Your 3-Step Plan to Run a 5K

Vincent Corso will always remember his 5K debut. It was a summer night in Westfield, New Jersey. His goal was simple: Run the whole way. After training for months, running, walking, and losing more than 100 pounds, he knew he was physically prepared for the race, but he was filled with anxiety and self-doubt, thinking he didn't belong among the svelte "real" runners. When he did finish, in 34 minutes, he was hooked. "It just felt right," Corso says. "I had played football and lacrosse growing up, team sports. Running was the first thing I did on my own. It was me."

Now a Road Runners Club of America-certified coach who guides two charity teams, Corso helps beginners achieve what's often their first big goal—running a 5K. "For newbies and anyone short on time but wanting to get fit and experience a sense of accomplishment, 5Ks are perfect," says Susan Paul, an exercise physiologist and coach of Track Shack Fitness Club in Orlando. "There's plenty of time to train, work, take care of family, and race. You can run a 5K in the morning and still get the kids off to their activities after the event."

Roughly 8,500 5Ks were held across the country in 2009, according to Running USA. Among nearly four million finishers, thousands walked part or all of the distance, and there's nothing wrong with that. But when you feel ready to commit to running the whole way, Corso says, a few simple training techniques will get you there. "I tell my athletes who are running a 5K for the first time, when you cross the finish line, put your hands up and smile, because you did something amazing," he says. These three steps will get you up and running, too—from start to finish.

STEP 1: Sign Up to Race--Today!

Nothing gets you cracking on a goal like making it official. Sign up for a 5K race, then tell everyone you know that you're going to run. Now you have a deadline, and the motivation to train in order to follow through on your goal. "A race keeps runners accountable," says Paul. "You're training, not just running for fitness, and you have a plan, a starting point and an end point." Once you commit to a race and running it continuously, you'll reap more than renewed motivation. Some additional perks:

WEIGHT LOSS

Walk a mile, and you burn about 70 calories. Run a mile, and you'll torch roughly 100. While the exact number varies depending on your weight and pace, if one of your goals is to shed pounds, you'll do it faster by running.

A NEW IMAGE

"When we sign up for a race, we become athletes," says Patti Finke, a coach in Portland, Oregon. "We take better care of ourselves. We train properly, eat in a healthy manner, and get enough sleep." And when you accomplish something you never thought possible—like running an entire 5K—it buoys your self-esteem. "So many novice runners are so insecure and feel like they 'don't belong out there,'" says Paul. "But running a 5K means you committed to training and had the guts to follow through with it—that's huge."

BLUEBERRY PANCAKES

After it's over, you'll be able to break down the race from your new perspective—that of a real runner. You'll head to breakfast with your running buddies, and recap the highlights: "I went out too fast, but I calmed down at the first turn." "That hill at mile two was a killer." "I passed that guy in a tutu." "So, when's the next race?"

STEP 2: Get Ready To Run

With a little planning and preparation, you can run—comfortably—every step of the way of a 5K. The slow buildup and easy pacing of this five-week plan will allow your body to adapt to running 3.1 miles continuously, and the three-mile dress rehearsal runs will give you the confidence that you can go the distance on race day, says Paul. (If you haven't been exercising at all, first spend several weeks running and walking until you can run for 10 minutes.) As you follow this schedule, avoid running on consecutive days and keep the pace easy enough to talk. Twice a week, cross-train by swimming, cycling, walking briskly, or taking a fitness class.

Week -- Weekday 1, Weekday 2, Weekday 3

1 -- 1.5 miles, 1.5 miles, 2 miles

2 -- 2 miles, 2 miles, 2.5 miles

3 -- 2 miles, 2.5 miles, 3 miles

4 -- 2.5 miles, 2.5 miles, 3 miles

5 -- 2.5 miles, 2 miles, Race 3.1 miles!

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