Are you considering training for a 5K, 10K, obstacle course race, or other short-distance event?
When you google “train for a 5k,” you’ll get about 68.4 million results in 1.42 seconds. That’s a LOT of information to wade through. Some of that info is probably great. Some of it’s garbage.
Here’s what you need to know about training for 5Ks
- You do NOT need to train daily.
- You do NOT need to run for several hours at a time.
- DON’T follow a generic plan created for a random internet audience.
As I put it to one of my clients whose proposed training plan included multiple 1-1.5 hour run/walks, if your goal time is 12 minutes per mile (for instance), you’ll be running for about 36 minutes. Why would you train for 90 minutes? That’s a totally different time domain and different energy system.
In the rest of this article, I’ll show you what you DO need to do to get in shape for a 5K/10K and how to build a plan that fits your schedule and current fitness level.
What you need to do to train for a 5K
Work backwards from the event date.
Break down your training into bite-sized chunks. Commit to at least two to three sessions per week, if possible, and give yourself 6-8 weeks minimum to train.
Decide your goal time.
If you want to finish a 5K under 30 minutes, you’ll need to run sub-10:00 miles. It makes sense to train shorter distances at your intended race pace in order to get used to running that pace.
Follow the strength training principle of “progressive overload” – incrementally increase the challenge of your running workouts from week to week. You can do this by increasing distance, adding more intervals, or picking up your pace.
Build up to training at/slightly above your goal race pace. Do this by running “repeats,” or repeated intervals of a short distance, like 4x 200m. Aim to finish every interval with a similar time, then aim to beat those times next week.
Once you’ve locked in your race pace, you can increase the distance (4x 300m) or add extra intervals (5-6x 200m).
If you need to build up to 10K for a race that’s 8-10 weeks out, start with 1-2K and add mileage each week.
What type of training should you do for a 5K?
It’s been a while since I ran my last 5K, but when I was training, I didn’t ever actually run 3.1 miles in one go.
Instead, I did interval training. I would sprint shorter distances, rest, and repeat. This built my capacity to handle faster paces and paid off when I decisively beat my friends who were training for a full and a half marathon each in a local 5K race. (Honestly, I think my lack of any real running played in my favor because I wasn’t beat up by the mileage they were putting in for their marathon training.)
Now, am I saying it’s “wrong” to go out and run 5K in preparation for a 5K race? Not at all. That’s a pretty short, recoverable distance for most people with a decent cardiovascular fitness level. But you can be just as well prepared (and maybe even fitter) by practicing at shorter distances.
A great plan might include 1-2 interval workouts per week and 1 longer-distance run on weekends. This combines the benefits of interval training for improving your pace with endurance training over longer distances.
What about strength training?
You can and should continue to strength train during your race prep. I recommend 1-2 full body strength sessions each week.
Pro tip: avoid a heavy leg workout the day before sprinting (allow 36-48 hours of recovery to avoid overtraining or injury).
Training time commitment
When you add up the interval training, longer-distance run, and strength workouts, that’s 3-5 sessions per week. Each workout type can be done in 30-60 minutes, which is very manageable even with a busy schedule.
If you want to train for a 5K or 10K or other race, give yourself at least 6-8 weeks to train for the event. Longer (12-16 weeks) is better if you’re a beginner or have a very busy schedule and can only commit to 2-3 weekly training sessions.
Pick a race that’s far enough out that you’ll have time to prepare for it. Consider adding a “buffer” week from the end of your training plan up to the event so you can take it easy, recover, and perform at your best on race day.
This 5 workout/week schedule can give you an idea for how to create your own 5K or 10K training plan.
- Monday: Full-body strength
- Tuesday: Run 1:00, walk 2:00 for 10 rounds (reduce walk time to 1:45, 1:30, 1:15, 1:00 each week, then start increasing the run time)
- Wednesday: Rest or active recovery (mobility, stretching, yoga)
- Thursday: Full body strength
- Friday: Sprints 6-8x 200m at intended race pace. Recover for 2x the time it takes to sprint 200m.
- Saturday: Long run (start with whatever “long” means to you – could be 1/2 mile, 1 mile, or 3 miles)
- Sunday: Rest or active recovery
This is just meant as a general outline with some examples of what times/distances you might use if you’re training for your first 5K/10K or coming off a break from running.
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