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How to Train a Child for a 5K Run

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
How to Train a Child for a 5K Run
Train for a 5K as a family. Photo Credit Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

To have fun during a 5K, a child must feel successful. Being pushed to the point of pain or feeling like an effort just isn't good enough, usually makes your child not want to run — or even exercise at all.

So, if you've signed up for a family 5K, rule No. 1: Let go of expectations. It's not just about the race. Enjoy the training process together so your child feels good on race day and crosses the finish line with ease.

Get your little one ready to go with a smart but doable training plan.

Kids all have different levels of fitness.
Kids all have different levels of fitness. Photo Credit Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

Read More: Exercise Facts for Kids

How Long to Train

Eight weeks leaves enough time for most people to get ready to cross the finish line of a 5K, for both adults and kids. If your child isn't accustomed to running, he needs this time to gradually build up the stamina and strength to endure the impact of consistently running for about 30 minutes. And, if he's already active, he can use the eight weeks to feel more comfortable with running constantly, as opposed to being part of a stop-and-start sport like soccer.

Of course, how fast he completes the race depends on a lot of factors, including his fitness level, drive, ability to endure discomfort and natural talent. But, if he can go for 30 minutes in training, he'll likely be able to finish the race successfully.

Harness kids natural energy in run training.
Harness kids natural energy in run training. Photo Credit Cathy Yeulet/Hemera/Getty Images

Is Walking OK?

Walking is absolutely OK for anyone in a 5K, including a child. A run-walk method of training and executing the race makes the distance accessible and fun. Plus, it allows him to hit the water stations — hydration is important.

Running Gear for Kids

Kids need the right shoes just like adults do. Bring him to a running store where they can observe his gait and recommend a shoe that will keep an injury from side-lining him before race day.

Synthetic or wool socks discourage blisters and a tech running shirt will make him comfortable during runs. Kids sweat, too!

Training Plan

Instead of focusing on distance in training, emphasize time spent exercising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children and adolescents get about 60 minutes of exercise daily.

Let the run training be part of this recommendation. Ultimately, you want to build a love of exercise, not a dread. Boost your child's confidence by helping him complete the race, not going for a specific time goal.

Build from a 10-minute run workout to 30 minutes by week 7. Aim for three to four of the specified runs per week.

Warm-up for each of these runs with a 5-minute walk.

  • Week 1: Run 1 minute/Walk 1 minute for 10 minutes
  • Week 2: Run 2 minutes/Walk 1 minute for 15 minutes
  • Week 3: Run 2 minutes/Walk 1 minute for 20 minutes
  • Week 4: Run 3 minutes/Walk 1 minute for 20 minutes
  • Week 5: Run 4 minutes/Walk 1 minute for 20 minutes
  • Week 6: Run 5 minutes/Walk 1 minute for 25 minutes
  • Week 7: Run 6 minutes/Walk 1 minute for 30 minutes
  • Week 8: Get out and run just a couple times for 10 to 15 minutes; your race is the end of this week!

If your child wants or needs fewer walk breaks, that's OK. If he guns it at the start only to finish most of the workout at a walk because he's exhausted, encourage the timed intervals. It'll help him keep a steady pace and level of energy for all 3.1 miles.

Adjust the Plan to Your Child

The run/walk approach can vary according to your child's fitness level. He may be comfortable starting with 3-minute or 5-minute runs. If this is the case, you may build up to 10 minutes of running with 30 seconds of walking by week seven.

And, if he never needs to walk, don't make him. Let your child inform the training plan as much as you do.

Read More: Physical Benefits of Exercise for Kids

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