How To Start Training To Run A 5k – Beginner Friendly

A 5k run is one of the best ways for beginners to ease themselves into the world of running. However, it can still often seem like a daunting task to those who are completely new to the sport. So what are some of the best ways you can prepare yourself for your first 5k?

There are plenty of ways to prepare for a 5k, including knowing your limits, using the run/walk and Magic Mile methods, and taking care of your health. Combining all of these will surely set you up for success regardless of your experience level. 

In this article, I’ll go into more detail on how to start training to run a 5k and lay out the steps of the run/walk method – one of the best training plans for beginners to use.

Assess Your Fitness Level

Before doing anything else, it’s a good idea to find out where you stand in terms of athletic ability. There are plenty of ways to do this, but one of the most useful is the Rockport one-mile walking test.

The Rockport Walking Test

The Rockport test is designed for a very large group of people, both men and women of just about any age. It tests your lung capacity to determine how much exercise you can handle.

If you plan on taking this test, make sure to check in with your doctor if you have prior health conditions to make sure it’s safe for you to do so.

To take the test, you’ll need:

  • A way to measure your heart rate
  • A stopwatch
  • A scale that measures in pounds
  • A one-mile track that’s on completely level ground

Before taking the test, ensure you warm up first by walking for a few minutes. Then, you’re ready to begin. Start your stopwatch and begin walking as quickly as you can without jogging.

Once you’ve finished walking the mile, stop your stopwatch. Record your time using decimals (i.e., 12.25 minutes for 12 minutes and 15 seconds). Check your heart rate right away and record that as well. Lastly, use the scale to measure your weight.

Calculate Your Score

Now you’re ready to calculate your VO2 max score – in other words, the maximum amount of oxygen available to you during any intense exercise. The formula may look complicated or confusing, but if you use a calculator or take it one step at a time, it’ll be much easier.

Here’s the formula:

132.853 – (0.0769 x weight in pounds) – (0.3877 x age) + (6.315 for males or 0 for females) – (3.2649 x walking time for the mile) – (0.1565 x heart rate after the test)

The result is your max VO2 level, measured in milliliters of oxygen used per kilogram of your body weight each minute (or ml/kg/min).

Next, you can use a chart (shown below) to figure out where you stand among others of your age and gender. Your doctor or trainer can also use this information to create a personalized exercise plan for you.

Check out my Rockport Walking Test post with a how-to video and a free calculator.

VO2 Levels for Women

Age Very Poor Poor Fair Good Excellent Superior
13-19 Below 25.0 25.0 to 30.9 31.0 to 34.9 35.0 to 38.9 39.0 to 41.9 Above 41.9
20-29 Below 23.6 23.6 to 28.9 29.0 to 32.9 33.0 to 36.9 37.0 to 41.0 Above 41.0
30-39 Below 22.8 22.8 to 26.9 27.0 to 31.4 31.5 to 35.6 35.7 to 40.0 Above 40.0
40-49 Below 21.0 21.0 to 24.4 24.5 to 28.9 29.0 to 32.8 32.9 to 36.9 Above 36.9
50-59 Below 20.2 20.2 to 22.7 22.8 to 26.9 27.0 to 31.4 31.5 to 35.7 Above 35.7
60+ Below 17.5 17.5 to 20.1 20.2 to 24.4 24.5 to 30.2 30.3 to 31.4 Above 31.4

 

VO2 Levels for Men

Age Very Poor Poor Fair Good Excellent Superior
13-19 Below 35.0 35.0 to 38.3 38.4 to 45.1 45.2 to 50.9 51.0 to 55.9 Above 55.9
20-29 Below 33.0 33.0 to 36.4 36.5 to 42.4 42.5 to 46.4 46.5 to 52.4 Above 52.4
30-39 Below 31.5 31.5 to 35.4 35.5 to 40.9 41.0 to 44.9 45.0 to 49.4 Above 49.4
40-49 Below 30.2 30.2 to 33.5 33.6 to 38.9 39.0 to 43.7 43.8 to 48.0 Above 48.0
50-59 Below 26.1 26.1 to 30.9 31.0 to 35.7 35.8 to 40.9 41.0 to 45.3 Above 45.3
60+ Below 20.5 20.5 to 26.0 26.1 to 32.2 32.3 to 36.4 36.5 to 44.2 Above 44.2

 

(Source)

Start Preparing In Advance

Now that you know your exercise tolerance levels, you’re ready to begin preparing for the 5k run itself. It’s very important to start practicing well in advance so you can work your way up to the level of fitness needed by the time the 5k rolls around.

Of course, this number depends on how in shape you already are. The average training duration is around 8 weeks but can range anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks. You should make sure to sign up for the 5k at least four months beforehand, so you have plenty of time to train.

Your doctor or trainer may be able to come up with a fitness plan tailored to you specifically. However, if you aren’t able to make that work, there are plenty of more general plans you can use instead. The run/walk method is one of these and is especially useful for beginners.

Related: 21 Ultimate Tips To Help You Crush Your 5k Race

Run/Walk Method

Under the run/walk method, you can choose to be a runner or a walker, and you can switch from walker to runner as your fitness levels gradually increase. This particular plan lasts for seven weeks, so you’ll have plenty of time for that.

No matter what you pick, you’ll be doing some walking. However, walkers will only be walking, while runners will be switching between running for a short period and then walking for a short period. The schedule itself is shown below.

Related: For a deeper dive into Jeff Galloway’s Run/Walk Method, check out this post.

Week 1 – for run/walk days, runners will run for 15 seconds and then walk for 45 seconds.

  • Day 1: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 2: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 3: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 4: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 5: Take a rest day – you’ve earned it!
  • Day 6: Run/walk 3 miles
  • Day 7: Either take another rest day or take a relaxing walk at your own pace – your choice!

Week 2 – for run/walk days, runners will run for 15 seconds and then walk for 45 seconds.

  • Day 1: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 2: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 3: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 4: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 5: Take a rest day
  • Day 6: Run/walk 3.5 miles
  • Day 7: Rest day or a relaxing walk

Week 3 – for run/walk days, runners will run for 20 seconds and then walk for 40 seconds.

  • Day 1: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 2: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 3: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 4: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 5: Take a rest day
  • Day 6: Run/walk 2 miles
  • Day 7: Rest day or relaxing walk

Week 4 – for run/walk days, runners will run 20 seconds and then walk for 40 seconds.

  • Day 1: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 2: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 3: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 4: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 5: Take a rest day
  • Day 6: Run/walk 4 miles
  • Day 7: Rest day or a relaxing walk

Week 5 – for run/walk days, runners will run for 25 seconds and then walk for 35 seconds.

  • Day 1: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 2: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 3: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 4: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 5: Take a rest day
  • Day 6: Run/walk 2 miles
  • Day 7: Rest day or a relaxing walk

Week 6 – for run/walk days, runners will run for 25 seconds and then walk for 35 seconds.

  • Day 1: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 2: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 3: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 4: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 5: Take a rest day
  • Day 6: Run/walk 4.5 miles
  • Day 7: Rest day or a relaxing walk

Week 7 – for run/walk days, runners will run 30 seconds and then walk for 30 seconds.

  • Day 1: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 2: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 3: Run/walk 30 minutes
  • Day 4: Walk 30 minutes
  • Day 5: Take a rest day
  • Day 6: The 5k should fall on this day if you’ve been following the plan correctly.
  • Day 7: You did it! Kick back, relax, and be proud of yourself.

Related: How To Run 1 Mile When You’re Out Of Shape!

The Magic Mile

The Magic Mile is another tool that can be used along with the 7-week plan. It’s meant to help you challenge yourself while remaining realistic. It’s simple, too!

Just begin as usual by warming up, and then time yourself either running or walking a mile a bit faster than your usual speed. Finish the rest of the day as normal.

Next time you do the Magic Mile, your goal is to beat your previous time – even by a little bit. This should improve your time and motivate you to keep working hard.

Related: How To Start Running Again After Taking Time Off From Running (break, recovery)

Final Preparations

Practicing and training aren’t the only ways to prepare for a 5k. It’s also extremely important to ensure you’re healthy for the race – both physically and mentally.

Physical Health

Obviously, it’s important to ensure you’re physically in good condition when the 5k is coming up. There are many aspects to this, including:

  • Make sure you eat healthily and familiar things the week or so before the 5k (you know won’t upset your stomach).
  • Getting plenty of sleep the night before.
  • Staying hydrated – but also making sure you don’t drink too much water right before the race!
  • On a similar note, don’t eat too much right before the race either, or you’ll risk an upset stomach.

Related: A Beginner’s Guide To Running – How To Get Started!

Mental Health

It’s easy to get stressed out right before the race – to feel like it’s a competition, and everyone will judge you if you aren’t fast enough. But keep in mind that this is your first 5k – you’re most likely not going to come in the first place no matter what.

Also, a lot of people participate in a 5k just for the exercise, to support a cause, or even just for fun – not to win. Sure, there are some competitive people in the bunch, but no one will judge even if you just walk the whole thing, and you won’t be alone in doing so.

Other, smaller things can help with stress levels, too – going to scope out the track beforehand so you know what to expect and planning to arrive early, so you have plenty of time in case something happens.

It’s also a good idea to set goals for yourself – goals that don’t necessarily involve placing in the race. Whether you pick a goal of beating your own personal time or just not coming in last, even having a goal can be a powerful motivator.

Related: Why Is Running So Hard? 35 Tips To Help Make Your Runs Easier!

Conclusion

As a beginner preparing for a 5k race, it’s important to set goals to improve bit by bit but not push yourself too hard. Know your limits, and take care of your body and mind so you’ll be fully ready on the day of the race. And of course, most importantly… have fun!

Coach Scott's Credentials: He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 17th half marathon race. 

 To sign up for a FREE half marathon training schedule, log sheet, and pace predictor CLICK HERE.

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References

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/5k-run/art-20050962

https://www.verywellfit.com/rockport-fitness-walking-test-calculator-3952696

https://www.runnersworld.com/beginner/a20796964/tips-for-your-first-race/

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