Running 101: A 5K Training Plan For Beginners

Woman running
AIM HIGH: A 5K is a big accomplishment, but one that anyone can achieve with a little dedication - and the right plan. (Image: Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images)

You’ve been running. It feels good, maybe a little hard, but it has prompted you to flirt with the idea of entering a 5K.

Good choice. The 5K (3.1 miles) is every runner’s distance. It’s fun and doable, and if you’ve been walking, running, or run-walking 2 to 3 days a week for at least two months, you’re ready. Sure, building your mileage will feel tough, and there’ll be days when you don’t feel like running, but the reward is real—and we don’t mean the t-shirt. The training itself gives back: you’ll feel fitter, stronger, and amazed that a distance or pace that used to be hard actually feels comfortable.

Your first step is to sign up for a race at least five weeks away. That’ll give you enough time to follow our training program, created by Andrew Kastor, coach of the High Sierra Striders in Mammoth Lakes, California. His plan builds from an easy run/walk to 2.5 miles of steady running—giving you the distance you’ll need to hit the big 3.1 on race day. Each week, you simply increase the amount you run.

“For new runners, the goal is to increase the time you spend on your feet while avoiding injury and having fun,”

Coach Andrew Kastor, High Sierra Striders


(Image: Andrew Kastor)

YOUR GOAL: Finish your first 5k.

YOU’RE READY IF: You’ve been running, walking or run-walking 2 to 3 days a week for at least two months.

OVERVIEW: There are four day of running, with a rest or cross training day in between. “The every-other-day schedule minimizes the risk of injury, and provides a mental break,” says Kastor. Alternate running days also ensures rest days fall on weekdays and weekends, so that the plan can fit into your work and family life.

TIME VS. MILES: It’s easier to time your runs than clock the mileage, so weekday workouts are all done by the clock. Sunday’s run is in miles so that you can begin to gain a sense of your pace per mile. “Mile workouts are also confidence builders,” says Kastor. “Knowing how far you’ve run offers assurance that you can cover the distance on race day.”

WARM UP/COOL DOWN: Each run begins with 5 minutes of brisk walking, and ends with 5 minutes of easy walking. You’ll be tempted to skip these, but don’t. Warming up and cooling down safely transition the body into and out of exercise, explains Kastor, but the walking segments also increase your total workout time, which helps build the endurance you’ll need on race day.


INTENSITY/PACE: All runs should be done at an easy effort: a conversational pace, 60-65% of max heart rate, or a 5 on a rate of perceived excursion scale (of 1 to 10). Faster, harder running increases injury risk, says Kastor. Use your first race to build endurance, then if you want, you can start playing with speed.

RUN/WALK: During the first two weeks, the workouts alternate running with a minute of walking. So “2 x 5 minutes running, 1 minute walk” means you’ll run for five minutes, walk for one, then repeat. “3 x 5” means you do that three times. Don’t consider the walking breaks wimping out. Nearly 80 percent of runners get injured; walking breaks are a strategic tool to build distance safely. Plus, they make adapting to running easier and more enjoyable.

EASY RUN: These workouts are steady runs done at a comfortable pace. If you’re struggling to finish the workout, slow down.

LONG RUN: Long runs build the base of distance running: endurance. They are a road-racers most important workout. If you don’t live near a walking path that has miles marked, measure the distance in your car, head to the track (4 laps equals a mile), or use U.S. Track and Field’s mapping tool ( . Time your first mile workout. You can then estimate the time it will take you to finish the other long runs, or of course, you can map those out too.

REST/CROSS TRAIN: Rest days are full days off (no workout). Cross training is an option; you can do yoga, swim, bike, hit the gym, any workout you enjoy. The added exercise will boost your running—just keep it easy the day before your long run so that you don’t start this key workout fatigued.

DAYS OF THE WEEK: Plans change sometimes. If you need to rearrange training days, go for it. Just shift the days forward or back, or do your best to preserve the every-other-day plan.


After spending 15 years as a competitive runner, Andrew Kastor now coaches runners of all abilities both online and in Mammoth Lakes, California.

Did You Know?

By training for and finishing your first 3.1-mile road race, you’ll join a legion of runners 2.6 million strong. (Source: Running USA)

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