not be for everyone, so while you are at the running store make sure to ask the person helping you and have a quick conversation to see it you might be interested in getting a pair of performance shoes as well.
4. Get to Running (Training) - Start off Easy
This part of the list is pretty simple and is directed mostly towards the beginners, as the biggest challenge can often be lacing up for the first couple of runs.
One thing is for sure though, if you do not start, then you will not see improvement.
If a race on the calendar and a new pair of running shoes is not enough motivation to start, then try to find a running buddy to get out of the door with and put in some runs together.
Having someone else to train with is an excellent way to stay motivated and accountable.
5. Sample Training Week Structure (Beginner & Advanced)
First, let’s quickly look at what a general training week structure might look like to a beginner/intermediate runner who is in the middle of a training block.
Keep in mind this is meant to serve as an example for someone who has already been in a training plan for at least 4-5 weeks and is adjusted to the rigors of training. Training plans come in many different ways, but this is just one example to consider.
Sample Training Week Structure (Beginners)
- Monday - Easy Run
- Tuesday - Hill Repeats/Track Speed Workout
- Wednesday - Cross Training / Rest Day / Off
- Thursday - Easy Run
- Friday - Easy Run + Strides
- Saturday - Cross Train/Rest/Off
- Sunday - Longer Easy Run (10-20% longer than a regular easy day)
Now let’s take a look at what the training structure would look like for a more advanced athlete looking to really run close to their highest potential in the 5k.
Sample Training Week Structure (Advanced)
- Monday - AM: Easy Run + Strides, PM: Weight Training
- Tuesday - Hill Repeats/Track Speed Workout (3k-mile pace)
- Wednesday - Medium Long Run
- Thursday - AM: Easy Run + Strides, PM: Weight Training
- Friday - Tempo Run/Long Intervals (1k-mile repeats)
- Saturday - Easy Run/Off
- Sunday - Long Run (30-50% longer than a regular easy day)
6. Sample 5k Workouts (Beginner & Advanced)
So we have gone over the structure of a sample week of training for a 5k for beginners and advanced athletes, now let’s go over some possible workout examples for beginner and elite athletes.
-If you are looking for a PDF version of a good 5K training plan, here are a few options.
Sample Workouts (Beginners)
- Hill Repeats:
- 6 x (: 45-second hills with walk/jog downhill rest), 4 x (: 10-second hill sprints with 3 minutes rest).
- 5 x (: 60-second hills with walk/jog downhill rest), 4 x (: 20-second hill sprints with 3 minutes rest)
- Track Workouts:
- 6 x (200 meters with 200-meter walk/jog rest)
- 4-6 x (400 meters with 200-meter walk/jog rest)
- Tempo Run / Fartlek Workouts:
- 15-20 minute steady tempo run (5k goal pace + :45-:60 seconds)
- 8 x (:90 seconds steady pace/:90 seconds jog rest)
Sample Workouts (Advanced)
- Hill Repeats:
- 10 x (: 60-second hills with jog down rest), 6 x (15-second hill sprints with 3 minutes rest)
- 12 x (:60 second, :45 second, :30 second, :15 second with jog back to start for rest)
- Track Workouts:
- 3-4 x 1 Mile at 5k pace with 3 minutes rest
- 6-8 x 1000 meters at 5k pace with 2-3 minutes rest
- 10-12 x 400 meters at 3k-mile pace with 1-2 minutes rest
- 2-3 x (600 meter, 400 meter, 300 meter, 200 meter) with 400 jog rest
- Tempo / Fartlek Workouts:
- 6 Mile Tempo Run at Half marathon-15k pace
- 3 x 2 miles at 15k-10k race pace w/ 200 jog rest
- 10-15 x (1-minute fast/1-minute steady rest)
Depending on how long you plan to be out on the course for the race, you may want to consider testing out some gel or hydration products to make sure you can maintain performance throughout the race.
However, this should only be a concern if you plan to be racing for longer than 1 hour.
The bigger point of this section is to remind you that when you are in training your body will require more fuel to perform and recover from each running session.
An easy and general rule of thumb is to make sure you are eating well-rounded meals with a protein, complex carb, and fibrous vegetable on your plate for most meals.
Furthermore, make sure to be drinking plenty of water so your body will stay hydrated. A good rule of thumb here is to pay attention to your body’s signaling of thirst and always be drinking little and often throughout the day. For reference, your pee should usually be clear and copious throughout the day.
This part should go without saying, but on the other end of the spectrum make sure not to over hydrate, as this can cause plenty of issues with your body as well.
8. Cross Training/Strength Workouts
Most people think running is the only way to prepare for a 5k race, and this is partially true, as there is no form of exercise more specific to running/racing a 5k than actually running.
However, there are definitely other activities you can include to optimize performance, recovery, and risk of injury and injury prevention while you are training.
These can all play a part in your recovery days if you want to just increase circulation through your body without any extra impact.
Keep in mind that these are all just suggestions, make sure to listen to your body, and if any of the movements hurt then stop that activity immediately
Furthermore, strength training can be a great supplement to your training program as well. It can aid in injury prevention, better form, strength, and power. If you are a total beginner to strength training, it is best to opt for bodyweight movements like pull-ups, push-ups, planks, crunches, squats, and lunges to get your body adapted to the extra rigors of these movements.
If you consider yourself more advanced and want to pick up some real weights, then some great weighted movements for runners are going to be the Goblet/Barbell Squat, Barbell Romanian Deadlift, Dumbbell Bent-Over Row, Dumbbell Shoulder Press, and Dumbell Lunges and Step-Ups.
These compound movements are going to activate a large number of your body’s muscles and give you the biggest bang for your buck with your time in the gym.
Aim to lift twice a week, split these movements up between these days, and aim for 3 sets of 6-10 repetitions on each movement with moderate weight. Take however much rest you feel that you need, but a good rule of thumb will be 1-3 minutes between each set.
9. Prepare for Race Day - Tapering, Less is More
We talked about tapering for your race a little earlier on in the article, but it is worth repeating that taking 10-14 days of backing off the overall volume of your training leading up to the race day will be a good option for most runners.
When combined with maintaining your usual quality workouts, most will be feeling a little sharper both physically and mentally.
This decrease in volume will allow your body to adapt and super compensate from all of the training you have been doing for the last 1-3 months, and it should give you a small mental refocus if you have needed that as well.
Keep in mind that a taper is not for everyone, and it does not guarantee an amazing performance on race day. Some runners have a tendency to feel “flat” if they pull back on the training.
So if it is your first time racing a 5k, just make sure to listen to your body’s signals and pay attention to how your legs are feeling on those last couple of runs.
10. Race Day
This is what it has all been leading up to, race day!
Try not to do anything special or different the morning of your race. If your race is in the morning and you are used to eating before a run, then eat a light and familiar breakfast that can fuel your performance without sitting too heavy in your stomach, best to get it in at least 90 minutes - 2 hours before you plan to begin your warm-up for the race.
Speaking of warming up, make sure to keep it pretty similar to what you would do on a workout day within your training program. This usually includes an easy 5-15 minute jog, dynamic stretching, and some strides on the starting line.
Try not to warm up too early before your race, as your body will cool down pretty quickly and you might start your race feeling tight again. Conversely, try not to leave your warm-up too late either, as you will be stressed and rushing to the start line.
Aim to be warmed up around 5-10 minutes before the start of your race, and don’t be afraid to do an extra stride or two within 5 minutes of the start.
Another race day point to consider is the bathroom. There tend to be pretty substantial lines at these local races (and even longer lines at big races), so make sure to take this into account when planning your warm-up and race time.
All that is left to do is listen for the starting sound and go race!
Do not be afraid to start out a little slower than your planned 5k race pace, and if you are caught up behind a bunch of people try not to use up too much energy shifting around everyone.
It usually opens up completely after the first mile, so once you get there settle into your pace and get into a rhythm. You have prepared well for this and are ready to handle much of the pain you are feeling.
In the last mile try to turn your pace up a little bit and do not be afraid to push yourself. You have trained long and hard for this moment, so make sure to give it your best.
If you get tired, focus on swinging your arms and holding good form without slowing down too much, and if you have the opportunity it is always fun to try and pass some people in the last half mile. This is a great way to let your inner competitor kick in and disconnect from the pain you might be feeling.
Try to get a short cool-down after your race, but if you just want to enjoy your friends and family then that is totally ok too. You have earned that right!
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. How long should a beginner train for a 5K?
As a general rule, most beginner runners should train 4-6 weeks for their first race. This allows their body to be conditioned properly and build muscle needed for a 5K race. It is possible to train for a 5K race shorter than 4-6 weeks, however, the runner will not be adequately prepared for their race. I like the general rule of running 3-4 times per week.
2. What is the best way to train for a 5K?
As a general rule, beginner runners should start with a run/walk training plan. Most run/walk plans have walking breaks built in. This allows your body to adapt naturally to running and will help you progress to a more advanced training plan. Here are a few training plan options.
For you advanced runners - this training program is for YOU.
3. How do I train for a 5K if I don't run?
It is best to select a training plan designed to build up endurance, stamina and muscle memory. If you are a beginner, a walk/run plan is ideal. Here are a few training plan options.
4. Can you run if you're overweight?
As a widely known option, you can run if you're overweight – but it might not be as easy or enjoyable as it could be. Depending on your fitness level and if you're carrying a few extra pounds, running can put added strain on your joints and muscles, making it more difficult and less enjoyable. If you're out of shape, start with just a few minutes at a time and build up your fitness gradually.
This covers everything you will need to know to have a fun and successful 5k training experience. Just remember when you are starting out, start with a comfortable pace.
If you are super excited to get started but feel like you might need some extra guidance, then you can sift through an array of 5k training plans here to see if any of the options are interesting and exciting to your individual needs and constraints.
Hi, Jeremy Here,
I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journey. About Jeremy.
I have run over 250 races including the California International Marathon, Clarksburg Country Run, and various other 5K & 10K races throughout the United States. I am a former Athletics department employee at University of the Pacific and Shoe Consultant with Dicks Sporting Goods