Couch to 5K: A Running Plan for Beginners

Need a 5K training plan for beginners? We have you covered! (Image: The Good Brigade/DigitalVision/GettyImages)

You've started running. It feels good. Maybe a little hard, but it's prompted you to flirt with the idea of signing up for a 5K. Good choice! The 5K (3.1 miles) is a good distance for newbies and established athletes alike. It's fun and doable, and if you've been walking, running or run-walking two to three 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 not just the race T-shirt. The training itself gives back: You'll feel fitter and 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 the training program outlined below, 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

Go from zero activity to hero with this training plan for beginners. (Image: LIVESTRONG.COM)

A 5K Training Plan for Beginners

Your Goal: Finish your first 5K

You're Ready If: You've been running, walking or run-walking two to three 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. Alternating 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/Cooldown: Each run begins with five minutes of brisk walking and ends with five minutes of easy walking. You'll be tempted to skip these — but don't! Warming up and cooling down safely transition you body into and out of exercise, says Kastor. They also increase your total workout time, which helps build the endurance you'll need on race day.

How to Use This Training Calendar

Once you have your training calendar printed out and hanging somewhere you'll see it every day to remind yourself to stay on track, you'll want a little insight into how to apply all these workouts to your daily routine. Here's a breakdown of the main types of workouts and some tips for making the most of your training.

Intensity/Pace: All runs should be done at an easy effort — a conversational pace, 60 to 65 percent 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, and 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 5 minutes, walk for 1, and then repeat. Similarly, "3 x 5" means you do that three times.

Don't consider the walking breaks wimping out. Nearly 80 percent of runners get injured, and 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're 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), use U.S. Track and Field's mapping tool or download a smartphone app like MapMyRun. You could also run on a treadmill, but you want to make sure a lot of your runs are outside to more closely mimic race course conditions

Rest/Cross-Training: Rest days are full days off (no workout). Cross training is an option. You can do yoga, swim, bike, hit the gym or any other 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.

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

Other Helpful Resources for Your First 5K

Getting a solid 5K training plan for beginners is only the first step. From what to eat to how strength training can help you run faster and prevent injury, here are some additional guides you'll want to read before hitting the starting line.

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