How to Train for Your First 5K

How to Train for Your First 5K

Ready to start training for your first 5K? Download the Couch to 5K app for Apple or Android today.

Crossing the finish line of my first 5K changed my life forever. Drumming up the courage to start the race fueled a newfound confidence that led me to tackle other challenges.

Reaching the finish line ignited the start of a whole new active lifestyle.

Getting Started

I always wanted to run, but every time I tried to run I'd make it to the end of my block—only to start to cry because it wasn't much fun. Then I'd promptly drag myself back home and toss my shoes in the closet.

Each time I vowed to quit, never to return again, until I would see my softball coach, Rosemary, run by with a smile so bright it could light up Texas.

I wanted to run. I just couldn't figure out how and didn't think I had the body of a runner.

A Community of Runners

That was, until I started my very first day at an internship in Milwaukee. All of my co-workers were runners, which I found quite intimidating as I couldn't even make it down my block without tears.

Runners being runners, they challenged me to run a 5K with them at the end of the summer. I promptly explained to them that I wasn't a runner and I would do almost anything (toilets, filing, laundry) for them, but there was no way I would be running that race.

What happened next turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life.

Making a Plan

They encouraged me to train with them at lunch and helped me devise a training program that: started with 20 minutes of walking and slowly built up to run-walking and eventually running 30 minutes.

Turns out the combination of an enticing goal (shirt included), a supportive group and a program that started from my humble fitness beginnings (couch potato), was all I needed to tap into my inner runner.

It worked. I finished, and it didn't even matter that I was almost last and beaten by a 72-year old man!

I went from a chubby, out-of-shape intern, to a runner in a matter of weeks and you can too. I loved it so much I eventually quit my job to coach others in finding their finish lines.

Here are a few tips to get started on your journey to your first 5K.

Define Your Carrot

Register for a 5K and it will serve as your motivation to get in shape and keep your training regular and consistent. The difference between exercising and training for an event is that every workout is purposeful when training and you're less likely to miss a session if you have a target ahead.

Whether this is your first race or you are getting back into shape, running the 5K is a great way to succeed at learning to run and earn a great shirt too.


Shopping for running shoes and apparel is a lot of fun. The essentials include: a supportive pair of fitted running shoes, technical-wicking socks, and a sport watch. Sure, there are lots of fun toys you can purchase along the way, but the best place to start your journey is to get professionally fitted at your local running specialty store. Stride for stride they will support you to the finish line.

It's best to shop at the end of the day when your feet are swollen from the day's activities and be prepared to try on several pair. The staff should watch you walk and run in the shoes to make sure they work with your foot type. The shoe should feel comfortable. If not, keep looking.

Use your new running shoes only for workouts to avoid wearing them down more quickly and aim to replace them every 350-500 miles. Mark the date purchased on the side of the shoe to keep tabs on the life of the shoes.

One Step at a Time

Start from where you are, rather than where you want to be. Avoid crying, like I did, by starting from your current fitness level. Running too much too soon is the number one reason most newbie runners quit.

If you are new to running, begin with sprinkling in running with mostly walking. This allows your body, mind and spirit time to adapt to the demands of running and it makes for a very enjoyable running experience. It will also allow you to run a bit farther.

Always begin with a walking warm-up of five minutes to prepare your body for the run ahead. Finish with a walking cool down to bring your body back to reality.

For the running workout, start with 30 seconds to one minute of running and follow with at least double the time power-walking—1-3 minutes, or until you catch your breath. Progress little by little, adding more running to the mix and less walking.

Focus on going farther, not harder. Include no more than three runs per week and alternate run days with rest or cross-training activities (cycling, swimming, yoga, etc.) to allow your body to adapt and recover run to run. Before you know it, you will be running 30 minutes at a time with a smile on your face!

Take Time to Recover

Listen to your body while you train. The body actually grows stronger when you are resting. Training is a process that includes strategically-placed workouts and rest days to allow your body to be stimulated by the activity and then recover during the rest.

Many people make the mistake of over-training and running too much, too soon and end up with an injury. It doesn't have to be the case though if you listen to your body for aches and pains or just fatigue. If your body if giving you a yellow flag with a few aches, take an extra day off and adjust your training to allow full recovery."

Additional ways to improve recovery is to get at least eight hours of sleep every night and eat frequent, well-balanced meals throughout the day.

Train Comfortably

Take the talk test. The key to running successfully is to dial in an effort level that is comfortable while you run.

A good way to know you are running the right pace is by taking the "Talk Test". If you can talk while you run, you are at the right pace. If you are gasping for air, can't get a word out and are counting the seconds until you can stop, you are likely going too hard. When you run too hard, the fun factor drops, injury risk goes up and the chances of returning for another run are slim to none.

The secret is to finishing the running workout is knowing you could run a little farther if you had to. Running is all about having fun, getting in shape and feeling good. Run at a pace where you can still talk and you will find your running career taking off.

This may mean you need to walk a little more at first, or slow your pace a bit, but doing so will pay off as your body will progress more quickly. Like the Tortoise and the Hare, you will slowly reach your goals more successfully.


Running requires a lot more oxygen than not running and efficient breathing is key to getting the needed oxygen to the working muscles. Breathe through your mouth and nose and from deep in your belly.

Like dancing to the beat of a good tune, try linking your breathing tempo with your foot strikes, breathing in every 2-4 steps and out 2-4 steps. You will breathe more efficiently and getting more oxygen to the working muscles.

If you find that you are gasping for air, slow down. Most likely, you are at a pace that is too challenging and your body is not able to keep up.

About the Author

Discuss This Article

Follow your passions

Connect with ACTIVE.COM