Signing up for a 5k is easy. Commit to something a few weeks or months away and you’ll figure it out. Right? Well, when it comes to beginner 5k training the best way to cross the finish line strong is with some well-planned prep. In this article, we cover how to properly train, eat, and pace yourself for your first 5k race. Also, included is our 5k training program where we outline milage, rest days, and pacing to help you crush that race.
#1 Make A Full Proof Goal
Align your race-day target with your current fitness level and running background. Depending on your starting point, 3.1 miles is a huge feat and one you shouldn’t take lightly. For many newbies, just finishing the race is the ideal goal, even if it means walking some of the way. On the other hand, if you’ve already been running for a while, you might decide on a goal of maintaining a specific pace or beating your average training time. No matter what you aim for, make it personal. You’re doing this for you, right? So why make your goals about anybody other than yourself?
#2 Run At a Comfortable Pace, Every Other Day
This is especially important as you first begin running, since muscles unused to being conditioned at this capacity need time to rest and repair. Eventually, 3-4 days a week can turn into 5-6. But for now, ease into it. There are other workouts you can do on your off-days (see “strength training” below). And don’t run at a pace where you’re gasping for air. Save that intensity for a zombie apocalypse. Instead, run at a pace you can maintain over a steady amount of time—because increasing your time and mileage is key here.
#3 Know the 10% Rule
Whatever your starting point is, you’ll reach a stage where you start to get comfortable, which is usually your cue to move up to the next level. Be careful. You’re familiar with the phrase “His eyes were bigger than his stomach”? The same notion applies here; what your mind tells you and how your body responds are two different things. For that very reason, it’s time to become acquainted with what is perhaps the most paramount rule of running: the 10% rule. Choose either your current mileage, time, or pace and multiply it by no more than 10%. That number plus your current time, pace, or mileage should be your new maximum goal…and your only goal for now. For example, let’s say you decide to increase your jogging mileage from 1 mile to 1.10. Awesome! But don’t try to increase your pace. Remember: one goal at a time—or you might end up cheating yourself right out of your first 5k. The 10% (or less) Rule is crucial to your muscle integrity and staying pain and injury free.
#4 Don’t Overlook Interval Training
High-intensity Interval training, or what you may know as HIIT, is one of the most efficient ways to build both your speed AND endurance. Don’t let the name scare you off, especially if you’re just starting out in running. All you need to do is take the intensity of your current pace up a notch for a predetermined span of time, and then drop it down to a slower pace (consider walking during your slow intervals…perhaps a light jog at most) for another definitive time span. Alternate with these fast-slow mini sessions for approximately 15-20 minutes. Then you’re done! We recommend beginning these intervals at around 3-4 minutes each (after a 10-minute warm-up). Try this interval-style training just once a week and the results will amaze you.
We’ve created a 7-week beginner’s 5k training program to get on your feet and running across the finish line! It’s paced to have plenty of rest days for active and through recovery. Plus, we’ve got the milage dialed in so that you feel prepared for race day, but not burned out. Feel free to use this plan as a guide and play with the times and speeds. Also, remember to always listen to your body! If you feel pain stop or slow down. However, if you feel like you can go faster, by all means, the track is yours!
The majority of 5km races take place in the morning—If you haven’t necessarily been training at this time and can’t quite picture what a solid pre-5km race breakfast looks like, consider these choices:
Oatmeal with a small scoop of protein powder, topped with fruit
1-2 eggs with a small bagel
Yogurt (low-fat, low-sugar) with fruit and granola
Don’t Eat That
Regardless of what you eat, avoid high fat, high protein and high fiber. These choice are far more likely to keep you fuller longer, and you want to feel like you’re running “light”. The latter can also cause you some digestive issues, which you may be more prone to as you experience some race-day jitters. In fact, any foods that like to take your gut for a roller coaster ride (dairy, nuts and legumes are three common perpetrators), just say no.
Average Pacing For A 5K
According to Running USA, the median race finishing times for women and men are 36:15 and 29:15, respectively. But unless you fall within the average racing age of just under 34 for both genders, these kinds of statistics don’t give you a lot of insight into how your own performance stacks up. Remember that the best metrics to compare yourself to are your own. Unless you’re signing up to place, you’re really only in competition with yourself.
How To Figure Out Your Race Pace
Don’t worry about how fast you are running. Speed will come later once your aerobic base has improved. Just increase the duration of your runs gradually. It is important that your first runs should be completed at an effort and pace that is easy and comfortable. Most beginners don’t know what an easy or comfortable pace should be so they tend to push too hard. A comfortable pace is one you feel confident you can sustain for the duration of your run. It is better to run too slow and finish feeling like you could have gone longer or faster, rather than finishing exhausted. A simple way to determine your pace and effort is to listen to your breathing. If you aren’t gasping for air and you can talk while you’re running, then your pace is just right.