8 Weeks to Your First 5K

As you progress through the training program, you'll add another 20-minute segment (set) to this workout with a short rest period in between. ("Rest" means slowing down so that you can breathe easily and evenly, not stopping or sitting.) You'll cool down after completing both 20-minute segments.

  • The 10s: Walk at a moderate pace for five minutes to warm up. Stretch gently, then walk for 10 minutes at a faster pace than in the 20s workout. You should be breathing fairly hard but still be able to get out a few words in conversation. After 10 minutes, slow down, and catch your breath. Rest for at least 5 minutes. You'll repeat this cycle up to three times per workout, but don't go for more than that. Remember to cool down afterward.
  • The 5s: This is the speed demon workout. Don't panic if you get red-faced, sweaty, and out of breath. That's the idea. Begin by warming up for 10 minutes, walking at a moderate pace. For the next 5 minutes, walk as though there's molten lava flowing behind you, right on your heels. At this speed, you shouldn't be able to utter a word; if you can, you're not pushing hard enough. After five minutes, slow down, and catch your breath. As soon as you're breathing comfortably, pick up your pace again. You'll repeat this cycle as many as four times per workout. Always cool down afterward.

If you're not fitness walking on a ¼-mile track, try heading out for the first half of your workout, then turning around and heading back for the second half. As the weeks go by, you'll find that the halfway mark is getting farther and farther from your starting point. That means you're walking faster.

Common Sense

Remember to spend a few minutes stretching after every warm-up and cool-down. Choose exercises that target your calf and thigh muscles.

If you miss a session here and there, simply pick up where you left off. If you miss a week or more of training, you may have to backtrack a week to resume working out at a comfortable level.

Never do speed workouts (the 20s, 10s, and 5s) on consecutive days or on "easy" days, even if you're feeling great. Doing too much too soon or too fast puts you at risk for soreness and injury, and often you don't know that you're overdoing it until it's too late. Remember: You are your only training competitor, and your best time is the one that gets you to the finish line safely and comfortably.

Finally, let your body rule your routine. If you're extremely sore or tired the day after a workout, cut back. Walk only as fast as you can without feeling any kind of muscle or joint pain. If you experience dizziness, chest pain, or sharp pain anywhere in your body, stop your workout, and see your doctor.

Tips to Strengthen Your Stride

  • Take short, quick steps. Long strides slow you down in the long run.
  • Use the heel-to-toe roll, and push off with the back leg.
  • Pump your arms. Bend sharply at the elbows, and let them swing from your shoulders. This helps you get more oomph from your hips, the major power source for fitness walking.
  • Control your hips. Just imagine your hips as an extension of your thighs. When your thigh moves forward, your hip does too.
  • Stand tall. This gives your waist more room to swivel back and forth with the motion of your hips and legs.

Get Ready, Get Set, Go!

You've followed the training program religiously, and you are pumped for race day. In the final hours of preparation, read the following tips collected from some walk/run veterans. Their advice can help calm prerace jitters and ensure that your 5K experience is a good one. 

  • Arrive early. This gives you an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land, especially if you're new to the course. It also gives you time to warm up, which can help soothe prerace nerves.
  • Check in. Find out where to pick up your race number (or to register if you haven't done so already). Pin the number below your chest, and leave the bottom flap loose. Someone will tear off that strip as you go through the finish line chute.
  • Drink plenty of water. Some experts recommend drinking 12 oz of water an hour before the race. That's a great idea, but be sure to allow time for a bathroom stop.
  • Warm up. Walk for at least 10 minutes prior to the start of the race. A cold start could leave your calves cramping.
  • Set your own race pace. Relax and hang back, away from the frontline competitors. And do not be afraid to smile and chat with other walkers along the way if you feel like it.
  • Get your results. After the race, stay for the awards ceremony, and cheer your fellow athletes. Find out your time, no matter where you finished. You'll want to compare it with your 5K time from the start of your training program.
  • Enjoy the postrace revelry. Stick around and mingle. You may meet some training buddies for your next 5K.
  • Active logo Sign up for a 5K race or walking event near you.

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