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5k Training Plan for a Beginner: How to Run a Faster 5k

The idea of running a 5K race or even training for a 5k can seem daunting for beginners. It doesn’t have to be that way! There are ways to develop a beginner’s 5k training plan to increase your speed and prepare yourself for the next step in your running career.

How far is a 5k run? 

Many major cities are designed in a block formation, or a city grid. The grids have a standard size for each block, and you can actually measure your run based on the number of meters in a block.

If you live in New York City, you would need to run about 30 blocks (east to west) for a 5k run. In Chicago, the blocks are a little larger, so you would only need to run 24 blocks. In Philadelphia, a 5K run would be about 39 blocks. 

5k run in miles

For those of you who aren’t into metric measurements, 5k races are equal to 3.1 miles. Somehow, when you convert it to miles, it doesn’t seem as bad! However, you might still be wondering how to train for a 5k run or how long it takes. The best way to train for a 5k is to start slowly and gradually work up to the total distance.

How long does it take to walk a 5k vs. run a 5k?

When establishing a 5k training plan, you will need to know where you will be running. The inner city, suburbs, rural areas or a combination will all have different road surfaces, distractions, etc. You also need to know the general weather conditions at that time of year. All of these factors will determine how fast you will be able to run and how you need to train for a 5k.

Most people who are training for a 5k first need to look at how fast they can currently run. You might hear about extremely fast one-mile run times for professional athletes, but this is not a sprint. So, ignore those times. What you need to look at are two different numbers:

1. How long does it take to walk a 5k for the average person and how do you currently compare?

2. How long does it take to run a 5k for the average person and how are your times?

For people who run 5k races on a regular basis, average winning times are 13–15 minutes for males and 16–19 minutes for females. That’s about 8 minutes per mile. The average walking time for a 5k is anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes.

If you are just starting out as a 5k participant, your times will be slightly different. This is especially true if you combine running and walking throughout the course. The good thing is that you won’t be alone. There will be a mix of beginners and experts. A good finishing time for a beginner is about 20–25 minutes.

As a beginner, try not to stress about your finishing time, especially for your first 5k. Focus instead on how you are doing. Pay attention to how you feel during the race and the excitement of participating. You will make it to the finish line. It might not be your best time, but you will know what you need to do for future training. Once you get a little more experience, you can start to focus on a more competitive finishing time.

If you are just starting out and training for your first 5k run, you will need to start slowly and gradually increase your distance over a period of time. This is the safest and most reliable way to train for a 5k — especially when it’s your first! Your first goal is to enter a 5k race and concentrate on finishing. There are no penalties if you walk sections of the race in order to finish.

However, if you plan to run a complete 5k race, you will need to plan how and when you will train. The best way to start is to give yourself plenty of training time. To adequately train for a 5k as a beginner, you will need at least seven to eight weeks.

If you can’t devote the time or commit to a training schedule, you might not be adequately prepared and could injure yourself. You should also check with your primary health provider before you start any intensive training plan.

When you start your 5k training, you will want to use a combination of walking and running to build your strength and endurance. A combination of this might include 15 seconds running and 45 seconds walking. 

For your first week, start off with three non-consecutive days of 20–30 minutes of running/jogging/walking; two to three days of just walking (for about 30 minutes); and one day of rest. Remember to wear proper footwear, a sports bra, etc. and always warm up with some stretching exercises before you start your run.

Your schedule for weeks 2–8 can include one day every week when you run an increasingly longer distance. Ramp up the distance so that by week 8, you are able to complete a full 5k run. On days when you’re walking and running, increase the intensity every week by shifting more time to running. Add five minutes more running and five minutes less walking. 

Keep this up until you are running for the full 30 minutes four or five days a week. Along with your one max-distance day, this will still leave one to two days for rest. This is especially helpful if you have your have your period during these weeks. If you follow this routine, you will be ready for race day.

How to run a faster 5k?

If you are interested in running a fast 5k, it comes down to training. You can’t race your fastest 5k time without putting in the effort. It will require you to make a 5k running plan where you train at that distance or longer to improve your endurance.

If you can gradually run a longer distance in a shorter amount of time, then you will be able to improve your 5k run time.

What to eat before a 5k run? 

Eating a proper diet while training is very important because you will be burning far more calories than your body is used to. It’s always a good idea to reduce your intake of processed foods, sugar, alcohol, and other empty calories. Choose lean meats, whole grains, and plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. Always be sure that your last meal of each day during training includes a balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fats to help your body recover. 

During the week of your race day, you might want to plan meals that your stomach is “comfortable” with. Don’t eat anything new or different. You might have heard about distance runners who bulk up on carbohydrates the night before a run. However, you probably won’t need to do this for a 5k race. The best advice is to eat what you know your body likes. Everyone is different, and you know what’s best for you.

On the day of the 5k run, relax. You are now prepared (at least physically) for this event. You have trained for weeks and are ready to focus on what you have learned over this time. You probably won’t run your fastest 5k time during your first few races. But, over time you will settle into a pace and a certain mindset that will allow you to improve and really enjoy yourself.

“5K Run: 7-Week Training Schedule for Beginners.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 12 Feb. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/5k-run/art-20050962.

“Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. 2nd ed.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed Sept. 16, 2019, https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition

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