If you're a runner and have never entered a road race, you're missing out. These events, which are staged in most parts of the U.S. on many weekend of the year, not only allow you to test yourself against the clock and other runners, but also provide an opportunity to meet other runners and perhaps find training partners. If you're reasonably fit, you can prepare for a 5K, or 3.1-mile, race in just 17 days.
Basic Fitness Expectations
If you are brand-new to running and have not been exercising at all, expecting to comfortably complete a 5K race in 17 days is not reasonable. You should be able to run 5K without stopping, even if you have to go very slowly, before embarking on the 17-day, race-specific program. You should also have some idea of the pace you plan to run. One way to ascertain this is to time yourself for 1 mile at all-out effort 17 days before the 5K. Multiply it by three and add 20 to 30 seconds to this, and the result is your potential 5K race pace.
Three Weeks to Go
When you are three weeks away from your goal race, jog easily for 20 to 25 minutes a day until you have 17 days remaining. This is the week in which you do your last over-distance run -- a continuous run of 4 to 6 miles or, if necessary, a run punctuated by short walk breaks, depending on your fitness and experience. You should do this on the weekend, while on Thursday or Friday, you can do one of UK athletics coach Brian Mackenzie's recommended workouts: 2 x mile or 3 x mile at 5K goal pace with 4 minutes of rest in between.
Two Weeks To Go
Your longest run this week, according to "Running Times" magazine, should be 25 percent shorter than your longest run the previous week. Do a track session this week of the low-volume, high-speed variety. Examples include 4 x 600 meters, or 3/8 mile, at slightly faster than planned 5K pace with 600 meters of jogging in between; or 4 x 800 meters, or 1/2 mile, at the same pace with 400 meters of walking or jogging in between. This week should include at least one full rest day, with no other form of training; two is better for most novices.
With seven days remaining before the race, any training you do will not provide physical benefits for the race, because it takes longer than a week for the body to reap the effects of a training session. Therefore, rest is paramount, and any running you do is mostly for your head and for the sake of races further down the calendar. Mackenzie recommends doing 3 x 600 meters at just faster than 5K race pace with 600 meters of jogging in between three days before the 5K. Don't forget to hydrate well and mentally rehearse the race in the final two days before the race, which should be rest days. On race day, get up, warm up, stretch, and you should be ready to take aim at your goal.