Training to Run Your First 5k – Complete Training Plan For Beginners

5 (100%) 6 votes

Congratulations! You’ve decided to run your first 5k.

It may seem like a lot now, but if you follow the advice in this article you’ll be excited and ready to go by the time you toe the line!

This article explains how to get ready for your first 5k in less than six weeks!

I have included both tips on training to run a 5k for beginners and a training schedule to run 5k.

Built To Run

tired runner resting

I’m sure you have heard it before – our bodies are built for distance running. We have evolved over millennia of our ancestors being among the most durable distance runners on the planet.

Our sweat glands, strong gluteus maximus, and highly developed sense of balance or some of the many genetic factors that give our species a huge advantage over most of planet Earth at distance running.

So genetically speaking, running five kilometers is nothing.

Here’s the hard part.

Head Games

Modern day psychologists have shown there are numerous psychological effects of thinking negatively.

When we have negative thoughts, we are more likely to narrow our thoughts and limit the number of options we consider.

When it comes to training if we think thoughts such as “This is so hard,” or “I can’t do this,” we are more likely to slow down, walk, or even give up.

As cheesy as it sounds, if you want to run a 5k, you have to believe in yourself.

That goes for everyone.

Even the best runners in the world spend a large portion of their training focusing on their mind.

I encourage you to follow some of the world’s elite on social media. Marathon World Record Holder Eliud Kipchoge, 2017 NYC Marathon Gold Medalist Shalane Flanagan, Greek 10k Record Holder Alexi Pappas, and many others are constantly talking about how they train the mental game of running.

Here is why.

Even at their elite level, with marathons close to two hours and 5k’s faster hovering around 14 minutes, they still admit to struggling to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

If runners at that level are focusing on it, then we should too.

“Legs Are Feeling Good”

woman running at sunrise beach

This is a mantra coined by Chris Chavez, founder of Citius Mag. It is a prime example of positive psychology and the way a runner at any level should train their mind to think.

At some point in training or in your 5k, you are going to feel tired. You are going to want to quit on yourself and your goals, and that is exactly when this mantra comes in to play.

Before you begin training, pick a mantra that motivates you.

I like “Legs are Feeling Good” but it can be anything. “You got this,” “Stronger every mile,” “Be relentless,” are all great options.

Select one and write it on the top of your training plan, on your mirror, or anywhere else you can see it every day.

Why?

Any time you feel like skipping a training session or giving up in the middle of a run, say the mantra to yourself. This will help train you for when you get in a race.

Training to run a 5k is as much mental as it is physical.

When it starts to get hard and your body starts to hurt, you will be mentally trained to remember that mantra and a have a positive response.

The Body

young woman runner running on city road

If your mind is strong enough, you could walk out your door right now and run a full 5k without stopping. Believe it.

The only limiting factor is whether or not you believe in yourself. Nevertheless, physical training will certainly make it easier.

The key here is this.

Consistency!

I like to tell my athletes that I don’t ever want to see an A+ day in practice. I would much rather see 50 B+ days in a row.

There is no need to go out and run your socks off on any day of the week until the race. Complete your training well, but you have to be able to come back and run again tomorrow.

The body needs time to adapt, and the best way to do that is by exposing it to regular stimuli.

What does that mean?

Instead of going out today and running 7 miles so hard that you can’t move for a week. It is much better to run one mile every day so that your body can learn to adapt.

Start small.

A Guide to the Training Plan to Run a 5k

woman stretching legs before running

The training program below is designed for people who have never run in their lives. Even if you have done some running, if you have been injured or taken a long layoff, it may be a good place to start.

If you want a more personalized training program built based on your individualized experience and goals and you are beyond college, feel free to contact us. If you want evidence of my expertise, keep reading.

At its core, the following program takes in all the science and experience of my years training with and coaching collegiate and post-collegiate athletes.

Don’t worry though, it’s not that hard.

The following plan is much simpler than the plans for my collegiate athletes as it is built with the expectations that the athlete following the plan has extremely limited athletic experience.

Furthermore, the plan does not include any strength training, stretching, drills, or other, what I like to call, “opportunities for improvement.”

Why did I do that?

This is not because I do not believe in them, quite the contrary, but I recognize that the audience for this article is likely people who are very busy and for whom running their first 5k is not anywhere near their top priority.

Therefore, the training schedule only includes running, because it is the most time efficient way to improve.

However, if you are looking for other opportunities for improvement, I recommend the following exercises in order of importance

1. The Jay Johnson Lunge Matrix as a warm-up routine before every day’s workout.

2. Planks on Day 1, Day 3, and Day 5. Do forward for 30 seconds, the left side for 30 seconds, then the right side for 30 seconds. Repeat that sequence three times.

3. Lauren Fleshman’s sharpness drills after every day’s workout.

The training program is below, but before you begin, I recommend you read the following as well before you begin.

The Science Behind This Training Plan

Close up of runner

Overview

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let me warn you that the following information is a bit complicated.

If you don’t care to know why the training plan is built a certain way, skip this section and go straight to the plan.

On the other hand, if you are like me and lack a tendency to trust writers on the internet that you have never met nor heard of, I encourage you to read the following section to have a better understanding of why the training plan is built the way it is.

Explaining Week 1

The first week is a ramp up. Assuming you have not participated in an aerobic exercise like running, swimming, or cycling recently, the first week allows you to get comfortable getting your heart rate up and even dabbling in some running before you recover on day 7.

For each of these days, you should focus on completing each training day continuously while keeping it as easy as possible.

How does this work?

For example, on day 6, walk for five minutes, then go straight into an 8-minute run without stopping, then go straight into a five-minute walk. This will begin to get you acclimated to the continuous effort that will be necessary for a 5k.

The continual aspect of the training will become more important as you progress.

Before explaining weeks two through six, here are a few explanations.

Women stretching for warming up before running

Warm Up/Cool Down

One of the most basic elements of any physical exercise is a warm up and a cool down.

  • A warm up helps to increase blood flow, prepare the mind and body, and makes the activity easier. It also has been shown to reduce muscle soreness the following day.
  • A cool down is equally important. Just like the body needs time to ramp up for a workout, it also needs time to ramp down.

Stimulus, Recovery, and Adaptation

Another foundational principle of training is the concept of stimulus, recovery, and adaptation.

In order to change, you must encounter a new stimulus. Once we experience a stimulus, we recover and our body adapts. This is called periodization.

As the National Strength and Conditioning Association puts it: “periodization is a method for employing sequential or phasic alterations in the workload, training focus, and training tasks contained within the microcycle, mesocycle, and annual training plan.”

Sounds complicated?

It’s not.

Basically, in the training program below, I give you a new stimulus and then allow recovery for it.

As you’ll notice, the hardest day of each week is day 6. With the exception of the first week, the easiest day of the week is day 7.

The purpose of this is to allow you to recover on day 7 from the increased training load in day 6.

Top view athlete runner training

Explaining Weeks 2-6

Weeks 2-6 follow a general outline of what was mentioned above in “Stimulus, Recovery, Adaptation.”

You’ll notice the hardest days of the week are Day 2, Day 4, and Day 6. The hardest day is Day 6 followed by two consecutive easier days in Day 7 and Day 1 on the following week.

Why?

Due to the longer amount of time, these days should be a bit harder. Therefore, the following day, training is reduced to allow for better recovery.

In turn, this will allow your body to adapt better so that you are ready to go longer.

Without further ado, here it is.

6 Week Training Plan to Run a 5k

Week 1

  • Day 1: Walk 5min
  • Day 2: Walk 10min
  • Day 3. Walk 15min
  • Day 4: Walk 5min. Run 2min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 5: Walk 5min. Run 5min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 6: Walk 5min. Run 8min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 7: Walk 10min.

Week 2

  • Day 1: Walk 5min. Run 5min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 2: Walk 5min. Run 10min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 3. Walk 5min. Run 8min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 4: Walk 5min. Run 10min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 5. Walk 5min. Run 8min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 6: Walk 5min. Run 12min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 7: Walk 5min. Run 5min. Walk 5min.

Week 3

  • Day 1: Walk 5min. Run 10min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 2: Walk 5min. Run 15min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 3: Walk 5min. Run 10min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 4: Walk 5min. Run 15min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 5: Walk 5min. Run 10min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 6: Walk 5min. Run 20min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 7. Walk 5min. Run 8min. Walk 5min.

Week 4

  • Day 1: Walk 5min. Run 15min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 2: Walk 5min. Run 20min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 3: Walk 5min. Run 15min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 4: Walk 5min. Run 20min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 5: Walk 5min. Run 15min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 6: Walk 5min. Run 25min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 7. Walk 5min. Run 10min. Walk 5min.

Week 5

  • Day 1: Walk 5min. Run 18min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 2: Walk 5min. Run 25min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 3: Walk 5min. Run 18min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 4: Walk 5min. Run 25min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 5: Walk 5min. Run 18min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 6: Walk 5min. Run 30min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 7. Walk 5min. Run 15min. Walk 5min.

Week 6

  • Day 1: Walk 5min. Run 20min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 2: Walk 5min. Run 30min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 3: Walk 5min. Run 20min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 4: Walk 5min. Run 20min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 5: Walk 5min. Run 10min. Walk 5min.
  • Day 6: Walk 5min. RACE YOUR FIRST 5k!!! Walk 5min.
  • Day 7. Walk 5min. Run 10min. Walk 5min.

A Few Important Notes

Although what follows is 95% of my job, I’ll do my best to keep it as short as possible.

Running is obviously the most important part of getting better at running. If you are new to the sport, it is likely that the above plan is all you will have to do to see significant improvements in your fitness and running ability.

However, at a certain point in training, viewing your training as “just running” will not only lead to a plateau of improvement but can also lead to significant injury risk.

That is why I’ve added the following principles.

1. Running Stimulus is the most important aspect of training.

Without exposing yourself to a new stimulus (the training) you won’t adapt and therefore won’t improve.

2. The rate of recovery and adaptation can be increased or decreased.

The body adapts naturally, but there are things that both help and hurt adaptation.

What helps?

  • A healthy, well-balanced diet
  • ample hydration
  • consistent adequate sleep (at least 8+ hours)

What hurts?

  • alcohol
  • unhealthy foods
  • poor sleep
  • high stress levels

3. Never allow yourself to expect training to be easy.

Expecting training to be easy is the first step to failure. If it happens to be easy, great, but do not expect nor plan for easy. Running is a sport that privileges those who are tough. Be tough.

4. You must do it.

Talking about finishing your first 5k, reading articles like this one, all of that is great to the extent that it motivates you.

However, if you don’t actually put in the work, you will not improve.

So if you wish to achieve your goals, go out there and consistently work hard.

I hope the training plan to run a 5k becomes a tool for you to achieve your goals.

Remember that if training to run a 5k was easy, everyone would do it. You are unique, bold, and strong.

Now have fun out there!

Hayden Cox

Hayden Cox

Hayden Cox is a post-collegiate athlete with CrackerJack Track Club and the Assistant Coach of Cross Country/Track & Field at Elon University. He recently graduated with a B.A. in English and Psychology from Furman University, where he ran on their nationally ranked Cross Country and Track programs.