Running a 5K — 3.1 miles — can be a fun and rewarding experience, especially if it's your first time. But, even though this is the shortest distance for running races, it still requires adequate training and preparation. Depending on your level of fitness and your goal, the type of training plan you follow will vary.
5K Races for Beginners
In virtually any town or city across the United States, you are likely to find a number of 5K races throughout the year. This is a distance that draws a lot of beginner runners, kids and veteran runners because preparing for it doesn't require as much time as training for a half-marathon or marathon, making it appealing to busy parents, students and working professionals.
Many beginners have the goal of just finishing the race, while experienced runners may have a certain goal time in mind. Either way, training properly is important.
Read more: How to Run Your Best 5K Ever
Training for Endurance and Strength
As with any fitness program, training for a 5K should be done gradually. It is important to build up a level of cardiovascular endurance as well as muscular strength and endurance to allow your body to adapt safely.
Depending on your level of fitness before starting a 5K training plan, you should allow at least seven weeks to build up to running for 30 minutes, says Mayo Clinic, which is the approximate time it will take a beginner to complete a 5K.
Trying to train in a shorter period may not be enough time to strengthen your legs and your lungs, although if you already have a good level of fitness from other sports like swimming and running, you may be able to do so in two to four weeks.
Build Your Base
When first starting a 5K-training program, you should be able to walk at a brisk pace — 15 minutes per mile — for 30 minutes. If you cannot, you should build your walking distance first. Once you are ready to add running to your workout, do so gradually with a mix of walking and running.
One of the most important and least considered aspects of your training will be to make sure you warm up beforehand and cool down after your training. It may feel a little silly to march in place or walk/jog for five to 10 minutes before you start the actual walking or jogging, but warming up will kick start your cardiovascular system plus warm up your muscles says the American Heart Association.
Cool down by walking slowly enough that your heart rate gets below 120 beats per minute. Perform some stretches for your legs lasting at least 10 to 30 seconds each.
Read more: The Best 5K Races for Any Fitness Level
Get Off the Couch
According to Harvard Health Publishing, an abundance of "couch to 5K" programs are popping up that run from free to at the very least, cost-effective. You can access them online, through an app or a podcast. If you have a smart watch, no doubt you can get your training program there too. The purpose of these programs is not only to inspire you to get up and get moving and get ready for your 5K, but to do it with your safety in mind first and foremost.