How to Train For Your First 5K

A woman smiles during a 5K race.

Running can be intimidating and preparing for your first 5K race (3.1 miles) might be a bit overwhelming, but with the right training it can turn into a lifelong habit. Lucky for you, Fleet Feet has put together three training tips for beginner runners to help make your first 5K easier and running more enjoyable.

By adding some structure to your running, you’ll find that your workouts are more approachable, easier to perform and a whole lot more fun. On top of that, you’ll become more confident as you toe the starting line prepared to run your first 5K.

Vary Your Run Workouts

Two runners turn a corner while they run, smiling.

Our first tip focuses on the actual act of running, and how you can get the most out of the movement. For beginner runners, less is more, and you shouldn’t go from never running to running seven days a week. Instead, focus on three quality sessions each week, which leaves plenty of time for rest days, cross-training and strength training.

In order to develop a successful running practice, it has to be manageable and sustainable. Otherwise, you may quit before you even get going. Three workouts of thirty minutes apiece is a bite-sized approach that can easily fit into a busy schedule. Letting your body recover between each session allows you to feel rested and refreshed going into the next workout, while incorporating cross-training and strength training exercises will increase your fitness while helping you avoid injury. If you’re just getting started with running, you might be tempted to go too hard, too fast and too frequently, but by striking a moderate balance you’ll see huge boosts in your overall fitness.

As a beginner, you might feel as if drills and skill-based movements are for more “serious” runners, and that you wouldn’t benefit from them. Nothing is further from the truth! By training your body to move with proper biomechanics, we can actually make running easier and train smarter instead of harder. Using drills when you are just getting started will build a solid foundation of proper movement before you pick up any bad habits.

But running doesn’t have to be all about drills. Simply pick a drill or technique you would like to focus on during a run, like this pulling drill to improve form and cadence, and use the middle portion of your workout to practice it for 30 seconds at a time. Focusing on form and efficiency for even a small portion of your workout will have an immense effect on the quality of your running.

You might also feel that interval running is best left to the professionals or more advanced athletes, but runners of all abilities and fitness levels can benefit from “shifting gears” or changing the tempo and pace of their running throughout the week. Most of your running should be at a smooth, easy and relaxed pace while smaller periods of time can be spent at a faster pace or a very high level of intensity. If you think of your body as having three different gears, you can work your way through these gears throughout your workout. By varying your speed, you will automatically develop better form, cadence and fitness. Shoot for intervals of faster running for about 30 seconds mixed into your easier jogs. Let yourself fully recover in between efforts. You can also use the run walk method to incorporate intervals into your training schedule. Try five intervals to start and add more from there. As you adapt to these efforts you can work on lengthening them to 60 or even 90 seconds.

However, we don’t want to neglect the bread and butter workout. The long, easy run. These relaxed workouts are the staple of a well-rounded training program, and around 80 percent of your total training time should be spent at this lower level of effort.

A lot of people think that they must be breathing hard or breaking a sweat in order to benefit aerobically from the workout, but by breathing easier you can keep your heart rate in the desired zone, which means you can run for a further distance or longer period of time.

Most of your workouts should be a comfortable jog at a conversational pace. You can talk to your running buddy about the kids or your day at work without feeling short of breath. If you’re running intervals during the workout, you’ll start to breathe heavily but can still say a word or short phrase (but no storytelling!). It’s only when you perform short, hard sprints that you should be completely out of breath.

Being mindful of how you’re breathing during a workout will keep you honest and ensure your longer, easier runs are truly being performed at a relaxed effort.

Find the Right Shoes

The Brooks Ghost 16.

Our second tip has to do with the gear and equipment you need to set yourself up for success. NFL players don’t show up on game day without their helmets, and runners shouldn’t tackle a training program or show up on race day without the proper shoes.

Runners need good running shoes, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive or the pairs being flaunted by elite runners. You need the best shoes for YOU. There are a lot of high performance pairs of sneakers available, but beginner runners shouldn’t be swayed by all those bells and whistles. Instead, go to your local Fleet Feet, talk to an Outfitter about your running goals, and let them choose a pair that not only fits your unique foot shape but is also the right fit for the job at hand.

Think of three “F’s”: your shoes need to provide support and protection for pounding the pavement (function), they need to properly match your individual foot shape (fit) and they need to be comfortable so you enjoy spending time in them (feel). If these three boxes are checked, it doesn’t matter what brand it is, what color they are or what fancy features the shoe might have.

Another running trifecta starts from the inside out: socks, inserts then shoes. Even if your shoes are cushioned and comfortable, you won’t be able to enjoy them if you are constantly developing blisters. Avoid this by grabbing a pair of moisture-wicking socks. Preventing blisters does you no good if your arches and ankles aren’t properly supported and aligned by an insert that matches your foot profile. Ultimately, the shoes provide cushion to help absorb impact and protect your joints, but what happens inside the shoe is just as important!

Give Yourself Time

Runners meet for a team huddle.

If push came to shove, a lot of people could probably cover a 3.1-mile distance tomorrow, through some combination of walking, jogging, running and sprinting. As a beginner runner, you might even find you can comfortably get through a 5K with only a few weeks of training. But the ideal amount of time to spend preparing for your first distance event is about 8-12 weeks. The more time you take to prepare, the more you can mitigate your risk of injury, allowing for more recovery periods and ultimately making your relationship with running more enjoyable and sustainable.

Join us to prepare for Global Running Day on June 5th, and take advantage of everything the program has to offer including a daily workout schedule, coaching support and cross-training and strength training videos. Many Fleet Feet locations are also offering in-person training programs, and the accountability, support and camaraderie of a Fleet Feet group setting is unparalleled.

We can’t wait for you to take the first steps on your running journey, and have you join us for our Beginner 5K training program and the Big Run 5K event on Global Running Day! Learn more about The Big Run here.

Keep Reading