How to Run Your First 5K

Start Slowly

Whether you're training alone or with a group, the key is to start slowly. Jenny Hadfield, a Chicago-based running coach tells beginners, "Start where you're at rather than where you want to be." Beth Swierk, 28, a radio show producer in Chicago, heard Hadfield speak on-air and something she said stuck with the longtime walker: "Run until you're tired, walk until you're bored." Beth thought the concept sounded easy enough so she went out and did just that. "I could walk ten miles but never had any interest in running. But I followed Jenny's advice and started running one block or one minute."

Last June Beth joined a ten-week running training program at Chicago Endurance Sports and in three months she was running three 12-minute miles without stopping.   If you're starting off at square one--you've never run or you've been inactive for quite some time--give yourself eight to 12 weeks to build a base.

More: Race-Day Tips for Your First 5K

Begin by going on a brisk walk so your body gets used to physical activity. Then progress to a walk/run. Try walking three minutes and running 30 seconds to one minute for a total of 25 minutes. Eventually shift to a run/walk with three minutes running and 30 seconds to one minute of walking.

Gradually run more and walk less until you're running a full 30 minutes. When you're first beginning, it's important to run at an easy pace. You should be able to converse comfortably. Hadfield tells people to try the "talk test." If you can't say a word without gasping for air, then dial down the intensity.

As with starting any new activity, the first few weeks are always the hardest. "The first three weeks are about making the effort to just get your run or walk in," says Hadfield. "By week three you'll feel 100 percent better." Rest is equally important and always scheduled into training programs.

Cane says that once he gets newbies running, sometimes the hardest part is convincing them not to overdo it. "I get a lot of people who want to do more than I ask of them. They're the ones who get hurt." Doing too much too soon is the number one reason many people quit workout routines or training programs.

More: How to Recover After a 5K

5K Training Plan

Having a race goal keeps you motivated and gives your workouts purpose. "There's something about an entry form that makes you accountable," says Molnar. "Once you sign up, it's amazing how that enthusiasm comes out." Ask the staff at your local running store to recommend beginner-friendly 5Ks, often advertised as "fun runs," and include run/walk categories. "Your first race should be something that builds motivation," says Fraser. "You don't want to get so discouraged that you don't run again."

The following training plan will prepare beginners to finish a 5K comfortably. Perform the workouts three times each week, with at least a day between workouts. Be sure to begin each workout with a brisk five-minute warm-up walk.

Week 1: Walk 20 to 30 minutes.

Week 2: Alternate walking 3 minutes with running 30 to 60 seconds for a total of 20 to 25 minutes.

Week 3: Alternate walking 2 minutes with running 1 minute for 24 to 30 minutes total.

Week 4: Walk 1.5 minutes, run 1.5 minutes; walk 3 minutes, run 3 minutes. Repeat three times for 27 minutes total.

Week 5: Run 3 minutes, walk 1.5 minutes; run 5 minutes, walk 2.5 minutes; run 3 minutes, walk 1.5  minutes; run 5 minutes, walk 1.5 minutes; run 5 minutes, walk 2 minutes--for 30 minutes total.

Week 6: Two days this week, alternate running 5 minutes and walking 3 minutes for 30 minutes total. On day three, run 8 minutes and walk 5 minutes twice for 26 minutes total.

Week 7: On day one, run 5 minutes, walk 3 minutes, run 8 minutes, walk 3 minutes, run 5 minutes--for 24 minutes total. On days two and three, run 10 minutes, walk 3, run 10 for 23 total.

Week 8: Run 25 minutes.

Week 9: Run 28 minutes.

Week 10: On day one, run 30 minutes. On day two, run 31. On day three, run 5K.

More: 7 Tips for Your First 5K

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Jen Murphy is a New York City-based writer and health columnist for The Wall Street Journal Online. She's been running since grade school and has a closet full of 5K and 10K T-shirts. Her long-term goal is to finish a marathon with her mom.

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Her Sports + Fitness is a women's fitness, running and lifestyle magazine.

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